The darktable team has announced its second summer feature release, bringing darktable to version 3.6. The latest update is the first of two planned feature releases, with the second intended to come out this winter. Darktable hopes to release a pair of major updates each year.

Back to today's update. Version 3.6 adds numerous new features to darktable. First up is the new 'quick access panel,' a replacement for the old basic adjustments module and more. The quick access panel includes a new interface that combines existing processing modules into a unified layout. Users can add controls from any module to the quick access panel, promising improved usability. A further improvement is the ability to add and remove modules from a module group quickly.

The new 'quick access panel' replaces the old basic adjustments panel in darktable 3.6.

Darktable writes, 'Now that scene-referred image processing is virtually feature-complete in darktable 3.6, scene-referred is now the default workflow. The legacy workflow can still be manually enabled in the preferences.' Alongside the new image processing, there's a new interpolation method, dubbed 'safe.' It's the new default to build the characteristic 'S' shaped tone curve. It uses a rational polynomial, similar to the Michaelis-Menten equation, 'which prevents the under- and over-shooting that can sometimes occur with high contrast and latitude when using the 'hard' and 'soft' interpolation methods.'

The color balance RGB module introduces several innovations to improve color editing. The module prevents users from pushing colors outside of the valid working range when editing. It also uses luminance masks to split the image into shadows, highlights and midtones, allowing each to be color-graded separately.

The color balance RGB module also includes what darktable calls real 'saturation.' This setting 'honors the Munsell and CIE (International Commission on Illumination) definition of saturation: colorfulness relative to lightness. It is important to note that, what 99% of software calls "saturation" is actually a setting that alters chroma (colorfulness irrespective of lightness). While desaturating (in real saturation) also brightens and allows you to reach pastel colors (red degrades to pink), chroma reduction takes place at constant lightness and allows you only to reach a shade of gray with the same luminance (red degrades to gray), which is quite unpleasant and inconsistent with painting. A chroma setting is also provided. Both saturation and chroma settings can be tuned globally and separately for shadows, midtones and highlights, using the luminance masks.'

The new color balance module in darktable 3.6

Another aspect of color editing that's changed in the new version of darktable is color checker support. Color checkers, like a Datacolor X-Rite Passport, for example, are common tools in the industry. darktable 3.6 includes a new interface in its color calibration module to quickly extract the best white balance and RGB mixer settings from a color checker image. Regarding color checker support, darktable writes, 'X-Rite/Gretag Macbeth Passport 24 (pre-2014 and post-2014) and Spyder ColorChecker 24 and 48 (pre-2018 and post-2018) are currently supported. We do not plan to let users add their own charts, and only reference charts from reputable manufacturers will be added to the library in the future.'

If you ever need to blur or pixelate selected parts of an image, such as to protect privacy or make an image suitable for certain social media platforms, a new 'censorize' module allows users to apply Gaussian blur and Gaussian noise to images selectively. This will not provide forensic-level censorship.

For photographers using digital cameras with Bayer array sensors, which is most image sensors, new demosaic algorithms have been added. A new Ratio-Corrected Demosaicing (RCD) algorithm has been added to the demosaic module. This algorithm promises improved performance, promising nearly the same detail recovery with fewer artifacts. Images shot at low ISO and images of the night sky will be smoother, and noise will be less grainy, according to darktable. The RCD algorithm is also significantly faster.

The new parametric masking options allow for more control over how different parts of your image are sharpened in darktable 3.6.

When editing RAW images, darktable 3.6 includes a new parametric masking option that allows users to include or exclude sharp images and details from parametric masks. You can use this feature to not sharpen out of focus areas of an image or only sharpen less sharp areas, ensuring you don't excessively sharpen areas that are already sharp.

There are many more improvements to darktable 3.6, including revised masking, improvements to eliminating chromatic aberrations, improved lens corrections, better performance and increased stability. To read the full breakdown of all changes, click here.

Darktable is an open source photography workflow application and RAW developer. To install it, for free, visit darktable.