Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Linux and Photography Don't Mix So Well

Don't get me wrong... I still love the Penguin ( for now, Solaris 10 / ZFS review coming up ) but the penguin just doesn't like my photography work.

My requirements were not very high. I shoot with a dSLR and capture RAW images. I want to download, sort, re-develop, and post process my images with a small amount of effort. Under windows I had been using Picasa with much success. I don't think these requirements are too much to ask for.

UPDATED: 6/7/2007: Added a link to some more commentary and some more editorializing below.

Picasa for Linux

My first attempt was to use Picasa since it, in theory, would be a seamless transition. I could take my existing folder and move them over to the laptop and fire up Picasa and be off to the races.

Not so fast!

Under windows Picasa has been a welcome change from managing images via folders manual. It also supported RAWs ( in a limited fashion ). The interface was limited, but fast and functional. It allowed me to sort, touch up, and upload quickly and easily.... I loved it.

Under Linux Picasa was prone to crashing the application or the system. There were fewer touch-up options than under windows, there was no uploading, and it's integration was NILL. Exporting pictures was an exercise in frustration as it was a 50/50 chance that I would get what I want or 2 out of 20 pictures actually converted.


No RAW support! I would have to take a step backwards and start using .jpg's again as well as reconverting a year or more of pictures back to .jpg in order to use this application. It won't upload to picasaweb and while it's integration is nice, it lacked any good features that made Picasa a real win on the desktop.


This application might be great if you want to kill yourself slowly, but for those that have better things to do with their time there has to be a better solution. Don't get me wrong UFRaw + GIMP would have worked, but would have required 10-15 minutes per photo just to do basic touchups after workflow/sorting that I would have to do manually.

After weeks of playing, tweaking, fixing, rebooting, re-installing, searching, and failure I abandon all hope that a RAW workflow was even realistically possible under linux at this time. Short of using VMware to run Picasa or Adobe products under windows I was out of luck. I was backed up months in processing my personal photos and I just could not stand it anymore.

Apple MacBook Pro To The Rescue

I did the math and ended up running down to my local Apple store and buying a stock MBP off the shelf. Within a day I was up and running processing RAW images with little more than a few clicks. While I ended up leaving iPhoto in the dust for LightRoom both were painless and FAST. I can now do basic touchups in less than 30 seconds and advanced touchups in less than 5 minutes and quickly move through whole batches of pictures faster than any previous workflow.

As the old adage goes, "Linux is free only if your time costs nothing". In my case that was true. Maybe in a few years when photographers have tread this path a few more times and have beaten a few workflow applications into the OS realm it might be possible or at least less painful a possibility.

Update 1:

Here is a link to the google groups alt.photography discussion. I like linux, but boy their users are assholes sometimes.

I did neglect to test Bibble Labs Pro, but as one user has noted it's workable but not the most stable application out there for linux. LightRoom was also cheaper than Bibble Labs Pro costing me only $99 during the introductory period and I didn't need to go out and buy a noise reduction package on top of it.

I still stand by my conclusion that RAW photo management / workflow under linux is immature and needs a few more years to develop. It is possible, sure, but it's not nearly up to the usability standards that I have come to love from other platforms.


Anonymous said...


Eric said...

DigiKam added rough RAW support in 0.9.0 which is not widely available from a distro at this time.

Eric said...


LightZone might have worked.. but being Java based it's a huge resource hog.

Paul O' Connor said...

Interesting article.
- Please feel free to add to www.photographyvoter.com

Anonymous said...

I have a Canon Digital Rebel XT. I found most Linux photo software that supports linux creates pictures that are too dark.

I currently use Bibble Labs Pro. I it works good for me. I still has some problems printing. Crashes after too many prints and problems with printable areas on the printers. I have found a way around those problems.


wildframe said...

You can also try DCRaw which integrates into a range of Linux image management apps. Imatch Image Management also works very well under linux and I wrote about this recently on my website. Even Canon's Digital Photo Professional software also runs well under Linux.

I would never use GIMP for commercial photographic work for two reasons. One is that it was never meant be a PhotoShop replacement and it is still to receive any colour management. Incidentally PS7 runs flawlessly under Linux/Wine faster than on Windows IMHO.

Also, my Ubuntu Linux (7.04) reads and thumbnails Canon RAW images natively. In other words I just have to plug the CF card into my card reader and I can see all of the thumbnails--streets ahead of Windows.

Take this as coming from someone who is working on commercial images now for a national advertising campaign using PS7 on Linux and Wine--works well.


viridari said...

"DigiKam added rough RAW support in 0.9.0 which is not widely available from a distro at this time."

My Ubuntu Feisty system has digiKam 0.9.1.