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darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw...

  
 
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


As a hobbyist, I am always excited about new offerings in post processing. So when darktable was made available in Windows, I was naturally curious. My Current workflow includes 3 tools:

Capture NX-D - For NEF (Raw) to Tiff
Gimp - For layers/masks and simple cloning. (And the final jpeg conversion)
Nik Collection for colors and enhancement

I was trying to check if darktable can replace a couple of them so that I can simplify my workflow. I will admit that when I uninstalled darktable within minutes of installing because:
As a standalone, I was not pleased with the colors
It was not going to replace any of my existing tools.
But during the holiday season I had some time off, watched a bit of videos and played around a bit. And the best way to put the result was, I was so impressed that I explored some Linux flavors to make a switch from Windows to Linux . This review will mostly be positive and beware, I am a hobbyist so if you are a Pro with 1500 images to work on a weekday; my view may not apply. Also, there are noticeable shortfalls which I will outline so that if someone can take into consideration if they plan to move from any other Raw developer. But these will be specific to my workflow.
For example, I will not speak anything about the DAM/catalogue features since I always edit individual or batches and not bother about retaining edits. Also, I will not compare against any other editors like Lightroom, since I don’t think I can add value there. So here we go.

What I like about darktable

In one-word Masks. I have used masks in the past but DT takes it to the next level. My personal favorite combination is drawn and parametric with hue channel. It almost mimics Nik Collections’ U point technology. But with greater degree of control.
An example is, you can increase the contrast and saturation of only the dress but leave the skin untouched. Which you can create another mask to smoothen and brighten. I know Lightroom has these tools built in the latest edition, and DXO got Nik itself. But not many other Raw editors.

Some other things I liked:

Simplified Workflow, you pick the modules that you will repeatedly use, mark them favorite and you can edit in a simple sequence.
Fine grained control for changes – hover your mouse over the selected module and you can use the mouse wheel to adjust for fine tuning. Right click and you can choose guided steps via mouse hover. Very intuitive.
Mask Manager- The power to stack up multiple masks, reuse masks and an array of modes which create powerful combos. Not easy to learn I agree, but worth the effort. I am still trying to figure out the mask eraser. Funny enough I know it must be one of the modes, yet to figure out.
Lens Correction: It has a decent collection in its lens library, thanks to lensfun. I find most of the lenses available and the corrections are fairly good. Since I shoot portraits mostly it might vary if you are more demanding. But then you can do your own correction if you have the time and interest too. But I guess this should be standard affair for most Raw convertors.
Liquify Tool: At some point, I just think if they can bundle a clone module I will give up on Gimp. The tool works fairly well and just gives you a taste of what all features that could come in future.
Styles: You can import styles that others built that you can apply and get instant results. So far I am yet to find something that is to my taste. But I really have not looked around much.
Film Emulations: Some modules like Velvia and Grain give you the ability to emulate film. I use Velvia to get some pop. I am not a big fan of film and not sure if it is enough for anyone who loves film. I think Styles could help better.
Highlight reconstruction: Very effective for partial blown outs like sun or a bright colored dress. Again, I am not sure how many Raw editors have this.

There are a few modules which I have not used extensively so I will not extensively comment
Tethering:
I am yet to use it and I am sure it will serve well.
Print Module:
I have not used it but should serve most who look forward to.
Color correction modules:
There are quite a few color correction tools. Which are rather good. I have not extensively used them and I don’t think any other Raw editor is bad on these counts. So I will just say, these get the job done. I will skip them along with sharpening and noise reduction modules. Since I rarely sharpen my images and use Nik for noise reduction. The equalizer module sounds interesting; however, I prefer to be conservative when it comes to sharpening and use contrast more.

Edited on Mar 19, 2018 at 08:37 AM · View previous versions



Mar 19, 2018 at 08:31 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


But in the second part I want to focus on why darktable is such a good replacement for any Post Processing software you might be using or plan to switching.
Built for the love of Photography – This may not mean a lot to most, but I am astounded such good piece of software could be written and given away as free. I have used quite a few editors and most of them paid, but none evoke such a linear workflow and it tells easily it was built by a bunch of photographers.
Open Source – This is strictly a Raw editor but if you look at modules like Liquify you will wonder whether it is a pixel level editor. Interestingly that module was developed by another developer which was merged later. I hear there is another module called Enfuse which will allow focus stacking and there will be more and more such interesting additions which will make darktable a strong contender amongst its peers.
It has a DAM built in. I do not use one so I cannot comment much. But from what I read, it is okay for most users and can import images form Lightroom with its major edits intact. So anyone switching can try out how well it performs. It can be an end to end editor. While I have not completely abandoned my old workflow, this is the only Raw editor where I could finish an entire an image without roundtrips.
Excellent control over local edits. If you are someone like me who likes images to pop a bit.
Almost zero bleeding of selections, with NIK this was one of the major issues. If I applied contrast to dress, it will bleed to skin. If I applied contrast and saturation to dress; it will bleed to skin.
Masking and selection indicators and adjustments are graphically well laid out and acceptably quick to turn on and off.
Enthusiastic developers who are consistent in delivery and open to be interactive with users in public forums. This is a massive differentiator.
If you are technically inclined, you can learn a lot about the underlying technology rather than just sliders that do the magic.
Tether, Shoot, DAM, Edit global, Edit local, export, print. Simply put; it is a one stop solution that not many other tools can compete with.
But the most important reason is the freedom that it gives being free and open source. You don’t have to worry before buying a new camera if your software will support it. Even if it does not, you can request the developers who will not tell you to pay more just to use your new camera.
There are no monthly rentals and more importantly no holding your edits to ransom of recurring payment. You propose an idea for a feature it will be considered not for the business value but for how interesting it is for a developer or how useful it is for the masses.
To me these mean a lot more than just the finesse and glossiness of either the tool or a brand.

Edited on Mar 19, 2018 at 08:38 AM · View previous versions



Mar 19, 2018 at 08:33 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


Improvements and Wishlist:

I would really love it if it can get faster. I know it support GPU acceleration vis Open CL but I am yet to adopt to the ever present “working” overlay.

Not enough user contribution especially user tutorials. I am not technically challenged, but the content to learn darktable sometimes is not as simple as lightroom or photoshop. The reason is simple, there is a huge market for photoshop tutorials that there are a lot of professional contributors who make money out of it. You cannot expect that for darktable. It is up to users like me to change that one step at a time.

A huge shout out to dpreview user sankos whose post got me started off with darktable.

The first video that got me started off was David Lacivita’s workflow. I also watched harry durgin and Riley Brandt. But Shane Milton has been recently consistent and picks easy to digest modules along with a good walk through of his actual workflow live streams. I just watch him at 1.5x speed 😉

Though not a negative, interesting it is how DT takes a built for engineers by engineers approach when it comes to naming conventions. Truthfully, I like it, but I just guess it depends on whether you like the term “mid tone bias” or “magic retainer” 😊

I hear the Linux version is slightly faster than Windows, hope windows version can catch up with Linux soon.

I just hope the developers somehow accommodate layers and ability to call external plug-ins. This will literally make darktable my one stop shop.



Mar 19, 2018 at 08:33 AM
amacal1
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


More information is greater than less information. Thank you for posting your thoughts. This looks like a really interesting alternative for those who want 90% of what Lightroom offers, but don't want to be stuck on a subscription.



Mar 19, 2018 at 08:51 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


amacal1 wrote:
More information is greater than less information. Thank you for posting your thoughts. This looks like a really interesting alternative for those who want 90% of what Lightroom offers, but don't want to be stuck on a subscription.


Haha, I like your point about the wall of text:

So let me try the 1000 words:

Capture NX-D

Capture NXD by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

Nik Viveza

NiK_Viveza by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

darktable

darktable by Neo Pixels, on Flickr



Mar 19, 2018 at 09:03 AM
amacal1
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


I'm sorry, I think you misinterpreted my comment. I was not critiquing your writing.

I only meant that you were providing more condensed information about this piece of software from the perspective of a new user than I've read anywhere else. Your post is far from a complete review, but your perspective is unique and valuable. Thus, more information (your thoughts and experiences) is better than less information (the void of nothingness that existed before you made your post).





Mar 19, 2018 at 09:12 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


Dear amacal1,

I think I did a poor job attempting humor .
We are good friends from your previous darktable thread. Hope you tried darktable yourself.

I felt important to share and spread the good word about darktable since there are not many real user reviews on such a wonderful software.

I think the images should speak for anyone who is considering a switch from any other software since darktable got me impressed despite my inherent indifference towards any RAW editors in general. I usually prefer finer control than what typical Raw editors offer.

As you mentioned there is a dearth of details about darktable with very few posts even in this forum. My intention is to evoke a bit of interest and hope few people can play around with it. I am sure once anyone uses it they see value.

How about a couple more photos to show how I am using it currently. Mind you I am usually a bit over the top. One can choose to be a lot more restrained like any other software.

Nik Viveza

Nik_Viveza_001 by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

darktable

Darktable_001 by Neo Pixels, on Flickr



Mar 19, 2018 at 09:30 AM
tntcorp
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


informative writeup. thx! isn't there also a window flavor of darktable as well?

am i incorrect or do i need to switch to Linux to run it?



Mar 19, 2018 at 10:04 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


tntcorp wrote:
informative writeup. thx! isn't there also a window flavor of darktable as well?

am i incorrect or do i need to switch to Linux to run it?


Yes, there is a Windows version and that is what I use. I do not have a Linux machine.
This version 2.4.1 has been remarkably stable for me and I am yet to encounter any bugs or crashes. Although you should consider I do not use DAM features and limit for image editing only.

If you have not tried yet, I strongly suggest downloading and trying it out.

Let me put a simple walk through how this image was edited.



Mar 19, 2018 at 10:11 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


So here is how I edited this image.
This is the raw image adjusted for exposure.

SOOC by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

Next I choose a mask to skip the sky. The way I do is to pick the range that falls within the hue range. However you can notice it still picked a bit of sky as well.

001 by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

So now I add a drawn mask on top to remove the sky completely from the selection.

003 by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

This is how it looks, now the selection in the sky is gone. The wire frame like path is adjustable manually if you want to and has handles. (you can turn this off from your view)

004 by Neo Pixels, on Flickr

So I edited the sky and statues separately to get a contrasty look without the sky looking like HDR.

Feel free to let me know if you want more inputs.



Mar 19, 2018 at 10:27 AM
 


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neoofmatrix
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


While it looks a bit cumbersome, this is a straight 1 minute job once you get the hang of it. And this is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to masks. darktable got parametric masks even before lightroom got it and has plenty of flexibility in both choice and selection.


Mar 19, 2018 at 10:30 AM
tntcorp
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


neoofmatrix wrote:
Yes, there is a Windows version and that is what I use. I do not have a Linux machine.
This version 2.4.1 has been remarkably stable for me and I am yet to encounter any bugs or crashes. Although you should consider I do not use DAM features and limit for image editing only.

If you have not tried yet, I strongly suggest downloading and trying it out.

Let me put a simple walk through how this image was edited.


thanks for the response. looking to free a pc machine to download and try the software. curious to know what is the spec for your window machine?



Mar 19, 2018 at 05:10 PM
tntcorp
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


neoofmatrix wrote:
While it looks a bit cumbersome, this is a straight 1 minute job once you get the hang of it. And this is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to masks. darktable got parametric masks even before lightroom got it and has plenty of flexibility in both choice and selection.


thanks for the quick editing demo. will try darktable on a laptop with integrated graphic card and i5 cpu. :')



Mar 19, 2018 at 05:14 PM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


tntcorp wrote:
thanks for the quick editing demo. will try darktable on a laptop with integrated graphic card and i5 cpu. :')


darktable while may not be the fastest, it is not resource intensive. You will rarely see yourself struggling for memory and from what I read, it is usually less memory hungry than Lightroom.
However it can take advantage if you have a dedicated GPU.

Refer this article.
https://www.darktable.org/2012/03/darktable-and-opencl/

Considering you have an integrated GPU it will safely ignore any OpenCL optimizations.



Mar 19, 2018 at 10:54 PM
15Bit
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


Good to see a bit more coverage of DT here. We did have a thread on it a few months back, within the Adobe CC context, and i spent a bit of time looking it over then as i retain a long held optimism that i can move my home desktop over to linux one day (been trying for 20 years now).

I was also impressed by the abilities of DT, and by the output quality. I had honestly expected less. It is a very good bit of software, and not at all inferior in terms of IQ. I would say that the interface/workflow need some getting used to. It looks superficially like LR, but it isn't LR at all. The ability to rearrange everything to your liking is certainly a help, but the major issue for a typical user or Adobe switcher is the sheer number of options in every module. It is possible to have too many choices, and presenting the user with multiple deconvolution algorithms, multiple noise reduction methods etc. is more confusing than helpful for folk who aren't technically inclined toward understanding all the underlying mathematics. I can get good results much faster with both LR and C1, due to their better interfaces.

My conclusion was that i could live with it happily, albeit with substantial time investment in learning it. And it would facilitate my shift to Linux, as Photo editing software is the only thing holding me back from that now. But i have LR6 and C1 now, both of which i am happy with. And i have a LR catalogue which represents a fairly substantial time investment. In a couple of years when Win7 hits the end of support and i hit crunch time with respect to Win10 (and a new PC) i will revisit and quite likely make the big jump then. If Affinity photo would port to Linux that would probably decide the issue for me.



Mar 20, 2018 at 12:12 AM
neoofmatrix
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


15Bit wrote:
Good to see a bit more coverage of DT here. We did have a thread on it a few months back, within the Adobe CC context, and i spent a bit of time looking it over then as i retain a long held optimism that i can move my home desktop over to linux one day (been trying for 20 years now).

I was also impressed by the abilities of DT, and by the output quality. I had honestly expected less. It is a very good bit of software, and not at all inferior in terms of IQ. I would
...Show more

Yours is an important post and I agree with everything you have to say. While darktable was intimidating to start with; once I got the hang of it it was a lot more simple than any other tool I used since it appeared linear based on my choice.

What most people do not consider is the substantial amount of time investment one made towards learning Lightroom and its tricks. All that darktable needs is about 10% of that same time since everything you learnt still applies.
That is; the "WHAT" remains the same but the "HOW TO" changes slightly. It takes a little bit of effort and will help greatly if we had more tutorials that can ease the transition.

With regards to the complexity of the modules and not having a simple one click fix buttons with a fancy name, I think that is a developer decision which is not going to change. I think only more helpful tutorials can change that.

My only suggestion to you is to do what I do. Every now and then I pick an image to edit with darktable for fun. I have not abandoned any of my current workflow but have included darktable so that I continue to get better at it. At some point I will be confident enough to switch over to darktable.
To say this after just 3 months of usage, is for me quite a positive. Because I have been hunting for one far many years now.

Good luck with your pursuit.




Mar 20, 2018 at 02:29 AM
RustyBug
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


Poked around with it a little bit last night. Interesting, in that it seems to have a technical bent to it. I didn't make it to trying out masks or too much really. The first order of business was to see if could open my .CR2 files from the 6D2, which it did.

Some of the other alternative programs I've tried hadn't caught up to the 6D2 yet.

I'm not an LR user, and this does lean toward the LR workflow more than the PS workflow. While it did have some canned export options, it did not provide for direct export to PS (or I didn't find one), and it doesn't have layers. But, it still caught my attention as possibly an alternative to DPP4 for opening my raw files.

It's off to an okay start for me, with an intrigue to how well it functions technically when you have challenging files to work with. More paces to put it through, so ... time will tell.



Mar 20, 2018 at 02:28 PM
mjc
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


+1 on DT. Its been around a long while, is stable, and is very powerful.


Mar 20, 2018 at 03:11 PM
amacal1
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


I've been poking my head very gently and slowly into astrophotography. I was reading recently about some software to auto-align images for stacking and to generate masks. These stacked images and masks can then later be loaded into any software that supports bitmap masks (i.e. Photoshop).

LR masking is limited, but I wonder if Darktable can import bitmap images as masks?



Mar 20, 2018 at 03:33 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor


mjc wrote:
+1 on DT. Its been around a long while, is stable, and is very powerful.


This is kinda the initial vibe I got from putzin' with it ... leaving me to wonder, just how powerful I might find it to be.




Mar 20, 2018 at 05:59 PM
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