I first heard about Darktable software in 2016 and actually was quite fascinated with the name itself. Within a few hours of hearing about it, I went to the official Darktable website and downloaded it on my Linux laptop. I have been using it for quite a while now alongside Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and hence decided to write this small review post. If you are looking for a free Adobe Lightroom alternative, this might be or might not be for you depending on what you need.
Darktable is a free open source post-processing software which can do non-destructive RAW photo editing and photo management. Non-destructive means it does not change the original RAW file, all the edits are written to a sidecar file. It is not a raster editor like GIMP or Adobe Photoshop. It has evolved through so many phases of bug fixing and operating system compatibility. The latest version is available for Linux, Ubuntu, MacOS and Windows. Being an open source software it doesn't surprise me that it is available in 21 language translations. That's the power of open source! Let's talk about a few insights about Darktable and where does it stand in comparison to Lightroom Classic CC.
Darktable has got mainly two working modes:
-Lighttable: This can be considered as the equivalent of library module in Lightroom Classic CC. It includes rating, import options, tags, keywords and thumbnail settings.
-Darkroom: I am sure analog or film photography folks are quite familiar with this word already. This mode is the brain of Darktable, where all the post-processing takes place. Correct white balance, adjust exposure,
In addition to Darkroom and Lighttable, it has got Tethering, Map, Slideshow and Print mode as well.
|Darktable vs Lightroom Classic|
1) Great masking: Darktable has built-in mask options under every module. You can play around with masks to edit brightness, contrast and hue in a specific part of the image. Further three options for masks are drawn masks, parametric marks and drawn+parametric masks.
Example: An outdoor soccer field match photo where sunlight is too harsh on one part of grass field but there is a hockey player on it. This situation is tricky and cannot be resolved with simple brushing that we have in Lightroom. This can be achieved by parametric masks which would decrease the high luminosity for us.
Select a reference point -> Overlay -> Adjust with slider. This will select only that area.
2) Really cool path tool to select square, circular shaped objects for better brushing.
3) Decent availability of keyboard shortcuts: L for Lighttable, D for Darkroom, M for Maps, S for Slideshow as an example.
4) Equalizer module: Equalizer and Denoise come under the correction group. The equalizer has luma (brightness of image), coma (colour of image) and sharpness as three further options. The bar to edit stretches from coarse to fine and smooth to noisy.
5) Multiple instances of filters.
1)The file management and digital asset part could love some improvements. If you can manage your own photo folders and ordering files, then sure Darktable is good.
2)Steep learning curve. Darktable will give you barebone options, like 3 sliders for the same one slider in Lightroom. Do not expect to be able to edit images in a flash just because you made the switch. Take it slow and browse forums about specific questions whenever you get stuck. Once you get a grip on your own workflow, it will get a lot better.
3)Lightroom and Darkroom edits are not 1:1, so you will definitely lose some of the changes making the switch from Lightroom to Darktable. This post was not written with the purpose of making people switch, so I take no responsibility if you lose your edits or metadata.
Summarizing, people always love to criticize these open source projects but keep in mind they are made by a really small group of people who do this stuff in their spare time. I absolutely love Darktable personally as the UI is very similar to that of Lightroom and it did not require a lot of customizations.
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