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Darktable vs Lightroom

Published: 29/11/2021

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Darktable and Lightroom are popular photo editing applications with key features that allow you to sharpen and tweak the brightness of images. These image processing applications aim for non-destructive editing on raw photos. Below, we compare Darktable vs Lightroom so you can decide which one will suit your needs best.

Darktable vs Lightroom General Overview

Getting to understand the advantages of each software is very important. With this overview of Darktable vs. Lightroom, you will be able to decide which one to purchase for your photo editing projects.

A woman editing using her laptop

Darktable

Darktable is one of the best photo editing and image processing applications you can get for free. It enables changing of sharpness, white balance, saturation, and changing the exposure and contrast of your photos.

When it comes to convenient photo post-processing, this software offers support to flexible queries in the database. It allows users to look for images by color marks, rating tags, and other aspects. It works smoothly on macOS, Linux, OpenSUSE, Microsoft Windows, FreeBSD, and Fedora.

With Darktable, you can automate repetitive tasks, speeding up the procedure of editing images. Darktable features a tethering module that allows the connection of your camera and Darktable directly.

Darktable Strengths

Some of the most notable features of the Darktable include:

Convenient UI

Darktable is an ideal Lightroom alternative that offers a user-friendly interface, making it easy even for a beginner to figure out. It is divided into five modules: map, tethering, darkroom, slideshow, and light table. It groups all these functions for the user's convenience.

Darktable can manage your digital negatives in a database and allow you to view them via a zoomable light table. Also, it allows you to generate RAW images and enhance their outlook without complexities.

Great Features for Free

It provides non-destructive photo editing, which means it preserves the original photo when necessary. With many helpful features for free, this software is more impressive to photography beginners who may have no money to subscribe to a paid photo editing software.

Convenient Catalog

Darktable provides a convenient catalog that allows sorting out images using different parameters, adding them to your collection, and evaluating them.

On every image, there is metadata such as a camera model, focus distance, date, manufacturer, lens, and place of shooting. Darktable can be referred to as one of the best photo catalog software on the net, thanks to this feature.

Supports for a Wide Range of Formats

Darktable supports a wide array of more than 15 formats. It works impressively well with CR2, HDR, PFM, and NEF files. Besides, the Darktable offers support to almost all well-known formats including, PNG, RAW. TIFF, and JPEG files.

Deep Color Correction

Applying the color group will provide your photo with various hues or add new colors to it. The color group is an effect offered by RGB curves, which you only achieve by moving two points, the dark dot, and light. These points are answerable to the shadows and lights in the frame, and you can apply them differently.

Integrated Presets

For several modules, Darktable features a set of pre-defined presets. You can also define your own presets in the Darkroom mode within each module. To boost productivity, you may form or download your effects.

Perfect Sharpen Tool

With the contour sharpness feature, it is possible to achieve an object effect that resembles the HDR. With this tool, you can be able to enhance an image that has lost its clarity. The tool has three sliders, including threshold, amount, and radius. To ensure that the slider is not set to maximum, use the sharpening tool with caution.

Helpful Highlight Tools and Shadows

It is easy to change light and dark segments in the photo, thanks to the convenient sliders. For instance, you can move the highlights and shadows slider to brighten or darken shadows. You can decrease or increase the color saturation in shadowed areas by using the shadows color adjustment slider.

Batch Editing Abilities

Darktable enables saving a history stack as a style and applying similar sets of operations to various images. This feature is critical when editing an extensive collection of images, and you need to apply the same effect.

Darktable Weaknesses

Like any other photo editing application, Darktable has some weaknesses and limitations. Here are some of the weaknesses of Darktable.

  • Considering that it is free and open-source software, you cannot enjoy customer support like the one you might enjoy in Lightroom.
  • The plugins in Darktable do not feature the latest trends in photo editing and photography.
  • The learning curve for Darktable is relatively steep considering it is newer than Lightroom.
  • The photo editing tools are not robust as the ones in Lightroom.
Editing an image using a Lightroom

Lightroom

Lightroom is a professional photo editor that works incredibly well with digital photos. You can utilize Lightroom to develop digital negatives (DNG, RAW), convert to a JPEG format, correct colors and organize a catalog.

Thanks to the intuitive and exquisite interface, it enables the creation of as many folders as possible and syncs them with other gadgets. You can use a wide array of gestures for easy and fast performance of the most often performed actions.

It enables users to create and complete artwork and still maintain the original design of an image, thanks to its non-destructive nature. This software offers keywords that assist in organizing images, allowing you to work conveniently with an extensive collection of digital images.

Lightroom Strengths

Some of the characteristics that make Lightroom convenient to work with are:

Well-organized Interface

On the Lightroom interface, seven tabs assist you in organizing your working procedures most satisfyingly, thanks to the development and library modules that ensure convenient workspace arrangement.

This software comes with an impressive dark framework that assists in highlighting the tone in the image. Commands such as colors, flags, and stars assist you in editing images according to your preferences. Artwork can be organized to complete the catalog, saving the inside one.

Qualitative Color Correction

If your shot needs a quality color correction, you cannot go wrong by choosing the Lightroom image editing program. It allows adjustment of contrast, editing light and shades, sharpness, and improving white balance. Lightroom is also convenient for graphic designers due to its advanced color correction features.

Photoshop Integration

If you want to do photo retouching in photoshop, using Lightroom is an ideal option. The programs are produced by one company, making perfect connections and interactions. While working in Lightroom, you can conveniently import pictures to photoshop, retouch an image and send it back to Lightroom without experiencing any issue.

Additionally, being a product of photoshop, Lightroom offers solutions that enable you to edit images using external features.

Enhanced Photo Cataloging

When working in Lightroom, you can import photos using a catalog with modern metadata settings, change the destination, add keywords, and even apply presets when importing. The images are arranged into collections, allowing you to go through folders on your PC.

Mobile Version Support

Unlike Darktable, Lightroom developers offer a mobile app that will allow you to edit photos on your smartphone or tablet, as the Lightroom mobile version is available for both iPhone and Android platforms. When you pay to subscribe to the Creative Cloud, you can gain the ability to edit raw files and access mobile editing tools.

Downloading the mobile app from the Google Play Store and App Store is free of charge. You can edit, sort, capture, and share photos on your mobile phone with the accessible version of Lightroom Mobile.

It has valuable functions which support great curves and HDR  capabilities. Additionally, it conveniently works with RAW files, and Lightroom mobile presets. However, it does not feature batch photo processing.

Integrated Presets

Even though photo editors provide auto-edit presets, Lightroom enables you to use the integrated presets or generate their own. These preset assist photographers in generating recognizable and independent styles and make editing more efficient and faster. Images are edited to add contrast, bring out particular altered light and colors.

With presets, you can easily save the settings of the adjustment slider in the develop module. Then, with one click, you can use the effect on other photos, saving you much processing time. Also, presets can assist you in developing styles, making the images you created have a more consistent look.

Lightroom Weaknesses

Although Lightroom is a robust and professional-grade photo editing software, it still has some limitations and weaknesses. Here are some of the limitations of Lightroom.

  • It’s a subscription software that might not suit beginners and photographers on a budget.
  • The range of control is limited compared to that of Darktable.
  • The organization of workflow is not impressive like that of Darktable.
  • You have no access to the source code, and so you can't modify it to meet your requirements.
A woman busy editing images on her MacBook

Darktable vs Lightroom: Similarities and Differences

Now that you know the general features and strengths of Darktable and Lightroom, let’s now go through their similarities and differences.

Similarities

Darktable and Lightroom are both efficient tools used by photo editors in editing images. The two software have standard features that enable the easy and comfortable transition from one software to another. Below are some of their similarities:

  • When it comes to the general performance when importing and editing photos, both applications deliver pretty much the same.
  • They both have a file management system. In Darktable, file management is finely supported with an easy-to-access import procedure and in Lightroom, locating files through a range of filters is also easy.
  • Both Darktable and Lightroom handle tagging and keywording similarly, allowing the building of sub-keywords and sub-tag with the pipe key.
  • Both have adjustment features used in editing photos, such as editing RAW files. In Lightroom, you do this on the develop module, and in Darktable, you use the Darkroom module.
  • In terms of resource usage, both Lightroom and Darktable consume fewer system resources because their tools are minimal compared to Photoshop. They are only used as a photo retouching tool. 
  • Both support tethered capture. It is possible to connect Lightroom and your camera directly and have Lightroom displaying images instantly as they get captured. With Darktable, you can also connect with the camera, however, you have to set it to a USB remote, open Darktable, click scan devices; after the camera has appeared, click on the tethered shoot.

Differences

Darktable and Lightroom vary significantly in terms of the user interface, photo editing tools, and organizational features. Here are some of the most notable differences between Darktable and Lightroom.

User Interface and Usability

The user interface in Darktable is not user-friendly. It might confuse newbies as they have to look for commands when editing any image, unlike the straightforward and user-friendly interface in Lightroom.

Darktable is suitable for repetitive tasks, while Lightroom works better when carrying out new image editing tasks. Also, the photo editing workflow in Lightroom is straightforward, while that of Darktable is less refined, and the process seems haphazard at first.

Importing files in Lightroom is easy because you can quickly move around with drag and drop operations, while in Darktable, you cannot create, rename, or move files around.

Modules

Darktable features five modules, while Lightroom features seven modules. However, deciding which Darktable module to use might be challenging, and you will need to watch different tutorials, which can be time-consuming.

Image Sharpness 

If you keenly look at the image sharpness after editing, you will notice that images edited in Darktable appear blurred while images edited in Lightroom look sharp.

Software Modification

In Lightroom, making modifications to the software is difficult due to copyright restrictions. At the same time, for Darktable, you can modify the software as it is an open-source program that works on a wide range of platforms.

Sending photos from smart phone to laptop

Export

Darktable does not enable preset exportation into external files, unlike Lightroom. Also, Lightroom takes less processing time to have the images saved on the desktop when exporting images. Darktable, however, takes longer or even twice the time taken by Lightroom to export.

Filters

In terms of filtering and collection, Darktable collects photos in the module known as collect images. Here, you can filter the photos you want and create a collection for them.

Lightroom filters photos on the photo grid, however, you have to re-create the filters again in the collection module for future usage.

Face Recognition

Lightroom has an integrated facial recognition system that helps find similar faces in any collection of photographs. On the other hand, Darktable lacks this feature.

Plugins

Keeping in mind that Lightroom is a subscription software that aims at professional photographers, plugins are developed according to the trends in the photography industry. It makes Lightroom plugins more convenient in terms of photo editing than those of Darktable.

Reliability

In terms of reliability, Darktable has many issues with stability and reliability as it often crashes. On the other hand, Lightroom is highly efficient and rarely crashes.

Color Correction

Compared to Darktable, Lightroom software offers better color editing in any image. The image made with Darktable is less saturated and less punchy, while in Lightroom, the contrast and sharpness of the image are enhanced.

In the Lightroom develop module, you can balance white color with Hue Saturation Luminescence ( HSL), offering good contrast images.

Speed

Lightroom has an excellent image processing speed. You can adjust the image according to your needs using tone curve sliders, contrast, and exposure without lag. However, Darktable sometimes lags when carrying out complicated tasks.

Keywords

Keywords are referred to as tagging in Darktable, and the user can experience difficulties if used to Lightroom software. Tags are attached to an image instead of adding them. You only have to double-click the image and add tags in the image tagging area to do this.

Darktable software lacks a keyword list that leads you to the chosen image directly. It has no obvious way of getting to the images with the tag.

Compatibility

In terms of Operating System platforms, Lightroom aims at professional photographers who use Mac or Windows and not Linux. As open-source software, Darktable supports all desktop platforms, including Linux.

However, Darktable does not support mobile devices, while Lightroom provides a mobile app for smartphones and tablets.

Customer Support

Keeping in mind that Darktable is community-initiated, in case of a technical problem, there is no customer care or technical support to contact. On the other hand, Lightroom has excellent customer care service to deal with any technical complaints from their customers.

Major Distinguishing Factor: Development

Although both the Darktable and Lightroom are photo editors with related image processing and manipulation features, they still vary significantly in development. Darktable is an open-source photo editor, and so you don’t need to purchase it or pay a monthly subscription to use it. 

On the other hand, Lightroom is a product of Adobe, and so it comes with licensing and copyright restrictions. It mainly targets professional photographers who are required to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to use it. This pricing and performance difference makes Darktable suitable for photo editing beginners and Lightroom better for professional editors.

This development variation makes all the difference in downloading the software, using or modifying it. For Darktable, you can access the source code to modify it to meet your needs if you are a programmer. Although you can’t modify the Lightroom software, you will enjoy customer support unavailable in Darktable.

A woman using her laptop

When To Use Darktable

Although Darktable and Lightroom are capable of photo editing and image processing, their feature variations make each suitable in certain conditions. Below are some situations when Darktable may best suit you:

  • If you are a beginner in photography and need a free tool for photo editing, Darktable is free and comes with crucial photo editing features.
  • If you know how to code and want an open-source program you can modify it according to your needs.
  • When you don’t need complex photo editing features, you only need to do some color correction, apply filters and do basic photo editing.
  • If you need a photo editing application that will support different operating systems.

If you are a beginner and not ready to spend your money on yearly or monthly subscriptions, Darktable is your ideal choice. It is a free access software that aims at non-destructive editing. It is a fast and efficient tool.

When To Use Lightroom

Keeping in mind that Lightroom is a paid software that targets professional photographers, it means there are situations it can work better than Darktable. Below are some situations when Lightroom will suit you best:

  • Lightroom is carefully arranged to label, catalog, and group your photos when you want to upload many batches in a well-organized manner. It also has a large number of ways in which you can filter your images.
  • If you need crisp pictures that have an uncompromised tone quality and depth, Lightroom will work well for you.
  • Lightroom comes with complex and advanced features specifically designed to achieve accuracy if you want accurate and precise editing.
  • Lightroom enables you to add watermarks to your images or create watermarks using the program’s function.
  • Lightroom will solve the problem of correcting any chromatic aberration and distortion produced by the camera lens.
  • Work with Lightroom if you want software that you can easily integrate with other Adobe photo editing products, such as Adobe photoshop.

However, if you are a professional photographer who requires precise task performance, speed, and stability, you cannot go wrong with Lightroom. You can use the above comparison of Darktable vs. Lightroom to determine which software best suits your needs.

Final Verdict

If you are a professional photographer looking for photo editing software with advanced tools and features then Lightroom might suit you best. On the other hand, if you are a beginner or on a budget, Darktable will be the best option for you. With the above comparison of Darktable vs. Lightroom, you will be able to decide which software suits your photography needs.

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