Darktable vs. Shotwell: Two Great Photo Editing Applications For Linux

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Until recently, Linux only had GIMP as an acceptable photo editing tool. That’s changed, thanks to a couple new tools that provide impressive features: Darktable and Shotwell.

The great thing about these two tools is that they are specifically developed for editing photos, rather than general image manipulation. This ultimately provides a better-designed interface and a more efficient workflow. I compared the two applications based on the interface and features in order to see which is the best tool for the job.


Shotwell is a rather lightweight application found in most Gnome-based distributions. Most distributions had included F-Spot before they shipped Shotwell, but F-Spot wasn’t quite as feature-filled and it was dependent on Mono — the patent-encumbered Linux equivalent of Microsoft’s .NET Framework. With Shotwell, people had a more useful application that they could also feel good about using.

If it isn’t already installed on your Linux system, you can find it by searching for a “shotwell” package in your respective package manager. As Shotwell has become a very common application, it should be available for any distribution. Gnome-based users will also have an easy time installing it — KDE users should expect some extra dependencies slated for installation.

The first time you launch Shotwell, it’ll ask you if you want to import all of the images in your Pictures folder. Once they’ve been imported, you can choose an image to edit. You’ll then find various buttons along the bottom which you can apply to the selected image.

The list includes rotating, cropping, straightening, red-eye removal, color adjustment, and an automatic enhancer. Most of these tools are very useful and do what they’re meant to do — the automatic enhancer is a bit iffy at times. My example image simply looked more dramatic after clicking the Enhance button, but not necessarily clear and accurate.

Thankfully, Shotwell has undo support so you can give it a go and revert back to adjust things manually if the Enhance button didn’t do the job.

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If you go to File –> Publish, you can post all of the photos you’ve edited directly to your favorite social media networks. Supported networks include Facebook, Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, and Piwigo. While this publish feature isn’t absolutely necessary, it can certainly make your life easier — with it there’s not need to open your browser for uploading.

Overall, Shotwell is a great application. It isn’t completely filled with features, but it has enough of them to take care of most photo issues a majority of people will run into.


Darktable isn’t an application found as a default on any distribution, so you’ll need to search for a “darktable” package in your respective package manager in order to install it. Most major distributions should already have it in their repositories. Darktable still depends on a few Gnome dependencies as well, so KDE users should also expect to see them slated for installation.

Darktable’s interface may seem a little more confusing at first, but it makes sense after a little bit of use. In “lighttable” mode, you can import all of the photos you want to work with, and then double click on one to switch over to “darkroom” mode. Once you’re in darkroom mode, you can do whatever you want with the photo, including:

  • Snapshots (think action history / undoing)
  • Output color profile
  • Shadows and highlights
  • Input color profile
  • Base curve
  • Demosaic
  • Crop and rotate
  • Base curve
  • Orientation
  • Exposure
  • White balance
  • Levels
  • Tone curve
  • Local contrast
  • Color correction
  • Monochrome
  • Sharpen
  • Lens correction
  • Vignetting
  • Grain
  • Graduated density

As you can probably tell by now, Darktable is a far more advanced application, and gives you fine-grained control over your photos. There doesn’t seem to be a “magic enhance” button in this program, so you’ll have to play around with all of the settings yourself in order to get your photos to look the way you want them to. Darktable also provides support for cameras with tethering and a map where you can visually see where all of your photos were taken.


Both of these applications are great, but which one’s better? There isn’t one that is ultimately better for everyone. If you’re a simple photo-taker with light needs, then Shotwell is ideal for you because there aren’t too many settings you have to deal with. If you’re more of a professional who is more knowledgeable and has higher needs, then Darktable is more appropriate for you — it gives you the amount of control that you need. However, both applications are excellent choices that can do the job.

Which photo editor do you prefer on Linux? Why do you think it’s the best? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: DaveLawler

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Comments (10)
  • dhor

    C’mon, you compare heavy artillery (Darktable) with the tiny flea (Shotwell). Put toghether Darktable, Rawtherapee, Aftershot pro, Photivo, Rawstudio, GTKRawGallery…

    • Navid K

      can’t agree more, in OSX and Windows ecosystem, Darktable is like Lightroom, Heavy developing software with full control for RAW photographer, while there are some lightweight software out there who are just there, like Windows Live Image something and go on.
      For a normal user I don’t recommend them to go get the latest version of Adobe Lightroom when all they want is facetagging their vacation photos. expected better distinction MUO!

  • dragonbite

    I like the visual aspect of Shotwell and some of the simplicity but on KDE I go with Digikam. They include a lot of plugins, exporting options and editing features than Shotwell.

    But I really like the visual simplicity of Shortwell.

    • Arup Roy Chowdhury

      Digikam is full fledged and can handle RAW. It also does mostly everything GIMP does minus few.

  • Arup Roy Chowdhury

    Both are different apps, one is for cataloging and does a swell job with some quick editing while the other is a true pro tool to do raw. Shotwell doesn’t do RAW.

  • Vaibhav Jain

    I know this is a little off-topic but can you do a article on ‘How to become a linux contributor’.
    It should cover what skills are required initially, how much time is needed to be devoted, and difficulty level of various projects.
    it would be very helpful to me..Thank you..
    P.S: I have basic knowledge(high school) in C++/Java (algorithms, data structures, oops etc.) and I have basic knowledge of linux as well.(Its commands, courtesy of raspbian on my raspberry pi.) But I am willing to learn more..

    • Danny Stieben

      Hi Vaibhav,

      I’d definitely be interested in that myself, but I’m not entirely sure either. I could definitely talk about the different ways in which people can contribute, however. Would that work? :)

    • Vaibhav Jain

      I do know different ways to contribute to open source projects namely donation, documentation designing, language translations etc..but I am more interested in the coding part, something which would help me in future (I am a comp. science student)…
      Do you contribute code or bug fixes? Or are you a contributor in something else?

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.