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May
26

LightZone review

by Sukrit Dhandhania

LightZone is an advanced photo post-processing app with some unique and interesting tools. Sukrit Dhandhania puts it through its paces…

This article originally appeared in issue 87 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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LightZone_image08LightZone
Price: £99.99

Pros
Features include RAW support, layers, Zones, and Regions. It’s a great deal for the price, and probably the best option for Linux users

Cons
The overall feel of the software is not great. A full-screen editing mode seems to be missing. The interface is also a bit cramped

LightZone is a cross-platform photo-editing program that works on Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.  Although we wouldn’t put it in the same feature bracket as Adobe Photoshop, it comes packed with some very useful features that will allow you to turn your photos into some great-looking work.

Readers already familiar with LightZone might recall that the Linux version was previously available as a free beta. However, since v3.x, developer Light Crafts has brought LightZone Linux onto a par with the Mac OS and Windows editions.
LightZone works in two modes: a simple image browser mode for quickly finding files, and an editing mode. While the browser can preview existing rendered images in formats such as TIFF, JPEG, PNG as well as RAW data from a number of camera manufacturers, it’s limited to viewing images and embedded metadata (which can be modified). One big letdown we found in the implementation of these two modes was that when you’re editing an image and you want to take a look at another image in the browser, you need to save and close the image you’re editing, go into browse mode, then open the image once again to continue editing. In this day and age we’d expect to be able to hop over seamlessly from one mode to another and back without losing our active session.

LightZone has a simple and clean user interface. The Edit mode is split into four parts: there’s the main menu at the top of the application’s screen, the Styles and History sidebar to the left, a bunch of photo editing tools in the right sidebar, and the photo that you are working on in the centre of all this.

Although you have all the tools and settings you might need right in front of you, we found the interface of the Edit mode a little cramped and unintuitive. Unless you have a rather large monitor you might find that the space left for the image you are working on is very small. We much prefer the floating sidebar that Apple Aperture uses in full-screen mode. Another missing feature seems to be a full-screen mode, which is quite useful when working in great detail on an image.

LightZone_image01

Using a similar approach to Photoshop and Aperture, LightZone makes use of layers. When modifying your image using a new filter, you don’t alter the base image directly but add a new layer to the filter stack. Each layer has a dedicated blending characteristic and opacity. As well as resulting in very little space usage for every version of the image that you create, it also allows you to trace your steps back in the History tab and revert the image to an earlier state.

Not too many other Linux photo-editing programs offer users access to the powerful Zone System, originally developed by Ansel Adams for film photography in 1941. LightZone presents this as part of the Zone Tools, which enable digital photographers to easily apply fine changes in exposure and tonal ranges. The ZoneMapper tool helps users to find similar exposure areas within a photo, while the Zone Tools are used for adjusting these tonal groups.

Photographers unable to spend considerable time post-processing their photographs from scratch might appreciate  the inclusion of quite a few Styles. These are essentially post-processing presets that you can use to give effects to your photographs. For example, there are a number of black and white conversion Styles, along with some tonal effects, among others. One useful feature is that as you hover the mouse cursor over a Style, it changes the preview of the photo to what it looks like when that Style is applied.
Although LightZone has some features which allow you to do some quick and dirty post-processing of your photographs, it also has something in store for those that want to take a more laborious route. The Region feature enables you to pick a tool, mark a ‘region’ of your photograph and then make changes using the tool of choice. The modifications will only apply to the selected area. This is an extremely useful and well implemented feature.

Verdict: 4/5
LightZone has come a long way from its previous versions and is probably the finest option Linux users have for photo editing. Extremely useful features include the Regions and Zones support. It’s great value for money, although those familiar with Photoshop or Aperture might find it lacking in terms of usability and power features.

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    • Mike Brodbelt

      Lightzone is a polished piece of software, but it’s not the only option out there for Linux users. Apart from the various bits of free software (Digikam, UFraw, Rawstudio, Rawtherapee) that are doing an increasingly credible job in this space, there’s also Bibble. Bibble is a commercial offering, but is a native app, unlike Lightzone, which is Java. It’s very featureful and offers fully multithreaded operation for speed. So, though I agree Lightzone is a solid offering, I think it’s got strong competion in the commercial and non-commercial space – it’s far from clear that it’s the “finest option”.

    • 2Ben

      Well, Lightzone isn’t bad for sure, albeit a tad slow, but if you think it’s “probably the best option for Linux users” then you sure didn’t try Bibble 5 yet !
      Have a look, it’s really worth it.
      http://www.bibblelabs.com

    • Radek

      Lightzone has only GUI in Java, otherwise it’s a native app.