Apologies in advance for my English - if someone wonders about my writing style, please keep in mind, my native language is German.
I can tell a few things about ASP and Darktable on openSuSE and LR on Windows 7.
- ASP = Corel Aftershot 1.0.1 (Linux)
- LR = Lightroom 4 (Windows)
- DT = Darktable 1.2.1 (Linux, packaged for openSuSE)
There was temporarily a Windows version of Darktable available in the web, which I couldn't find (a friend of mine tested it and said, that it worked stable). The current version 1.2.1 and 1.2.2 is not available for Windows yet. But there are plans for a native build in the future.
My photos are coming from two cameras, the A77 and the RX100MKII. My PC is a Core-i7 950 with 16GB RAM and 3 SSD's, a NVidia 590GTX running openSuSE 12.3. (Windows 7 SP1 is running in a VMWare Image with 8GB RAM. I use it for LR and iTunes. Waiting for the day, when I don't need it anymore. But for now Linux and Apple are not really 100% compatible).
What I have discovered so far using the 3 tools:
- ASP is at least double as fast as LR, especially Zooming in using the Mouse Wheel is smooth with my 24 MP pictures. LR is much slower regarding nearly all features/aspects. DT is fast with the intial load of pictures but when zooming in, it first shows the zoomed frame with rough pixel, then the details come afterwards - that's a little bit anoying (an considering my exquipment not state of the art). Also applying filters is slower with DT (it is for free, what do You expect).
- ASP has good controls and in my opinion a self-explanatory workspace. LR is a little more complex, but has also more features than the competition. DT has a tidy workspace with the most convincing workflow.
- ASP has Noise Ninja onboard and I always need to use it (so You can bind it to Your RAW defaults - a feature, which I could not find in LR or DT). The filter applies instantly - no lag visible. In ASP the RAW Noise setting (below the Noise Ninja checkbox) has no visible effect with my Sony RAW pictures - maybe someone here has an idea, why that is. Noise Reduction with DT is horrible - the Results of LR and ASP are way better - if this is important for You, DT might be the wrong tool. What I can say from the results, is that the builtin Sony JPEG Engine does a better job than DT. ASP and LR instead will give You a much improved JPEG encoding. But for most people the internal camera engine will be sufficient. With todays SLR/SLT systems You really need to zoom in to find the "problem" zones in Your pictures.
- the controls and buttons of ASP are responsive and exact. Lightroom has a lot more of them, but the desk is clean, so the layout is sufficient and the workflow is good. The DT development team should improve the sliders, because sometimes I need to repeat the slide to reach the intended setting (which You may miss easily. They use very tiny triangles for the sliders. Looks good, behaves bad).
- LR is really good in all ways of picture optimization in comparison to ASP. Darktable's features are only rudimentary. This is important, if You often change things like colors, saturation, lights and more. I You don't, ASP and DT should offer enough for Your workflow. LR is also excellent in optimizing the dynamic range without losing details.
- If You are using Linux as Your primary OS, then Corel Aftershot could be the right RAW developer for Your environment. But the future of ASP is uncertain. I loved the update strategy of Bibble, but with Corel on the steering wheel nobody knows where the journey will end. But I hope, that it will survive and even evolve - especially for the Linux platform.
- If You are a Windows Lover, then Lightroom is probably the right thing. It does cost a lot more than ASP, but'll You get a slightly better JPEG engine, some really good picture enhancement/optimization features, which no competitor has and there are a lot of really great plugins out there, which can make Your life much easier (onOne for example has a great Suite which You can purchase and the software works as a plugin or standalone). Please keep in mind, that most good plugins for LR are not for free!
- Darktable is a very very! young project and has gone a long way in this short time of development (I find it remarkable for an OpenSource project). And it is getting better every day. The workflow is compelling, the noise reduction engine is just inmature, yet. A big plus is the amount of free plugins : http://darktable.org/redmine/projects/users/wiki/Plug-ins_Wiki_Pages. You should find there everything You'll need. And also this is developing. The biggest disadvantage for me is the lack of a "professional" noise reduction tool like "Noise Ninja" - I just hope that someday the integrated one will come near to the results of NN.
So it is up to You and Your expectations, which tool will fit best for Your needs. If You don't want to spend money, DT ist the best thing - if You're running Linux. If You would give 60 bucks, then Corel Aftershot is the best solution (especially because of the Noise Ninja). And if You like a lot of features and You have either Windows oder MacOSX, then Lightroom ist a good solution for Your environment. Apple's Aperture is not really that good anymore - a lot of Mac-Users changed to LR. Maybe because of that it is not topic in this comparison ;-))
Hope, my analysis is helpful.
Opensource the Planet :-}