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

Danny Stieben 29-08-2013

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 Shotwell - The Future of Linux Photo Management Software It's taken a long time, but finally the future of Linux photo managers is looking up. It's all thanks to amazing new photo management software called Shotwell. Read More .


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 MATE vs. GNOME Shell vs. Unity vs. Cinnamon Desktop Environments Explained What is the best GNOME-based Linux desktop? We compare Unity vs. GNOME, Cinnamon, MATE, Pantheon, and Budgie to help you choose. Read More will also have an easy time installing it — KDE Enjoy A Clean, Improved Desktop With KDE 4.7 [Linux] One of Linux's most popular desktop environments, KDE, released their latest series (version 4.7) at the end of July. This version improves on work done in previous releases by adding new features while improving performance... Read More 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.

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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  1. dhor
    August 31, 2013 at 6:36 am

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

    • Navid K
      August 31, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      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!

  2. dragonbite
    August 30, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    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
      September 1, 2013 at 2:32 am

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

  3. Arup Roy Chowdhury
    August 30, 2013 at 6:59 am

    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.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Ah, thanks for mentioning that!

    • Reiner
      December 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Thats not true, Shotwell does RAW. Even Darktable has more options.

  4. Vaibhav Jain
    August 29, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    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
      August 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      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
        September 1, 2013 at 1:31 pm

        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?

        • Douglas E Knapp
          December 17, 2015 at 9:01 am

          I know this is old but I thought I would answer the question. First as stated you can help with many things if you don't know and don't want to know programming. These include but are not limited to; give money, help with marketing, web design, testing, translating, giving good well thought out ideas with well stated goals and reasons for the change, filing bug reports, perhaps sound or music for the program, art work, user interface help, icon design etc.

          Normally open source projects have an IRC channel that you can join and talk to them but they can be strict about chatter, they are working! They also usually have a list-serve or forum where you can contact developers.

          Most projects are very happy to have new people helping them, even if it is just over summer break or Christmas vacation or whatever.

          If the project you contact is not friendly there can be three likely problems; you were a pain in the butt (more common than you might guess), they are a bad group or you just caught them at crunch time. Also there is almost always some self appointed GOD or the IRC channel that no one likes and seems to be in a race to answer every post themselves and often badly. Learn to have a thick skin and wait for the real people to show up. Hope this helps someone.


          I love working with Blender 3d. It has a GREAT and often overlooked 2d photo "editor" and has super powers (no joke). Same can be said for its movie editor. It is hard to learn but you will never regret it and it does not crash much.

          You can best learn it by going to Blender Artists, Blender Cookie or the manual but make sure you are reading the current one and not the old one. There are a lot of other smaller tutorial people out there too of better quality and mostly free but they don't have the breadth of coverage.

          Download strainght from as must dist have year old versions and in this case that is very bad.

          BTW the "photo editor" is called the compositor and you will surely want to start by learning to use the nodes.

          manual about nodes
          [Broken Link Removed]

          Some example node setups and you can follow the link for more free ones.

          Old and dated but a good intro to the compositor by Blender Guru. I see Cookie has a current one but they want cash.

          Looks like I need to make a tut aimed at photographers only! Not much out there.

          Douglas E Knapp