Digital Darkroom Software Review: Intro

As mentioned a couple of days ago, I’m looking to replace Lightroom (and Photoshop… and Apple) in my photography workflow, and to that end, I’m testing RAW file editing and digital photo softwares to see what my options are.

Before I start posting my results (there’s one already tested and discarded), I thought it might be helpful to describe my requirements and testing process first. That way, I won’t have to repeat myself in every review.

So here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Easy, intuitive workflow, ideally an all-in-one type application that has cataloguing and sorting options in addition to robust editing and correction capabilities
  • Side trips to other programs should be reasonably easy, but largely unnecessary (much like the relationship I have now between Lightroom and Photoshop)
  • As far as cataloguing goes, I require the ability to tag, keyword, add star ratings, and organize into multiple categories based on some searchable metadata (i.e. Lightroom’s ‘smart albums’) and my whims (like normal albums)
  • On the editing side, the usual, non-destructive editing, with no enforced, built-in settings that can’t be removed
  • Editing should be relatively speedy & easy to use, with no lag between making changes and seeing results
  • Easy user-definable presets (that I’ll use primarily for converting negatives, etc.)
  • The usual crop/rotate and flip options; exposure, contrast, shadow/highlight, white-balance, saturation, etc.; spot, chromatic aberration, lens-based corrections
  • User-definable export presets (sizes, formats, quality, etc.)
  • Regular updates and ongoing upgrades/support, with good documentation

A few of these are absolute must-haves: since I recently began scanning negatives from the emulsion side (to get that extra bit of sharpness), I need to be able to flip/mirror images; since I regularly convert negatives, I must have the ability to invert the colors and exposure fairly easily and use spot tools and sliders to set white balance; I process loads of pictures, so the sorting/cataloging and basic conversion stuff need to be fast and relatively intuitive—I don’t mind a learning curve, but my time is limited and I want to spend it shooting and writing, not learning software (if I can help it).

Those are the must-haves, I guess. If I have to sort/catalogue/etc. in one application and edit in another, I’ll do it, but I would rather not. I don’t care much about plugins or built-in presets—I picked up the Topaz set some years ago during some sort of a sale, but haven’t used it much apart from some play during the 365 project—so plugin availability is of little concern. And I’m not wedded to any particular operating system or software company. As long as I can output more or less jpegs, pngs, and/or tiffs, I’m fairly agnostic about the rest.

[Of course, I am currently using a 2012 MacBook Pro (non-Retina), and I’ve been on Macintosh since 2003 and an iPhone user since 2010. But I’ve been consciously moving more and more of my computing to open-source, platform-agnostic softwares, and now that Apple has hit #5 on the Fortune 500, it quite obviously no longer ‘needs’ my money. But I digress…]

If I think of any other not-so-critical things, I’ll add them here.

So, for the upcoming reviews, here are the things I plan to check. [Note that with the first review (testing complete, awaiting write-up) I got partway through these and gave up, as there was too many critical bits missing. I expect that I’ll do something similar in other reviews.]:

  • Compatibility with old cameras and formats (in particular, the .ORF files from the 5050 and my now nearly 5 year old D7000, but maybe others too: some of the old digital cameras have some interesting characteristics)
  • ability to create a preset for converting negatives to positive, ideally a one click thing that preserves normal tool functions, if possible
  • ability to mirror/flip and easily crop images in fixed and arbitrary aspect ratios
  • quality of standard import settings & the ability to turn them off easily

So that’s about it. I’ll try to get my first review up in a day or two, and I’m 10 or so days into a free 30 day trial of another, so I need to get into that one quickly. That said, this project is likely to take longer than I planned, as I’ve received some news recently that means my leisure time will be occupied with a rather unpleasant task for the forseeable future. If you’re the praying type, please make dua that I find a good resolution; if you’re not into praying, maybe give it some thought (it works! God is listening, and will provide!), and in the mean time keep me in your thoughts.


 

In these reviews, I’m inspired by and indebted to—though I don’t go nearly as far as—Elle Stone and her two part review of Linux Raw Processors (part 1, part 2). Elle is a self-described Linux fanatic and is absolutely committed to getting the most accurate color possible. Thanks to her, I’m now using a seemingly more accurate monitor profile produced by ArgyllCMS via the dispocal GUI interface. (Sadly, I’m currently not savvy enough with the command line to run Argyll via the Terminal.)

One thing Elle notes in part 2, “don’t judge a raw processor until you are very comfortable with the interface.” I’m likely to break this rule to a degree. In fact, I already have: the first RAW processor I tried lacks one very necessary feature, and after looking around, there seems to be no plan to add it, sadly. But I’ll try to be honest when I give up on one before taking it all the way.

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