Today I added Darktable to the MacBook Pro. It was a little bit of an ordeal: Apple doesn’t think the package is safe and you have to do a thing on the command line to convince it otherwise. I had to do the thing then reboot the machine to get it to run.

Having it running on a big, modern laptop display made it seem a little more usable than it did running on the Mint Air. There are still some odd UI things, and it could really use a visual designer’s love, but it felt a little more navigable and I began to see how I could use it day-to-day, and even improve on my Lightroom experience.

No two ways about it, using Darktable would mean doing some learning. It has its preferred ways of describing the operations you’re performing on an image, and it is not trying to be a Lightroom clone, though it takes enough UI ideas away that you can be forgiven for thinking there’s a little bit of what we used to call “Martian User Interface” going on: You see a bunch of knobs, dials, and screens that look pretty similar to that other thing you’re familiar with, but they don’t always do the same thing or mean the same thing, and in some ways that makes the differences worse than if they’d just gone completely their own way on the GUI.

But I remember all the learning I’ve had to do over the years. It felt like a huge shift to move from things like Photoshop Express to Aperture and then Lightroom. Each change meant learning about new ways to look at an image and think about its different properties, and — when moving from one vendor to another — the different ways you can talk about the same thing. It’s just learning a new language, and you either want to because there’s something in it for you, or you bounce off of it because you’re comfortable enough and get what you want out what you already have.

Unfortunately the Darktable-on-Mac experiment ended with a bug. It imported a few of my Fujifilm raw images just fine, but a few others it didn’t. Something went horribly wrong and the imported images showed up as a 100 percent crop of their upper left corner. Nothing could make it right, including trying to turn them into DNGs and importing them that way. I imported the same images on the Mint Air and they worked just fine. So … “some kind of bug.”

I’m a little disappointed. I really wanted to try out making custom UI presets. Most days when I import an image I’m looking at exposure adjustments, contrast, shadow/highlight tone, “clarity,” saturation/vibrance, and cropping. Being able to make a UI that has just that stuff in the order I tend to address it would be pretty handy. Maybe I’ll try to replicate the problem on the Mac Studio and report it.