Photoshop Versus Gimp and Lightroom Versus RawTherapee

Photoshop and Lightroom are excellent images and photos editing software, but they are also expensive, specially when you compare them to what you can have access for free like GIMP or RawTherapee. But not everything seems as nice as you would think ...


my iMac with Lightroom, Photoshop, GIMP and RawTherapee open
my iMac with Lightroom, Photoshop, GIMP and RawTherapee open

The problems of a lot of free editing images and pictures software like GIMP or RawTherapee, in my opinion, is they are very often made by geeks and nerds who do not care about the ergonomics nor the learning curve of the end users.

Do not get me wrong, some of them are truly excellent and very well made, but we can count that only 15 to 20 % of all free photo editors are in this case and strangely on the overhand, the free online photo editors are a lot better in this regard.

The huge popularity of Photoshop and Lightroom other than the speed processing, is about the ergonomics and the simple name given to each tool, which often mean what the tool is exactly intended to do, where in the free photos editing software, you might re-think many times and try out many times what is the meaning of the name or the icon of a given tool and what it is supposed to do ... and when you finally find out, it's easy to forget where it was placed on the user interface.

1) Photoshop versus GIMP

Photoshop and it's very ergonomic GUI
Photoshop and it's very ergonomic GUI

For example let's compare Photoshop versus Gimp on the very basis of the ergonomic.


Everything start already the way you can open a picture between Photoshop and GIMP, yes it start already there with the problems too!


With Photoshop, i just do File/Open... a window appear with all what my computer have and is connected to, even the hard drives connected by WIFI.


All the images are in thumbnails "mode" allowing me to see exactly what i will open just by browsing those thumbnails. A simple click on the chosen thumbnail will open immediately in Photoshop and i can start to work on it, done (and i do not even speak about the "Drag'n Drop")!


The Extremely very old user interface of GIMP, not a true graphic UI
The Extremely very old user interface of GIMP, not a true graphic UI

With GIMP on the overhand it is already a more complicated situation with it's very outdated user interface, but like Photoshop i do File/Open... a window open and, surprise..


First at all you do not have access to any external connected hard drive even by USB, you need to have your photographs on your main inboard hard drive, which nowadays, with the huge size of the pictures we almost never store them "locally"!


Secondly it open a "navigation" window which look like it was made from the old Microsoft Windows 3.x from the 1990s and the pictures are not showed in thumbnails, but instead listed by file name, where you need to click each single file to see the thumbnail appear in the "viewer" on the right side of this window, you want to see the next thumbnail, click on the next file, next ? click again on the next ... and if your folder got thousands of pictures? It's your problem, not mine ...

Photoshop and the inter-action of the tools
Photoshop and the inter-action of the tools

Anyway, let's say you got lucky, and your picture you would like to edit was the first showed by the pseudo viewer of GIMP, like that we can continue with the GIMP vs Photoshop.


Now the tools and the difference on how they act or interact with the user between GIMP and Photoshop: For example if i click on Hue/Saturation in Photoshop, a little window, in focus, open immediately with the tools for hue and saturation, plus the cursor transform itself immediately in a eye-dropper to select the color i want to change and if i move one of the sliders showed in the Hue/Saturation window the picture change in live instantly and smoothly, you cannot visually see any transition... done !

GIMP and it's antic user interface and very slow processing
GIMP and it's antic user interface and very slow processing

In an other hand with GIMP, i clicked on the Hue/Saturation and ... nothing happen, click one more time, still nothing happen, so i thought that the little window with the hue and saturation tools was opened at the back of the main window, search at the back ...

You bet ? you loose ! because there is no window at the back too!

Puzzled i click on another tool, still nothing, click back on Hue and saturation ... nothing. Somehow i clicked on the picture i want to edit (the picture itself), and a miracle happen, the little window with the hue and saturation tools appeared ... i tried all the tools and all are the same way! You click on the tool icon you want to use and you need to click again in the picture you are editing to get the tool to appear. It does not make sens.


Speed processing of GIMP, do i really need to speak about this? By just looking at the screenshot above, you can see how slow it was. I got plenty of time to take this screenshot during that GIMP was processing the image line by line with the hue on my picture... Stunning speed isn't it?


2) RawTherapee versus Lightroom

This time Lightroom versus Rawtherapee, first at all with RawTherapee the menu File/Edit/View/ and so on you can forget about it, it does not exist ... at all!

Lightroom and it's easy to understand user interface
Lightroom and it's easy to understand user interface

But just for example, just one example this time, if not, tomorrow you will be still here to continue to read my "prose".

So let's pretend that you want to remove some noise in a photograph you want to post processing.


With Lightroom you go to "Details" and move some cursors under "Noise Reduction" and the names given to the different tools are Luminance/Detail/Contrast and below three more Color/Detail/Smoothness, which means exactly what it is supposed to do even without trying them, and i was pretty sure about what they would do the first time i saw those names, and i didn't get any surprises when i moved those sliders.


The overwhelming user interface of RawTherapee
The overwhelming user interface of RawTherapee

With Rawtherapee in the second tab you go to "Noise Reduction" and here start the problems ...

First thing you see is "Method" L" a' b". What does mean L", a" or b" for a beginner? Seriously? they are presenting in first sight the tab Lab?

Immediately after i got 3 sliders with the word "Luminance". Again  after i got Chrominance Method with also three chrominance sliders and a box for the curve slider + the Gamma slider + the Median filters, + iteration, + method + type, etc ...

It is extremely precise but too much is too much, let get things a lot more simple with simple names which have a meaning for everyone and that's all, i do not want to spend 30 minutes just to blur some noises! Give the option to do it in a simple way, at least.


3) Conclusion

GIMP or RawTherapee are made by a community who spend a lot of their own time to develop and maintain those software.

Those kind of communities are happy to develop new options, new things, happy to play with the code source and develop their own programmer's skills and usually do not want to get back in the old coded part of the source where it can be messy, so over all these old free software are plagued with slow processing, and a huge list of bugs needed to be fixed. In my opinion those old free photo editors (and not only them) need to be re-encoded from scratch and a true ergonomic designer should lead the group.


At the end who will truly use this kind of free image editors?

I will tell you: on a 100% scale, may be 1% of professionals and surely more than 99% of amateurs and beginners which will never use more than 30% of the tools available when they finally feel comfortable with the software, even the few professionals who are using it!


What is funny, it's when you see on their website : 10 000 000 downloads last year (for example) yes all of us download it because it is FREE.

But truly how many of us use it on the very every need ? May be 0.01% ?


How many download it, open it one or two times and never use it again before the next update ?

I will tell you : 99.99% ! and the worst is the day we update it, because we want to believe in a big improvement, so we try it few times in the next hours after the update and never open it again until we remember we have this free photo editor on our hard drive 10 month later.

So ten months later, we update it and try it again for few hours, disappointed again we forgot it, and so on...


Some new generation of free photo editing software like PhotoScape X, Pxlr or Fotor are a lot better in many ways than the antic and archaic GIMP and even better than RawTherapee, Photoshop or Lightroom in some ways too, and the day that those new generation of free photo editors will be able to open and process RAW images, this day can be a knock down for Lightroom and RawTherapee.


Why i said that ?

In one word : Ergonomics, and those new generation of photo editing apps understood very well this word! Even Lightroom and Photoshop are ... ergonomically outdated!


I can hear already the open source community telling me, no, not "telling" but shouting at me about PhotoScape, Pixlr or Fotor to name only them:

- But they are not open source !

- Guys, I agree! But... They are a lot better than you, and like you they are free... Period!

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Comments: 8
  • #1

    Viktor (Friday, 06 May 2016 23:18)

    I know Photoshop and Gimp and work with both of them since years. I don't wanna be offensive, but I think your comparison of these two programs lacks of equal experience in working with both of them. Plus a lack of experience with your OS. Because on my OS (Ubuntu) i have Access to external drives in the open dialog. Anyway, I never used the "open with..." dialog of Gimp, because I have a good file manager and/or image viewer which is perfectly able to show multiple previews at once, edit tags, etc. And they let me open the file(s) directly with Gimp. A better system integration of the "open with..." dialog in Gimp would be a nice gimmick but I think there are more important and necessary things to improve.
    About the Hue/Saturation thing: I think the main Problem is that some Gimp users and even developers were/are believing and proclaiming that Gimp is or should be equal to PS, also in the handling. But there are differences, and it's not always because PS is more ergonomic or better than Gimp. Did you ever thought that the "strange" behavior of Gimp in your example is just part of a different operating concept? A Difference that also could confuse a experienced Gimp user who tries the same function in PS for the first time.
    The big problem is: PS has become some kind of monopolized, privatized Standard so they can bind their users/customers even with a annoying licence policy and prices that are ridiculous/insane. In most schools/universitys you have PS-only-based courses, so that even you people who have to learn something new from start just inherit the binding to this restrictive, non-open and anticompetitive standard. Gimp is not a complete stand-alone replacement for Photoshop, but combined with the right plugins and other software it can be equally powerful. The fact that it is open source prevents it from becoming dependent to the arbitrariness of one company. This is the main reason i prefer Gimp, whenever it is possible.
    So, I work with Gimp because i want to, and i work with PS because i sadly have to. Not because i can't do the same tasks with it, no because it's realy hard to deal with people who just won't accept that there IS an working alternative. The most employers, clients and colleagues learned PS for years and they'll probably will continue even if they had to sell their soul to Adobe.

    I even like the (hated, but meanwhile optional) multi-window mode, because i work with multiple screens and have an excellent window manager. Btw. something you can just dream about in windows/mac world - but they're catching up. I mean copying and selling public work as their own the main profession of such companies. In the end, the profit of some always comes from exploitation of the general public. Thats how it works. ;-)

  • #2

    Mark (Thursday, 12 May 2016 17:29)

    I've used Gimp since version 2. In the beginning there wasn't even a "menu" at the top. Just right click anywhere for the full menu to show up. This is quite superior to PS which has all options cemented to the boundaries of the image.

    And I also prefer the floating dialogues. I can have a full screen and click the Toolbox on my taskbar or put the tools on another virtual window.

    I have and used Rawtherapee 2, 3, and 4. It's slow but has lots of options. Most of what it does can be had with the Gmic plugin for Gimp.

    I have used Photoshop and Lightroom in the past but I'm not comfortable with them.

  • #3

    Patrice Laborda (Thursday, 12 May 2016 22:04)

    Viktor, first at all, thank you very much to have taken the time to write this long and in deep comment about your experience with Gimp.

    Just to let you know, my experience with Gimp goes back in the late 19s (1998 or 1999) my hard drive was half Windows, half MandrakeLinux(Gnome-KDE) and Gimp was the only "true" free image editing software to work with Mandrake distro back then with an intense use of it (on Windows Gimp was very if not extremely unstable at those time) and I worked consistently with Gimp (every day) until 2002-2003 when the company I was working for switched to Photoshop.

    There is one thing where i totally agree with you, it's the educational system who teach student on a proprietary and paid program, it's a shame, i agree that all student should learn on an independant and open source system or program, and not be "brain washed"and trained on propietary and paid programs, and because of that people(student) won't be independant.

  • #4

    Mark (Sunday, 15 May 2016 01:20)

    "With Photoshop, i just do File/Open... "

    I forgot to mention in my previous post, I never File-open anything.
    I right-click on the image and "Open-with."
    So, even on a remote drive, I can right-click and "open-with" and I have a long list of programs to select. (gimp, irfanview, qtpfsgui, ptgui, fusion . . .)
    However, here on Puppylinux, file-open can work just as well, even on remote drives and I get thumbnails with the filenames. There must be a problem with the Gimp installation to your Mac.

    A second comment is you start gimp in the new "frozen mode." Half of the novelty of Gimp is the floating toolbars. In linux I either put them on the task bar or onto another virtual window. I think Photoshop used to have this option.
    Usually I use the entire screen for the image and leave the tools underneath and on the task bar.

    One thing that instantly bothered me with Photoshop was always reaching to the top for adjusting my brushes. In Gimp, I can keep my brush adjustments anywhere I want, and that's usually in the middle, close to where I'm working. I can alt-tab, and pop-up my brushes right where I'm working.

    When I'm making a logo for a website, I can resize and float the image window directly over the webpage to see how it will fit. I don't think Photoshop can do that.

    I still have gimp 2.0.4 for WindowsME, in my archives! I never had problems with it. But I don't like the 2.8x version, so I'm staying with gimp 2.6.10.

    One thing I really like in Rawtherapee is the multiple focus options. Unsharp mask and RL deconvolution. This has been available since version 2.4. Photoshop has some kind of blended deconvolve tool in CS6. I think there is a plugin for Lightroom.

    I agree with you and Viktor concerning the software made available to children in our schools. That's why in this house, it's linux only. My son can do windows at school. He mostly does 3D animation in Blender, so it doesn't matter to him what OS he is on.

    Thanks Patrice for your comprehensive review of online photo editors!

  • #5

    anon (Friday, 28 October 2016 11:54)

    Gimp's interface is hardly "outdated". It very easily accesses an external hard drive and the photo editing tools (more of which can be added to the scripts menu) work very nicely.

  • #6

    Pavan Kumar (Monday, 03 April 2017 05:04)

    Did you try Pixeluvo, and what is your impression of it?

  • #7

    Patrice Laborda (Wednesday, 05 April 2017 05:34)

    @Pavan Kumar : No i didn't try it, because they don't have a mac version, i can try it in my office (for the Linux version) but on their website they have written about their 30 days trial:

    "Please note the trial version is limited to saving files no larger than 800×600 pixels."

    Or it's 30 days trials unlimited version, or it's life time limited at 800x600, but not both! and by limiting the size of the image you will never be able to judge the true result.

    So 30 days trials + restricted at 800x600 pixels when saved... Sorry but i won't even bother for this kind of software when you look already at the limitation of the trial version...

  • #8

    ANDREW007CZ (Friday, 29 September 2017 06:04)

    I am huge fan of RawTherapee. Nobody said it is software for beginners. I think beginners will not even install the software and they will not shot in RAW, obviously. I find it great to learn something new with that. I like that you need to go to manual to find what does something means. They use terms that are used generally not only in the RT. If you need to be dumb and be easy, you can use something for beginners but you will not learn and you wont have full control over what is being done through your software. So I call it more creative using RT.