The Darkroom App Is Actually Pretty Great, But Not an Adobe Replacement for Everyone

The Darkroom App Is Actually Pretty Great, But Not an Adobe Replacement for Everyone

Lately I’ve been focusing on trying to get my workflow and time management streamlined. I have a lot of things I want to do and very little time to do them.

Sound familiar?

For me, it starts with systems that make sense. For a long time I was a computer user stuck in two words: Windows was my main machine, but my day job had me using Macs. For a long time I hated Apple and thought of them as over-priced compared to the same power available on a Windows machine.

But I’ve been converted. The Apple ecosystem works wonderfully well and I’m looking deeply into cutting down some of my monthly costs and toying with working completely within the Apple/App Store family of programs. This would mean abandoning some of the things I’ve grown used to using, like Lightroom. Is this possible? Does it work for me?

And so here comes the Darkroom App, an Apple-only photo (and video) editing editor that integrates deeply into the Mac ecosystem. Meant to work on the iPhone, iPad and Mac OS, Darkroom works directly with your existing, synced photo library to provide a seamless workflow in the Apple environment.

It’s kind of awesome and (mostly) free. The free app gives you access to almost everything, but holds back a few things like curves and working with 4K video, as well as a few other items like premium filters. You can pay $4 a month, $20 for a year, and purchase it outright for $50. Props to them for the “forever” purchase option for those who can’t stomach another subscription service!

The Darkroom app is great at some things, but not wonderful at others. While it’s fun to use and quite powerful for both new and advanced users, there are still some limitations that stop me from ditching Lightroom and Photoshop.

First up, what works?

1 – Integration with Photos.

If you’re totally into the Apple ecosystem, this one is great. The app works directly with Apple’s iCloud and photos you take on your iPhone are ready to be edited by Darkroom as long as you have an internet connection that syncs your photos. It’s wonderful for those in the ecosystem.

This is the Darkroom library – when you delete something here, it deletes from iCloud.

2 – Interface and Design.

Once you get used to Darkroom (and this takes minutes if you have knowledge of other photo editors), you can access the app from any Apple device you have installed it on and it becomes instantly familiar.

This is the iPad version of the app.
The iPhone version is instantly familiar.
The Mac version has a lot more real estate but stays essentially the same.

3 – Batch Processing.

Batch processing is a time saver, especially when you have lots and lots of photos to sort through. Edit on one photo, and apply those edits to dozens of others on the go.

Darkroom’s implementation here works extremely well. You just long-press on the iPhone or iPad to copy the settings of a photo, copy the edits, then select the others you want to apply the edit to. And that’s it! It will go through and apply those edits to the rest of the photos.

4 – Non-Destructive Edits/History.

Darkroom keeps track of your edits to a photo, and allows you to go back in time at any point, even after you quit and come back later (HOWEVER – these edits are not synced across devices. Each device saves these edits to that version of Darkroom only).

This is great because you always have access to your original photo and can go back step-by-step to see where you started and where you end up in a heavy editing session.

These are all the steps I’ve taken so far in this edit. Just select one of them to go back in time to that state of the editing session!

5. Hashtag Manager.

Okay, this is quite honestly not an essential feature, but it saves quite a bit if time. Since I use Instagram for fun, and use Darkroom for many of my edits for social media, having these hashtags ready to copy at the push of a button is genius.

You can save your own custom hashtags here – just select the set you want and copy them when you post on social. Side note: much respect to the developers for NOT slipping their own hashtag in these from the start!

6. Smooth Video Color Editing.

Now, I’m not a traditional video editor, and editing video color and contrast has always been a little difficult for me. However, Darkroom not only makes it easy, it makes the process buttery-smooth even with 4K files (however, 4K editing is only available with a paid Darkroom subscription).

Here is a screenshot to show you how the color can be manipulated quickly with just a click or two to your video (export times are fast as well).

What Doesn’t Work?

Unfortunately, while Darkroom can do a lot for many users, there are some pretty big limitations.

1 – Lack of Local Adjustments and Linear/Radial Gradients.

Darkroom does a fine job of doing global (entire image) adjustments, but doesn’t have much in the way of local adjustments such as brushes or linear/radial gradients.

While I don’t do a ton of this, I do it enough that it hurts. There are times when I want to adjust a sky without messing with the foreground, and I just can’t do it in Darkroom the way I can easily do this in Lightroom and some other editing programs.

2 – No Spot Removal Tool (Yet)

If you have dust in the sky, you’ll have to use another app to get rid of it. There is no “heal” brush of any kind, and it’s something that I have missed on occasion. The workaround is to export from Darkroom and then use Photoshop to do the cloning work, but this isn’t ideal if you’re trying to stick with one app.

However, for those curious, a spot removal feature is on the roadmap and will be coming soon, along with these other ones (as of November 2020):

3 – Somewhat Limited RAW File Support.

The app works with Apple’s RAW support, so if there’s no Apple support for your RAW file, Darkroom doesn’t work with it. Unfortunately for me, this reared its head and wouldn’t let me adjust compressed RAW files from my Fuji cameras. I almost always use compressed RAW files due to the file sizes being smaller than uncompressed for only a marginal quality hit, but Darkroom (and Apple’s own Photos app) doesn’t know what to do with them.

I COULD save these files or convert them somewhere else to a DNG file, or take the files into Lightroom, for instance, to develop and export them into a file that Darkroom will adjust… but this again defeats the whole purpose of using the Darkroom app.

I hope Apple and Darkroom can keep on top of this and add more robust support in the future.

FINAL THOUGHTS

After all this, Darkroom just can’t replace my Lightroom/Photoshop combo. I’ll continue to pay the monthly Adobe subscription for those two editors.

However, I’ve also purchased Darkroom for a $50 lifetime cost. Why?

It’s fun to use and is powerful enough to get me some fantastic results.

Look, the act of taking photos and editing them is one I find great joy in. There was a time in my career as a young photographer where I was very technical about things. I’d calibrate my focus several times a month. I’d pixel peep every photo. I’d relentlessly seek out flaws in a new lens and return it until I had a “perfect” copy.

Over the years, however, I’ve found that if I let go of some of those things and just give myself over to the enjoyment of the process, my images have become better. There’s more soul to them. There’s more of “me” in them.

The Darkroom app makes me smile. The developers have somehow tapped into something soulful and they’ve made the experience of editing on the iPad, iPhone or desktop Apple device enjoyable. I have fun sitting down and sorting through my Photo library in Darkroom, making quick adjustments and exporting some great images to sell on Etsy or share on social.

Remember that photography is YOUR journey, and I can’t tell you if Darkroom is right for you. However, the app is mostly free and has a ton of features for you to try out.

If you’re an Apple user, then I’d give it a shot and see if you like it. It’s an app that’s powerful enough for 90% of your editing needs, and it works in a way that just might make you smile.

Give it a shot!