Introduction

This is a quick review of the LightZone version 4.0 raw developer and photo editing software.

LightZone 4.0 is nowadays Free (as in Freedom) software and it is available for free from http://lightzoneproject.org/ under a BSD license.

 Credits screen

It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I downloaded and tested the Linux version, which installed and works without any problems on my self-assembled Ubuntu 12.10 Xeon workstation. I am not sure what the hardware and OS requirements are for the Windows and Mac versions, but for the Linux version I believe any laptop or desktop PC that supports a recent Linux distribution should work fine.

By the way, LightZone is not in any way a stripped-down version of any commercial software: it is a full fledged raw developer and photo editing software, with a polished, pleasant user interface and a rather complete help. Online support is available in the form of forums, and it has a growing, active user community.

Using LightZone

Like many other photo editors, LightZone starts up in Browse mode, where you can browse your folders for the files you wish to work on.

 LightZone in Browse mode (click on image for full size screenshot).

The layout is somewhat familiar: we have a folder selector panel on the left, on the bottom we can view the images in the selected folder, on the right LightZone displays the relevant information on the selected image file, including EXIF data, and the center panel displays the selected image itself; in the case of a raw file it is displayed as developed with default settings.

The Help system is available at any time and is surprisingly complete:

 The LightZone Help is well organized, complete and detailed.

You can switch to Edit mode at any time by clicking on the Edit tab at the top left of the LightZone screen:

 LightZone in Edit mode (again, click on image for full size screenshot).

Again, the layout is quite familiar. In the center we have the image which is being edited. On the left we have a list of "Styles" which are a collection of neat effects that can be applied to the image. And on the right we have the settings for each tool or style that we have used on the image. The default settings for each style are reasonably sane but of course one can change them to one's tastes.

 The Fill Flash Style default settings.

One of the neat things about the list of styles is that simply hovering the mouse pointer over any style will show you the effect it will have on the image in the miniature image window above the list of styles. The styles apply cumulatively.

And we can switch the left panel to show the image History:

 The History panel shows all the Styles applied to the image, line by line, latest on top.

I applied a variety of styles to my original test raw file (a .NEF file of a flower macro shot I took with my Nikon D200) and each style applied quickly (but then I am using a quad core Xeon with 16GB of RAM; there is hardly anything this machine can't do quickly) and there were no lock-ups of any kind, and certainly no image artifacts. The Undo button is there for any changes we might think did not result as wanted, and clicking and holding the Orig button will show the original image, making it easy to have a before/after comparison view.

Conclusion

This is a very quick review of LightZone, because I actually just "discovered" this software a couple of days ago. But I was immediately attracted to its logical and pleasing layout, self-evident icons and clear menus, the rather complete Help and the power of the available Styles (I believe you can even create your own Styles i.e. your favorite presets). All in all when working on raw files, I believe LightZone is a powerful tool that will result in better JPEGs than any in-camera JPEG engine. It certainly does wonders on the raw files from my D200.

And I guess one very important question is: which cameras is LightZone compatible with? Well, I would say LightZone is compatible with pretty much any digital camera available right now, and in the future! That's a bold statement so let me explain: LightZone uses the dcraw library to open raw files, and dcraw is a more or less universal raw file decoder, an essential piece of software that is well maintained and periodically updated. You can view the list of cameras that dcraw supports at any time here:

http://www.cybercom.net/~dcoffin/dcraw/#faq (scroll to the bottom of the page)

What else can I say except that I think LightZone is going to be my "go to" tool for raw development and photo editing, from now on?

Highly recommended!