darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor

Started Mar 16, 2018 | Discussions thread
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neoofmatrix Regular Member • Posts: 138
darktable - A user review and some thoughts for anyone considering a raw editor

As a hobbyist, I am always excited about new offerings in post processing. So when darktable was made available in Windows, I was naturally curious.

My Current workflow includes 3 tools:

  1. Capture NX-D - For NEF (Raw) to Tiff
  2. Gimp - For layers/masks and simple cloning. (And the final jpeg conversion)
  3. Nik Collection for colors and enhancement

I was trying to check if darktable can replace a couple of them so that I can simplify my workflow.

I will admit that when I uninstalled darktable within minutes of installing because

  1. As a standalone, I was not pleased with the colors
  2. It was not going to replace any of my existing tools.

But during the holiday season I had some time off, watched a bit of videos and played around a bit.

And the best way to put the result was, I was so impressed I explored some Linux flavors to make a switch from Windows to Linux 😊.

This review will mostly be positive and beware, I am a hobbyist so if you are a Pro with 1500 images to work on a weekday; my view may not apply.

Also, there are noticeable shortfalls which I will outline so that if someone can take into consideration if they plan to move from any other Raw developer. But these will be specific to my workflow.

For example, I will not speak anything about the DAM/catalogue features since I always edit individual or batches and not bother about retaining edits.

Also, I will not compare against any other editors like Lightroom, since I don’t think I can add value there. So here we go.

What I like about darktable

In one-word Masks. I have used masks in the past but DT takes it to the next level. My personal favorite combination is drawn and parametric with hue channel. It almost mimics Nik Collections’ U point technology. But with greater degree of control.

An example is, you can increase the contrast and saturation of only the dress but leave the skin untouched. Which you can create another mask to smoothen and brighten. I know Lightroom has these tools built in the latest edition, and DXO got Nik itself. But not many other Raw editors.

Some other things I liked:

Simplified Workflow, you pick the modules that you will repeatedly use, mark them favorite and you can edit in a simple sequence.

Fine grained control for changes – hover your mouse over the selected module and you can use the mouse wheel to adjust for fine tuning. Right click and you can choose guided steps via mouse hover. Very intuitive.

Mask Manager- The power to stack up multiple masks, reuse masks and an array of modes which create powerful combos. Not easy to learn I agree, but worth the effort. I am still trying to figure out the mask eraser. Funny enough I know it must be one of the modes, yet to figure out.

Lens Correction: It has a decent collection in its lens library, thanks to lensfun. I find most of the lenses available and the corrections are fairly good. Since I shoot portraits mostly it might vary if you are more demanding. But then you can do your own correction if you have the time and interest too. But I guess this should be standard affair for most Raw convertors.

Liquify Tool: At some point, I just think if they can bundle a clone module I will give up on Gimp. The tool works fairly well and just gives you a taste of what all features that could come in future.

Styles: You can import styles that others built that you can apply and get instant results. So far I am yet to find something that is to my taste. But I really have not looked around much.

Film Emulations: Some modules like Velvia and Grain give you the ability to emulate film. I use Velvia to get some pop. I am not a big fan of film and not sure if it is enough for anyone who loves film. I think Styles could help better.

Highlight reconstruction: Very effective for partial blown outs like sun or a bright colored dress. Again, I am not sure how many Raw editors have this.

To be continued..

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