Synchronization between photo development tools, or the migration from Lightroom to open-source alternatives.

This article describes settings, workflows and problems which I have encountered during the migration from Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1 to an open-source software alternative Raw-image editor.
This article might also be helpful if you want to use several photo development tools in parallel.

 

Preamble

I used Lightroom for several years, and still really love the software. Unfortunately, it is the last nail that holds me back to Windows and furthermore – I do not like the monthly payment model of the new Lightroom version. Thus I decided to migrate to an open-source photography work-flow. During the process I realized it is not as straight forward as I thought it would be.

Attention: with digiKam 6.4 and Darktable 3.0.1 additional integration is available. I have to rework this article accordingly.

My current workflow 

As today, my library consists of something around 20000 pictures from roughly ten years of hobby photography. While I shoot in RAW, I do not keep all the original RAW files. My general workflow works as follows:

  • Import all images (all raw format)
  • Reject unsharp and broken images and delete those.
  • mark the good ones with colors and focus on those while editing.
  • Once I am satisfied with the results, I export everything to JPG in the same folder
  • The last step is to delete all RAW originals I haven’t color marked.

Advantages:

  • I can show final images without the need of special software (Lightroom).
  • I save storage, as I get rid of unnecessary RAW files.
  • I keep all important originals of the edited pictures.

As I have jpg-versions of all final edits and the related RAW originals, I do not care so much about migrating the development settings. My main focus lies on the migration of color labels, star ratings and tags. Bonus for crop and image rotation.

Tools in detail

Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1

Used settings

Edit –> Catalog Settings

Catalog settings in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1
Catalog settings in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1

Metadata –> Color Label Set –> Edit…

Metadata default settings in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1
Metadata default settings in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1

Specialities

  • Lightroom does not need sidecar files
  • Lightroom sidecar file is named <filename>.xmp
  • Lightroom creates sidecar only when saving metadata
  • Lightroom supports only one color labels per image
  • Lightroom does support “Picked” flag
  • Lightroom does support “Rejected” flag

digiKam 5.9.0

Used settings

Configure – digiKam –> Database

Type:  SQLite

Configure – digiKam –> Metadata

digiKam 5.9.0 metadata settings,
digiKam 5.9.0 metadata settings, “Behaviour” tab.
digiKam 5.9.0 metadata settings,
digiKam 5.9.0 metadata settings, “Sidecar” tab.

Specialities


Darktable 2.6.0

Use default settings.

Specialities

  • Darktables needs sidecar files in order to work.
  • Darktables sidecar files are named <filename>.<extension>.xmp
  • Darktable creates sidecar files during the import
  • Darktable supports more than one color labels per image
  • Darktable does not support “Picked” flag
  • Darktable does support “Rejected” flag

Synchronize metadata (tags, ratings, color labels, picks rotation and image crop)

From Lightroom to digiKam

Attention – this only works as long as changes are made and populated by lightroom. As soon as the same image has been changed in Lightroom and digiKam, the digiKam version no longer receive changes from Lightroom.

Example changing color labels:

  • Change or set a color label in Lightroom
  • Save the label metadata information into the file (CTRL+s)
  • digiKam should automatically receive the changes and do a live update on the image in the Thumbnail view. If not try refresh the album, or image.

From digiKam to Lightroom

Example changing color labels:

  • Do changes in digiKam.
  • press “Apply pending changes to metadata” at the bottom bar of the tool.or use “Item” -> “Write Metadat to image” action in the Menubar (CTRL+M).
digiKam synchronize metadata changes with library.
digiKam synchronize metadata changes with library.
  • In Lightroom do right click on the image and choose “Metadata” –> “read from Image”. Alternatively you go choose “synchronize Folder” in the Folder view.

Use Lightroom and digiKam in parallel

Attention – this only works as long as changes are made and populated by lightroom. As soon as the same image has been changed in Lightroom and digiKam, the digiKam version no longer receive changes from Lightroom.


From Lightroom to Darktable

Pre-condition: Tags, labels and ratings are set in Lightroom. The images are not part of the Darktable library, yet.

  1. Images are not part of Darktable library, Darktable is closed and no Darktable sidecar files (<filename>.<extension>.xmp) exist in the folder.
  2. do edits in Lightroom.
  3. save metadata to files in Lightroom (CTRL+s)
  4. open Darktable and import the image folder
Type of Metadata RAW file (Sony .ARW) JPG file
Color label 😥
Star rating
Reject flags 😥 😥
Tags
Image rotation 😥
Image crop 😥

The main problem when synchronizing metadata between Lightroom and Darktable is that Lightrooms sidecar file is named <filename>.xmp while Darktables sidecar file is named <filename>.<extension>.xmp. Darktable can read the Lightroom .xmp files, but only during the import, and for RAW files only if no Darktable sidecar files already exists. The JPG-metadata information are beeing updated during a re-import, even if a Darktable sidecar exists.

From Darktable to Lightroom

Pre-condition: Tags, labels and ratings are set in Darktable. The images are not part of the Lightroom library, yet.

I was unable to get metadata changes from Darktable to Lightroom.

I tried:

  • importing the folder
  • syncing the folder
  • Reading Metadata from file
  • renaming the sidecar to match Lightroom sidecars
Type of Metadata RAW file (Sony .ARW) JPG file
Color label
Star rating
Reject flags
Tags
Image rotation
Image crop

Use Lightroom and Darktable in parallel

Well I guess, in terms of metadata synchronisation, it is not possible to use Lightroom and Darktable at the same time. As changes are populated from Lightroom to Darktable, only.


From digiKam to Darktable

  • Make sure Darktable is closed
  • Do changes in digiKam.
  • press “Apply pending changes to metadata” at the bottom bar of the tool.or use “Item” -> “Write Metadat to image” action in the Menubar (CTRL+M).
digiKam synchronize metadata changes with library.
digiKam synchronize metadata changes with library.
  • Open Darktable – it will prompt that sidecar files have been edited -> mark the files in question, and choose reread sidecar.
Type of Metadata RAW file (Sony .ARW) JPG file
Color label
Star rating
Reject flags 😥 😥
Tags
Image rotation 😥
Image crop 😥 😥

From Darktable to digiKam

  • Do changes in Darktable.
  • Press “write sidecar files” at the right bar in the lighttable module (In “history stack” group).
Write metadata changes to sidecar file in darktable.
Write metadata changes to sidecar file in darktable.
  1. In digiKam run refresh on the folder in the Album list, or choose “Reread Metadata from Image(s)”.
Type of Metadata RAW file (Sony .ARW) JPG file
Color label 😥 😥
Star rating
Reject flags 😥 😥
Tags
Image rotation 😥 😥
Image crop 😥 😥

Use digiKam and Darktable in parallel

Using digiKam and Darktable at the same time is possible, but it depends on the type of metadata which shall be synchronized.

Star ratings and Tags work very well. Color ratings only work from digiKam to Darktable. Rejected flags and image rotation do not work at all.

11 comments on “Synchronization between photo development tools, or the migration from Lightroom to open-source alternatives.”

  1. Carl-Erik Kopseng

    The one thing that wasn’t clear was what your actual workflow is with regards to programs. Do you use DigiKam or Darktable or both? AFAIK both employ file based organization, but DT probably can do stuff like smart collections as well? I am thinking of leaving Lightrrom as well, so really pondering what to do. From what I have been reading, DT isn’t that good at photo editing, but I was thinking of using RawTherapee for the actual editing and DK or DT for the organization.

    I have close to 100K images, and I hate LR’s slow performance. How do you think it compares to DT or DK with regards to previewing and such?

    Reply
    1. Mathias Hueber

      You are right, I am currently working on the new workflow. The plan is to use DT and DK together. DK for DAM, DT for raw-editing. I have read that a problem with DT is the performance with huge libraries. Therefore I ll try to use DK for this.

      Reply
  2. J-luc

    Hello,
    Thank you for this very interesting article.
    Howerver i noticed that the tags between darktable and Digikam doesn’t work so much.
    The issue occurs when you delete a tag in Digikam.
    The deleted tag is known in darktable’s database so when you close DKT, the tag is re-exported in the xmp, and is imported in digikam when I re-open Digikam.
    thus, i can’t delete a tag in Digikam. Perhaps, I missed something…

    Thanks…

    Reply
    1. Mathias Hueber

      Good point. I have to investigate a bit further, unfortunately haven’t had enough time in the last weeks.

      Reply
  3. Graham Byrnes

    Big frustration for me is that versions of the images edited in darktable are not seen in DK, I see only the original image… or am I doing something wrong?
    In particular I transform most of my photos into B&W, but in DK the thumbnails are still in colour. Maybe there is a way of persuading darktable to write a thumbnail of the edited image so that it can be read by DK… but this seems unlikely if the raw file is left unmodified, and DK is unable to interpret much of the editing commands in the xmp 🙁

    Reply
    1. Mathias Hueber

      I think you are right. There is no way on updating the previews integrated in raw file by DT. At least I do not know any. I do not have the problem due to my workflow. I will post my workflow soon. You can also have a look in the other lightroom article.

      Reply
  4. Noisette

    Thanks a lot for this article. I use boh DartkTable and DigiKam
    I don’t understand something/ What I have to do in Darktable when you write “Open Darktable – it will prompt that sidecar files have been edited -> mark the files in question, and choose reread sidecar.”

    And I have the same problem as other users : how to use the jpg embedded created by DT to DK… But it seems to be a big issue.

    All the best
    Christophe

    Reply
  5. David Cain

    I appreciate that you’re working on this.

    I’d like to have Linux options (I have a dedicated Linux desktop), but even Mac-based alternatives to the Adobe hegemony are appreciated. I’m trying to get used to Darktable (runs on Mac too…), but there’s a serious gap for anyone doing controlled lighting in a studio. If I’ve got 50 images, shot under one lighting setup, I should be able to quickly white-balance and expose all 50 as a group (not individually as a batch of files, for example)

    I have to apply my settings as a style. There’s also no way to dive into those 50 images, think “wow, the color balance is too (whatever) here”, and go back and re-adjust all 50. This kind of thing has been complete cake in Adobe Camera Raw since jump.

    Is there something out there in the open-source world that allows dealing with groups of DNG images as easily as ACR does?

    Reply
    1. HolosPhoto

      Well I need exactly same answer…

      Reply
  6. Jorge

    Thanks for your findings, Mathias. I am too working on ditching LightRoom and I think a combination of digiKam an Luminar could work. In my case I used tags intensively on LightRoom (with Smart Collections) and I am trying to find a similar implementation for digiKam

    Reply
  7. Bowanter

    You’re really doing a great job with your articles!!! Clearly and precisely written, it is really helpful allthough the 100% solution still seems to be out of reach. As I am in exactly the same situation, I’d be happy to read more about your experiences.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply

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