2 Photo Managers That Tie Features Into Neat Little Bundles

The more I delve into open source photo apps for Linux, the harder thechoice becomes to use just one photo management solution. I keepfinding photo managers that outdo my previous picks.


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Take, for example, digiKam and Shotwell. These two apps are much like some of thebest-of-class photo apps I have reviewed as Linux Picks choices inrecent months. These picks include: GIMP, Album Shaper and F-Spot.

digiKam and Shotwell do many of the same organization and tweakingfunctions. But it is how their developers tie the features togetherthat makes these two photo tools really good choices.

Working with these two photo apps pushes first impressions to thelimit. When I first eyeballed them, I saw digiKam as being far moreprofessionally based. But first looks can be deceiving. Shotwell’sfeatures and advantages are initially less obvious. But once I gotmore familiar with both of these apps, choosing one over the other gottougher.

Both digiKam and Shotwell provide a lot of useful features forprofessional-level shutter bugs. But the features that do this in bothapps are so well-integrated that even more casual photo hobbyists willnot feel intimidated in using these apps to view, manage, edit,enhance, organize, tag and share their large photograph collections.

First Impressions

digiKam uses the KDE desktop system. This is not a problem, however,if your Linux set up favors the GNOME desktop. digiKam has a detailedsetup procedure. Selecting numerous options before you actually get toyour photo collections gives you a hint or two about how flexible andpowerful this program is.

Shotwell, a GNOME-based app, has few setup requirements before youcan start using it. But like so many other photo management apps, itrequires importing photos into its own database before you can manageor edit the images.

digiKam does not have this limitation. Instead, it lets you work withimages where they exist on your computer system — internal harddrive, external drive or USB drive — without having to import themfirst.

digiKam has a tools menu which shows about 18 options. Plus its menurow is ample, and it has a much more useful navigation system thatputs most options only one click away. By comparison Shotwell’sinterface seems much more basic. Still, this apparent simplicity doesnot mean reduced functionality.

digiKam Specifics

The main approach to organizing your photo collections with digiKam istagging. The tags or labels you assign to an image stretch acrossmultiple folders. Browsing these tags to find photos is fast andintuitive. You can also add comments to your images to further refineyour cataloging plan.

An SQLite database stores all albums and images as meta-information.You can organize and display photos chronologically by folder,category or creation date. Also, you can use automatic sorting byname, path, date or file size.

The image editor is loaded with keyboard shortcuts and basic photoediting/management features. The editing tools offer a solid list ofmust-have tools for serous image work. These include support for 16-bit image color depth, RAW camera image, histogram viewer and ICCcolor management.

More Editing Power

digiKam has imaging tools to correct red-eye, brightness /contrast / gamma, hue / saturation / luminosityand color balance. Color auto-correction tools let you adjust settingsfor normalize / equalize / auto levels / stretch contrast.

Photo finessing is enhanced with tools to blur / sharpen, rotate andflip pictures. Also, you can perform ratio-cropping with proportionaids and composing tools based on Fibonacci rules.

Table Effects

digiKam has a tool that replicates what artists and photographers usein non-digital work rooms. The Light Table lets you see wheretouch-up is needed.

With this tool you can drag a photo onto the light table and touch uponly the areas that need it. This is somewhat redundant with the imageediting tool.

However, the light table lets you compare two versions of the sameimage in side-by-side fashion. You can make different enhancements andcompare the results in real time.

Speed Demon

A new code base could be responsible for Shotwell’s speed and smallfootprint. It is written in Vala, a new programming language.

The developers note that the app’s start-up is extremely fast, evenwith a library of 10,000 photos. They claim that a 10,000 photolibrary consumes 57 MB of RAM at start-up.

Rather than navigating through menus, most of what you need isavailable as options under a photo in full view and via a right click.While it seems to offer fewer editing choices, Shotwell provides a lotof automatic features that limit the need for manual intervention.

Shotwell Safety

The built-in fail-safe feature sets a nice comfort zone for new users.Shotwell uses a non-destructive photo editor. Your original imagesremain untouched.

Instead of applying your edit changes and saving them, Shotwell storesall changes in a database and applies them on the fly as necessary.

You still have access to an undo function. But using it is lessnecessary this way. Plus, you can easily compare the before and afterversions by pressing and holding the Shift key. The original photodisplays as long as you hold the key down.

Eventful Plan

Shotwell’s designers built in two ways to organize photos. The typicaltagging method is fully functional. Events offer a more innovativeorganizational approach.

Shotwell automatically sorts images into events or chronologicalcategories. In other words, the program groups based on the exposuredate stamp stored in the photo’s metadata.

You can tag photos as well to refine how you display photos when yousearch. But this keyword method requires your manual intervention. Theevents method does not.

No-Hands Editing

Shotwell does what other photo imaging programs do not offer. It makesyour original photo look better without your manual intervention. Ofcourse, you can do it yourself as well.

The Auto-Enhance feature uses an algorithm to analyze the photo’sluminescence. The algorithm drops the outer points of the distributionand boosts the middle ranges to expand the contrast of the image. Forexample, if most of the photo is dark, the shadows are lightened tobring up detail.

To go beyond this Auto-Enhance feature, click the Enhance button.This tool analyzes the photo’s colors and contrast and adjusts it.This is an easy way to bring up colors and details lost due tolighting issues.

Needs Dependent

Both digiKam and Shotwell can be your one-stop image solution. Thedecision will be based on how much hands-on control you want to apply.

For photo hobbyists and pros who know what they are doing, Shotwellcan be a do-it-all-for-you app to manage photo collections. For photoenthusiasts of all ability levels, digiKam can be a good replacementfor other photo apps that seem too run-of-the mill.

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