Some time has passed since I have given an overview of what is available to photographers when it comes to Open-Source RAW editors. In that time all of the major contenders have since continued development and a few new hopefuls have appeared on the scene. In all it is a fantastic time to be a photographer who either runs GNULinux as their main operating system, or simply has an interest in running Open-Source alternatives to proprietary software even on Windows or a Mac.
This article assumes some knowledge of the nature and benefits of shooting RAW. If you are unfamiliar with the format you may wish to start here.
Consider: While Free and Open-Source Software is often offered gratis, there are no barriers to making monetary donations or contributing in other ways (code, helping the community with tutorials, etc.). There is nothing in the philosophy against giving or giving back in one way or another. One of the main strengths of the FOSS community is the direct interaction between users and developers. As a user I personally feel there is an ethical imperative to give back in some way.
Currently I am running a 64-bit Linux distribution using the KDE desktop. At another time I may cover the benefits for photographers using the KDE desktop because there are several. Independent of DE (Desktop Environment) all RAW and image editors available for Linux are available to photographers with one or two caveats. Currently I have installed 8 RAW capable editors; Darktable, Digikam, Fotoxx, GTKgallery, Photivo, Rawstudio, Rawtherapee, and UFRaw.
Comparing their processing abilities led me to the admittedly casual conclusion that any Open Source photographer can make his/her choice of editor dependent on personal need and temperament. Want an editor that also provides asset management? There are several options. Want something that allows selective edits? Still got options.
At a later date I intend to go more in-depth about the programs I currently have installed, but for this post I’m going to give a brief example of the results to be obtained with each.
For comparison I am providing the jpg from a Canon DSLR. No editing has been done to the jpg so it is provided as-is.
Rawtherapee is currently my number one pick for a RAW editor. It has a strong history and is in current development. Rawtherapee covers about 98% of my needs. Recent additions have seen the incorporation of a set of tools dedicated to black and white conversion, and another to film emulation. From experience I can say that both are very useful tools. There are a number of demosaicing engines available, including some specific to high-noise images.
Rawstudio is a much older RAW editing program but still useful. Development seems
slowed dead so there may be some trouble with very recent cameras: for instance it can not read files from my Fuji X10, or other X-trans sensor cameras. If you are using older equipment, or have older files to process, it still wouldn’t hurt to consider it. I’ve been very impressed by black and white images produced from Rawstudio, and it’s controls are a good balance between simplicity and effectiveness.
Darktable (Linux/OSX with Macports)
Darktable is a program which often gets mentioned as an Open-source editor. Not surprisingly, Darktable has a wealth of useful features that make it an appealing package. Selective editing is one area in which Darktable stands apart from the crowd. Having the ability to selectively edit contrast, exposure, and levels for separate parts of an image is extremely powerful as an option. Darktable is my go to for any image that needs this kind of precision. Darktable also provides asset management functionality and can import images from cameras.
Digikam (Linux/OSX with Macports/Windows)
Digikam has a healthy following among some photographers. Initially a part of the KDE desktop it has garnered a wide user base outside of GNULinux . I have to admit I do not usually install Digikam when running other desktop environments (XFCE, Pantheon, Cinnamon) because I find bringing in KDE dependencies can be problematic. Windows users do not have to consider this.
Digikam is not only a RAW editor but a fantastic program for image management as well. Digikam can import images from cameras and has robust features to organize your photos in addition to its editing functions.
Fotoxx is a program I was unfamiliar with until shortly before this article. The developers claim that, “The goal is to meet most user needs while remaining fast and easy to use.” With that in mind I do have to say they are well on their way. Initially, it takes some getting used to because it differs from the majority of editors. A trip in to the “user settings” dialogue doesn’t hurt either. Fotoxx makes use of DCRaw to process RAW files.
Another program I’ve become only recently acquainted with is GTKRawGallery. GTKRawGallery is another program that attempts to put ease-of-use at the forefront. It has another unique UI, but users shouldn’t have too much difficulty as everything is laid out in tabs along the program’s right side. GTKRawGallery also makes use of DCRaw.
Photivo is an extremely versatile editor with a lot, and I do mean A LOT, of options. There may be something of a learning curve in finding which options most effectively do what you want, but once you do there is a lot that can be done here. My understanding is that Photivo shares some code “DNA” with Rawtherapee but the similarity is all behind-the-scenes. I really like a lot about Photivo even though some of its functions are a little too mysterious (took me a while to figure out how to get full-size output). Like all the offerings it is worth delving into to discover for yourself.
Lastly is UFRaw which is the venerable veteran of Linux RAW editing. It appears at first glance not to be as polished as some of the others, and admittedly its tool-set seems a little lacking, but for basic RAW processing it is just as effective as the other offerings. This was one of the first programs for RAW editing I tried in my transition from proprietary OS’s to GNULinux.
All Things Considered
As can be seen from the images above these are all very usable options. In general my recommendation is that for more advanced users Darktable, Digikam, and Rawtherapee make a good starting point, for the adventurous Photivo is just as capable but has a steeper learning curve, and the same goes for UFRaw. For more casual needs Fotoxx and GTKRawGallery are definitely where it’s at. Rawstudio, for its lack of support of more recent cameras, is only going to be useful for some.
Note: Lightzone, which has a strong following as well, was not included in this roundup because it had issues running on my 64-bit system.