Gimp vs Photoshop

I’m a techie. I use the Debian distribution of Linux with KDE, Firefox, and Thunderbird. I also use the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, or simply The Gimp. It’s a great program with tons of features that can do just about any kind of image manipulation you want it to do, and fairly easily at that. It’s also free, and available for Windows and Mac! If you’ve got a point-and-shoot digital camera and want to do some editing, basic or advanced, on your photos, then this is the program you want to get.

Unfortunately, Gimp is (currently) limited to 8-bits of information per color channel. Support for 16-bit and 32-bit color information is not expected until v3.0 which is not expected any time soon. Whether this is important to you depends on the source of your images and what you want to do to them. If your source images are JPEG, then they’re only 8-bits (per channel) to start with so being able to edit in only 8-bits is just fine. If, however, you have a digital SLR or film scanner that outputs in TIFF or RAW (called NEF by Nikon and other names by other manufacturers) with 10, 12, 14, or 16 bits of information per color channel and want to do editing that will make significant changes to color, contrast, or brightness and you want to display this in a professional or semi-professional setting (like hanging 8x10s on your wall), then (and only then) might you need something more.

Enter Adobe Photoshop. This is the premiรจre photo editing software. Every professional uses it. It was the first and it is the best. It’s also US$650, but an older version of it may have come free with your camera or scanner.

I’ve recently rescanned the photos in my gallery using a Nikon Coolscan IV at 12-bit color because I wanted to be able to make some minor changes to the exposure and still have full tonal range for printing poster-size images. This meant switching to Windows and loading up Photoshop for all the color correction. Once that was done, I could save it and switch back to Gimp for cropping, sharpening, spot healing, etc. At least, that was my plan. Since I was in Photoshop, though, I decided I’d use it for those things instead.

To make a long story short, they’re both very capable programs. Yes, Photoshop has more and some of its tools (like lens correction) are better and/or more polished than any Gimp equivalent. Switching between the two is not difficult; the biggest problem is finding the tool you want since they’re not in the same place in both programs and sometimes have different names or icons.

Of note, photoshop has an incredible “spot heal” tool which fixes errors due to dust, scratches, or hot/dead pixes in your image. You just paint the damaged area and presto-chango, it’s fixed. Color, texture, and grain are all preserved just like there had never been a problem. It’s not just smoothed-over; it’s generated based on information around the area. What a fantastic tool!

Uncorrected ChurchOn the other hand, I could not get Photoshop to fix some perspective problems with one of my pictures. I won’t say that it can’t do it (that would be foolish) but the “Lens Correction” filter always made something else Corrected Churchworse while making the perspective better. With the Gimp “perspective” tool, I just dragged one corner of the image and clicked “transform”. Done! Nothing could be easier.

In conclusion, I was able to do all the same basic editing functions in either program. Both are excellent works with similar ease-of-use. Photoshop has a few more features, a bit more polish, and 100x the 3rd party support… the vast majority of which you will never use or even notice missing. Don’t waste your money on it until you know you need it, then accept no substitutes.

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16 comments to Gimp vs Photoshop

  • I’m also one of Linux user like you ๐Ÿ™‚ What the great thing I like about GIMP is speed. GIMP consider much more light and suitable for my old laptop ๐Ÿ˜› plus it is FREE. Anyway…nice blog. I’m looking forward to read your future post ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Brian
    I completely agree to what you have mentioned in your post, esp. the last paragraph – ‘Photoshop has a few more features, a bit more polish, and 100x the 3rd party supportโ€ฆ the vast majority of which you will never use or even notice missing.’.
    The irony is that all these bells and whistles/product ecosystem takes a lot of importance while choosing a product.
    And of course, one gets the bells ‘n’ whistles products for almost free [pirated copy]!

    -Ashish.
    iDea Labs

  • Ditto with what the first poster said. GIMP is way faster. The fact that it is free is also one of the main reasons I got interested in it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Huh.
    Does Gimp support Color Profiles now?
    The last time I checked neiter Gimp nor Linux would support them. I am a Linux fan too and I use it whenever I can, yet I felt compelled to shell out big bucks for Photoshop so I could “soft proof” my work.
    The limitation to 8-bit is a serious disadvantage too. PS goes one step further with 32b HDR images (great for stacked exposures).

  • The new X for Linux has some sort of support for color profiles, but it’s not widely used (by GIMP included). I believe profiles are part of the plan for the 3.0 release, but don’t quote me on that. If you’re a professional, you need a professional tool. GIMP doesn’t quite make it for professional printing. Perhaps in a few years.

    The 32-bit mode will also come with GIMP 3.0, but I’m unsure of it’s benefit. It is the rarest of displays that can handle even the 16-bit dynamic range. Yes, the human eye can do about 1,000,000:1 (see Art and the Technician) but I would imagine that even with an image covering this entire range that a person couldn’t distinguish more than 65,000 distinct values, if that.

  • As for the benefit of HDR images:
    Its just another method of Exposure blending, but with much better results (in my mind).
    You simply combine multiple exposures into a single HDR file and then use some sort of mapping to bring it back into a viewable area.
    Its somewhat the same thing Photomatix does, but for free (for me that is, since I already own Photoshop).
    Lets say you are inside a dark church. If you take a photo, either the windows will be blown out or the church too dark. The dynamic range is too great (this time I am sure about the phrase ๐Ÿ™‚ ).
    So you combine them and then use a mapping algorithm (lets say logarithmic, just like the eye) to bring all of it into a viewable range. The image will then look much more like the eye sees it.

  • I did that at a sunset (Art and the Technician) for those very reasons. It took four exposures and some careful blending to make everything look balanced. I guess because I’m keeping it in XCF (Gimp native format) I have the full range of information anyway.

  • Cinepaint, derived from the Gimp has 32 bit colour support as well as ICC colour profile support. It also works on low end equipment as it uses the GTK 1 library. I still use The Gimp but am keeping an eye on Cinepaint development. There is a new version on the horizon which will use the lightweight FLTK library.

  • I know of CiniPaint (formally, FilmGimp, I believe) but haven’t used it. From what I’ve read, it more suited towards the editing of multiple film frames that of individual photos. How does it’s tool/feature set compare to that of Gimp itself?

  • Guest

    One more thing:
    Photoshop is troublesome if you have an outdated machine (4-6 years and not upgraded since then :p), many of the filters give me the messages “Not enough memory” etc.. I have never(ever) had any message like that with Gimp, everything is just perfect. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Why spend money on something don’t really need? Go for Gimp! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • tom

    If I’m not mistaken, gimp will be getting (basic) ICC profile support in 2.4, which should be out fairly soon. Shame about V3 being so far off, but at least their new image processing layer is actually being developed agian…

  • Hey Brian,
    You mentioned GIMP not having RAW support. I saw a mention somewhere a while ago about UFRaw (http://ufraw.sourceforge.net/). I’ve downloaded and installed it with no injuries.

    It seems to work with GIMP, and supports our NEF files – but I have almost no clue what I’m doing.

    I’d be interested in your take on it if you get a chance!

    I’m sold on the utility of RAW for special cases, but don’t want to waste time fighting with software that doesn’t do it justice.

    Enjoy Zurich!

    Andrew

  • It isn’t so much that Gimp can’t do RAW/NEF is that it supports only 8-bits per channel. Since one of the benefits of the RAW formats in greater color depth (usually 12 bits per channel), these extra four bits are dropped after the conversion.

    If the RAW converter can do the adjustment you need, such as adjusting the “levels” or “curves” before reduction to 8 bits, then this is sufficient and Gimp is fully capable for all the other touch-ups.

    When I tried “dcraw” for conversion in to Gimp, I was disappointed. It could convert the image data, but it did not apply the correct white balance or noise reduction that had been set in the camera. The JPEG was of much higher quality and a better starting point. I’ll have to try “ufraw” sometime.

  • […] Illustrator user now, and you want to read a great review on the comparisons between the two, visit Brian White’s Review of The Gimp vs. Illustrator to determine if you can go with the current version of The Gimp, or if you need to wait until […]

  • Nicolas Lannuzel

    Hi,

    Interesting website, good source of information, and I like your personal point of views too.

    Regarding dcraw/ufraw, I’ve been using UFraw since a while, and it give me excellent results. As far as I can see, the colors and brightness is exactly the same as the embedded JPG inside the RAW file. And under 100% zoom there’s no moire or funny artifacts as some would fear. Details level is same as output from CaptureNX.

    The only differences are:
    – Noise level, but that’s because I’m not using the wavelet noise reduction feature in UFraw; while the embedded JPG has already been “denoised” directly in the camera.
    – Sharpening: UFraw doesn’t do any kind of sharpening (yet). It’s not a concern for me, since I always scale down and sharpen a bit in Gimp just before saving as JPG but never before editing the picture.

    In the case of my Nikon D80, the picture from UFraw also contains more pixels. It seems that the camera engine (or Nikon CaptureNX) trim the image a bit, in order to keep a 3:2 aspect ratio I presume. But those pixels are in the raw file, and UFraw will give them to you.

    The key here is to use the right color profile for your camera. Without it, the picture is flat and dark. I found the profile for my camera on the UFRaw page, there’s also a link to a site giving other profiles as well.

    I like UFraw more than CaptureNX (that I was using before in a virtual machine running XP). It allows me to write custom shell scripts for downloading, resizing and tagging in F-Spot automatically using UFraw, Image magick and Exif Tools.

    You can check the UFraw page here: http://ufraw.sourceforge.net/

    Have fun!

    Nicolas

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