The missing darktable feature lot of people complain about

First, lets clear the air. darktable is more than enough for my needs, a happy user and I’ve no intentions of changing sides. I don’t believe I use more than 10 percent features of darktable but then my needs and experience is low.

I do search web to learn more about darktable, to understand new features and such. When available, I glance through comments and see what others are thinking.

One common issue that comes up often is image catalog. One example says image in multiple collections etc.

Since I have never used lightroom, looking for opinions from experts who have used lightroom and related DAM features. What does lightroom offer extra in this regards that is not achievable in darktable?

I use tagging heavily. Initially this feature was not obvious to me and mailing lists directed me to right path. To me, a collection is something that has some common properties, location, event etc. Since there can be multiple tags and even tag hierarchy, to me, these are multiple collections. Examples can be a photo can belong to a beach, sunset and family member collections at the same time and this is apart from the folder/filmroll it belongs to.

Usually purpose of collections is to reach desired set of photos quickly. Tagging and other filtering mechanisms allow me to do that and allows me to use and/or operators on virtually any field that I need.

What is the missing feature that these folks keep complaining about?

From what you describe, it sounds like that ‘missing feature’ is a gui interface to a separate set of keywords, disguised as virtual folders/collections…

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I just have a top level tag called “collections” then named collections of photos under that tag.

I think lightroom’s catalogs are probably nice and well designed, but its not the singular way a catalog can work nor is it the signal definition of what a catalog is. I think what the complainers mean is “I depend on lightroom feature X, so another software not having a feature with the same mechanics is a deal breaker.” Which is totally fine, if that feature works for that person, then they should continue to use that feature.

For me, having tags works fine, and I don’t need a lot of DAM but I do desire a flexible editor, so darktable it is.

In all seriousness, the biggest feature that Lightroom offers is a commitment for life to pay Adobe a subscription. That is not a feature I want. Yes LR has a good catalog system that is designed well. That is one of its big strengths, but my perpetual LR6 licence will not recognise newer cameras, lenses, and raw files so I am forced to pay a subscription or to abandon LR.

However, DT’s DAM capabilities have improved or my use of them has improved over time. I use DT to copy and import pictures by date into folders. That works well for me. It can rename images while doing this if I want, so I could ask it to name all my holiday photos in a fashion like “Vietnam” and have the images numbered as a sequence. Very convenient way of sorting and then finding images. I just have to work differently to LR and I know the DT developers have no interest in being a clone of LR so I work with the options they give me.

I was a Lightroom user for a few years and when I first started using darktable, which was about version 2.6, it was definitely lacking some of Lr’s features. But I’m fairly sure darktable has a very comparable feature set now, unless Lr has added some killer cataloguing features since I last used it (I think the main changes have been to masking and AI integration).

The culling mode introduced in darktable filled a gap that was there, but it now equals Lr’s Survey mode where you can compare several pictures at once in the lighttable. There were also quite a few filtering features missing a few years ago, but that has also caught up to Lightroom now I think.

The only glaring omission I feel that darktable has compared to Lr is actually in the darkroom and that’s a quick way to do a before/after comparison. You can do it two ways with darktable:

  • Creating a snapshot at the starting point in the history, then turning on the snapshot. But this is a split screen comparison, and you have to manually find the starting point in the history and do lots more clicks.
  • Creating a duplicate using the “original” option, then long pressing on the duplicate. This is much more similar to Lr’s implementation in that it is a full image back and forth comparison. But it involves creating a duplicate and then deleting it again afterwards.

For comparison, you just press the back slash key in Lr to see the original unedited image, or you can press Y to see the before and after images side by side.

The other thing I sometimes miss about Lr is that you can hold down Alt while using a slider to see a greyscale mask of what the slider is affecting. It’s similar to darktable’s yellow mask view, but it’s tied to a keyboard shortcut and works on different sliders in real time. It’s great to see what you’re affecting, but I can’t remember now which sliders it worked on and whether darktable really is missing the feature.

This other thing that’s not really missing from darktable, but it’s not as neat a solution is HSL editing on individual colours or colour ranges. Lr has a nice feature where you can just scroll up or down on a colour in the image, and it does the H or S or L adjustments on the colour or colours it detects. It works like the mouse scrolling feature in darktable’s tone equalizer module, but on colours, not just luminosity. Color zones sort of has this functionality in that you can ctrl or shift drag over some colours to do a positive or negative adjustment, but it’s not as flexible.

Lightroom has joined the big AI revolution, so there are probably more divergences now, but honestly, I think darktable has a very comparable feature set and is in many ways a lot more powerful. It certainly gives you the user more control. I think a lot of users coming over from Lr just miss the familiarity and maybe some of the “neater” solutions, if you can quantify that.


from photo organization point of view, the biggest win in DT is ability to easily merge or split or share multiple rolls and not losing edits, something impossible in lrc or in fact any other software

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FWIW, I don’t think that putting DAM in a photo editor is a good design choice. I would prefer if they were orthogonal: one program to organize (tag, group, delete, etc) photos, which I could then open in any application I like, including Darktable, and other applizations which just manage the photos; putting metadata and a preview image in the sidecar file in a standardized format.

I agree.

Which means you’ll have to either get n DAM programs and m editors to agree on that one standard, or handle up to n×m combinations…

Putting binary data in a sidecar isn’t all that standardised either, and you have to deal with the resulting size of the sidecar… Even the storage of metadata isn’t all that clear-cut, there are a number of ways e.g. tags or descriptions are handled within XMP metadata. Ratings and colour labels are also an issue.

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Fortunately, the DAM aspect of darktable is optional. I do my organizing outside of darktable because I sometimes choose to use RawTherapee or ART instead.

Please share details, I am interested. What program do you use for organizing? How do you call Darktable to edit an image?

My organizing is pretty simple:

  • I use Rapid Photo Downloader to load my photos to my computer. I use keyword-rich directory names to make it easy to find photos by date, camera used, and subject matter.
  • I use Geeqie to cull the garbage and quickly decide what I want to edit.
  • On Linux, I launch darktable from Geeqie. I’m not near that machine right now to get the command string, but it includes --library :memory:
  • On Windows, I altered the command for the darktable icon to "C:\Program Files\darktable\bin\darktable.exe" --library :memory:

This may not stand up for someone that takes tens of thousands of photos a year and is heavily into tagging, but it makes my life simple.


Thanks! In the standard plugin it does not, but it is easy to modify.

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I am not really sure what DAM is, but guessing it’s digital access management. Not having looked at the other softwares, my experience if limited to darktable. But I do have software engineering background and perhaps that influences my choices.

Couple of years back I thought darktable was not good enough for my needs when it comes to searching for tags or in general. I even created a prototype of what I had in mind and presented it on developers list. They were very polite and nice and pointed me that most of the functionality that I was trying to build exists and pointed me in the right direction. Of course, I never expected my solution in it’s form to be available especially since I was reading the database that only darktable should be reading/managing.

From my needs perspective, only major thing I miss is a tag cloud - not sure if it’s part of DAM, but more like how I view data. I do understand I am a bumbling hobbyist at best when it comes to photography and not a professional whose needs are completely different.

“asset” I think… it’s something I’m challenged with so keep it to a minimum!

If you don’t integrate DAM and photo editor like in darktable, you would make it more difficult to work only with raws. So, for me the integration is inevitable, otherwise I couldn’t see in the DAM what I did with the raw files. I only export developed raws to jpeg temporarily for internet and delete the jpeg after uploading, so I only keep raws and xmp. That’s why the integration is necessary.

That’s just a technical problem; the raw editor could make it available to the DAM program in various ways (eg embed a decent preview jpeg in the xmp). Currently this does not happen.

Everyone would be better off if the DAM and the raw editor were separate. Darktable devs would not have to maintain something which is essentially orthogonal to the core functionality of DT, while people could pick whatever they prefer from a range of DAM solutions (from “I just put files in directories” to “I maintain an extensive and sophisticated tag cloud collated with geolocation data”).

When I first tried darktable I tagged everything because it was available and it somehow scratched some kind of OCD itch I had (I guess). But it didn’t take long until – for me – it was more effort to tag than the benefits it provided. That’s nothing against darktable, just a reflection of my workflow.

I don’t shoot huge numbers of images, I don’t shoot events / people, family or otherwise (although I’ve been occasionally tempted, if you know what I mean! :crazy_face:), I store everything in dated descriptive folders and after processing (and after backups run) I delete all images that weren’t “keepers”, keeping only raws, sidecars, TIFFs, edited copies (GIMP, whatever) and since they’re small, exported JPGs. Sometimes I’ll go back and delete TIFFs as well later on to save space.

So my workflow is simple:

  1. Copy raws from card to filesystem
  2. View / cull with XnView
  3. Process in raw editor
  4. Finalize in bitmap editor and export
  5. After backups, delete everything I didn’t touch

But I purposely don’t keep extra shots, so I don’t need to search for anything.

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I have no system at all. I copy and import, delete brutally, edit and done. Typically export jpegs to iCloud/Photos so they’re in rough date order there as kind of catalogue and place to post to social media or message to friends and rellies. Worry a bit how most people seem to have some complex filing system going on. But then I’ve got 21,000 unread emails in my Mail app.

Ctrl (or Cmd)+A, Delete :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I suspect if (rhetorically) there are 21K unread emails you probably won’t read them.

One of my managers before I retired (not my current life-long domestic manager!) had over 254,000 job-related messages in her Inbox. Then again, Outlook / Exchange was used as a permanent filing system because we corporately never bothered to pursue anything more appropriate for that type of data. She had been burned by a buggy Outlook rule, so she decided to use no rules at all. Auto-sorting rules (combined with brutal delete practices) was the only method that allowed me to keep a mostly empty Inbox with no unread messages anywhere at all. I had several thousand in total, but I kept on top of it (albeit with effort).

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