Best Linux photo editors: 6 top image suites on test

We try out the best photo editors on Linux

Photo editors

There's still a lot of prejudice against Linux amongst photo enthusiasts and pros, but the time at which our favourite operating system wasn't taken seriously for image manipulation is long past. There may be no Adobe- or Apple branded software designed for Linux yet - and would we want it if there was?

But there are more than enough serious, mature packages for everything from basic library management to RAW development. It's entirely possible to run a professional studio without the aid of Windows or a Mac these days. There's such a staggering amount of choice, in fact, that whittling them down to just six for this roundup involved making some very tough decisions about what software to include and what to leave out.

Inevitably, there are some familiar faces. Gimp, although covered ad nauseam elsewhere, can't be overlooked when it comes to an allround package for post-processing shots. Likewise, you may already know more than you could ever want to about the Gnome and KDE staples Shotwell and digiKam - but they're the de facto choice for a reason. Leaving them out of this roundup would be to not consider the very best.

The real controversy, in fact, is whether or not to include Corel's AfterShot Pro – nee Bibble – in the roundup. It's the gold standard for RAW image editing on Linux, but it's also closed source and not terribly cheap either, at $59.99 for the full version. It has been updated since we last looked at it, though, so we're going to revisit it at the expense of a truly FOSS alternative.

It feels wrong, but it's the right thing to do. Disagree with our choices? Email us at www.linuxformat.com/forums.

Our selection

AfterShot Pro
Gimp
Shotwell
digiKam
Darktable
Fotoxx

How we tested

It's hard to directly compare a lot of the software here, since it's all been developed with slightly different purposes in mind. The basic tests, however, were standardised as much as possible. We challenged each application to catalogue a library of several thousand images, and looked at how it coped with developing RAW files, editing photos in JPG format and batch processing resize jobs and filters.

Not all of the apps listed can do all of those things, of course, but while there's a fair emphasis on features what really counts is speed, ease of use and the end result. If it's faster to use one app for taking care of where photos are stored and finding them and another to do the editing, that's fine by us.

Casual or pro?

Test one

Who's the software aimed at, and should it matter in terms of ease of use?

There's an array of audiences catered for in our six candidates, and intentionally so, but none of these packages is short on features. It's more about the way they're presented and interact with one another.

So, if you're looking for something simple just to manage your photos and remove a bit of red eye, then distribution stalwarts digiKam and Shotwell should be amply suited to your needs. Both focus on the essentials of a photo manager, and while they have in-built editors neither are prescriptive or force you to use them.

Shotwell, especially, is designed for simplicity of use with the same kind of bare minimalism that developer Yorba has injected into its excellent email client, Geary. Open it up and you get photos on the right, and sorting options on the left, with little else between. The image editor is almost app-like in its simplicity, though - there's a one-click Enhance button, which spruces a pic up before you publish it to the sharing site of your choice.