Top 3 completely free raw photo editors!

The most common raw editors have to be Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop and without a doubt they are great at what they do. However, there is lot of reasons why someone may not want to go for either of these options. You may not like subscription services, or they may not be available for your system (ahem, Linux). So for this article we will cover three of the most popular, completely free (no paid options), cross-platform (available on Mac, Windows and Linux) options.


The Gimp Interface

The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is one of Photoshop’s biggest competitors. Like photoshop it is a full-blown illustration program with photo-editing taking up a small portion of what it is capable of. Like Photoshop, the GIMP cannot read RAW files straight out of the box. Both programs need another program to convert the RAW files. For the GIMP it is a program called UFRAW which can work on its own or as a GIMP plug-in.

Once UFRaw has converted the image from the native RAW format into a Tiff file, the GIMP has the ability to do way more to the image that any of the other editors on this list. You can work with layers use perspective control to make sure you get the image just right.

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Rawtherapee Interface

RawTherapee is another stand-alone Raw Editor that is available on almost any operating system. Unlike the GIMP, RawTherapee doesn’t need a plug-in to read raw files. Whereas the GIMP is designed as an entire digital illustration suite, RawTherapee is designed only to edit raw files. This makes using it a lot easier. Like the most popular Raw editors out there, RawTherapee is non-destructive, meaning all changes made to an image are stored within a sidecar file. When you export the image, then the program creates a copy of your image and makes all the changes to that. That way you always have you original untouched file.

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darktable Interface

My favourite of the three raw editors listed here and actually the one I use in my professional workflow, is darktable. Having started photography using Adobe Lightroom, when I stopped using Windows and switched to Linux as my main operating system, I had to find new editing software that would run on Linux. That’s when I started using darktable. The great thing about darktable is that it works on Windows, Mac and Linux, so even if you are on one of the other OS’s and just don’t want to pay the subscription fee for Adobe Lightroom, you can still try out darktable. The interface is fairly similar to Lightroom which makes the transition easier. darktable does not have a file manager like Lightroom, but there are plenty of free programs that will do just that if you are looking for those features.

darktable is an incredibly powerful program and the algorithms are quite a bit different to Lightroom. Its very easy to over-do a certain effect so if you try darktable, I recommend watching plenty of tutorials and playing around with the program as much as possible. Another great feature about darktable is that the interface is highly customisable so you can only show the functions you find yourself using the most. The functions are grouped into “modules” and they have modules for everything. They have five different types of denoise modules, each using a different process to reduce the noise from your picture. Any of the modules that you apply to your photo can be customised in terms of how you want it to blend in with the photo, from having the affect work uniformly on the entire photo to have it only work on a selected area using a lasso-like tool or even having it only affect the lightest or darkest parts of the image using a parametric mask.

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There are various options for raw editors that don’t have to break the bank. They are exceptionally capable pieces of software and can stand on their own amongst the more popular paid options like Lightroom and Photoshop. The three programs in this article are all free and all work on Windows, Mac OS and Linux so regardless of where you are coming from, you can get started easily. All it will take is practice, but since photography requires the same, they can be done concurrently. If you use any of these programs, let us know and tag us on social media with #inthenameofadventure and #thesecretphoto.