- Darkroom 6 adds AI-generated masks for surgical edits.
- Unlike Lightroom, it works with your existing photo library.
- Pay for a subscription or one-off purchase, you decide.
Adobe’s Lightroom is the essential go-to app for any photographer who uses a Mac, iPad, and iPhone together. But Darkroom, now at version 6, is not only a viable alternative, but in some ways, it’s way better than Adobe’s monster.
Darkroom uses the same Photos library as the built-in Photos app across all your Apple devices, meaning it also integrates completely with iCloud Photo Library, syncing your edits between all devices. It processes raw photos from your fancy cameras, lets you create and save custom filters, and now—in version 6—adds AI-powered masks for easy local adjustments.
“You know that famous Steve Jobs quote, ‘The computer is the bicycle of the mind’? Well, computational photography is that bicycle for photographers,” Darkroom CEO Majd Taby told Lifewire via email. “For professional workflows, it makes odious, long processes instant—like masking hair, selecting a subject, replacing a background, etc.”
Light vs Dark
If you want a pro-level photo editing and cataloging app that works across desktop and mobile, you’ve pretty much been limited to Adobe’s Lightroom. And it’s a fantastic app, with a great balance of depth and ease-of-use, but some folks just don’t want to pay a monthly subscription just to edit the raw photos from their camera, or they don’t want to maintain a separate photo library within Lightroom.
Darkroom is free to use, with a one-time in-app purchase or a $30-per-year (or $5-per-month) subscription to unlock advanced features, and as mentioned, it uses your existing Photos library, which may or may not be what you want.
But the most important part of any photo editing app is the editing. Darkroom is instantly familiar because it works like a pro version of the Photos app. You’ll find all the usual color, brightness, and other tools, all of which work with both raw and jpeg images. But the really cool part is the brand new—AI-generated masks.
AI, ML, WTF?
Masking is an important part of photo editing because it lets you adjust one part of an image while leaving the rest untouched. You might want to lighten your eyes, smooth only the skin, or increase contrast in the background. Darkroom’s new masks can be created manually (a gradient or a shape) or automatically.
Smart Masks use your iPhone photos' portrait and depth data to isolate faces, hair, sky, teeth, glasses, and more. This makes it trivial to touch up portraits in a surgical manner, without the tedium of hand-painting masks like we had to do in the olden days.
“AI-driven bulk edits and adjustments (especially in color and tone) can be a huge time-saver,” professional photographer Andreas De Rosi told Lifewire via email. “For example, a product photographer who has to get a consistent style look for a client would benefit a lot from AI-driven software solutions.”
But what if you’re not using an iPhone’s Portrait Mode? After all, isn’t one of the points here to edit photos from fancy cameras? For that, you can use AI Masks, which generate a 3D map of the scene in your photo. It’s spookily good, picking out human subjects from a background or even working out distances within the image. For example, a group of people in a city scene will be isolated, but the ground beneath them will also be picked up and faded into the distance.
"These are generated by a ‘monocular depth estimation’ model, and interestingly, a lot of that research came from self-driving cars, which need to understand depth information in a scene that is captured by a camera," explains Taby. "These are generated instantly when you open a photo, and the model all runs on-device, leveraging the neural cores on the latest iPhones, iPads, and M1- powered devices."
Despite all this, Darkroom isn’t aimed directly at Lightroom users. Instead, it’s built for mobile photographers or enthusiasts who prefer a more focused tool than Lightroom or Capture One. But, in my opinion, Darkroom is more than good enough for most pro use unless you really want to go wild with the editing.
Plus, it’s free to try.