Probably the most contentious part of the Digital Darkroom is the selection of your preferred editing tools. The first decision needs to be one of budget. Not all software packages are free and some have a limited tool-set option. You therefore need to decide as to what level of expenditure you require to achieve your desired outcome.
Leaving aside professional requirements we will restrict ourselves as to what is available to the hobbyist photographer. This is in itself a widely varying group with those than can afford paid photo editing software and those on a more modest budget who prefer to use open source software where possible. This too is my preferred option as I would rather spend cash on better quality lenses and camera accessories than pay for expensive software & editing tools that wont get near the level of use they have been designed for.
However if you want a pro level suite and are prepared to pay for it here are a few of the popular options for you. All prices are quoted in New Zealand dollars.
- Capture One Pro — $189.00 Currently on sale at this time.
- Lightroom & Photoshop CC +1 Terra-byte — $389.00 per annum renewable.
- Skylum Luminar — $101.00
- DxO PhotoLab 2 — $189.00
- PaintShop Pro Ultimate 2019 — $119.00
Note that all the above options are the least expensive options available. In many cases there are extra packages that you can add to the base program for an extra fee. Lightroom and Photoshop presets is one example of this feature.
This is just a few of whats available and theres plenty of variation in pricing. Just be careful that you get what you want, some of these packages have addons that are required to make certain functionality work and this costs extra. Some time ago I used Paintshop Pro when it was shareware but then they started to ask for users to front up with a fairly large price increase and I stopped using it.
Linux & Open source software offers a myriad of choices and it can be hard to know where to start. Below are my favourites and build the list from there.
Photoscape – My all-time favourite has been Photoscape and with its expansion for Win 10 versions its become a very powerful rival for some of the pro level suites. Tony & Chelsea Northrup have quite a good video on the subject, just search their YouTube channel and you should find their overview of it. Unless you are a pro level user Photoscape may well be the only software you need. Note: You can purchase the Pro version of Photoscape if the need arises, but for 99% of most peoples requirements the standard free version will be all you need.
RawTherapee – Essentially “Lightroom on steroids” is another free opensource package that is an excellent replacement for Lightroom, and is a very powerful and complex package. Suited more to the enthusiast who doesn’t mind using a product with a reasonable learning curve that yields excellent results. For those a little intimidated by RawTherapee’s complexity there are some very good YouTube tutorials that step you through how to get things done.
Gimp – Is the open source alternative to Photoshop, and unless you are doing something very specialised, is a excellent replacement for Photoshop. Highly complex like Photoshop and takes a while to get to grips with its functionality. I definitely recommend watching tutorials before getting serious with this package.
NeatImage – Is another excellent open source software package and is a godsend for those who have cameras that produce a lot of noise at higher ISO. When you finish an editing process and need to reduce visible noise in the image Neatimage is the go to that I use. Its ability to reduce noise while maintaining detail is excellent. I use NeatImage mostly for my astrophotography images, however be warned it takes a good deal of trial and error when doing this to balance image detail with noise levels. Make sure you have your original images safely stored and use a copy to work on. Fortunately when you save an image it will add “filtered.jpg” to the end of the file name, just make sure you dont save over your original. Note: NeatImage offers a free version that only saves in JPG. format or a paid version that has added functionality add-on packages available.
Siril – Currently my go to image stacking choice for astrophotography. With the noticeable rise in night-sky photography over the past five years, brought about by the excellent sensors being produced for both mirrorless and DSLR’s, has led to a massive interest in imaging the night sky. People quickly realised stacking multiple images is the way to get a deeper and more impact-full image of the night sky. To do this more accurately you need a dedicated package such as Siril. If you are interested in taking multi exposures of the night sky then Siril is what you need. It is the only opensource option I have found to date that is as good as Sequator, Deep Sky Stacker and many of the other windows based packages for astro images.
No matter the operating system you use there are some very good tools for the photographer to use. There are many more available depending upon the Operating System you wish to use. The above four packages are what I use and have little need for anything else. Of course your needs will differ from mine but its safe to say that for those of us who have decided to move away from the more “Traditional Desktop OS”, there is certainly plenty to help fulfil our requirements.