Top Digital Darkroom Software for Digital Photographers

Software designed for advanced amateur and professional photographers

DxO Optics Pro


Digital darkroom software is designed for simulating darkroom techniques with digital photos. This software offers sophisticated tools for advanced amateur, fine-art, and professional photographers. It generally does not have painting, drawing, and pixel-level editing tools that a general-purpose photo editor would have, and it may or may not offer features for organizing and publishing your photos. Some are plug-ins to other software such as Photoshop, and most include Raw camera file support.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic (Windows and Macintosh)

What We Like
  • Clean interface.

  • Powerful filters.

  • Excellent organization features.

  • Exposure, color, and sharpness controls.

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive compared to competitors.

  • Doesn't replace Photoshop's manipulation strengths.

  • Slow to render complex images.

Through a series of modules, Lightroom Classic CC helps photographers manage, develop, and present their photos. It's obvious that Adobe has gone to great lengths to meet the digital darkroom needs of photographers with Lightroom. Lightroom is best suited for serious amateurs and professional photographers who work with large numbers of images and who often work with Raw camera files.

Adobe offers two versions of Lightroom: Lightroom CC for consistent features across mobile and desktop platforms and Lightroom Classic CC with robust desktop-editing features.

DxO PhotoLab (Windows and Macintosh)

What We Like
  • Sophisticated processing and correction tools.

  • Top-notch noise reduction.

  • Easy-to-use masking.

  • Strong selection of presets.

What We Don't Like
  • Not much emphasis on workflow tools.

  • No history panel or image rotation button.

  • Can't rename an image during export.

DxO PhotoLab (formerly DxO Optics Pro) automatically corrects Raw and JPEG images based on detailed analysis of hundreds of camera sensor and lens combinations. DxO PhotoLab intelligently corrects distortion, vignetting, lens softness, chromatic aberration, keystoning, noise removal, dust removal, white balance, exposure, contrast, and more. DxO PhotoLab produces impressive results batch processing multiple images automatically, but also allows for manual adjustments for creative control. DxO PhotoLab can work along-side Adobe Lightroom and a detailed document is available on how to use the two programs together. DxO PhotoLab is not terribly complicated, but the well-written user guide will help you get the most out of it.

DxO PhotoLab is available in Essential and Elite editions, with the Elite edition offering support for high-end cameras in addition to all the equipment combinations included in the Essential edition. DxO's web site offers an online tool to guide you to the version you need and the free 30-day trial can be downloaded.

Alien Skin Exposure X4 (Windows and Macintosh)

What We Like
  • Powerful, fully nondestructive photo editor.

  • Customized presets and a vast range of film effects.

  • Organize libraries with smart collections, keywords, and tags.

What We Don't Like
  • No multilayer composites.

  • Doesn't fully integrate GPS information.

  • No way to flip an image vertically or horizontally.

Alien Skin Exposure X4 is advanced nondestructive Raw image editor software. Formerly, Exposure was a plug-in designed to accurately simulate the look and feel of ​film in your digital photos. It came with a number of presets to imitate the appearance of Velvia, Kodachrome, Ektachrome, GAF 500, TRI-X, Ilford, and many other film types. It also offered controls for tweaking the color, tone, focus, and grain of your photos. The advanced features of Exposure X4 go way beyond this limits of the plug-in to offer top-notch image editing.

ACDSee Photo Studio Pro (Windows)

What We Like
  • Brush on boosts in vibrance, saturation, and hue.

  • Transform images with smart erase and edge-aware brushing.

  • Facial recognition and tagging.

  • Effortless digital asset management.

What We Don't Like
  • No layers.

  • Interface isn't as polished as some competing products.

  • Doesn't work with PDFs.

ACDSee has evolved over the years from a simple image viewer to a full-fledged photo manager, and now there is the Photo Studio Pro version with advanced features and camera Raw support for photographers. ACDSee Photo Studio Pro offers tools for viewing, processing, editing, organizing, and publishing your photos at a price much lower than its competitors.

RawTherapee (Windows,OS X, and Linux)

What We Like
  • Open-source, nondestructive raw image processor.

  • Easy to use with lots of features.

  • Excellent Wiki documentation.

  • Impressive automatic results.

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't sort images into folders.

  • History resets when an image opens.

  • Busy interface.

RawTherapee is a powerful and full-featured free Raw converter for Windows and Linux users. Raw Therapee offers all the features you should need for advanced Raw conversion and processing. It supports a wide range of popular camera makes and models and provides options for exposure control, shadow/highlight compression, white balance correction, powerful image sharpening, and luminance and chroma noise reduction. Raw Therapee can output processed files to JPEG, TIFF or PNG formats. As a free program, Raw Therapee can be useful if you're still deciding whether a Raw workflow is right for you.

Picture Window Pro (Windows)

What We Like
  • Comprehensive retouching tools.

  • Zone transformations.

  • Scanner and camera ICC profiling.

What We Don't Like
  • No longer in development.

  • No further upgrades planned.

  • Interface shows its age.

Picture Windows Pro from Digital Light & Color is designed for photographers and offers image management, image editing, batch processing, Raw file support, and tools for printing and electronic output. Picture Windows Pro is a free download.

Phase One Capture One (Windows and Macintosh)

What We Like
  • Annotate images with notes or drawings.

  • Layered workflow.

  • Color options for skin tone adjustments.

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks Raw format support for some cameras.

  • No facial recognition.

  • No catalog system.

Phase One Capture One is a Raw converter and image editor with tools to help you capture, organize, edit, share and print images. Capture One is geared primarily for professional photographers, particularly studio photographers, who will appreciate the excellent tethering capabilities in the Pro version. Capture One is available paid and subscription packages with or without additional style packs.

virtualPhotographer (Windows)

What We Like
  • Simple interface.

  • Includes color and monochrome presets.

  • Interesting effects based on imaginary film speeds.

What We Don't Like
  • For Windows 98 and earlier.

  • No longer in development.

Virtual Photographer is a fun and easy plug-in that adds drama and artistic effects to your photos. The free software lets you experiment with a wide variety of color and black & white photographic effects by manipulating color, film speed, film type, and effects.