Choosing Your Digital Darkroom
Approach, philosophy and options

Linux and Darktable

I decided a few years ago to use only free software, preferring open source where possible. This includes running Linux as my main operating system. Of course, you do not have to run linux, but if you do run Windows, then you may struggle to run my digital darkroom app of choice, Darktable. There is no official Windows build available at the time of writing. You may therefore prefer to use RawTherapee instead, as a good and open source equivalent. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any advice on its use, although I have tried it. It appears to offer more than darktable in the way of ‘scientific’ image adjustment, but feels harder to use and less practical in the real world, especially dealing with images in bulk. LightZone is another top-grade alternative but I am yet to try it.

All I can say that darktable is a truly amazing piece of software and fits naturally and beautifully into my workflow, almost as if the designers use it in the same way that I do. There is very little compromise. I do wish that it had the ability to edit exif tags as that would allow me to remove a step from my workflow, but everyting else about it is perfect.

The Wider Choices

If you have purchased a dedicated film scanner of some sort, then you may not need to worry about darkroom software. The hardware and proprietary software will do their thing and you will get what you are given, more than likely as a JPG or maybe a TIFF file. There is no problem with that if you are happy with the results. Of course you may wish to digitally process the file further. If you do, then there is a wider variety of software that you can consider using, since you don’t have a RAW file.

If you have decided on a digital camera to scan your negatives, then there is more work to do. Your scan will be less processed, so you will need to spend time inverting and correcting them to make good digital images. This is actually a blessing in disguise. The RAW images from your camera are arguably closer to the true negative and can be processed any way you like. Avoiding the various hardware and software corrections present in dedicated equipment can be a good thing for various reasons.

Approached the right way, this can be the most satisfying phase of the entire process. Without doubt, B&W negatives are much easier to digitally process than colour negatives. Colour film has only a single colour balance. Colour correction therefore is a large part of dealing with your negatives. Having RAW images is more important for colour negatives than it is for B&W. I use darktable and I provide styles in this project to get you started quickly should you chose to use it too.

Software Platforms Comments
Darktable Linux, Mac OS I use this and I find it fits my workflow perfectly. Surprisingly, there is no windows version available.
RawTherapee Linux, Mac OS, Windows Looks like a more powerful piece of software for image processing and supports styles/batches, but appears to lack some of the end-to-end workflow features I use, such as local copies.
LightZone Linux, Mac OS, Windows Supports styles and batch edits like Darktable. Download directly from github or install via linux repo

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next: The Analog Photographer

James Burton on 05 August 2017