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Feature: Graphics & Multimedia

LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

By Nathan Willis on January 15, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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We reviewed the RAW photo editor LightZone almost a year ago, when the Linux version of the product was a closed source -- but free -- download. After months of updates only for the Mac OS X and Windows versions of the application, Light Crafts has released a new beta for Linux. It is a substantial improvement -- but it also marks the end of the road for the free edition.

You can download the LightZone 3.3 beta from the Try LightZone page on the corporate site. The company offers basic info on the Linux edition, and recommends that you have at least Java 1.5 installed in order to run LightZone.

The 3.3 beta is limited to a 35-day trial period, but does not lock out any of the application's features. The download is a 56MB tar archive; because the app is Java-based, you can unpack and run it from anywhere with the command sh ./LightZone.

If you have been using the older, free edition of LightZone for Linux, you may want to rename your installation's directory before trying out the 3.3 beta; the new version will attempt to overwrite previous versions, and that could make reverting back to the free version difficult or impossible. You can keep multiple versions of LightZone installed simultaneously, but they must be in separate directories.

New and improved

LightZone's interface has changed substantially since version 2.4. On the surface, it has adopted the dark stylings popularized by Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture. The tools and menus have also been reorganized. Previous versions grouped some transformation and editing tools into two different places; they are now all together, which makes finding the one you need faster.

I was also pleased with the repositioning of image metadata in Browse mode; it has moved from the lower left corner beneath the file and directory tree to the top level on the right side. For users that read top-to-bottom, it is easier to jump to visually, and having a full column all to itself means more info fits on screen without users having to mouse over and scroll.

Two big new additions to this version are Styles and Re-Light. Styles are pre-made image adjustments that you can apply with one click. They range from subtle warmth adjustments to simulation of black-and-white film taken through different on-camera filters. They are easy to apply, and you can preview the effects instantly.

As with all of LightZone's adjustment tools, when you apply a style it appears in the stack of adjustments on the right side of the window. You can activate and deactivate them at will, without losing any of the other changes you make to the image.

Re-Light is akin to the "auto fill-light" feature found in many RAW converters; it intelligently brightens underexposed areas and darkens overexposed areas without losing detail. Of course, that same degree of panacea is touted by all such automatic image correction tools -- the real test is how well it performs on actual images.

I was pleased with the Re-Light's results, particularly on underexposures. More importantly, the tool's manual controls make adjusting the effect easier. Some "auto fill-light" tools work their magic in a single shot, and if you don't like the result, your only option is to Ctrl-Z Undo it and try something else.

The press release for the 3.3 beta promotes Re-Light's ability to instantly create tone-mapped high dynamic range (HDR) images. If you are growing as tired of that grisly Flickr fad as I am, you will happy to learn that Re-Light can do much more, and produce much more natural and appropriately balanced shots.

Last but certainly important, I found LightZone 3.3 to be substantially faster at browsing and thumbnailing images. Speed-ups in applying effects to a particular image are harder to gauge, but compared to the first time I tried the app on Linux, it is quicker. Back in the LightZone 1.6 days there was a noticeable lag every time you clicked a page down in the thumbnail browser, as the app fetched and loaded thumbnails of the new screenful of images. There is no such delay these days.

Conclusion

If LightZone 3.3 leaves beta and becomes a commercial option for Linux users, it will certainly be a welcome one. Although it is described by some as a RAW converter, it has far more image editing capabilities than UFRaw or even Bibble. Its tools are excellent; they do not mirror general-purpose image editors like the GIMP -- which can make them confusing at first -- but once users have a little experience, the photo-centric approach of the Zone Mapper and stackable adjustments make image correction faster. The Re-Light tool and overall speed-ups in 3.3 beta only add to the app's value.

On the other hand, if the company decides to release no future versions of LightZone for Linux (free or paid), try to hang on to the last free version, LightZone 2.4. It could be a long time before you see an equally useful alternative for Linux photography.

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on LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

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Related to Pixologic at all?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 169.233.25.12] on January 15, 2008 09:06 PM
The interface reminds me of the organic modeler: ZBrush. The "company" link on the LightZone website doesn't mention any such link. Any thoughts?

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Re: Related to Pixologic at all?

Posted by: Nathan Willis on January 15, 2008 11:25 PM
It's in "pro graphics dark gray" -- as are the other apps mentioned; other than that, I don't see the resemblance. Why would Light Crafts have something to mention? --Nate

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Insane requirements

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 169.233.25.12] on January 15, 2008 09:07 PM
1 GB minimum, 2 GB recommended? WTF? An entire bloated operating system (Vista) requires that!

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Re: Insane requirements

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.149.4.189] on January 16, 2008 11:37 AM
Have you actually done any RAW photo processing before? Even 2GBcould be considered small. Think about the size of RAW, expecially with 10MP upwards and data it contains. Then apply different layers in LightZone which can be stacked and applied in different order. No this isn't insane requirements at all.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 124.183.6.55] on January 16, 2008 03:53 AM
I have to ask where the author got the idea that The GIMP is a general purpose image editor? Go back to The GIMP, and have a look for any real art tools. Even the UI buttons have photography images in them. Have you ever heard of an artist using a pipette? That is a tool that photographers use. Artists just look at that "eyedropper" blankly wondering what on earth it is for. So please, be my guest, go compare the toolsets of TVPaint, Corel Painter, or systems like Quantel. You will find that the average artist that uses The GIMP is blissfully unaware that superior tools are available.

The GIMP does not even include Animation tools as do 50% of all the real artists tools since 1988.

Yes, I CAN create art on The GIMP if I were to put the time and effort in. I COULD create a great fine art piece (as others have done) by smearing my own feces on canvas. The feces is harder to work with and does not give the same vibrant colour as oil paint does. But like The Gimp, my feces is free, so there is more than one way to compare The GIMP to my feces.

You will find the serious artists flocking to Linux when (or IF) there is a real art tool on Linux. A real artist is not a Linux, or FOSS fanatic first, and hobbyist second.

It is time to fork The GIMP for the artists sake.

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Re: LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.83.114.28] on January 16, 2008 12:21 PM
Try more fruit and you will discover that your feces will easier to work with.

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Re: LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Nathan Willis on January 18, 2008 09:07 PM
We look forward to seeing your work. -- Nate

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.111.79.194] on January 16, 2008 06:30 PM
I've used LightZone since 2.4 on Linux and it quickly became my favorite RAW photo tool. It seems pretty obvious to me that a digital SLR with RAW is the only way to shoot photos for serious/pro photographers these days, and so having the best possible RAW tool is pretty important. It's probably one of the few pieces of software I would actually pay for these days.



First there's the Zone tool, which is a vastly more intuitive contrast adjustment tool than either Levels or Curves -type tools. Relight is a quick fix and it's okay for a lot of typical snapshots where, for instance, the background is bright and the subject or foreground is left a bit dark. But to really do it right and fine tune it, the Zone tool is the way to go, and when you get used to it, it's probably the faster way to get optimum results.



But my favorite function of Lightzone is the Regions tool, which allows you to select with borders very precise regions for each tool to effect. This is like lassoing regions or other masking procedures in Photoshop, such as drawing editable paths around regions and converting these to selection areas. AFAIK this is the only RAW tool that can do this, and it's much better to do this in RAW where you can keep adjusting the affected region's outlines as well as the associated image adjustments and suffer no image degradation, because it's all taking place over the unmodified RAW file. To me this eliminates much of the need to ever open a photo in Gimp or PS. No more creating duplicate layers and experimenting on those etc. You simply work as much as is needed on the file until it's perfected, then output an extremely If later you decide it's not quite right, you simply go back to the LZ file and make some small adjustmenst and output a new pristine TIFF or JPEG.



My criticisms of LZ is that their Linux support is long sort-of promised and still hasn't materialized. They need to shoot or get off the pot, as it were. Beta 3.3 is so unstable at this point as to be nearly unusable on my Ubuntu 7.10 install. The program is indeed a bit faster now but still pretty slow. I do have to wonder about the guts of the program a little, as it is written in Java, which probably means it will never be super fast and responsive. I have yet to see any really great robust heavy duty program written in Java, which I think of as more suited to smaller utilities. There are literally hundreds of major FOSS programs that manage a native port to all the major platforms and I wonder why they didn't use GTK or QT etc.



It's still a great program and I would hope for Lightcrafts to release this at a reduced price on Linux and set up tools for the Linux community to maintain a volunteer support forum. We Linux people are very good at helping ourselves, we do it for everything else! I believe this could work well and take a lot of the support onus off of the company, so long as they pay attention and squash the bugs adequately.

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Re: LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.77.50.186] on January 17, 2008 07:59 AM
Agree with all said above. However, LZ does *not* do pixel-based adjustments such as dust removal, etc. very easily. The GIMP is much better for this. So do your LZ and then touchup with the GIMP.

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Re(1): LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Nathan Willis on January 18, 2008 09:06 PM
Huh? LightZone has both a "spot clone" tool and a user-defined "region" clone tool -- how much easier could dust removal get? It's certainly not harder to do than it is in GIMP, plus you gain the benefit of doing it on full-color-depth image data, pre-export. -- Nate

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.245.9.212] on January 17, 2008 03:10 AM
Where can I find LightZone 2.4, please?

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 195.72.3.90] on January 17, 2008 10:44 AM
Anyway this is just for RAW processing, for more general editing and for those who doesn't like GIMP very much, there's almost identical Photoshop clone for Linux at [url]http://www.pixelimageeditor.com[/url] ... yeah yeah I know, it's not free, don't beat me up, but for $29 it's worth.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.80.66.87] on January 17, 2008 12:32 PM
These are great news. I've tried Lightzone last year but unfortunately I don't have the program anymore, the CD is damaged. I've searched for long on several forums and I couldn't find a link for the 2.4 version. I even found some news that they dropped completely the support for linux, but it's good to hear that that's wrong. If anyone has a link for a download mirror please share it.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 124.30.128.76] on January 17, 2008 01:10 PM
Java is definitely slower than native programs. But its advantages far out-weigh this. It is much easier to code with Java whether you accept it or not.

Java will not remain slow forever. The improvements made to recent versions of JVM are extremely visible. For a large program, the overhead of JVM itself is less significant. A managed run-time offers several advantages to foster innovation. As far I can see, Java is the only mature cross-platform runtime available today.

Mono is still immature and not 100% .Net compliant. Python/Ruby are much slower than Java. So I think the developers have made the right choice.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.43.221.76] on January 17, 2008 03:28 PM
Here is another commercial product that incorporates Dave Coffin's dcraw without providing any credit.
Even the article fails to mention the total dependence of LightZone on dcraw for its RAW file capability.

The real defect, however, is that LightZone is not compatible with pure 64-bit systems. All of its libraries
and executables are 32-bit. The article quotes the COO's quest for being "robust across many Linux
configurations," but if LightZone can't produce a pure 64-bit version then their product is destined to be
ignored by the serious and up-to-date user. It certainly will be ignored by me.

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Re: LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Nathan Willis on January 18, 2008 08:58 PM
Dear serious and up-to-date user: Actually, Coffin is the very first one listed on the acknowledgement screen. And if you had read the initial review of LightZone, you would have seen the paragraph about it there as well. The second time around I also did not waste space duplicating the description of the Zone System and its creator. -- Nate

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.109.58.13] on January 17, 2008 07:22 PM
Java is definitely easier and faster and better - than other 'cross-platform' development methods. However, this is the kind of app where speed really matters, and using a 'cross-platform' method to save time will come back to haunt you. I have a two part critique critique of using Java for this application: I am using the most popular Linux right now, plain vanilla Ubuntu 7.10 and I have two instances where LZ crashes, each and every time, doing the most common things: exporting a JPG file and applying noise reduction. Two: there are umpteen FOSS projects that are completely volunteer developed, and yet they seem to be able to maintain robust native compiled versions on Mac, Win, and Linux for years on end, without using these fancy 'cross-platform' platforms. There are countless examples but I'll give some of my favorites from the graphics and mulitimedia area: Audacity. Blender. Inkscape. Gimp. I seldom see even a beta from most FOSS projects that just crashes constantly. And here's a company with paid employees that has difficulty generating a stable Linux build - using Java which is supposed to make this so easy! Hey, Java is a great idea, but I think it's probably more appropriate for smaller and simpler apps where there are very limited development resources. RAW processing is extremely processor and data intensive at every point. Everytime you make the slightest image adjustment in LZ it reprocesses the whole image and you WAIT, even with my dual core processor and 2GB of RAM. This is the kind of app where you want to do everything possible to optimize the code to eke out every last bit of speed. This is the kind of app where going with native builds would be WORTH IT. The developers saved themselves some time, but the users are penalized every step of the way.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.169.145.52] on January 21, 2008 05:42 AM
The reason there is no reference to Pixologic on the Light Craft's page is that there is no relation between the two companies. To be honest, I had never checked out their site until I read this post.

While LightZone can do incredible things with RAW files, it can also work quite well with TIFF and JPG originals too. Obviously the data lost in JPG compression has an impact in how much you can transform images without getting artifacts, and you can go much further with RAW files, but just because your original is a JPG doesn't mean LightZone can't do a lot for it.

The original post suggested that there was a 35 day limitation to the download. That may have been true at the time of the original post, but it might set a misleading impression. The 3.3B version is scheduled to terminate at the end of January 2008, but the Beta will continue and a 3.4B beta will be released before the end of the month, extending the beta test. At this time (Jan 2008) we expect to release beta updates at least monthly for at least the next 3 months, through the end of April 2008. Extensions are possible depending upon the reports we get from beta testers. It is important to us to get a large number of testers from a representative distribution of the wide number of Linux variants before we certify a version as a production level. So please help us out in validating the software and finding any variant specific errors.

As of this time no decision has been made to discontinue distributing a free Linux version, and it is premature to assume that this is will happen.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.169.145.52] on January 21, 2008 05:44 AM
The reason there is no reference to Pixologic on the Light Craft's page is that there is no relation between the two companies. To be honest, I had never checked out their site until I read this post. While LightZone can do incredible things with RAW files, it can also work quite well with TIFF and JPG originals too. Obviously the data lost in JPG compression has an impact in how much you can transform images without getting artifacts, and you can go much further with RAW files, but just because your original is a JPG doesn't mean LightZone can't do a lot for it. The original post suggested that there was a 35 day limitation to the download. That may have been true at the time of the original post, but it might set a misleading impression. The 3.3B version is scheduled to terminate at the end of January 2008, but the Beta will continue and a 3.4B beta will be released before the end of the month, extending the beta test. At this time (Jan 2008) we expect to release beta updates at least monthly for at least the next 3 months, through the end of April 2008. Extensions are possible depending upon the reports we get from beta testers. It is important to us to get a large number of testers from a representative distribution of the wide number of Linux variants before we certify a version as a production level. So please help us out in validating the software and finding any variant specific errors. As of this time no decision has been made to discontinue distributing a free Linux version, and it is premature to assume that this is will happen. --Scott McGregor, Chief Operating Officer, Light Crafts, Inc.

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.251.19.109] on January 28, 2008 06:56 AM
Scott, thanks for getting that out to us linux users! Its a great program, IMHO. Glad to see that its going to finally be getting some attention. You can count on my support...

j.
mig3669 at gmail dot com

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LightZone 3.3 beta offers pro photo manipulation for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.113.75.167] on February 18, 2008 02:28 PM
Who is kidding who here "Java is definitely easier and faster and better". I almost spat my coffee out!
Java may be easier and better to write with - when you want to write an app that runs slowly on all platforms maybe.
quote "Java is definitely slower than native programs. But its advantages far out-weigh this."
WHAT? Who for? Certainly not the user. Speed matters, here in raw processing world more than usual.
I love the way lightzone works, it is just way to slow. I use it only for images that my Lightroom does a bad job on - and in that instance Lightzone is way overpriced.

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