Wednesday, September 11, 2013

LightZone: An Intriguing Image Editing Application Returns

 LightZone screenshot, from outside-the-frame-region-and-zonemapper

Do any of you photographers out there remember LightZone?  It was an intriguingly different proprietary professional image editing tool for PC, Mac and Linux.  I have just learned that it is back, now free of charge, and open sourced.

LightZone was developed and sold by Lightcrafts Inc., starting in 2005. In 2007, MacWorld gave LightZone its Editor's Choice Award. Lightcrafts ceased operations in September 2011.

In late 2012, a group negotiated release of the source code, and a new team of volunteer developers began work on the project of bringing LightZone up to date and back to life.

If you are unfamiliar with LightZone, here is a product description, from the ‘About’ page of its new website: 

"LightZone is professional-level digital darkroom software for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, that includes RAW processing and editing. Rather than using layers in the way that other photo editors do, LightZone lets the user build up a stack of tools which can be rearranged, readjusted, turned off and on, and removed  from the stack.  It's a completely non-destructive editor, where any of the tools can be re-adjusted or modified later — even in a different editing session. A tool stack can even be copied to a batch of photos at one time. LightZone always operates in a 16-bit linear color space with the wide gamut of ProPhoto RGB.

While many of LightZone's tools are familiar ones, they also have shared, multiple modification possibilities built in that amplify their power and flexibility.  LightZone also offers some unusual tools for tonal control — meaning brightness, contrast, shadows, highlights, etc.  Some are inspired by the Zone System, and some are inspired by HDR tone-mapping.  These tools put LightZone in a class by itself for working with black-and-white imagery. They're very useful for color photos, too, especially in mixed lighting situations.

LightZone was a pioneer in selective editing using vector based regions creation. Pixels can also be selected by color and/or brightness ranges."

I used to use LightZone to edit certain images with unusual or extreme tonal characteristics which couldn't be corrected easily by Lightroom and other more mainstream tools.  Since the release of version 4 of Lightroom with its superb new model for handling image tone adjustments, I am not sure whether LightZone now has any practical value to me.  Nevertheless, I have installed the new open source version 4 for Windows, and I will be taking a fresh look at what it can do.  You can download LightZone from its new home on the web, here.

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