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I am on a tight budget and chose to use GIMP for editing since it is free.

What important photographic post-processing features am I missing from Photoshop?

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The thing that I miss most is seeing "Thomas Knoll" on the startup graphic. –  dpollitt Jun 22 '11 at 13:58
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6 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

For photos? Not too much, actually. GIMP lacks automatic HDR processing. It doesn't have adjustment layers - although you don't need those too much for photos. Photoshop's Hue\Saturation dialog is superior. Photoshop CS5 has content-aware fill, which GIMP lacks, but there's a GIMP plugin called Resynth that does about the same thing:http://www.logarithmic.net/pfh/resynthesizer

Some pretty good art has been done in GIMP. (My snow photomanip, for instance) It's more about the artist's skill than the tools he\she uses.

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any idea about raw support? When I started with gimp, I don't think it supported my canon raw, and I wasn't happy with the layer support. –  reuscam Jul 16 '10 at 13:40
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GIMP does support raw, I think via the dcraw plugin? –  Reid Jul 16 '10 at 13:44
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For raw images, I've been using UFraw - ufraw.sourceforge.net –  Queso Nov 8 '10 at 20:21
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The gimp does have adjustment layers. They don't work quite the same as PS's, but it has them. You can see one in action on my answer about vibrance: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/9398/… –  cabbey Mar 5 '11 at 21:40
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Gimp has blending modes for layers, but that's not the same. An adjustment layer is a layer which applies a filter to everything visible beneath it. A blended layer has the adjustment applied to its contents. This sounds like a subtle difference but it has big implications for workflow. See more on this in my answer. –  mattdm Feb 4 '12 at 16:50
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  1. Adjustment layers. These apply the effect of a filter to the layers below, rather than being a layer with a filter applied. Gimp doesn't have this. One can live without, but they are nice. In some cases, layer blending modes can be used to achieve a similar effect, but they don't work the same way. This makes it much more tedious to experiment with different amounts of an effect when doing something complicated. (See this answer for an example of something that's easy with and a whole different more complicated process otherwise.)
  2. Shadow/Highlight tool. There's several decent (free, of course) plugins which add this, but not as nicely as the integrated tool. (My favorite is this simple one; there are others with more options that sometimes give better results.) The main downside of the available add-ons is that you can't really preview the effects of different settings.
  3. Match Color tool. This can be used to correct (to some degree) the white balance of a photo, given a "correct" sample. There are some match color scripts for Gimp, but they generally are designed for special palette effects, not color correction. One can use the color picker + curves tool to do the same thing manually, though.
  4. "Vibrance" adjustment. Adobe uses this term for a special color tool which increases saturation in a gentle way, without overdoing normal tones, and specifically handling skin tones specially. That's very handy for photography, obviously. See this answer for an approach for emulating this in Gimp — a lot more work.
  5. Luminosity layer blend mode. This can be used for sharpening, for example, or anything else where you want to affect luminosity rather than color. Gimp uses the slightly-different mode "Value", as in HSV. In fact, all of the "color space" blend modes seem to act slightly differently. (See samples here.) There are other ways to do the same thing (decomposing to LAB, for example), but it's not as immediate. There's also no "Blend If" option, also useful for selective sharpening (and again, workarounds are possible).
  6. Content-Aware Fill. Gimp has actually had this for years through the Resynthesizer plugin, but that project has stagnated for a while — it's a great start, but it's just not up to the level of magic that the Photoshop tool accomplishes. Recently, there's a new maintainer for the project and updated code, so there is hope here — although Photoshop CS6 extends this technology into patch and move, while the Gimp version is still basically stagnant. (Side note: don't miss the "Heal Selection" fix to Resynthesizer's smart remove selection script.)
  7. Face detection and select-by-skin-tones. Another new CS6 feature, and something that's useful for a lot of different photographic work (like this problem). There's open source technology for face detection, and decent research on skin color selection, but nothing I know that is integrated in this way (or even available as a plugin).
  8. Denoise plugins. There's tons of proprietary ones for photoshop that give amazing results. The state-of-the-art for Gimp is a little more rough — see this question on the topic.
  9. Fractal image saving and upscaling plugins. For whatever reason, there's no mathemagical upscaling software like Genuine Fractals in the open-source universe. (That said, it may be no huge loss, as the results aren't always better than bicubic scaling.
  10. Action recording. Gimp has very powerful scripting capabilities, which is great for those of us who are comfortable with that kind of thing, but no GUI-based record-and-playback macro system. This isn't strictly photography-related, but if you're doing the same thing to a lot of images as part of your workflow, it would be nice.
  11. High-bit-depth Processing. This isn't about a wider range of colors but about more precision within that range. (See the bit about crayons in this answer.) Often stressed as a fatal defect, but if your output is standard JPEG files anyway, the situations where differences might be noticeable in the results are rare in practice. A replacement processing engine called GEGL can be enabled for many operation in current releases, and full high-bit-depth support is targeted for version 2.10. (Moved up from the previous target of 3.0 due to some clever coding and hard work from some of the developers.)

Gimp is under active development, and the "roadmap" can be found at http://wiki.gimp.org/index.php/GIMP_Roadmap. This is useful for getting an idea of what shortcomings will be rectified soon, and what else is coming in the near future.

Gimp 2.8 was released in May 2012, and it features a number of significant improvements to the user interface, most notably a single-window mode. This is not a static area — read this January 2012 blog post for an idea of work in progress from Gimp's interaction-design team. As a long-time Linux user actually happy with the multi-window paradigm, I thought I'd hate the change, but it's actually done with a lot of thought, not just everything glommed together. This is very good work. There's also multi-column dock windows, and other refinements to make better use of space and to make the UI more friendly to people working with graphics tablets. If you haven't used the software in a while, give it a try and see what you think.

There's still some UI things which could use serious work. Frequently-used items are buried too far in disorganized menus, and while it's easy to remap keyboard shortcuts, there's no good way to tailor the menus for photographic tasks specifically, or to move favorite menu items to shortcut bars. That means more clicking than I'd really like, and it means that some great features are hard to discover. I think this will get better in time too, but the big change to single-window had to happen first.

There are a number of other things like RAW development and lens profile correction which Photoshop does and which are not handled well in Gimp but which are covered by other open source tools (like Hugin, RawTherapee, and Darktable).

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I find the Wavelet Denoise plugin to be pretty good. –  labnut Jan 26 '11 at 9:53
    
That's what I use too. It is pretty good, but I still think it's also fair to call it "rough". And it hasn't been updated in over two years. –  mattdm Jan 26 '11 at 18:55
    
it's not really fair to put the adjustment layers on there, as I showed in my vibrance answer, it does have them, they just work differently. –  cabbey Mar 5 '11 at 21:42
    
Very true @mattdm. Maybe "minimal, limited, adjustment layers." instead of "No adjustment layers." since they do at least TRY. –  cabbey Mar 6 '11 at 5:52
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@cabbey: see this q/a. Photoshop also has layer blend modes like those in Gimp; Adjustment Layers are a feature beyond that, so it's not accurate to say that Gimp is trying (which implies that they're not doing as well). It's simply something not implemented. –  mattdm Aug 23 '11 at 17:22
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One key difference is not in the product itself, but its development. There are about two developers working on Gimp, and as a result, new features take a long time to be production ready. They 16-bit GEGL engine has been in progress for a couple of years and is not yet released.

I don't think it is fair to say that the Gimp UI is terrible, but it is very different from Photoshop, and its not nearly as polished.

I used to use Gimp all the time, and was very happy with it. But these days I use Aperture. I don't need pixel editing, the basics of crop/rotate and some exposure controls are what I need.

For those looking for an open-source package that is closer in spirit Aperture or LightRoom, look at Darktable.

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Although I won't dispute that development is slow, I don't think the key claim here is true. git.gnome.org/browse/gimp/log shows quite a few different people checking in code changes. –  mattdm Mar 27 '12 at 17:04
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Part of the confusion is: what is gimp? Lots of folks work on translations and plug-ins. With one view, they are part of the product, with another, they don't change the product itself, they make it possible for more users to use it. –  Pat Farrell Mar 30 '12 at 1:12
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Well, that's true of Photoshop too. As I look over my list of missing features, I note that half or more of them could be plug-ins. You're right that a lot of the check-ins are translation related, but there's definitely more than two people making code improvements as well. I'm not meaning to argue, but I think by downplaying the active development of the project you're being unfair. –  mattdm Mar 30 '12 at 1:20
    
If the feature is available as a plug-in, then its available. Gimp plugins are no different in spirit from plugins and presets for Photoshop or Aperture. –  Pat Farrell Apr 19 '12 at 0:27
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yep. Frankly, using a checklist of features and driving product selection from the number of boxes checked is why we have terrible products such as MS Word -- something with every feature known to man, and understood by no one. Sadly, gimp needs love. And more engineers. I really liked the philosophy of Darktable as an open source alternative to Lightroom and Aperture. –  Pat Farrell Apr 19 '12 at 0:32
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When I process my photos, apart from color correction the two functions I most need are Smart Sharpen and Reduce Noise, and unfortunately both are missing from GIMP.

My understanding is that the algorithms used by Photoshop are proprietary and trade secrets, so you can't just implement them to GIMP, you'd need to reverse engineer or reinvent them yourself.

Noise reduction is in essence about removing unwanted details without removing wanted details and as such it's black art. However, you can work around this by shooting with lower ISO - using tripod or off-camera flash if necessary.

Smart sharpen is harder to replace. It basically makes the image look like the original version was slightly blurred version of the resulting image, instead of adding halos around high-contrast edges like most trivial sharpening algorithms do.

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I haven't tried it, but the Resynthesizer plugin includes a "Smart Sharpen" component. It's almost certainly not the same thing but might be helpful. –  mattdm Aug 23 '11 at 18:25
    
Thanks! I will give it a try and update my post per the results. –  Zds Aug 23 '11 at 19:36
    
I'm curious — did you ever do the test? –  mattdm Mar 27 '12 at 21:40
    
a "black art" for which Google Scholar gives 2'520'000 results … I'd call that a highly active research area. BTW, have you compared GIMP's GreyCstoration (now part of GMIC)? –  unhammer Dec 17 '12 at 9:31
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One item I don't see mentioned in other answers is performance. Especially on a Mac. Lightroom and Photoshop both crunch through adjustments and work MUCH faster than the Gimp does.

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And this is likely to get worse before it gets better — the high-bit-depth GEGL operations are slower than the old ones, and meanwhile Photoshop is much faster to adopt GPGPU acceleration. –  mattdm Mar 30 '12 at 1:22
    
hmm, GEGL can't be all that bad: libregraphicsworld.org/blog/entry/… –  unhammer Dec 17 '12 at 9:13
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This may seem biased/unfair, but GIMP has awful usability.

Disclaimer: i have used both, although recently i use photoshop much more.

In terms of functionality, GIMP doesn't tread much behind photoshop (for simple photomanips and adjustments - i don't do HDR), but layer manipulation and general use are tortuous (IMHO). I never couldn't do a task with GIMP, but i end up searching online how to do it, whereas in Photoshop i tend to find stuff on the menus or figure it out by myself.

And yes, i am aware that 600€ is quite a lot to pay for a small hobbyist.

EDIT: (in reply to the comments) Yes, awful is a bit vague.

I wasn't really referring to the panel approach, it's slightly confusing but not as serious as the layer manipulation controls in an image, selecting, dragging, enlarging, etc.

I didn't mean to bash, i learned the basics in GIMP, it's selection editing tools are fairly evident, but i didn't use many of GIMP's functionality (3+ layer composites, filters, color corrections) because i didn't know the name of what i was trying to accomplish, or simply because fell into dead ends (not being able to do something, not figuring it out quickly, getting frustrated, giving up) Only after transitioning to photoshop, and learning those tasks, did i know what to look for in GIMP.

I am not sure if i made myself clear, i am referring to findability vs discoverability (http://maadmob.net/donna/blog/2005/findability-vs-discoverability). I defend that photoshop is a very much better learning tool because it enables its users to discover functionality that they didn't even know they could do in the first place.

I suppose you COULD do them almost all in GIMP, after you know what to search for, and investing the time in learning it, but photoshop allowed ME to learn almost all that i know with almost no research at all.

Usability may seem something rather trivial or useless, but it really isn't. It is very complicated to get right, and is never ideal for everyone. But Adobe has obviously put a lot of effort into making Photoshop usable, and it shows. Also, i am aware of the difficulty for FOSS to engage in user testing and usability evaluation, because of the nature of the projects development structure (many developers, far apart, functionality oriented).

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"Awful usability" doesn't have any actual meaning. Can you be more specific? –  mattdm Jan 26 '11 at 1:43
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Hmm, awful is overstating it a bit. Different, yes. The floating windows in Gimp tend to confuse people but they are a real boon if you have a large screen. –  labnut Jan 26 '11 at 9:51
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I meant that findability is the ability to find a functionality that i know exists, on an unknown software: for example, contrast adjustment. On any photo processing software i may use, i assume the functionality is there, and the software's findability for it is the ease with wich i get to it. Discoverability is more complicated: its the ease with which i get to the function WITHOUT necessarily knowing its name or effect. It's very difficult to get right for various expertise levels. What i defend is that PS allowed me to discover several tools that gimp also has, but i never really knew. –  JoséNunoFerreira Jan 27 '11 at 11:34
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I'm not necessarily talking about accelerators in specific. The daily-use over discoverability mentality can apply to user interface design throughout, not just shortcuts. –  mattdm Jan 28 '11 at 16:35
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Your point about learning things that you could do is an interesting one, though. I think that could be improved in both Gimp and Photoshop. In some ways, it can be solved simply through good documentation, but it's always best when that isn't even needed. –  mattdm Jan 28 '11 at 16:40
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