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I was wondering the other day, why do we even need software like Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw or Darktable?

Their purpose is solely to retouch image in a most general manner (major tint/temperature, exposure, detail corrention) and then continue and do more work in other graphic software.

Why couldn't we just export RAW to some format with 16 bits per channel (that is more than enough for any camera) and then edit this photo in some non-destructive editor, like Photoshop or Gimp (with GEGL).

I am aware Lightroom is doing some very smart calculations when you stack effects, but so does Photoshop and GEGL (Gimp's new, non-destructive engine). So, why?

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    ...then continue and do the majority of the work in other graphic software. I'm not sure what you mean here, I do most of my edits in Lightroom. – Saaru Lindestøkke Apr 25 '14 at 9:41
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    Using Photoshop and Lightroom as examples: Photoshop has more features than Lightroom, so if you can't do the editing you need in Lightroom you need to use Photoshop, but since RAW files aren't really images they need converting before loading into Photoshop, for which you need to use Lightroom! If you don't need the power of Photoshop, Lightroom offers a more streamlined workflow. – Matt Grum Apr 25 '14 at 9:55
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    @RokKralj Lightroom was just used as an example of a RAW converter. You need a RAW converter (I don't know of any but it's possible some editing programs may do the conversion in the background and thus give the appearance of being able to open RAW files as images). In any case using a RAW converter such as Lightroom generally offers the most streamlined workflow for dealing with RAW images. – Matt Grum Apr 25 '14 at 10:10
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    I used to use Photoshop, then I got Lightroom. In 3 years I've used Photoshop 3 separate times (on 1 picture each time) for editing photos. I simply have no need to do anything in Photoshop any more; for my photography, Lightroom can catalogue images and gives me far better and faster retouch control for what I need to do. – laurencemadill Apr 25 '14 at 10:35
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    @RokKralj RAW files are not images. To edit them in an image editor you have to convert them into images, hence you need a RAW converter. You don't have to pay $300 for Lightroom, you can use Adobe Camera RAW, which comes with Photoshop, or the RAW converter supplied by your camera manufacturer. – Matt Grum Apr 25 '14 at 11:06
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The point of software like Lightroom and Aperture is not to convert RAW files. (In fact, there is some debate that the free manufacturer provided converts do a better job in some aspects.) The point is to catalog and manage the entire darkroom / post-shoot process. You can rate, organize, search, add keywords, change meta data, do basic touch up and manipulation, produce galleries and prints, handle exports, etc, even manage loading images in to Photoshop for more extensive, destructive edits, all from within Lightroom.

It happens to provide an option of doing RAW processing because RAW processing is a step in the process, but that isn't the point of the software. The point of the software is a quick, non-destructive workflow for the bulk management of a large number of images. You can't do that with Photoshop or GIMP.

Personally I use Lightroom for 3 main reasons. I can use it to apply approximate color corrections and exposure settings to all shots that I took under the same conditions at the same time. I can use it to rate my photos quickly and export according to those ratings. Finally, I can use it to easily find images out of some 50,000+ images I have on my computer due to the keyword and search functionality. None of that functionality is provided nearly as cleanly by Photoshop or GIMP.

  • I agree in general, but I'm not so sure about the noise reduction aspect. I used to use Canon's bundled Digital Photo Pro converter, but when I finally tried Lightroom, I found a significant difference in the NR quality to the latter's advantage. It seems at least in my 60D there's a sort of blotchy low-frequency noise component at high ISO values that DPP doesn't cope with very well at all, but LR on the other hand makes thing silky-smooth (but still preserves detail). Maybe I should submit a question about it, with some comparison images... – JohannesD Apr 25 '14 at 14:32
  • @JohannesD - interesting, generally the CA correction and NR is better in DPP from what I've heard, but I've not personally worked with it much because it is too much of a pain to be worth whatever difference there may be. I suppose it may also depend on the type of noise. Either way, I altered my answer to point it out as being something that is contentious, but that some people feel that the first party tools do better in at least some regards, but still use LR because of the ease of workflow. – AJ Henderson Apr 25 '14 at 14:37

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