Introduction to using UFRaw to edit Raw files

February 10, 2010
This photo doesn't have anything to do with this entry, it's just what I was editing with taking screenshots.  f/4.0; 1/640sec; 70mm; ISO 200

This photo doesn't have anything to do with this entry, it's just what I was editing with taking screenshots. f/4.0; 1/640sec; 70mm; ISO 200

I love Gimp – I think you might have all realized that by now. But there’s one thing Gimp can’t do all on its own. And that’s editing RAW files. The good news is, though, that there are other options. The first option is that your camera probably came with some software that allows you to manipulate RAW files. I’m guessing mine did, because I know it came with software, but I’ve never installed it. That’s because your second option is to use some sort of free software.

There is, of course, a third option, and that is to pay for software, and that opens up a lot more doors – and I’m assuming gives you better products, too – but part of the idea behind this website was to show you cheap/free ways to develop your photography habit (get it? Develop? I crack myself up).

So, the two free programs I hear about most often are RawTherapee and UFRaw. I had plans to use both of these products and give you a comparison and tell you why I liked one of them more than the other, but to be honest, I still haven’t tried RawTherapee, and I find myself wanted to discuss the adjustments I make to my Raw files, so I’m going to forge ahead and just tell you how I use UFRaw. I’m guessing that the options I use in UFRaw are also available in RawTherapee, so if you’d like to try that, feel free! But for the sake of this entry, I’m only going to talk about UFRaw.

Download and Install

Before you even download UFRaw, please check the list of supported cameras to make sure it can support your RAW files (notice that being the list of “Cameras supporting DNG” there’s a long list of “Other supported cameras”).

Once you’ve determined you can use UFRaw, you’re going to have to download and install it, obviously. You can download it from this page, and you’ll see it’s available for about 20 different distributions of Linux, as well as Mac (note: if you’re already using the GIMP on OS X application bundle, the gimp plug-in is already bundled in with that, apparently), and Windows.

It’s been a while since I installed UFRaw, but if I recall, the installation was really straight-forward and simple.

If you use Windows:

I’m just going to make a special note here – if, like me, you use Windows (not saying I’m a fan of windows, just being honest here.), you’ll notice that there’s two options for installing it. The first option is the “MS-Windows for dummies”. The second option is “MS-Windows for geeks”. This is the first part of the instructions under MS-Windows for geeks:

I build UFRaw using a cross-compiler in Linux. It is also be possible to build UFRaw in the Cygwin environment, which imitates the Unix environment on MS-Windows. After setting up the environment and installing all the required packages the installation procedure is the same as for Unix. If you want to compile UFRaw in another environment or with a different compiler then you are on your own.

If that does not make any sense to you, just do the “for dummies” one. I won’t hold it against you – because that’s what I used, too!

Opening a RAW file:

There’s a couple different ways to open your Raw files in UFRaw. You can open UFRaw itself and you’ll be presented with a dialog box that allows you to select a Raw file:

UFRaw Open Dialog

Or you can right click on your photo and select Open With –> UFRaw:

Open with UFRaw

Finally, you can just open your RAW files directly into Gimp – so however you typically open them there (whether it’s dragging them into Gimp or doing a File–>Open, or whatever you do) and it will automatically pop open UFRaw.

Making Adjustments

So, here’s what UFRaw looks like when you first open a RAW file with it:

Click to make bigger

Click to make bigger

As you can see, there’s a number of things you can play around with here, but I’m going to concentrate on three things for this “intro to UFRaw” entry: Exposure, White Balance and Saturation. Why? Two reasons: they’re easy, and they’re the three things I use most.


The first thing you probably want to play with is this slider in the upper-left:

Exposure Slider

It’s the exposure slider. So, if your picture is a bit underexposed, slide it to the right. If it’s a bit overexposed, slide it to the left. IS THIS NOT THE COOLEST THING EVER???? This slider was half of the reason I started shooting in Raw. I’ll get to the other half in the bit.

Auto Expose ButtonIf you look a few buttons to the right of the exposure slider, you should see the button you see to the left of this paragraph. It’s the “auto exposure” button. Sometimes this button is a one click exposure fix. Sometimes, though, it gets confused by really bright things in your photo (like the sun) and wants to make you photo really underexposed just to make sure that no spot is overexposed. Still, I usually start off with using it just to see what it suggests and adjust from there.

If you’re curious about what parts of your photo are over or under-exposed, look down in the lower-left of UFRaw and you will see these checkboxes:

Indicate Overexposed and Underexposed

See how it’s telling me that that 12, 21, and 8.8 percent of my red, green and blue channels are overexposed? If I check that checkbox and hit Indicate, it will start flashing the overexposed areas on the picture. Neat!

White Balance

This is the second half of the reason I started shooting in Raw. Sometimes it’s really hard to get the white balance right in camera. Or sometimes we actually get it right, but we want to make the photo look warmer or cooler on purpose. changing the white balance of a Raw photo is so easy!

Underneath the Exposure slider there’s a row of tabs. If this is the first time you’ve opened UFRaw, you should be on the White Balance tab already (which is the first tab and it looks like an old-fashioned scale with blue on one side and red on the other. Oh, ha! I only just now got that. Balance. Scale.). So you should see the following:

White Balance Tab

The first thing in that section is a dropdown that contains some default White Balance settings:

White Balance Settings

But you can also manually adjust the white balance. Here’s a tip: you do NOT need to select Manual White Balance to adjust it, so just pick whichever white balance is closest to what you want, and then start moving the sliders below the dropdown. The one I adjust most often is the Temperature one. Moving it to the right makes the picture warmer (so more reddish/orangish/yellowish), and moving it to the left makes it cooler (more blue).

You’ll notice there’s an eye-dropper next to the sliders, too, so if you have a perfectly gray point that you want to base your white balance off of, you can click the dropper, then click on that spot in the photo and it will adjust the white balance using that. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve EVER used this – other than playing around with it.

You might need to adjust how much green is in your photo, too, which you can obviously do with the slider under the Temperature slider. I probably only have to do this in about 5% of my photos.


I often add some saturation into my images in UFRaw. I know it’s easy to do in Gimp, too, but I prefer to do it to the Raw file. The Saturation tab is the fifth tab and it looks like this:

Saturation Tab

Pretty much the only thing I do here is play with the Saturation slider – making it less than one will desaturate the image (setting it to zero will make it completely black and white), and setting it above one will make the image more saturated. When I do adjust this, I typically set it between 1.3 and 1.6.


Ok, I lied, one more thing really quick. If you go back to the White Balance tab, you’ll notice there’s a Denoise slider at the bottom of that section. If you have a photo with a lot of noise (one taken with a higher ISO, for instance), it’s often helpful to play with this slider to remove some of that noise.

An Important Piece of Information!

At this point, I want to be sure to mention: UFRaw REMEMBERS all your settings from one photo to the next – so if you have it on Auto Expose with a Manual White Balance and Saturation set to 1.60 – it will use those settings by default on your next photo.

Opening the file in Gimp

This step is slightly different depending on how you opened the image. If you did one of the first two methods I mentioned (opening UFRaw and then selecting the file, or right clicking on the file and selecting to open with UFRaw), you’ll see a Gimp icon in the lower-right:

Gimp icon

Clicking this icon will open the file in Gimp.

If you opened the file directly in Gimp and then the only options you see fewer options, but one of them is OK:

OK Button

Clicking OK will open the file in Gimp.

For more information

There was recently an article on DPS about using UFRaw, and the person who wrote it does some different adjustments than I typically do, so for another “intro to UFRaw”, be sure to check out that article!

For a bit more advanced (but also more in-depth) reading, be sure to check out the user guide on the UFRaw website.

And if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments. By the way, and this applies for all entries, if you ask me a question in a comment, I’m usually pretty good about answering them – but I do so as a reply to the comment, which should automatically email you with the email address you used in the comment form (or Disqus/Twitter/OpenID account). So, if you’ve asked me something, watch out for an email at that address.

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  • When I open up UFRAW, I get the first initial screen that you mentioned, but when I right click on the image I don't get a drop down menu with "open with" or anything you showed in your picture above... Am I doing something wrong or is there a difference b/c I use a different camera... possibly. I can still open the images in UFRAW but i just have to double click them. And then after I do all my editing, I go to the tab with the little Gimp face on it :) and it gives me an error dialog box.. I'm confused, and I know I'm very clueless (and a newbie to this to boot). So I'm hoping you'll have some suggestions for me.

  • realself

    Thanks for your great introduction (with screenshots!) to UFRaw.  Another site made it sound incomprehensible. Go figure.

  • Tjjohn

    Great Article/ This one polished the rough idea I had about UFraw.


  • g mo

    great post! after editing a .cr2 file in gimp, can you then save it as a .cr2 file? or can you only save it as a .jpg?

  • I just use Digital Photo Professional that comes with canon dSLRs. What's really nice is the latest version supports rotating the image in any amount. So if a picture is slightly off I can fix it and not have to export a tif file to edit. I also am addicted to the barrel distortion correction feature. Being a canon program is has a database of all canon's lenses. To correct barrel distortion you just hit a button and it knows what lens you used and what focal length it was and adjusts things accordingly. Granted if I didn't have a lens that distorted so much it wouldn't be an issue, but it's something that's kept me from trying other apps. Another annoyance with DPP is it's settings don't seem to copy over to other programs, like UFRaw. Even when I was trying professional apps like lightroom it didn't see the changes. It would be nice if DPP or even ufraw created .xmp files that other programs (mainly adobe products) see. May make the changes more universal.

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