LightZone – A Very Capable and Free Photo Editor For Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

I originally prepared this review for another of my websites which was not primarily concerned with photography. It has been slightly amended and I think that it is probably a good post to start the ball rolling.

There a great number of photo editors available. Let’s be honest, most modern digital cameras usually come with some editing software. I wonder how many casual photographers use them. When it comes to commercial offerings there are masses of them. I guess that even most photographers are aware of Photoshop and maybe its ‘baby brother’ Lightroom. There are many others, some of which are quite specialised and intended to do a specific task very well.

I advocate the use of open source or free software where possible and this area is no exception, despite being both a user of Lightroom and Photoshop which of course are commercial offerings. I will cite Darktable which runs under Linux and Mac OS X and GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) which is cross platform running under Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Both of these open source programs are very good and are constantly being improved upon.

It is not my intention to get into a war over the merits of one piece of software as compared to another, whether the be open source or commercial! Instead, I would like to highlight an image editor that I have been playing with. That editor is LightZone.

As has been pointed out by others, there is nothing that will make a bad photograph into a good one but it is possible to improve on good photographs or alter them to produce a particular artistic effect. I would suggest that LightZone is a good place to start

I literally stumbled across LightZone by accident when it was mentioned in a newsgroup for ‘Digikam’, another piece of open source software! LightZone was not always free and opensource. It was a commercial piece of software created by Fabio Riccardi and sold by Lightcrafts, Inc., as proprietary software, starting in 2005. In that guise, MacWorld gave LightZone its Editor’s Choice Award.

Light Crafts ceased to be in September 2011 when Fabio Riccardi went to work for Apple. The release of the source code for use in an open source project under a BSD license was negotiated and renamed The LightZone Project. An international team of new developers then volunteered to work on the project in different capacities, including compiling, RAW profiling, and localization. The software has been recompiled, made ready,  and re-released to the public free of charge.

What’s so special about LightZone?
Apart from being totally free, it is cross platform and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. I have been testing it under Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux versions 14.04 (32 bit) and 14.04 (64 bit) So far it has performed admirably and appears absolutely stable. I do not have the facilities to test it under Mac OS X.

There are a number of video tutorials available on YouTube which, unlike those for commercial software, the people producing them are not trying to sell you anything! The help system appears very complete which makes up for a lack of documentation.

The following is a direct lift from the LightZone Project’s website as I feel they are better qualified than myself when it comes to describing the product:

“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. These selection features allow users to edit only a portion of an image in a flexible system that is extremely user friendly and intuitive.

The combination of the individual tools’ inherent flexibility, the flexibility of the Tool Stack, its completely non destructive editing in a 16-bit wide gamut color space, and its intuitive GUI, make LightZone a remarkable alternative for those not entirely comfortable with other photo editing software.”

Their words, not mine!

The concept of using ‘Styles’ to make automatic adjustments to one’s images will be familiar to those that are used to Lightroom’s ‘Presets’ They provide a great starting point as it easy to modify them to your own taste.

The ZoneMapper is a particularly interesting tool as it allows the user to modify different zones of the photograph almost down to pixel level. Students of photography that are familiar with Ansel Adams’ zone system will immediately recognise what is going on.

It is worth mentioning that LightZone can be used as an additional editor if you happen to be a Lightroom user. It integrates perfectly. There is an excellent series of 5 videos demonstrating this by John Arnold on YouTube which are definitely worth watching. (I do wish he would stop fiddling with his face though!)

I know that in describing LightZone, the word ‘Professional’ has been used. I actually think that this is misleading as I think that it is a useful tool for anyone wishing to improve or edit their photographs. Those familiar with other packages should have little problem using it.

LightZone can be downloaded from the Project’s website at but NOTE that you will have to register on the site before you are given access to the downloads. They have clearly been having issues with the site being put under too much pressure. It can take a few hours to get access depending on the difference in time zones.

I have attached a few screenshots for the curious amongst you!

Browser Screen

The Browser screen is very similar to other photo editors.


Edit Window
The ‘Edit Window


Styles Panel
The ‘Styles’ panel on the left allows for many instant effects and can be previewed in the window above.



A history of all the edits is available and can be rolled back.


The ZoneMapper Tool.




Upper window shows zones selected by ZoneMapper.

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