After outgrowing Photos and Picassa, I bought a copy of Adobe Photo Lightroom. In 2010 I paid $300 for a copy of Lightroom 3. It was a difficult purchase. $300 is a lot of money and this was the most I had ever paid for software. But I reluctantly handed over my credit card to Adobe because I wanted the features and functionality offered by Lightroom.

Some of my friends had suggested the open source software GIMP as a free1 alternative. Those friends obviously don’t do much photography because the GIMP is the most unreliable piece of software I have ever used. On the Mac, GIMP would crash within minutes of making an edit. GIMP simply lacks any stable photography workflow feature that remotely resembles anything in the Adobe Photoshop suite.

However, I recently discovered an open source project called darktable that “gets it”.

darktable is an open source photography workflow application and RAW developer. A virtual lighttable and darkroom for photographers. It manages your digital negatives in a database, lets you view them through a zoomable lighttable and enables you to develop raw images and enhance them.

A “lighttable and darkroom for photographers”2? I think they stopped short of calling it an open source Adobe Lightroom replacement. From the feature list I can tell the developers are aiming at creating exactly that.

Here’s a shot list of features:

  • Fully non-destructive editing.
  • A collect module allows you to execute flexible database queries, search your images by tags, image rating (stars), color labels and many more. Filtering and sorting your collections within the base query or simple tagging by related tags are useful tools in your every-day photo workflow.
  • Import a variety of standard, raw and high dynamic range image formats (e.g. jpg, cr2, hdr, pfm, .. ).
  • Tethered shooting.
  • The powerful export system supports Picasa webalbum, flickr upload, disk storage, 1:1 copy, email attachments and can generate a simple html-based web gallery. darktable allows you to export to low dynamic range (JPEG, PNG, TIFF), 16-bit (PPM, TIFF), or linear high dynamic range (PFM, EXR) images.
  • darktable uses both XMP sidecar files as well as its fast database for saving metadata and processing settings. All Exif data is read and written using libexiv2.

Wow! There’s a lot more. Too much for me to cover in this blog post. If you don’t already have Adobe Lightroom and you are on a budget, download a darktable and start playing around.


  1. Free as in free beer since most users of open source software never look at the code. 
  2. Instead of Lighttable and darkroom