May 20, 2008

Rawstudio turns 1.0

Author: Nathan Willis

The free software RAW photo converter Rawstudio released version 1.0 in April, marking the culmination of two years of work. This release carries on the Rawstudio tradition of providing a lightweight, dependable tool for photographers.

Source code tarballs and binaries are available through the project's Web site. As of press time, pre-built packages are up for OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. In addition, Ubuntu users can access the 1.0 release and daily builds through Rawstudio's APT repository.

Three new features constitute the big news in 1.0. The first is the inclusion of a sharpen tool, with which you can manually adjust image sharpness using an unsharp mask technique. It is the same feature you would find in a raster graphics editor, but when you do not have major adjustments to make, having it available here is a time-saver.

The second is the ability to export an image directly into a live editing session in the GIMP, saving you the time it takes to locate and open the file in the other application. GIMP is hardwired as the only option, so for now it's tough luck for fans of other editors.

Third is a file-and-directory browser integrated into the main UI -- previous releases of Rawstudio had only the ability to open individual files from the File menu, and to browse the contents of the current directory by thumbnail. Most other RAW converters include such built-in directory browsing, simply because of the time required to load a directory's worth of RAW image thumbnails into the main workspace.

If you prefer the superficial, Rawstudio now sports a trendier-looking interface -- the color scheme I call "pro graphics dark gray." But if that is not your cup of tea, you can swap out the look in favor of your system-wide GTK+ theme.

We last examined version 0.5.1 of the app in April 2007. The intervening 0.6 and 0.7 releases brought new functionality of their own: demosaicing, a fully-editable curve tool, DNG support, and batch adjustments. The app switched to Cairo for its rendering, and made usability improvements like remembering the state of the tools and UI between sessions.

As always, each release of Rawstudio contains updated camera support derived from dcraw. You can check the compatibility page to see if your gear is supported.

RAW company

Rawstudio is fast and simple when compared to other RAW processing tools on Linux. UFRaw and RawTherapee, for example, have more controls and in some cases more options for the tools, letting you adjust the white balance, demosaicing method, highlight and shadow recovery, and so on.

On the other hand, Rawstudio offers several options that can improve your workflow. You can work on three separate adjustment sets for each image, switching back and forth between them -- far superior for comparing image adjustment options than the old method (scribbling notes on the tool settings, then saving one copy with each and comparing them in the GIMP).

The priority ranking system is a quick way to sort images during an editing session, and in my experience better than using oodles of temporary tags (which in essence overloads a tool meant for tracking file metadata, not editing decisions). Finally, Rawstudio's batch processing system is fast and easy to use.

Numerology

That said, it was surprising to see this release declared 1.0. For one thing, the previous release -- Rawstudio 0.7 -- was the latest in a long series of 0.1-increments, and was released only a few months and a few features ago.

But more importantly, there are still several features missing in this release that you might expect of a 1.0 version -- particularly in light of the competition. There is no metadata support at all (neither read nor write), you can only zoom to 100 percent and "zoom to fit" sizes, and color management is still marked as experimental.

What Rawstudio does, it does very well. It just feels more like a 0.9 than a 1.0. Still, for images that do not demand heavy processing, it is faster and easier to use than its free competition. There are some brilliant UI decisions in Rawstudio (such as the multiple adjustment sets, quick priorities, and the new export-directly-to-the-GIMP feature) that I hope will get picked up by other applications and take hold.

Rawstudio continues to make steady progress, and I'll look forward to seeing more of the same in the next release -- whatever it is numbered.

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