Category Archives: Open Source Reviews

Reviews of open source software

A Look At Darktable 0.8: Raw Image Workflow For Linux

lighttable mode

Like most green amateur photographers, I was wicked excited when I got my first DSLR a few weeks ago. My Canon Rebel T1i(500D) was purchase and gifted to me just because which came as aВ positiveВ shock. Thanks again to my bro(Vad) for the gift! That same night, we went out to do some night photography which was a blast. The next morning, I started my search for a Lightroom Alternative. As many of you can guess by now, I use Linux. More specifically, I run Kubuntu 10.10 with KDE 4.6 installed. Ive been using Linux for a few years now. Im at that stage. I call it, The Point of No Return. Many Linux users, like myself, came from Windows. Im at that stage where I cant go back. This means, no dual booting, no virtual machine, and no WINE.



Before we begin, you might want to install Darktable for yourself. Ubuntu users, use the terminal code below:

  1. sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pmjdebruijn/darktable-release-plus
  2. sudo apt-get update
  3. sudo apt-get install darktable darktable-plugins-legacy darktable-plugins-experimental


For other nix users, click here.


I wanted a native Linux RAW image editor. I found UFRaw, RawTherapee, and Darktable. I installed them all but I decided to stick with Darktable. Call me vain, but Darktable looked the best out of the 3. My initial impressions were, Wow. This program looks great! Its really slick. The dark grey color scheme really gives it that professional/modern look. I immediately thought of the popular Dust theme on Ubuntu. After I opened up the program, I played with it just to get used to everything. Darktable is not like GIMP or traditional raster image editors. There are no layers. Instead, there is a history. Darktable advertises itself as non-destructive. This means your RAW files are not damaged or modified. Darktable creates a .xmp file for every RAW image you have on the worktable. This file is kind of like an xml file that list all the history of edits, adjustments, and effects you want to apply to your RAW photos. The edits are only applied when exporting so it truly is non-destructive.




Wheres Beast Mode?

Darktable also has 2 modes you can switch between as you are working. Theres the lighttable mode and darkroom mode. The lighttable mode is like an overview mode. You can import a few images or entire folders in lighttable mode which you can then do your sorting. You can rate different photos with a 5 star system or if you dont like the image, remove for your lighttable or delete from your drive. From here, you can also export your RAW photos into various image formats including JPG, PNG, and TIFF.You can also send the export to e-mail, Picasaweb, and Flickr. Basically, lighttable mode is the technical side of the program.



Darkroom mode is where the fun begins. In order to get to darkroom mode, double-click on an image you want to edit. Once you are here, the things you can edit are on your right bar under a histogram. They are separated into basic, color, correct, and effect. Here, you can adjust things like white balance, exposure, saturation, and tone mapping. You can also add some creative effects like monochrome, bloom, and vignetting. The left bar has a thumbnail of the image, the image information/EXIF data, and a list of the history of what you have applied.




After my initial impressions, I spent some long hours working on my RAWs. Darktable is different. This is mostly good but some might not like it. Whenever I install a new program, I alway go through the menus and setting. This was hard to do simply because Darktable does not have a traditional FILE, EDIT, IMAGE, etc menu you would normally find at the top of a program. The only visible button on the top right is the import option. It was also confusing the first few times you double click on a photo. When you do this, you enter darkroom mode which is only indicated if you paid attention to the text at the top right. I found myself lost for a while as I tried to go back to all my photos. It wasnt until I hovered my cursor over darkroom mode when a dialog popped up saying switch to lighttable mode. Ohhh. ThisВ seemingly decorative text is actually clickable. Now why didnt they just make it look like a button?



I did enjoy the layout and the color scheme very much after I figured everything out. The layout is simple and non-distracting. It is not overwhelming like some graphic editors. It seems to promote efficient workflow. I was able to adjust many photos quickly one after another. I did manage to find out some things I didnt like. I really wish the lighttable/darkroom modes were clickable buttons. Its simple but a positive feel would polish things up a bit. I dont have the fastest laptop on the market so Id like to know if there was some indication that Im switching modes. Sometimes I double click the mode and just stare at it as my computer catch up. Did I click it right? Is it going? Did the program freeze? Should I just wait another 3 seconds before I do it again? A simple animation or even a cursor clock would be better than what it does now. It just feels sluggish.



Dont Crash. Please

Probably the most annoying thing about Darktable is the crashes. There is currently a bug that causes Darktable to crash when exporting. It seems to me caused by the Denoise plugin. I see this as a staple plugin. I hate program hopping. I dont want to export the image to GIMP to do something that can be done on Darktable. It adds another step for me. Another thing Id like to see is file size previews. Lots of different sites and services have different limits on image size. I want to preview it before I export. Flickr has a 15 MB limit and it sucks when my JPGs needs to be re-exported at 1% less quality just to be accepted. I know about the Flickr uploader. Facebook and Gmail has limits too. Its just convenient to see to size before I export. The last thing Id like to see on Darktable is more plugins. I want more effects. The less program hopping I have to do, the better. I realize the limitations of non-destructive editing but thats just my style. Feel me?



Final Thoughts

I like Darktable. Its a classy looking program that does the job most of the time. I just wish it was more stable. There are some minor annoyances but the base of this project is solid. I can see Darktable becoming the Linux RAW Standard if they keep this up. Kind of like how GIMP is the standard in the raster side of Linux. For now, all Darktable needs is rock solid stability, some sweet plugins and that may be enough to keep me from purchasing a Bibble 5 license. Maybe What do you think of Darktable? What do you use to edit RAW on Linux? Leave your respond in the comment box below.