Using Digikam from the Point of View of Lightroom User

Photos Remaining to be Scannned As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’ve been into photography since I was five years old.  That’s when I got my first Kodak Instamatic camera and started shooting photos and creating photo albums.  I have about ten photo albums, with most of them coming from when I got to high school and could really afford film and developing.  Ever since I got my first digital camera in my second semester of college, the number of photos I’ve taken yearly has increased nearly exponentially.  Because I’m an organized person, I started off putting my photos into event-based folders.  Once I realized that’d quickly get unwieldy, I decided to put them in folders by date.  Eventually, software like Picassa, Lightroom, and digiKam came out which would have allowed me to continue to to organized my photos by event because they could read the metadata and reorganize them by date.  However, I’ve found that my system has two main benefits 1)my photos remain organized even if my descendants don’t have access to programs that can read the metadata on the photos.  2) it’s very easy for me to very quickly find a photo.  It would be somewhere like 2010->Jan 10->So and So’s Wedding.

That said, after having been involved in the semantic world via flickr, I’ve found tagging to be invaluable.  I tag my photos with as many relevant tags as possible so I can easily find photos of my brother, for example, in the future.  On my Windows computer I do this with Lightroom, Adobe’s photo management software.  Lightroom is an amazing piece of software engineering.  It is my go-to program for nearly 100% of what I do with photos.  The only time I use Photoshop now is when I need to do something complex like a collage or other bit of art that involves mashing together more than one photo.

Because photography is so important to me (the most important thing outside of family and religion), I foresee myself always using Lightroom in the near future.  Libre Software (aka Free and Open Source) has done some pretty amazing things.  Some of them, like Compiz have been innovations that the Closed Source have borrowed.  Others, like Firefox, took something that already existed and made it better.  Yet other bits of libre software provide ALMOST everything that the Closed Source version does – Libre Office or Blender.  But photography is a very technical, hard thing to program well.  There are PhDs involved over at Adobe.  And it’d be silly for me not to go with best of breed technology for my passion.

However, I am investigating using digiKam on Linux for two reasons.  1) I can probably provide some great insight into where it’s going well and where it’s falling behind compared to Lightroom 2) I am copying my photos (just the JPEGs because I shoot RAW and that would take up too much space) to my Linux computer for use in GRAMPS.  GRAMPS is an AWESOME genealogy tool available on Linux.  And if they’re going to be there for GRAMPS, I may as well have them in a photo management program like digiKam so that I don’t need to turn on my Windows computer to look up where a photo of my brother might be.  (I tend to leave my Windows computer off if I’m not working on photography or playing video games)

One thing I haven’t tested yet, is that I HOPE (since I use KDE) that nepomuk is able to swallow up the metadata like tags, locations, etc from digiKam.  That would make nepomuk VERY useful to me so that I could search for a photo without even needing to open digiKam.

One important thing for Lightroom users (and this also probably applies to Apple’s product, Aperture):  Let’s say you want to preserve your tagging so that you don’t need to recreate that when moving your collection over from Lightroom to digiKam.  Depending on how you use Lightroom, the tags might not be embedded in the JPEG (or other file) metadata.  Usually with all the photos I’ve taken since getting Lightroom, whenever I add in tags or export to JPEG I always highlight all the files and hit control-S.  That writes the title, description, tags, etc to the file.  I hadn’t done that with my oldest images and when they ended up in digiKam, they didn’t have any tags.  So I just deleted them and added them back in after I saved the tags. For my entire library is took a few hours for Lightroom to write all the tags.

So, on to the comparison.  Here’s what digiKam looks like when I open it:

digiKam - startup
digiKam – startup

And here’s what Lightroom looks like when I open it:

Lightroom - startup
Lightroom – startup

If you ignore the cosmetic differences you’ll see that they’re essentially presenting the exact same information.  So, first of all, on the blog posts and digiKam’s own website it has the same cool dark greys as Lightroom.  Lightroom purposely chose those colors because full white or full black would taint your perception of the colors of your photos.  So my first order of business was to try and rectify that situation.  This is how you’d do it.

It’s pretty easy, you just go to Settings->Theme.  Then pick Obsidian Coast.  After I did that, it looks like this:

digiKam - With the Obsidian Coast Theme
digiKam – With the Obsidian Coast Theme


The above shot also shows the image in a bit of a zoom compared to Lightroom.  You might also want to compare two photos on a lightbox.  Here’s what it looks like in Lightroom:

Lightroom - lightbox
Lightroom – lightbox

And here’s what it looks like in digiKam:

digiKam - Light Table
digiKam – Light Table

The only thing I’m not sure of is why they decided that it should open up another window rather than staying in the same window as the main program.  I was going to say that I wasn’t sure how I’d display the exif data the way it’s shown in Lightroom.  But then I took a look at the panels on the left and the right and got them to look like this:

digiKam - Light Box with details
digiKam – Light Box with details


The most important part of Lightroom for me is the Develop module.  It’s where I do any editing that the photos may need.

Lightroom - develop
Lightroom – develop

In digiKam it looks like this:

digiKam - editor
digiKam – editor

Once again, it opens up another window.  I’m not sure what’s up with all these windows opening up.  It’s must more bare than Lightroom.  Rather than presenting all the tools at your disposal, you click on the select tool button.

digiKam - tools in the editor
digiKam – tools in the editor

More or less all the same options are there as in lightroom.  The biggest difference is that it seems to encourage tweaking in steps rather than going back and forth.  But I’m not going to quibble too much on interface choices.  It appears that all the same stuff can be done and the rest can be learned just as I did with Lightroom.  Now, there is one view in Lightroom that I find invaluable to my workflow.  It looks like this:

Lightroom - mutiphoto view
Lightroom – mutiphoto view

At first glance that just looks like thumbnail view.  But there’s a key difference – the photos shown there are photos that have been selected.  So that allows me to select a bunch of photos and, little by little, eliminate them from this view as I decide which ones to continue working on and which ones to abandon.  And as they are eliminated, the remaining photos grow larger and larger until it looks like the light box/light table.  It’s extremely powerful and there’s NO WAY I’d leave Lightroom for any program that didn’t have it.  So next is a module I almost never use because I don’t have clients and it runs too slowly for my wife’s attention span, the slideshow:

Lightroom - slideshow
Lightroom – slideshow

In the latest version they FINALLY added the ability to export it as a video file, but it came a bit too late and I’ve never really used it.  In digiKam, it works more or less the same with the simple one.  The advanced one gives you all kinds of great options.  Here’s the first section:

digikam - advanced slideshow main
digikam – advanced slideshow main

The soundtrack is pretty awesome because it tells you if you need more music:

digiKam - slideshow msuic
digiKam – slideshow msuic

and I think it’s awesome they have an effect called the Ken Burns effect.

digiKam - slideshow advanced
digiKam – slideshow advanced

digiKam doesn’t appear to have a way to export a video, but that’s no big deal.  Finally there’s the web module in Lightroom.  It’s the module I’ve used even less than the slideshow.

Lightroom - web
Lightroom – web

digiKam doesn’t really appear to have an analog.  They have a web export, but I don’t care too much.  If I were using it as a professional photographer to create web pages for my clients after a wedding, I might miss it, but I don’t care about this feature at all.

One feature I DO use a lot is the smart collections feature.  Looks like digiKam supports this via saved searches:

digiKam - saved searches
digiKam – saved searches

Now, I want to try a feature that digiKam has that Lightroom currently does not, the fuzzy search.  I let digiKam fingerprint my photos overnight.  Now I should be able to draw on the notepad on the left and it should find photos that match.  Here are the results from me trying to find beach photos:

digiKam - fuzzy search
digiKam – fuzzy search

It somewhat gets the idea – a lot of these are photos with a horizon, but only the bottom two even took place at the beach.  Here’s an attempt to find solo shots of people.  It actually does a pretty darned good job here:

digiKam - fuzzy search - trying to find a person
digiKam – fuzzy search – trying to find a person

I’m going to try two people and see what I get there.  That was a bit less successful.  Let’s see the image search mode.  I wasn’t able to find an image that didn’t just get a few that were like it or a bunch that weren’t.  Another cool feature that digiKam has that Lightroom doesn’t is face detection.  Let’s give that a shot!  First you have to tell the database to scan for faces.  That took 2 hours for the photos I had there.  Here’s what I got on the search:

digiKam - initial facial recognition page
digiKam – initial facial recognition page

So what next?  Well, when I highlight a photo:

digiKam - facial recognition "Who is this?"
digiKam – facial recognition "Who is this?"

So I tell it who that is….Daniel!  Then I hit the check-mark.  Now I have this on the left:

digiKam - facial recognition - Daniel
digiKam – facial recognition – Daniel

So now I click on Daniel.  And only that one photo was in there.  I wonder if I need to give it more samples.  Interestingly, when I moved to another Dan photo, it had him tagged – so it “knows” that’s Dan.  It’s probably just waiting for some confirmation.

digiKam recognizes Daniel!
digiKam recognizes Daniel!

So I click the check box on a few more photos.  It even recognizes profiles!

digiKam knows Dan from the side!
digiKam knows Dan from the side!

Hmm……it only appears to put in the ones I’ve already tagged.  Less useful than I thought.  But maybe I need to exit and come back in to activate it?  Still no dice.  Maybe someone can let me know in the comments if I’m doing something wrong.

Geotagging is yet another place where digiKam actually excels in comparison to the current version of Lightroom.  Here’s the default view leveraging KDE’s Marble technology to display the map:

digiKam - geotagged images
digiKam – geotagged images

Lightroom doesn’t have anything that comes close.  All it can do is open your photo in Google maps or Google Earth.  Perhaps this is one of the ways that open source tends to win because it can leverage pieces from other open source programs like is being done here.  I wonder if I can see the roads as well.  Ah, changing from Atlas map to Open Streetmap seems to be the key:

digiKam - geotagged displayed using marble and Open Streetmap
digiKam – geotagged displayed using marble and Open Streetmap

Let’s zoom in for some more fidelity:

digiKam - geotagged displayed with Marble zoomed in with Open StreetMap
digiKam – geotagged displayed with Marble zoomed in with Open StreetMap

Cool!  And if you don’t like Marble for some reason, you can also use Google Maps.

Unfortunately, whatever embedded video player it had would not my my .mov files from my old Kodak camera.  I went to Dolphin.  It played OK in Kaffiene.  It could not play in Dragon player.  It could not play in Dolphin’s built-in player which is probably what digiKam is using.  Of course it played fine in VLC.

So, while digging through the settings, it turns out that you can tell it to provide nepomuk with information.  Here’s what it has without digiKam telling nepomuk about the photos:

Dolphin and the info nepomuk has about this photo
Dolphin and the info nepomuk has about this photo

It’s pretty basic – the image size and when it was created.  For some reason it says 1996 which doesn’t make any sense!  So things can’t get any worse with digiKam telling it about the photo.  So I go to digiKam settings->configure digiKam.  And there’s a tab for metadata.  In there is a tab for nepomuk.  In there I check the box “Store metadata from digiKam in Nepomuk.  After that I click on “Fully Resynchronize again”.  Then I click OK.  I imagine that may take a bit to take effect.  Sure enough, I don’t see any effects at first.  And it’s possible that since I was still going the face scanning at the time that it didn’t do the Nepomuk sync.  Well, I triggered it again.  The Created date is still some strange, bogus date, but now it has the tags from digiKam and that’s great!

digiKam and Nepomuk working together!
digiKam and Nepomuk working together!

Now if there were a way to link those specific tags to people in my contacts in Kontact (and maybe I can) then we’re really starting to get the computer to be “smart”.


So, there are some features that digiKam has that aren’t even in Lightroom!  Those include fuzzy search, face detection, and integrated maps for geo-coded photos.  That’s surprising and exciting!  I was surprised to find out that it actually wins out in some categories.  Perhaps in a few revisions it will even be a perfect rival for Lightroom and Aperture.  In general, KDE software is pretty buggy on Windows, but if that’s fixed, Lightroom could end up with a free (both in terms of money AND source) competitor!  And I could see myself using some of these special features in digiKam over those in Lightroom even while using Lightroom for my main editing suite.  I have to say they’ve done an amazing job and digiKam is way better than I expected!


19 responses to “Using Digikam from the Point of View of Lightroom User”

  1. Thanks, Eric. This is the best digikam review that I’ve ever read! 🙂

  2. Hey nice articel.
    Even I as digikam user did not know about everything you tested and pointed out here (especially the fuzzy search).

    One tip for you. If the videos play fine in vlc you could try to install the phonon-vlc backend for KDE and set it under Phonon in KDE Systemsettings -> Multimedia as the default engine. This will make dragonplayer and the internal movie player of digikam use the libvlc backend so your video files should play fine again even in the build in player.

    • Ah, that did it! That’s what’s so awesome about KDE! It’s so easy to switch up backends and get the functionality you need! Yay! Now I can stay within the KDE ecosystem instead of needing to use VLC. (Although VLC IS QT so it fits in nicely)

  3. Find moar pictures of me!

    Seems like a neat program. Maybe I’ll take up using it too.

    • Glad I could be of some help to you, Dan. Hopefully it runs well on your computer, I know you had some issues with Amarok on windows a few months ago. If it doesn’t and you have the time, write up a bug report so they can make it better

  4. Great article. I’m a professional photographer and have finally migrated completely to Linux, largely because of digiKam. I used ACDSee on PCs long before Aperture or Lightroom existed and am so happy with the functionality of digiKam. So happy that you’re spreading the word.

    • Nice! Glad to hear that it can work well for professionals! Maybe I’m just too chicken? Haha….I’m just too invested in the Lightroom system

  5. I use Digikam (I only use GNU/Linux – no Mac or Win here), and have a friend who uses Lightroom on Mac. I wasn’t sure how the two compared, but just seeing his setup, they seemed fairly similar. I sent him this link so he could see some of the differences himself. Great comparison! Thanks!

  6. Nice review of Digikam. But if you’re into Raw files, give RawTherapee a try as well. It beats the hell out of everything else with its demosaicing (Amaze) and sharpening (RL deconvolution) tools. Also, you can edit in LAB mode. The only thing which is still missing is layers – for that, there’s Bibble (now Corel AfterShot Pro) for Linux, even in 64 bit (like RawTherapee as well).

  7. About the video: Dolphin and the other KDE and Gnome players rely on gstreamer as a backend in most cases. So installing the gstreamper plugins (gstreamer-plugins-ugly und stuff like that) might solve the issues with video playback. But installing vlc-stuff seems to have solved the problem as well.
    For raw stuff I have started using darktable. It is still in very fast development but has an amazing set of really great functions. And tags can be exchanged over the xmp files…

    • Yeah, I have the ugly and so on plugins, but for some reason nothing ever works as well as vlc. So that’s working a lot better now – although, and it may be unrelated, I seem to have noticed some issues with Amarok playback not going continuously with VLC vs gstreamer. I’ll have to test it some more.

      For darkable – is that a plugin to digikam or a separate program? Ideally, if you really want to attract the photographer crowd, you really do want a one-stop shop rather than going from program to program. At the very least, if it’s not a plugin it should be launchable from within digikam.

      • If you’re looking for Lighttable alternative on Linux, it’s really the Darktable that you should be looking at. And yes, it’s a separate program.

        Darktable is really targeted at a more professional crowd and it provides a nice raw editing workflow. It’s definitely lacking a bit on the photo-management side, but it works great for organizing and reviewing your photos within one folder.

  8. Thanks for the review, it is just what I was looking for. I’ve installed Linux with KDE, and I’m looking into my graphics and art options. Looks like it supports dng files. I’m thinking of crossing over to dng so that I can have the raw together with the meta data in the file itself, with no sidecars and no need for permanent database.

    • Yeah, I prefer DNG for many reasons including no sidecar files. Also it’s a more open format than the proprietary RAW format used by the camera companies.

  9. I don’t presently use either software, i was just wandering around the web for a cross-platform photo organiser.

    I must say, this is one of the best reviews of /any/ software i’ve ever read. It clearly comes from a point of experience and compares the Digikam software to software you’re already experienced with, and happy with. I think comparing Digikam against what you (probably) see as the best existing example is a very good way to review.

    For your inputs to some of the design/default configurations of the software, i hope the Digikam guys see this review and dutifully consider your ‘suggestions’.

    I hope they iron out the Windows issues, as far as i know there’s nothing that really compares to Digikam in the Free/Open Source world.

    • Hey, thanks for the kudos. I try really hard to do the best I can with the limited time I can to make something that’s worth reading.

  10. […] not have to run two computers if I want to, say, work on my photos. (I use Lightroom although Digikam is pretty awesome if you don’t already have your workflow setup in Lightroom) So to me this is the perfect way to make sure all the programs I want to run on Windows (mostly […]