Linux for Photographers?

Over this past winter, I have been exploring an alternatives to the Windows operating system (OS) . I have become quite accustomed over the years to using applications such as Lightroom, Photoshop and Premiere Pro as part of my photography and video editing work flow.

After “upgrading” to Windows 10 from Windows 7 I was somewhat disappointed with the look and feel of Microsoft’s new operating system and decided to explore other alternatives. Apple was one, and although in my opinion make a solid product, I don’t like the proprietary nature of their software and hardwares symbiotic relationship. I like the flexibility of adding, upgrading or removing hardware components. I also find their products to be somewhat overpriced for a technology that has become a commodity. So, the other option was Linux.

Although Linux comes in over three hundred distributions or versions (sometimes referred to “flavors”) to meet specific demands of any user, I opted for the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. Many years ago somewhere around version 5 or so I gave it a try and was disappointed with having to “configure” every piece of hardware on my machine to work with the operating system. Although I did get it to work It was a time consuming process that became more of an experiment than a useful tool. But I decided to give it another try with the installation of 14.04 on a duel core laptop. Ubuntu has a very large, friendly community with an abundance of on line support via forums and documentation that can be rather helpful if you get stuck or just have a question.

Once the OS installed, everything worked out of the box! It played very well with my video, sound, wireless and all peripherals with zero configuration need after installation. It’s base installation even includes a full office suite called LibreOffice. LibreOffice comes equipped with a word processor, slide show and spreadsheet programs. All applications are packed with every feature your average user will ever need and then some. (By the way, his article was written using LibreOffice! )

Installation of Linux took about 15-20 minutes from start to finish. You can even give it a fully functional trial run without installing it on your computer by burning a copy of the OS to a CD or USB key and boot your computer to it to give it a test drive. No installation required ! Simple instructions for this can be found on their website here. By the way, I almost forgot to mention it’s 100 percent FREE! Complete with support for updates for three years before the next long term support version is released.

After installation, Ubuntu has a built in application called Ubuntu Software Center that offers thousands of software titles for download to meet the computing demands for just about every user. For me, I needed image and video editing software. So I went to that category and downloaded and installed GIMP, the Linux version of Photoshop. Darktable and RawTherappe, the Linux versions of Lightroom and UFRaw, the Linux version of Adobe Camera Raw and Openshot video editor All titles installed without a hitch. All the software comes very thorough documentation for its use. There is other software that perform similar functions but these were the ones I decided to use. I can always experiment with other titles if I choose.

Once I had everything installed and played with it for a few days, it was time to see what it could do with some real world testing so I fired up my Nikon D300 and shot a few images. I try to get my images correct in camera as much as possible, but often use small adjustments with software to make them pop. I shoot in RAW for better editing flexibility if needed.

This is the original raw image from the camera. No adjustments were made. I did however convert it to .jpg for web use.

original.resized

 

The image was imported into my computer using the included software in Ubuntu Shotwell photo manager. Similar to Lightroom’s library module. This is where I tag them, give the star ratings, add comments and make very basic adjustments if needed.

After my raw image is tagged and categorized I then import it into RawTherappe. RawTherappe is like Lightroom’s develop module. Just about every developing tweak found in Lightroom can be found in RawTherappe. However,RawTherappe does not have a function to print the final image. You have to export it into another application for that. There are two images below that are post edits of the above raw image. One was edited using Lightroom and one using RawTherappe.

 

linux .resized

lightroom.resized

 

The image on the left was processed in RawTherappe and the one on the right using Lightroom. No other software was used. Two different computers were used one running Windows and one running Linux and both monitors are calibrated using ColorVision’s Spyder 2 express colorimeter. As you can see in the above example the post processing for each of the above images are very similar. I did not import either image into GIMP or Photoshop for this example, but the option if needed is there.

 

In conclusion after having experimented with Linux and its plethora of available imaging applications, I believe it is a solid third contender in the PC OS market and has a promising future.Hopefully more software and hardware vendors will be supportive of Linux in the near future.

Does this mean I gave up Windows and my Adobe software I have used for many years? Not quite. Because of my years of experience using Adobe products I’m not planning on ditching it just yet. On occasion, when dealing with hundreds of images at a time I need to be able to perform edits quickly and efficiently and Lightroom and Photoshop perform very well. I did ask Adobe if they had any intentions of supporting Linux via Twitter but their response was “not at this time”. However, with time and practice moving over to Linux as my primary editing workflow may very well become an option. For now I use a Windows 10 machine for my serious photo and video editing but use my Linux machine for my every day computing tasks and occasional multimedia needs.

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