Joining the Darktable side

Last week I wrote about my photography workflow on Ubuntu. One package that seemed popular in comments is Darktable. When I tried Darktable a couple of years ago, I didn’t have a positive experience. I thought I would spend an hour or so trying Darktable and see if it has improved. I know that an hour isn’t long enough to get to grips with every aspect of a program, so I will only be able to note first impressions. I installed it on my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS system using the Software Centre. When you start up Darktable you see this:

I like that there is some helpful guiding text rather than a blank screen, but my inner grammar pedant squirms at the use of lower-case. The file path in the “target storage” is a bit… technical too. No matter. I followed the instructions and imported a copy of the RAW files from a recent shoot. The 1,100 images took a long time to import, much slower than Aftershot Pro. The catalogue view is clunky: With no scrollbars one has to use arrow keys to navigate it. Annoyingly, it’s not possible to see the stars rating of an image without hovering over it, or even rate multiple images at once.

Darktable does not create any menus in the menu bar. This is refreshing, a cue to the new user that all the features are in the main UI. I selected an image to experiment with. The sliders were responsive and the histogram is nicely rendered, although the collection of buttons below it is counter-intuitive. The lower four appear to be tabs, showing a selection of relevant tools in the area below. The top two seem to show a combination of tools from the lower four tabs, plus extras like a curves tool. The “more plugins” option shows a wealth of extra tools, which can be loaded into the aforementioned tabs. This is a neat way of avoiding overloading users with too many options, although I was scratching my head for a while wondering how it all worked.

A history of the processes applied to an image is kept on the left hand side and a click reverts back to any point in that history. The ability to snapshot an image is nice too. The monochrome tool works well, and I like being able to pick a colour from the wheel. The UI wasn’t very fast, and the image previews didn’t update properly. You can’t duplicate an image whilst editing it. When hovering over an option on the white balance menu, it doesn’t show how the image would look if that option were selected. I couldn’t see how to do side by side comparison of images, nor adjust the zoom to anything other than 1:1 or 100% fit.

So congratulations to the Darktable team for the improvements in the last couple of years, it’s clearly had a lot of effort put in to it. There are things that mean Darktable isn’t right for me at the moment, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

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    6 Responses to Joining the Darktable side

    1. Pete Stean says:

      Worth installing and taking a look at then – I need an alternative to Lightroom so I don’t have to boot into Windows 7…

    2. vincent says:

      Darktable is still under development. The GUI for instance has been modified in the upcoming release 1.1. I use this ppa: (ATTENTION: This PPA is only regularly updated for Precise. Quantal only gets official release candidates.)

      I really like the GUI and the workflow of Darktable and find it more naturally to work with than with Aftershot Pro (Who is indeed very fast importing en exporting of photo’s)

    3. Mihai says:

      You have an f/1.2 lens? Wow!

    4. Please do mind that Ubuntu Precise has an old version of Darktable in it’s repositories. Ubuntu Quantal has the latest stable Darktable release in it’s repositories. However that version is soon going to be outdated by a new release.

      We have PPAs for stable releases:

      Or if you’re adventurous, you can preview the next release using the “Unstable” PPA:

    5. I read you were have issues accessing the screencasts, is this still a problem for you? If so, feel free to contact me about it.

    6. Tony says:

      Hi Pascal, the problems I had accessing the screencasts were about two years ago. Hopefully they’ve been resolved by now. 🙂

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