Free Open Source Photo Editing Software

Started Dec 15, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Free Open Source Photo Editing Software
Dec 15, 2013

Since this question comes up all the time, I figured I'd post my updated list of favorite software.  I use Linux exclusively for my photo editing, but some of these listed below do have Windows versions.  I have tried the Windows versions of most of these, but in every case, it's obvious the software was written for Linux and only ported to Windows as an afterthought.  Often the Windows version is less stable, has fewer features, is much slower, etc.  If I get a minute I'll add links to all these, but the download sites for all of them can be easily located with a quick search online. All these programs are free, with no advertising, pop-ups, etc.

1. Ufraw - This is the only application I use for RAW conversion, even though many of the others do an adequate job.  It's the fastest, easiest to use, and gets by far the best results of any of the others.  There are other things you can do with the software such as adjust contrast, reduce noise, resize, apply curves, adjust levels, adjust white balance, etc., but it's not a full featured editor.  In my workflow I use this to adjust exposure or apply curves if necessary, apply the camera profile, and simply convert to png before editing in another program.  EXIF is preserved in the conversion to png with this program.  There is a Windows version but I don't know how well it compares to the Linux version.  I'm guessing it works well only because this application is much simpler than many of the other programs listed here.

2. Digikam - This is my primary application for photo management and it pretty much has it all.  It can do raw conversions very well, but it takes a lot more work and it seems to me the settings need too much tweaking with every photo, so I prefer Ufraw for the initial conversion.  I could write a book on this software, but basically it's the best there is for editing and managing, there's just a ton you can do with it and it does everything well, and for the most part it's very intuitive and simple to use.  For sharpening, use the refocus option, it's the best sharpening tool there is.  Read the free manual and it will give you a good basic starting point for tweaking most settings.  Windows version is significantly worse than the Linux version in every way, but it's usable.

4. Darktable - This is as good or better than Digikam for photo editing.  Sometimes I throw this in between my Ufraw conversion and Digikam editing, for special needs.  A good example is spot removal, a feature that works amazingly well and easy in Darktable.  As good or better than any commercial application out there.  No Windows version.

That's my cutoff for my go-to applications that I use on a regular basis.  The others below are just some that I've used before, and may use occasionally for very specific functions.  Others may find these work well for them, but I don't find any of these to be as good as the first three.

5. Photivo - This is the closest one to Digikam and Darktable in terms of features and quality.  I haven't used it in a while and actually can't remember why I stopped using it, I'm guessing it just didn't do anything better than the others I was more familiar with.  It's definitely worth a look.  There is a Windows version too.

6. RawTherapee - This application is somewhat slow but it has tons of editing features.  It reminds me of Photoshop only in the learning curve required, complexity, and sheer number of options and settings.  Some may really like it but I just never got the hang of using this efficiently, and I didn't find it to do anything I couldn't do with the other applications I use.  There is a Windows version that does work as well as the Linux version.

7. Gimp - In my opinion this application was never a photo editor, and it hasn't aged well.  It's kind of like comparing Photoshop to the other Adobe applications like Elements or Lightroom.  You can edit photos with it, and do some really cool things, but for most things it's more difficult to use than other applications dedicated to photo editing.  Depending on your workflow it can have some serious flaw, for example it does not preserve exif in some file formats such as png.  This is probably one of the most recommended open-source applications for photo-editing and I just don't understand why.  There are many things this application can do that the other ones above can't, but they are mostly very advanced editing features that I believe the majority of people rarely use, while the most common editing functions are not implemented as well with this application.  If you like spending hours editing photos in Photoshop, you might like this application.  There is a Windows version that I believe has almost all the same features, but is noticeably slower than the Linux version.


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