Dt Zone System module, goodies found in Lightzone + cross tool workflow.

What a welcome surprise. Thanks for bringing this deprecated module to my attention, we Youtube converts, have not seen anyone discuss this module. 1st I ever heard of it. But I’m late to the party, as its on its way out.

dt deprecated - Zone System

Until I discover otherwise, just as I said about the lightzone’s equivalent - I Like it, a lot. But I obviously have not spent time with it enough. I found the lightzone version, easier to use, but this could be cos I spent much more time with that. The dt version needs a scroll wheel for optimal productivity - must dig a mouse out from an archive. Not that I have anything against mice.

Final/Output Image Sharpening in Lightzone

While investigating sigmoid, comparing the results led me to an opinion, that I hold no reservations about. I prefer the sharpening tools in Lightzone, and cannot achieve similar results in darktable, with what is there today (version 3.5 dev version). or the stable version 3.4. The difference was a bit of a shock to me.

Cross Tool Workflow

But not an issue, I’m now pretty open minded about these things. So if the image is an important one, my workflow becomes something like this.

Repository of all images, Library Manager - Keeper of all Truths, Master Image Viewer = Darktable. (I love this aspect of darktable, awesome accurate view of images in the lighttable.

So whatever I do in any other tools, I bring it all back to darktable for housekeeping.

Raw Image development, depends, use whatever I like, Capture One, Sony Imaging Edge, Darktable(filmic, sigmoid), Adobe Photoshop/LIghtroom, Lightzone Filmulator. And the final sharpening stage may be omitted when using these tools, or the noise reduction omitted.

Image enhancement, dodging and burning - same - use whichever tools give me the best results, in any app.

Sharpening - then I most likely go back into Lightzone cos I love its sharpening tools, and the results, I have seen.

And use the highest bit depth tiff files as the intermediary between these tools.

End Result - That's what should count the most, not which tool was used

At the end of the day, its all about the image, and while it may be cumbersome, if the image is worth the effort, one should not be held back by any limitations in any one tool.

And then bring it all back into darktable for organisation. So darktable keeps track of all the inputs, intermediate outputs, and final renders, even if these final renders are created in other tools.

I am not a commercial photographer yet, so I do not have 3000 pics from a wedding to process, in a few hours, so time is a luxury I can afford, if the image deserves it.

Every approach has its compromises, and once I saw the results of sharpening in Lightzone, I was hooked, and my workflow has to change to accommodate this best of breed approach, rather than trying to find one ring(as in Lord of the Rings) to bind all image processing. If all the hardwork in dt imaging tools can be improved by sharpening in Lightzone, so be it.

dt is much more than raw image processing !

The image processing gets so much attention and warm discussions.

A lot of the recent discussions I have participated in or started on pixls, has tended to focus on raw processing in Darktable, in the darkroom, but darktable is much more than just a raw processor, and it does not have to be the master or sole arbiter of everything including raw processing.

A lot of us dt diehards have to rethink the all-in-one mindset which we have applied to the product. The most widely used photo app ecosystem by professionals has three components - Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom and Photoshop, and end users integrate their workflow between these tools, so nothing wrong with splitting the workflow between apps, open source or otherwise.

As photographers, we swap out batteries, SD-Cards, lenses, camera bodies, straps, lights, tripods, add, replace buy and sell, software image processing should be similar, use whichever tool, gives us the best result in a specific area. Best of breed, my mantra going forward.

You should check out G’MIC’s Octave sharpening. I like it quite a bit.

But the raw processing is essentially the same for all of them. Plus, you can build a non destructive workflow with them, no matter if editing is done in lightroom or photoshop. Therefore, it’s probably much more all in one.

The tools deliver features to ease the integration. Aurelien has been working on something for darktable and krita a while ago.

For my projects, it’s always™ not about a single image, but a collection of images. Being able to keep 95 % of the images inside darktable for the whole processing is an absolute requirement. Even if there are compromises. That’s because it is more than a raw editor, it’s also an asset manager, which makes one stick to it. That’s not a bad thing, it just explains the people’s wish for additional functionality (output sharpening, flat frames, pano stitching, hdr processing, etc.).

Plans are always good, then you go ahead and enact them and review. Fortunately not too much has changed, dt will hopefully remain the core of imaging for me.

I did some tests today, to properly review the pros and cons of keeping everything in dt, compared to cross tool workflow, to benefit from features or tools (maybe even a preference for certain user interfaces for those specific tools).

Processed same image in three ways.

  1. In dt 100%,
  2. then in lightzone 100%,
  3. and finally started off in dt, applying filmic, then finished it off with the sharpening tools in lightzone.
Advantages of remaining 100% in dt
  1. Convenience.

  2. Storage - Its a lot of work, and the intermediary files are also very large. 16 bit or 32 bit float tiff images. 90+ or 180 Megabytes+ files…depending on bit rate. my camera is less than 24 megapixels sensor, so for those with higher megapixel camera sensors, soon enough the storage overhead adds up.

  3. No loss of image detail, which occurs when the image is transferred from one tool to another. Lightzone is unable to accept 32 bit float tiff files, so the information held in dt during processing, is rounded off to 16 bits, before export. Possibly losing some information, however imperceptible, in the process.

  4. The sharpening tools in lightzone produce very engaging fine detail, but the jury is out on whether this benefit of lightzone, is always worth all the effort. Hopefully the sharpening tools in dt will also continue to improve. And sadly most people who view my images, predominantly family and friends on social media, would never be able to know the difference, cos they are not looking out for such fine details.

Unless one was really pixel peeping, it may be irrelevant which sharpening tool was used.

  1. Kingdoms rise and fall. Lightzone is in maintenance mode, and no longer in active development so over time, things like security patches will become out of date, especially as it used a java runtime engine, which is a significant security risk. Regular updates are not assured.
Benefits of seconding some of the workflow to Lightzone
  1. The Vintage look. For the same reason, many use vintage lenses, the imprecise, has a certain look and feel. This look and feel of the lightzone image may not be obtainable in any other app. In the real world, some films are still shot on real film, before transfer to digital, to add a certain look, however subjective the validity of this may be - true or not.

I loved the demure look of the images from Lightzone, and its polite, restrained raw processing algorithm, may just be the ticket for certain images. Examples are posted below

  1. Its also very easy to use, I believe it has no more than 8 or 10 modules, of which I only use about 4, and there are no modules with 10 to 15 sliders and controls per module, as you find in the emergent dt roadmap. Very simple tools, very easy to use. One function per tool, so you do not have to decide, “in which tool can I change this aspect of the image”, cos with dt, that is a good problem to have when you can achieve similar results in different ways, it can become a decision killer. With lightzone, there’s usually only one module for each feature.

  2. Lightzone is very quick, at everything, no waiting - (caveat - I read that it depends on version and what platform you run it on. I’m on Windows 10, and version 4.1.1 of Lightzone - 64 bit). It responds to everything instantly, no wait, and I’m on some very inexpensive hardware - a dual core i5 mobile CPU, on a laptop that’s 8 years old, and no GPU. Impressive. Not a fair comparison cos Windows is not the ideal place to run darktable.

Pretty pictures.

Description and comments follow after each image.

Raw OOC version - jpg

Screen capture of image processed 100% in dt with filmic, etc.

DSC02046-5-ko2-0-.tif (92.4 MB)
High Quality 16 bit Tiff version of image processed 100% in dt, so you can download an view, if you wish, as I don’t thing the jpegs hosted on the pixls forum - typically down sampled, will allow enough of the fine detail to be visible.

DSC02046-7-ko2-us_lzn.tif (92.4 MB)
High quality 16 bit Tiff version of image processed 1st in dt, with sharpening thereafter in lightzone. No sharpening was performed in dt, to avoid duplicating the sharpening. Uploading the jpg to the forum, would be futile, the reduced pixel size of the jpg on the forum, would have removed any of the fine detail of the sharpening, making a comparison impossible.

Screen capture of image processed 100% in lightzone.

DSC02046_lzn-1-4-0-.tif (92.3 MB)
High quality 16 bit Tiff version of image processed 100% in lightzone.


Both Lightzone and dt are capable of producing really outstanding images, as raw image processors, as long as the image content/quality, is actually there in the raw file.

Their results easily exceed the image quality of OOC Jpgs, (caveat - when the tools in lz and dt are used appropriately - and it can be a steep learning curve, with lots of interim failures before success).

The images produced via dt, have a bit more “clarity” and richness of colour, like looking through a very transparent window at the scene, like a layer of some intangible visual filter/slight obstruction, has been eliminated, especially in any brighter regions of the image.

The images from Lightzone have their own “vintage” mystique.

Credit to both apps and their developers - for Lightzone and Darktable.

One suggestion. Just put a raw file and sidecars (the xmp files). No need to share 300MB of tiff files. The maintainers of this forum will go bankrupt if we start uploading 94mb images.

Just share a raw or a raw and a sidecar. And put a CC license on it. That way everyone can see what you did in editing and can share their edits with you by sending you their sidecars for your raw image and you can see what others did to achieve the look they went with.