Lightzone Review: Free Darkroom Software for Windows, Mac and Linux

  1. Lightzone Introduction
  2. Lightzone UI
  3. Light zone viewing window
  4. Lightzone editing window
  5. Lightzone Conclusion

Lightzone Introduction

Lightzone is a free RAW converter similar to Adobe Lightroom, but with a few differences. Like Lightroom, Lightzone allows you to edit your photos non-destructively, so you can always revert to the original image file.

Lightzone was first launched in 2005 as commercial software, although the company behind the application stopped developing the software in 2011. In 2013, the software was released under an open source BSD license, although this latest version is essentially the last version available in 2011, albeit with updated RAW profiles to support many of the digital cameras released since then.

Despite a two-year hiatus in development, Lightzone still offers a very powerful set of features for photographers looking for an alternative Lightroom tool to convert their RAW files. Downloads are available for Windows, OS X and Linux, although I just looked at the Windows version with a fairly average laptop.

In the following pages, I’ll take a closer look at this interesting app and share some thoughts to help you decide whether Lightzone is worth considering as part of your photo editing toolbox.

Lightzone UI

Lightzone has a clean and stylish user interface with a dark gray theme that has become popular in most image editing applications. The very first thing I noticed after installing it on a laptop with Windows 7 in Spanish is that there is currently no option to change the interface language, meaning the labels are displayed in Spanish and English. Obviously this won’t be a problem for most users and the development team is aware of this, but keep in mind that my screenshots may look slightly different.

The user interface is divided into two separate sections: the Browse window to navigate through files and the Edit window to work with specific images. This setup is very intuitive and will be familiar to users of several similar applications.

A possible minor issue is the font size used for buttons and folders as it is a bit small. While this works from an aesthetic standpoint, some users may find it a little hard to read. This can also be complicated by some aspects of the interface that render text as light gray on a medium to dark gray background, which can lead to some usability issues due to low contrast. Using an orange shade as a base color is quite easy on the eyes and adds to the overall look.

Light zone viewing window

The browse window in Lightzone opens the app on first launch and splits the window into three columns with the option to collapse both side columns if needed. The left column is a file manager that allows you to quickly and easily navigate through your hard drive and network drives.

On the right is the Info column, which displays some basic information about the file and EXIF ​​data. You can also edit some of this information, such as rate the image or add a title or copyright information.

The main central part of the window is split horizontally and the top part offers a preview of the selected image or images. Above this section is an additional menu bar with a Styles option. Styles are a set of quick one-click fixes, also available in the main Edit window, that allow you to make some simple enhancements to your photos. By making these styles available in the browse window, you can select multiple files and apply the style to all files at once.

Below the preview area is a navigator that displays the image files in the currently selected folder. You can also rate your images in this section, but one feature that seems to be missing is the ability to tag your files. If you have a large number of photo files on your system, tags can be a very powerful tool to manage them and quickly find files in the future. Cameras are also increasingly being used to store GPS coordinates, but again, there doesn’t seem to be a way to access such data or manually add information to images.

This means that while the browse pane makes it easy to navigate through your files, it only provides fairly basic tools for managing your photo library.

Lightzone editing window

The editing pane is where Lightzone really shines, and it also breaks down into three columns: the left column is common to styles and history, while the right column is for tools, with the working image in the middle.

I already mentioned styles in the overview window, but here they are more clearly displayed as a list of collapsible sections. You can click on one style or apply multiple styles and combine them to form new effects. Each time you apply a style, it is added to the Layers section of the Tools column, and you can further adjust the strength of the style using the available options or by lowering the opacity of the layer. You can also save your own styles so that you can easily repeat or apply your favorite effects to a series of images in the Browser in the future.

The History tab opens a simple list of changes made to the file since it was last opened, and you can easily scroll through this list to compare the image at different points in the editing process. This can be useful, but the way the various changes and settings you make are layered means it’s often easier to toggle layers on and off to compare your changes.

As mentioned, layers are in the right column, but because they don’t display in the same way as Photoshop or GIMP layers, it’s easy to overlook that effects are applied as layers, just like adjustments. Layers in Photoshop. You also have the option to adjust the opacity of the layers and change the blending modes, which gives a lot of possibilities for combining different effects.

If you’ve worked with a RAW converter or image editor before, you’ll easily master the basics of Lightzone. All the basic tools you’d expect to find are already on sale, although mapping the area can take some getting used to. It’s similar to the Curves tool, but it’s presented in a very different way as a vertically graduated series of tones from white to black. The zone preview at the top of the column splits the image into zones corresponding to those grayscales. You can use the Zone Mapper to stretch or compress individual tonal ranges, and see the changes reflected in both the Zone preview and the live image. The interface looks a bit strange at first, but I understand that this can be a more intuitive way to adjust the tone of your photos.

By default, your adjustments are applied globally to your image, but there is also a Regions tool that lets you isolate parts of your image and apply adjustments only to them. You can draw areas as polygons, splines, or bezier curves, and each of them will automatically have some feathering applied to their edges, which you can adjust as needed. Paths aren’t as easy to manage as compared to the pen tools in Photoshop and GIMP, of course, but they should suffice in most cases, and when combined with the clone tool, this can be flexible enough to keep the file open in your favorite image editor . .

Lightzone Conclusion

All in all, Lightzone is quite an impressive package that can give its users a lot of power when converting RAW images.

Lack of documentation and help files is a problem that often affects open source projects, but perhaps because of its commercial roots, Lightzone has fairly complete and detailed help files. This is further complemented by a user forum on the Lightzone website.

Good documentation means you can use most of the features on offer, and as a RAW converter, Lightzone is very powerful. Considering it’s been a few years since the actual update, it can still hold its own among today’s competing apps like Lightroom and Zoner Photo Studio. It may take you a while to become familiar with some aspects of the interface, but it is a very flexible tool that makes it quite easy to get the most out of your photos.

The only weakness is the viewport. While this works great as a file navigator, it can’t match the competition as a tool for managing your photo library. Due to the lack of tags and possible GPS information, your old files are not so easy to trace.

If I were to consider Lightzone only as a RAW converter, I’d happily give it 4.5 out of 5 stars and maybe even a full score. It is very good in this regard and also a pleasure to use. I certainly look forward to returning to it in the future for my own photos.

However, the viewport is an important part of this application and this aspect is weak in that it undermines the application as a whole. Your library management options are too limited, and if you handle a lot of images, you’ll almost certainly want to find another solution to the task.

So overall I rated Lightzone 4 out of 5 stars.

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