A while ago I downloaded a trial version of Lightroom 2.2 and used it extensively for a group of pictures took at the end of year 2008. Lightroom is a very good software, my respect to the developers. But the problem is, I don’t use Windows that much at home. I cannot live without Compiz-Fusion’s “Tile” feature. This reason alone keeps me rebooting to Debian Lenny immediately after I used Lightroom, and I do not want to reboot to Windows just to use Lightroom. So, I looked for Linux applications that are similar to Lightroom gave them a try during this weekend.
The programs under investigation were: F-Spot, GThumb, KPhotoAlbum and Digikam. All of them help users to organise their photo library based on metadata, tag, category or other means. All of them provide basic photo editing facilities such as rotating, cropping, colour adjustment. All of them provide batch processing to image files. F-Spot and GThumb are Gnome rooted and the other two are KDE rooted. I’m a Gnome user but at the end of the day, my choice is Digikam.
My biggest problem with F-Spot is: I cannot group my photos based on their physical location ( folder URL ) on my disc. When I copy photos from CF card or SD card to my harddisk, I already organised them into different folders logically. Being forced to do the labour again in F-Spot’s way is not joyful. Actually F-Spot’s organization concept is pretty similar to Picasa’s. The killing difference is: Picasa let me see the folders in the side panel but F-Spot not. Currently F-Spot is at version 0.4, so I expect there will be improvement in the future. Both GThumb and KPhotoAlbum are very fine programs. If the Digikam did not have extensive image-editing capabilities, I don’t know what to choose from the three. Now, spotlight on Digikam, especially the differences between Digikam 0.9 and Lightroom 2.2.
Digikam offers an RBG histogram view that is very similar to Lightroom’s. There are hightlight and dark point buttons which you can turn on and see the over exposed / under exposed area on the picture. You can do sophisticated colour management with Digikam. Digikam provides all the photo-editing features that Lightroom offers, plus many more you cannot easily do with Lightroom, such as perspective correction and lens distortion correction. You don’t find terms such as “vibrance” or “clarity” for tonal correction in Digikam, but if you know how technically the “vibrance” or “clarity” work, you can achieve the effect with Digikam’s level adjustment and/or curve adjustment as well. A really nice thing of Digikam but not found in Lightroom: there are options such as “auto level”, “auto exposure”, “auto stretch HSV”, “auto stretch Contrast”, “normalize” and “inverse”, laid out together in a docked sidebar, each option with a small preview thumb image at the side. This is so handy for tonal corrections. Digikam’s “auto exposure” implementation does not tend to blow the highlight, I feel it is very differently done than Lightroom’s. All kinds of “before/after” views in Lightroom are available in Digikam ( in Digikam they are alled “original/target” ). Digikam’s USM has some quirks. I could only input integers as parameters, but sometimes radius such as “0.8″, “1.5″ are so desired. For this reason, I did all the USM for today’s processing task using GIMP. It sounds like Digikam is perfect. But wait. The biggest advantage of Lightroom over Digikam is: Lightroom in fact does the photo editing on internal layers so that the original photo remains untouched, but Digikam does the editing on the original image. I guess this difference alone can already keep many rebooting to Windows for using Lightroom. But there is of course workaround for Digikam. Just establish a reasonable workflow and remember to save the result of each step. If it sounds too much work for you, then first use any of the four software ( F-Spot, GThumb, KPhotoAlbum or Digikam ) for metadata management and then fire up GIMP for the presentable images. In GIMP you can edit the photos in layers and keep record of all the steps (layers) in one xcf file. I hardly find anything that Photoshop CS can do but GIMP cannot. If there’s something missing, one can implement it either in Scheme or Python, then plug and play. Some complained about GIMP’s UI. Well, it is not that difficult to get used to, one just needs exercise. If you do not have to process hundreds, even thousands pictures a day, you really do not need to pay for the extra productivity that Photoshop’s product line can bring you. Here in Germany, Windows + Lightroom 2.2 + Photoshop CS4 cost more than 1500 euro. Linux + Digikam + GIMP cost 0 euro. Well, cost matters to me. I go for the cost-effective combination.