Working with RAW photos in Linux

I'm off to a bad start with my first DSLR but Darktable saves the day. Posted 15 July 2011

Shotwell image artifactsI‘m not new to Linux or to photography, but I recently bought a DSLR and started shooting in the RAW format for the first time. I had problems right away with image quality on the screen. I really like how much more I can do with a photo, particularly lightening up dark areas, versus the regular JPEG format. For the 23% of my readers out there that use Linux, this post is for you.

I had been using Picasa for Linux but I got tired of its quirky behavior. Particularly with the Unity desktop in Ubuntu 11.04. I pay extra for online storage in Picasa Web Albums but the desktop client does not support two-way sync, and wants to re-upload all my photos every time I reinstall. Overall Picasa is great, especially if you use Windows. Linux support is declining and so it is time to dump Picasa and move on.

I switched to Shotwell which is excellent. It lacks some of the features I liked in Picasa but I can export to Picasa Web Albums still, and overall Shotwell is lightning fast. What a speed improvement!

Darktable artifactsI was still stuck with fairly dull, dark and shimmery RAW photos though. Just like in Picasa. I persisted and tried yet another program, Darktable. Have a look at the same image in Darktable on the right.

Still some artifacts, but greatly improved. Both images above are the same file, copied from a screen grab. No filters, etc. Crisis averted, I kept the camera. The issue I was having was with the conversion of RAW pictures, and how they looked on the screen.

Both Shotwell and Darktable are being actively developed, and I’m happy to have a pair of programs that work well now. I still have to use GIMP for a lot of things, but I expect that I can get by with just the first two for almost anything soon enough. If you are struggling with Ubuntu and RAW photos, give Darktable a try.