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Ubuntu Linux, Day 27: Working With GIMP

I enlisted the support of a photographer to take a look at GIMP and explore its features and capabilities.

From the very beginning of the 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux series I have had readers comment, tweet, and email me to take a look at GIMP--the GNU Image Manipulation Program. So, as we wind down the 30 days, today's post is dedicated to exploring the photo / image editing tool that is installed with Ubuntu.

I have to say, based on the name alone it doesn't sound like anything I would use. If I was looking for photo editing software and something called 'GIMP' showed up on a list, that would not be the first thing I would click on. Just sayin'.

Truth be told, though, part of the reason I waited this long to look at this at all is that I personally don't care. The extent of my photo 'editing' is to rotate the picture 90 degrees if I need to change the orientation of a picture from my iPhone from portrait to landscape, or vice versa. It's not exactly rocket science, and any image software can do it.

My wife, on the other hand, is a professional photographer. She lives and breathes Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, and definitely knows what she is doing. So, I have enlisted her aid in analyzing the capabilities and functionality of GIMP. The rest of this is written from her perspective, in her 'voice'.

For starters, I like how fast GIMP loads, and how few resources it seems to consume as compared with Photoshop. I bought a high-end, quad-core CPU, 12GB of RAM PC specifically to smoothly handle the resource needs of working with very large images and RAW files in Photoshop.

Speaking of RAW, GIMP couldn't work with the format natively, but it was easy enough to install a RAW file reader. I found and installed UFRaw.

With UFRaw, I was able to easily adjust typical image settings, including noise. Switching to UFRaw completely, though, would be a significant culture shift. I don't use Adobe Bridge--so I can't do a direct comparison--but I can say it would be a real challenge to go from using Lightroom for RAW file management to UFRaw.

Moving on to the native image editing capabilities of GIMP, I was pleasantly surprised at how user-friendly the interface is. In fact, it is a bit more user-friendly than Photoshop in my opinion. A lot of my keyboard shortcuts worked as well, but some were different.

Basic image editing functioned as expected (meaning similar to Photoshop). I was easily able to figure out how to duplicate and create new layers, create layer masks, adjust curve, clone and heal. Despite that, the 'out of the box' installation of GIMP can't compare to the newer features of Photoshop CS5 like Content-Aware Fill.

I was not able to find a way to reduce noise. Also, there didn't appear to be an eyedropper tool in the hue / saturation adjustment area to pick the color tone I wanted to adjust. These are both part of my typical Photoshop workflow, so lacking these features is a pretty big deal for me. All the typical places I'd think to check to alter the resolution of an image--image properties, canvas size, etc.)--didn't allow editing.

And, it does not appear to be easy to record your own actions with GIMP. As a photographer, I rely heavily on recording my own actions in order to streamline my workflow. I understand that GIMP allows even more complex scripts to be created than Photoshop, but at the cost of ease of use. I didn't delve deeply enough to see if there is an easy way to run or convert Photoshop actions for use in GIMP.

I tried to create a simple graphic for the Web and found the text tool to be clumsy and restrictive as compared to Photoshop. It was more like using a word processing text tool than a graphics program's text tool. The inability to apply styles to more than one part of a text box and the separate text editor pop-up were not user-friendly at all. Once I created my graphic, I had such a hard time finding a way to slice and save it for the Web that I eventually just gave up. If there's a way to do this in GIMP, it isn't obvious or similar to PS.

Okay. That ends the contributing commentary from my wife. I will write the summary. GIMP is powerful. Way more powerful than your average user needs. Of course, so is Photoshop. For some, GIMP may seem a bit much--too many options, and bells and whistles. But, it has the tools to get the job done for most users.

If you're a professional photographer, it could be another story. Granted, GIMP has tools and add-ons you can use to expand its capabilities, but it is still no Photoshop. At least GIMP is free, though, compared with $700 or so for Photoshop CS5, so you get what you pay for, and for most users GIMP is a probably a better bang for the buck than Photoshop.

Those aren't the only two options, though--on any platform. What do you use for photo editing? Do you have any additional recommendations for Linux or Windows? Any suggestions for a Mac OS X photo editing tool?

Read the last "30 Days" Series: 30 Days with Google Docs

Day 26: Connecting Peripherals

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