Darktable Review, a Lightroom Alternative for Linux Users

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Darktable Review, a Lightroom Alternative for Linux Users

Adobe’s products are still becoming the favorite when it comes to photography. Lightroom is not the exception. No one is doubting Lightroom in handling RAW files. It’s one of the best tools to work with RAW files and the vast majority of professional photographers rely on it. The problem is, Lightroom — same as other Adobe’s products — is only available for Windows and Mac. Photographers who use Linux on their daily basis have no chance to use the tool, even if they don’t mind to pay.

Darktable is one of the best alternatives for photographers who use Linux on their daily basis. It’s also a great tool if you are just a photography hobbyist who need a free tool to replace Lightroom since Darktable is also available for Windows and Mac.

Darktable itself was originally created by Johannes Hanika. The app was released in 2009, two years after Lightroom. It’s released as an open source project under the GNU General Public License 3. If you ever used Lightroom before, you will find a fact that hardly any differences between Darktable and Lightroom in terms of both interface and functionality.

In this review, I will only focus on two aspects based on the main use of Darktable: photo management and RAW processing. If you are new to Darktable, you can read the basic tutorial in this post.

Photo management

Photo management tool is crucial enough if you want to be more serious with your photography hobby. You will find how crucial this tool is once you have hundreds or even thousands photos. Darktable is not the only photo management you can use on Linux. There are also other tools like digiKam and Shotwell.

Before being able to manage your photos in Darktable, you need to import them first to Darktable. In Darktable, you can import individual photos or folders. You can also directly import your photos from the recognized cameras. To help you manage your photos, Darktable provides several parameters you can use. You can rate photos and add color labels as well as tags. All of those parameters are used to filter the photos when you need to work with certain photos in the future.

As you can see on the short video above, Darkable offers several parameters you can use to filter the photos you have imported. This will makes it even easier for you to find the photos you need out of hundreds or even thousands photos. Adding color labels — as well as tagging photos — is extremely easy. Right below the image viewer (or whatever you call it), you can see several stars as well as colored circles. Simply select photos you want to add the color labels to and choose your preferred color labels. To select multiple photos at once, you can press and hold the CTRL button on the keyboard while selecting the photos using your mouse. In Darkable, each photo can has multiple color labels.

What about tagging?

To add certain tags to photos you can go the right panel. There is a “tagging” menu you will see up there. Simply select photos you want to add tags to. You can use comma to separate tags if you want to add more than one tags to your photos. All of these tasks (adding tags and color labels) can be performed on the lighttable mode (If you are completely new to Darktable, I suggest you to read the basic Darktable tutorial first).

RAW processing

Another main use of Darkable, other than managing photos, is to process RAW files. Again, Darktable is not the only tool for Linux you can use to work with RAW files. There are also RawTherapee and even Shotwell that can handle RAW files good way.

Regarding RAW files, there are two main things you can do with Darktable: edit the photos and export them to JPG. Before exporting your RAW files into JPG you obviously want to make some adjustments first to fix some problems regarding the photos. For instance, if you think the photos you took are under exposure you can adjust the brightness first. Or, you can also set the the sharpness of the color by adjusting the saturation. In addition, Darktable also features basic editing tools to allow you cropping the photos and rotate them. To make the adjustments and perform basic editing, you can switch to the darkroom mode by clicking the “darkroom” menu or by double-clicking on a photo you want to make the adjustments of.

Darktable is particularly pretty cool to fix an under/over exposure photo. When you have selected a photo be edited (on the darkroom mode), you will see a kind of graphic monitoring tool on the right panel. You can also see the metadata of the photo you are opening in this “graphic monitoring tool”. To fix the exposure, you can simple drag it to the right if the photo is under exposure and drag it to the left if the photo is over exposure. Double-clicking on it will reset the exposure to default based on the original exposure of the photo.

There are much other adjustments you can make in Darktable. Exposure is just a little example. You can see all of the adjustments you can make by switching between tabs under the “graphic monitoring tool” on the darkroom mode.

To be honest, I am not too good at photo editing, but what are offered by Darktable I think is pretty cool. Keep in mind that all of the changes you made won’t really be applied until you export you photos since Darktable is a non-destructive photo editor.. To export photos, you can return to the lighttable mode and select the photos you want to export. Then, you can click the “export selected” menu on the right panel. Darktable allows you to export multiple photos at once.

There are several parameters you need to set before clicking the “export” button. As you can see on the “target storage” section under the “export selected” menu, you can also directly upload your photos to Flickr and Google Photos, but I haven’t tried them since I am not a user of those services.


As a free tool, what are offered by Darkable I think is more than enough. Linux users who want to run a photography business can rely on this tool to make the adjustment to the photos they took before selling them. I personally use Darktable to make the adjustments to the photos I took before I upload them to Pixabay or stock photography sites I registered to. In my case, I find that Darktable is helpful enough. There much things to explore in Darktable, but in general, the tool is great enough.

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