Good free photo editing programs

AtomicSnipe

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Hi,

I am looking for the best free image editing programs out there (I want them to be completely free, not a trial or demo).

I want to be able to edited RAW (.NEF) images taken by my Nikon D3400. I've heard that DaVinci Resolve is very good, but I can't seem to find a way to edit RAW files, or am I doing something wrong?

Suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks
 
You can't edit RAW files. That kinda defeats the purpose of having a RAW file (the exact camera sensor data the camera recorded).

The way it usually works is you use a RAW conversion program to convert the RAW file into another image format. The RAW file is simply raw sensor data (compressed), so is usually 12- or 14-bit, doesn't have a color space or color curves assigned to it, and hasn't yet decomposed the Bayer filter (which is where most of the compression comes from - the RAW data only has one color per pixel). The conversion program converts it to an 8-bit or 16-bit image format, converts it into a color space (sRGB if you're planning to display the images on the web or on a TV), applies the correct color curves for that color space and color temperature to convert the sensor's sensitivity scale to the color values for that color space, and deconstructs the Bayer filter data (extrapolates RGB color values to every pixel). Some of them also sharpen and/or do noise reduction.

For free, you should be able to download a NEF conversion program from Nikon's website. Many pay photo editing programs also have their own RAW converter which you may prefer over the Nikon one (it may be faster or produce slightly different image quality which you like better). But the free solutions are almost always just going to use Nikon's or Canon's RAW converter. (They should also have a small driver to install which will let Windows preview the RAW file to make organizing your library easier.)

The closest I've seen to "editing" RAW files is Adobe Lightroom. It reads the RAW files and generates previews. It then lets you "edit" those previews, saving the editing steps rather than the results of the edit. When you want to produce the final image, it reads the complete RAW file, converts it to an image in RAM, applies the editing steps, then saves it as your choice of image format.

Don't let this discourage you from having your camera save pictures in RAW format. It's an additional step in editing, but RAW contains much more information and is much more flexible than saving as JPEG or TIFF. I was convinced by the JPEG advocates for a couple months and switched my camera from RAW to JPEG. Then I took a fantastic photo of a sunset. But because it had been saved as JPEG, the dark foreground of the picture simply didn't contain enough information. When I tried to brighten the foreground in post-processing, all I got were a bunch of JPEG compression blobs. The JPEG conversion process had concentrated the pixel depth on saving the huge dynamic range of the sunset, and threw away all the detail that had been in the underexposed foreground. I immediately switched my camera back to RAW and have been shooting RAW ever since.

For a free image editing program, most people point to GIMP. The interface is a bit clumsier than Photoshop, but it has most of the same features.
 
You can't edit RAW files. That kinda defeats the purpose of having a RAW file (the exact camera sensor data the camera recorded).

The way it usually works is you use a RAW conversion program to convert the RAW file into another image format. The RAW file is simply raw sensor data (compressed), so is usually 12- or 14-bit, doesn't have a color space or color curves assigned to it, and hasn't yet decomposed the Bayer filter (which is where most of the compression comes from - the RAW data only has one color per pixel). The conversion program converts it to an 8-bit or 16-bit image format, converts it into a color space (sRGB if you're planning to display the images on the web or on a TV), applies the correct color curves for that color space and color temperature to convert the sensor's sensitivity scale to the color values for that color space, and deconstructs the Bayer filter data (extrapolates RGB color values to every pixel). Some of them also sharpen and/or do noise reduction.

For free, you should be able to download a NEF conversion program from Nikon's website. Many pay photo editing programs also have their own RAW converter which you may prefer over the Nikon one (it may be faster or produce slightly different image quality which you like better). But the free solutions are almost always just going to use Nikon's or Canon's RAW converter. (They should also have a small driver to install which will let Windows preview the RAW file to make organizing your library easier.)

The closest I've seen to "editing" RAW files is Adobe Lightroom. It reads the RAW files and generates previews. It then lets you "edit" those previews, saving the editing steps rather than the results of the edit. When you want to produce the final image, it reads the complete RAW file, converts it to an image in RAM, applies the editing steps, then saves it as your choice of image format.

Don't let this discourage you from having your camera save pictures in RAW format. It's an additional step in editing, but RAW contains much more information and is much more flexible than saving as JPEG or TIFF. I was convinced by the JPEG advocates for a couple months and switched my camera from RAW to JPEG. Then I took a fantastic photo of a sunset. But because it had been saved as JPEG, the dark foreground of the picture simply didn't contain enough information. When I tried to brighten the foreground in post-processing, all I got were a bunch of JPEG compression blobs. The JPEG conversion process had concentrated the pixel depth on saving the huge dynamic range of the sunset, and threw away all the detail that had been in the underexposed foreground. I immediately switched my camera back to RAW and have been shooting RAW ever since.

For a free image editing program, most people point to GIMP. The interface is a bit clumsier than Photoshop, but it has most of the same features.
 

USAFRet

Splendid
Moderator


DaVinci Resolve is for video, not RAW files.

For .NEF files, darktable (free), or Adobe Lightroom.
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks

Well, DaVinci edits pictures too.
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks for the detailed reply.

I have recently started photography, has been a bit more than a month and I am loving it!

So when I heard pros edit their photographs in RAW, I jumped at the idea and thought I would be able to do the same. It seems they didn't tell the tale to the end haha.

Do you think I should always use RAW? I use JPEG most of the time because of how easy it is to post the pic on Instagram or anywhere else. But now that you mention the free Nikon converting tool, I think I will stick to RAW, and convert using the app to JPEG when I want to upload to Instagram.
 

AtomicSnipe

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I have downloaded Nikon NEF Codec, but it only allows me to view the NEF images, not convert them.

And also, why would I convert it? Wouldn't that ruin the whole point of capturing in NEF? If not, which format should I convert to?
 

Yeah, the codec is probably the one for quick-viewing RAW images so you can manage the files on your disk more easily. There should be a separate RAW conversion program. I'm a Canon guy so don't know the Nikon software offerings, but this seems to be the right one.

https://www.nikonusa.com/en/learn-and-explore/a/tips-and-techniques/nikon-capture-nx-d-software.html

And also, why would I convert it? Wouldn't that ruin the whole point of capturing in NEF? If not, which format should I convert to?
I'm not sure if this analogy works anymore because a lot of newer photographers have never shot film. But RAW is like a film negative. It contains all the information that the camera captured.

The JPEG is like a print. You took the negative, tweaked its exposure and colors, and produced a print. That print contains less information than the original negative, but it's been tweaked (colors adjusted, dynamic range curves modified for pleasing contrast, etc) so the image looks the best you could make it from the info contained in the negative or RAW file.

There are different philosophies on what your photo workflow should be like. As I mentioned, Adobe Lightroom lets you work on previews of the RAW files and only saves your editing steps. It only applies those steps to the RAW file when you're finally ready to convert it into an image (JPEG or TIFF). This miinimizes the number of and size of intermediate files, as well as allows you to easily repeat those editing steps if an improved RAW conversion process comes out (noise reduction is always improving). Personally this is the process I like.

Others like to convert the RAW file into a non-lossy TIFF, and work on that image file within Photoshop. If they need different color or different contrast from the RAW file, they'll generate a new TIFF and treat it as if it's a completely different photograph.

Others still just convert the RAW file to JPEG as quickly and as automatically as they can. Why don't the just shoot in JPEG? For the reason I gave - every once in a while you'll take a spectacular photo which can't be improved if all you have is the JPEG, but can be improved if you have the RAW file. If only for this reason, I recommend shooting in RAW instead of JPEG. Shooting in JPEG is basically having the camera do the RAW conversion process at the time the picture is taken, then deleting the RAW file as soon as the JPEG has been created. Storage is dirt cheap now, so it makes a lot more sense to me to keep a copy of the RAW file, just in case. (There's probably even a camera setting which makes it save the RAW + JPEG when you take the photo. You can choose that if you want the simplest workflow while retaining the RAW file.)
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks

I've seen the program that you linked, I tried it and found it kinda confusing. Maybe it's just cuz I am a newbie haha.

I didn't get all the term's you used. But from what I understand, I should convert to RAW to TIFF in order to have the least compression if I want to edit a picture. Is that what you meant?

My camera does have a RAW + JPEG option. I think I will use that to have both Instagram-ready and editing-ready pics haha.
 

USAFRet

Splendid
Moderator


That's what my Fuji does. RAW+jpg, or either.

Generally, I'd use the jpg for quick eval, to choose which RAW files get worked on.

And I agree with the film negative analogy. The RAW (or NEF), is how the camera captures it.
You process that RAW (develop, as in film) out to something a browser or image viewer (or a human) can use.

For instance...work on the RAW. Change the exposure, tint, black/white levels...non-destructively.
Once satisfied, write it out to jpg for future use.
And keeping the RAW or tossing it.

Changes to the RAW can be undone, back to the original.
Changes to jog are destructive, and once saved, there is no 'undo'.
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks

I understand what you mean, but the thing is (please excuse me if the question sounds dumb, I am a noob in this xD) I don't know how to "work" on the RAW, at least not in the NEF format. I am guessing it should be converted to something like TIFF, is that right?
 

USAFRet

Splendid
Moderator


Don't convert to TIFF first.

You need an application that actually works with the RAW in its native state.
The above mentioned Adobe Lightroom, or darktable.
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks

Okay sorry again for the dumb question, why do pros (who I am quite sure shoot in RAW) use Photoshop and stuff instead?
 

USAFRet

Splendid
Moderator


All parts of the same workflow.
Lightroom first, for managing the RAW. Exposure, contrast.
Photoshop later for other edits. Artsy fartsy stuff, maybe.

For instance, Lightroom does not give the functionality of layers. Adding text on top of an image. Merging 2 images.

I use Lightroom, export to jpg, then Paintshop Pro for artsy stuff. (I'm too cheap to buy actual Photoshop, and PSP does all that I personally need)
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks

Oh I get it now. And just to be sure, Lightroom is paid right?
 

AtomicSnipe

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Thanks for everything.

Guess I'll use Darktable for now, see if I want to expand to Lightroom in the future.
 

AtomicSnipe

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Really? I found a 7 day one. Can you send me a link please?
 

AtomicSnipe

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Oh alright.

Thanks again.
 
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