After conquering the market of photo editors on the iOS and iPadOS platforms, Darkroom is here to bring goodness to macOS users.
If we could define the entire macOS ecosystem with just one word, it would be “simplicity”. Apple’s very foundation is based on cleaning out the clutter and offering you a user experience that is unmatched by any other. Whether it is the ease of use or the aesthetically pleasing elements of macOS, professionals flock towards it all the time. From graphic designers and music composers to videographers and artists – macOS is the way to go.
Over the years, several photo and video editors have contended for the top spot not just among Mac users, but on the portable iOS platform too. There isn’t a short supply of photo editor studios such as VSCO Cam, Adobe Lightroom, KitCamera, and several others, most of which have transitioned to macOS too. However, we noticed that one other formidable name in the photo editor app category finally joined the party, so we took Darkroom for a spin.
What is Darkroom?
Recipient of the Apple Design Award 2020, Darkroom has been around for years as a mobile-only photo editor app for iPhone and iPad. We came across Darkroom for the first time almost two years ago, when it was a featured pick on the App Store, being especially popular among professional artists and enthusiasts alike. What made us personally fall in love with Darkroom on iOS is the fact that the app was capable, did not force a subscription down your throat, and offered a straightforward user interface that involved a minimal learning curve.
Come 2020, Darkroom is now available as a standalone photo and video editor tool for all you macOS users out there to try out. Bringing support for the latest Apple M1 Macs and macOS Big Sur to offer you editing on-the-go, we just couldn’t wait to get our hands on this piece of software. Here’s our first look at the Darkroom photo and video editor for Mac, and what you can expect from it.
Note: We began our review by updating our iMac to macOS 11 Big Sur, since Darkroom only supports the latest version of macOS for now. Make sure you have macOS Big Sur installed before even attempting to download Darkroom from the App Store.
It is almost unreal to believe that Darkroom isn’t a native photo and video editor app, renowned by Apple itself for its award-winning design. The Darkroom version for macOS is built with the same source code as the iOS and iPadOS version, which is why we did not feel like a learning curve was involved when switching from the iPad to the MacBook.
You get the grid view for the images, the fullscreen editor with the tools on the right, and the image library on the left. In a single screen, the entire photo and video editor is defined, with some essential tweaks to make it macOS Big Sur compatible. On the macOS platform where several editor features and interface complexities tend to make photo editor quite the handful, Darkroom takes a step back to simplify it all.
The method of sorting the videos and images is what we particularly loved, with a segmented view for all the different content. Using the sidebar, you can find the Edited files separately, iOS media such as Live Photos, Portrait, Selfies, Screenshots, Panorama, and others – all in a single place for your view. Additionally, there is a direct way to import photos and videos directly into the Darkroom app from a macOS computer.
Staying close to the connected ecosystem that Apple is famous for, Darkroom is designed to be seamless across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computer. The synchronized design allows you to view content from your iOS device on Darkroom for Mac without any importing needed directly. With the preview available, all you need to do is click on the image, and it will automatically be downloaded from the iCloud server for you to edit right away.
We could get more work done in lesser time with the list of productive shortcuts to make quick edits, navigate across albums, and complete support for the MacBook touch bar. For instance, hitting the “3” key on the keyboard highlights the main adjustment sliders to control elements such as Brightness, Contrast, Whites, Shadows, Vibrance, Temperature, and more.
The best part is that you also get these adjustment sliders for effects, adding Foreground and Background effects for the extra dimension of finishes. The photography enthusiast within us was delighted to find the manual RGB curves panel to adjust the color channels and HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) sliders built into it. Adding the ability to Transform the image and adding Frames to it, the edits are limited but well-polished.
If you plan to use the same round of edits in the future, Darkroom makes it uber-simple to save the entire profile as a filter. Don’t get us wrong. We adore the film-noir filters that have been included by default. They offer a good starting point for beginners, but the ability to create your custom filters and apply them all at once to multiple images is a bonus. The fact that Darkroom is available across all Apple devices makes it easier for you to begin editing an image on one device and finish it on the other.
However, filters do not get synced across iOS, iPadOS, and macOS devices automatically, so you need to manually back them up and restore them on the iDevice where you want to use them. We did find it cumbersome to archive ProRAW files when using Darkroom, since there isn’t an option to export them in DNG format. Since you can easily export the files via iCloud and directly to the external drive, this isn’t a significant setback either.
We drew a quick comparison between Darkroom and just another run-of-the-mill photo editor app such as Adobe Lightroom to see how resource-intensive they were. Darkroom was surprisingly light on the system, taking up only a milli-fraction of the space Adobe’s photo editor tool occupied while running buttery smooth on the latest M1 MacBook with Big Sur on-board.
In contrast, the photo editor was subpar when tested on the older Intel-based MacBook, with the occasional crash every now and then. We recommend running the app with Rosetta translation software enabled for better results, and although the Darkroom app should natively run well on both chipsets, this is just an observation we made.
The Darkroom app for macOS is available for free to start things off, just like it is on the mobile platform. However, it comes with a freemium model in place, which puts a price cap on the features you can and cannot use, based on whether you’re prepared to let go of a few bucks. On the free version, you do get the organizing and management features of Darkroom, but you miss out on the core editing features such as the RGB slider and the HSL adjustment sliders.
You will also miss out on all of the video editing tools with the free version of Darkroom, so do keep that in mind. To go all in and get the Darkroom+ membership, you will have to cough up $3.99 per month or $19.99 per year for the extra features. If you are in love with Darkroom and its advanced photo and video editing features, there is also a one-time purchase option at $49.99 which allows you to rid yourself of the annoying subscription plans.
Our first-hand experience – Darkroom does basic editing best
We found Darkroom to be somewhat limiting when it came to the number of video and photo editing tools that were available to try out. But from the perspective of someone who does not excessively depend on image editors to bring the best out of photos, Darkroom still enabled us to put the right tools to work. Managing to balance it all between functionality while still keeping the award-winning design simple and straightforward is perfect for beginners who are still learning the ropes.
Additionally, for advanced users who want to “dumb-down” the image editing experience, Darkroom is just the right fit, while leaving room to make most of the edits you would otherwise make with the more complex tools out there. With the inclusion of ProRAW, we would have liked to see the inclusion of a white balance slider for RAW images, something the developers over at Darkroom could keep in mind for the next update.
- Award-winning design and user experience makes it one of the most fluidic photo editor tools out there.
- Seamlessly compatibility across the iPhone, iPad, and macOS makes Darkroom a breeze to use.
- Intelligent RGB and HSL adjustment tools for power photography editors.
- The ability to lock down your usual edits in the form of a filter, and plenty of preset filters to pick from.
- Even as the base free version, the photo editor offers some basic tools, along with a robust organizer menu.
- The editor features may seem to limit to more advanced users who are looking for something more along the lines of the Adobe Lightroom.
- Darkroom+ premium subscription plan is essential to unlocking the power editor tools.
It is hard to argue that there is a better-looking photo and video editor tool for macOS out there, which is natively compatible with iOS too. Since mobile photography has become a massive segment of the market, using an organizer/editor tool such as Darkroom has become essential for most of us shutterbugs out there. The unique selling point of the Darkroom photo editor has to be the mesmerizing user experience it offers, streamlining your ability to manage content and edit it along the way.
There are shortcomings when it comes to the number of editing features it boasts, but for those among you who are just getting started with the art of photography, Darkroom is the right platform to get your foot inside the door. All thanks to the 7-day trial and monthly/yearly/one-time subscription plans for you to pick from, your money invested in the photo and video editor app is always safe.