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A Computer Darkroom Preview

Wednesday April 2nd 2008 and Adobe slipped a Public Beta of  Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 onto their servers. During the days leading up to release there had been a few hints that something 'new' and 'improved' was coming, but no substantive information on what or when.

 

So what's new and improved?

Before answering this question I think that it's important to remind readers what Lightroom is and what Adobe mean by  "Public Beta".

Lightroom is a high quality digital image processor with integrated database management. The underlying  image processing engine used is Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw, which ensures that digital raw images processed in Lightroom are fully compatible with Camera Raw and vice versa. The database management system comprises two components: a catalog and a preview store. These two components are what provides Lightroom with its ability to quickly store, retrieve and preview your images and associated metadata, even when the originals are stored off-line.

Lightroom 1.x comprised five modules (Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web) and as can be seen from the following screenshot Lightroom 2.0 continues with the same modular layout and naming convention.

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Figure 1 - click image for larger view

Unlike the "Public Beta" for Lightroom 1.0 Lr2beta is pretty much "feature complete", so the intent this time round is to give users an opportunity to "kick the tyres" and provide feedback on bugs etc. Make no mistake, the beta is very rough around the edges and contains many bugs. In terms of stability and bug count the beta is much closer to "alpha quality" and is most definitely not intended for production use. It's also important to note that while existing Lightroom 1.x catalogs cannot be read by Lrbeta2, Adobe have given an assurance that they will be migrated into the final shipping version. That being said, Adobe have made it clear that they cannot guarantee that the localised develop adjustments applied with Lr2beta will be honoured in the final shipping version

New features have been included in all five modules, but the most obvious are found within the Library and Develop modules. Likewise, the Library and Develop modules have benefited from the greater number of enhancements to existing features. In some cases they'll be very obvious and others less so. I will deal with the less obvious enhancements first, then move on to the Big Hitters and module specific features.

64-bit Support - One of the less obvious yet highly significant enhancements in Lightroom 2.0 is that it is 64-bit enabled, although both your computer and OS must also support 64-bit mode. Mac users must be using an Intel-based computer and OS X 10.5 (Leopard). By default, Lightroom for Mac is installed with 32-bit mode enabled, but is easily switched to 64-bit mode via the application  "Get Info" command (see figure 2). It's slightly more complicated if you're a Windows user in so far as you must be using Vista-64, even then you must download the 64-bit version of Lr2beta. The intention is that the 32-bit and 64-bit versions for Windows will ship a single binary, just like its Mac counterpart.

The main benefit of 64-bit mode is that Lightroom can address memory above the 4 GB RAM limit imposed on 32-bit applications. Another benefit comes in the form of a speed boost to raw processing. Obviously these benefits will only be available on computers with more than 4 GB RAM.

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Figure 2 - "Get Info", open in 64-bit mode

Import - Lr2beta now supports images with dimensions up to 30,000 pixels on the longest side. So, you can import the panoramas and stitched images that Lightroom 1.0 blocked.

The import dialog has seen little in the way of change, but the ability to use the Embedded & Sidecar preview images when importing images should speed up your workflow. Lightroom 2.0 also continues with the process first adopted in version 1.3 in that it prioritises import over preview rendering, so getting your images into the catalog should be fairly quick.

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Figure 3 - Import Photo with Embedded & Sidecar Preview

Export - Lightroom 2.0 now includes the ability to automatically export your images back to their original folder. You can also export images back into your catalog and stack them along with the original. You can even apply adaptive Output Sharpening for print or screen. For example, in the Print module you can define the paper type (Glossy or Matte) and Lightroom will automatically adapt the amount of sharpening that is applied to the image being spooled to the printer or saved to the JPEG print-file. Lr2beta still has controls for High, Medium and Low sharpening, but these "may" be replaced with a more meaningful control in the shipping version of Lightroom 2.0.

Note: Output sharpening in Lr2beta is not yet complete nor is it fully optimised.

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Figure 4 - Enhanced Export dialog

(click image for larger view)

 

Photoshop Integration - Lightroom can now open images directly into Photoshop without first creating the fully rendered TIFF or PSD. This is good news, especially for those who seemed to be so annoyed with the edit-copy behaviour of version 1.x. The most obvious benefit of this new method is that the file opens a lot faster. Using the context menu command for Edit in Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 can open files as Smart Objects, thus utilising non-destructive filters such as Shadow/Highlight and Lens Correction. Multiple images can also be opened into Photoshop and subsequently merged as single Panoramas or HDR image. Unfortunately, a bug in Lr2beta means that smart objects will not be automatically saved back into your catalog, but this will be corrected in the final version.

 

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Figure 5 - Photoshop Integration

Note: The new integration features summarised above are only available with Photoshop CS3 (10.01) and Adobe are recommending that Lr2beta should only be used for testing purposes. See the Release Notes for further information on this topic, in particular the section on Known Issues, which contains information on the most recent public beta build.

Library Module

The Library module has a new more streamlined layout. Some panels have been relocated, some enhanced, and others completely removed in favour of new more flexible and powerful tools. No doubt the new layout will not be to everyone's liking, but the changes are well intentioned.

Filter Bar

As I indicated above, the main drivers for the changes now found in Lightroom 2.0 Library were the need to provide a more intuitive layout. In Lightroom 1.x filtering within or even across panels required the use of undocumented keyboard shortcuts.  For example, filtering images taken with a specific camera/lens combination at say 400 ISO from within the highly regarded Metadata Browser meant that the user first clicked the camera model, held down the 'Ctrl/Cmd' key, clicked on the lens then clicked on 100 ISO whilst still holding down the 'Ctrl/Cmd' key. It wasn't difficult when you knew the secret handshake, but many users were completely unaware of it. So, the development team came up with a new approach. They dropped the Metadata Browser in favour of a new centrally located Filter Bar (see red bounded area in figure 6).

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Figure 6 - Library module - Filter Bar and Smart Collections

Whilst placing the Filter Bar in what is effectively an area that many consider sacred ground (i.e. the content area is solely for images) the engineers have reserved the left panel track to define the "source" location of images, specifically Folders and Collections. The net effect of  this change is that everything shown in the left panel track now defines a "context". Therefore, the Filter Bar will only list those categories that match with the selected folder and/or collection. This should make it much easier to filter images without having to resort to cross-panel selections and multiple selections with the aid of keyboard modifiers..

The Filter Bar uses 'AND' between the columns, and this should be obvious because as soon as you choose something in a column on the left, it filters not only the images, but also the columns to the right. Filtering within a column is an 'OR' function (i.e. hold down Ctrl/Cmd key then make appropriate selections within column). This means that by configuring the Filter Bar with multiple Keyword columns it should now be possible to set up both 'AND' and 'OR' keyword filtering.

The Filter Bar can be activated from the Library>View menu or by pressing on the '\' key. By default, it contains four columns, but is easily configured to show more or less (i.e. press the '+' or '-' button on the top right corner of a column). The columns can be used to filter all of the categories that Lr1.x supported plus quite a new categories (e.g. Keywords, GPS, Aspect Ratio, Treatment, and Develop Preset). Last but not least, the column layout can be saved as custom preset by clicking on the Custom Filter pop-up located on the top right corner of the Filter Bar. Figure 7 shows an example of the Filter Bar at work.

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Figure 7 - Filter Bar in use

The Filter Bar is also the location in which text based searches and refine based filtering is carried out (see figure 8). Multiple filters are activated by shift clicking the respective filter name (e.g. click Text then 'Shift+click' Refine followed by Shift+click Metadata). The old style filter bar still exists where it always did, but is now labelled RF. You should also notice that the Filter Bar preset pop-up menu is duplicated beside the RF button, but is not fully functional in Lr2beta). Retaining the old style filter bar means that it can still be used in other modules.

Note: There are some known issues in Lr2beta that may cause strange Filter Bar behaviour, especially when coloured labels are linked with metadata filtering.

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Figure 8 - Expanded Filter Bar

Collection and Smart Collections

I mentioned above that the Collections panel has kept its place in the left panel track, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't received some attention from the engineering team. On the contrary, as can be seen in figure 9 Collections have undergone a major rework.

Figure 9 shows the new icons that enable you to quickly differentiate between: collections sets, smart collections and output specific collections for Print, Slideshow and Web. This latter type of collection is created within the relevant output module and provides quick access to the images and output settings that you defined when it was originally saved.

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Figure 9 - Collection Types

Smart Collections have long been on the wish-list for many Lightroom users and version 2.0 doesn't disappoint. Using the new dialog specifying the criteria is relatively straight forward. The rule set can be anything from a fairly simple ratings based collection through to a complex multi criteria set such as the example shown in figure 10 below. Holding down the 'Alt/Option' key when adding a new search criteria provides access to conditional rules, shown offset to the right in following screenshot. Any image that matches the criteria will automatically be added to the collection.

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Figure 10 - Smart Collection Rules

 

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Figure 11 - Result of applying Iceberg rule set

Lightroom 2.0 does not support hierarchical collections of the type created in version 1.x, but  any that you already have will be migrated over to your version 2.0 catalog.

Note: Collections in Lr2beta are not yet complete, so  you can expect some unusual behaviour. That said, Adobe are encouraging user feedback.

Keywording

Keywording is another area that has seen a lot of work. In particular, the Keyword List panel being relocated to the right panel track along with other enhancements. For example, the Keywording panel has a new Keyword Set called Suggested Keywords. The suggested keyword is based on existing keywords already applied to the image and any  image that is considered to be close neighbour in terms of capture time. Figure 12 shows a rather crude example of the suggested keyword feature at work. I say crude, because it suggest "Iceberg" when in fact there is no obvious reason why this particular keyword could ever be associated with the selected image. Fortunately, they are suggestions, the actual keywords must be applied manually in the normal way.

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Figure 12 - Enhanced Keywording

As mentioned above, the Keyword List panel, which was known as Keyword Tags in 1.x, has been relocated to the right panel track. In terms of creating new and/or applying existing keywords to images little has changed. However, the annoying filter behaviour that was also assigned to Keyword Tags has been been removed. Instead, keyword filtering is provided from the filter bar described earlier.

To add an existing keyword to an image you can  drag-and-drop the keyword onto the image. However, a bug in Lr2beta means that dropping multiple images on to the keyword list "may" not always work correctly.

To remove a keyword from an image you must first select that image then right click the keyword on the Keyword List panel, a context menu will appear from which you choose "Remove this keyword from selected photo". I'm not a heavy user of keywords, so it's possible that my description makes the process more complicated than it actually is. Nevertheless,  I think these changes outlined above make for a much more logical and frustration free workflow.

Multiple Display Support

So, Lightroom now supports multiple displays, which will no doubt please those who previously claimed that Lightroom couldn't be classified as a professional application without such support. For users without a second display the new window will appear as a second window on your main display. Hopefully, everyone should now be happy.

The new second display window is based on the same module picker concept that's used in the main display window, except that the options include: Grid (Shift+G), Loupe (Shift+E), Compare (Shift+) and Survey (Shift+N) views. I have listed the keyboard shortcut for each in brackets, but clicking on the name will also switch views. Each of these views has enhanced functionality over the same view in the main window. To activate the second window display press on 'Shift+\' keys.

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Figure 13 - Second Display Grid View

Loupe view on the second display window includes options for: Normal mode, Live mode and Locked mode.

  • With Normal mode the image previewed on the second window is the same image as is previewed on the main display. However, the second display window can be set to a different zoom ratio, if required. This come is very be useful when adjusting the sharpness or noise controls.

  • With Live mode the second display preview is continually updated to reflect the area of the image that the mouse is being hovered over on the main display.

  • With Locked mode the image previewed on the second display window is fixed. To preview another image you  press the 'Alt/Option+Enter' keys. Note a bug in Lr2beta currently prevents this keyboard shortcut from working correctly, us the mouse or menu command instead.

Given the extent of the feature set associated the second display support you will be pleased to note that a comprehensive set of menu options is available under the Window menu in each module. Keyboard shortcuts are also available for most of the second display window commands.

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Figure 14 - Second Display Normal Loupe View

Note: Multiple monitor support in Lr2beta is not yet fully functional, so  you can expect some unusual behaviour, particularly on the Mac platform. Nevertheless, Adobe are encouraging user feedback and .

Develop Module

As with the Library module, Develop has many enhancements and new features. The most important new feature being the inclusion of Localised Corrections. However, before discussing these I will summarise some of the other changes to this module.

The most obvious change to the Develop module is the relocation of the Toolbar to just below the Histogram (see figure 15). The icons depicting each of the tools has also changed slightly (see figure 16 for details).

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Figure 15 - New Toolbar Location in Develop Module

 

In order, the tool icons are: Crop (R), Clone/Heal (N), Red Eye and the new Local Correction (K) brushes. Again, I have listed the keyboard shortcut for each in brackets, clicking on a tool icon opens a panel comprising the options for that tool, clicking it again closes the panel and returns you to the standard Develop module panels.

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Figure 16a - Crop Tool

Figure 16b - Clone/Heal Tool

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Figure 16c - Local Corrections - Brush Tool

Figure 16d - Local Corrections - Expanded Brush Tool

Local corrections in Lightroom are based on the brush paradigm rather than region (selection based), although  region edits are also possible after brush strokes have been applied. This means they fit better with the method used for the Photoshop Dodge & Burn tools.

Lightroom 2.0 provides Paint brushes for: Exposure, Brightness, Clarity, Saturation and Tint (figure 16c). The Effect slider defines the initial value for the Brush (e.g. 2 units exposure, 50 units brightness). You can have two preset brushes (currently labelled A and B), each brush can be adjusted for Size, Feather and Flow. The Auto Mask when active will help confine the brush strokes within an area with similar colour. The mask Amount slider cannot be adjusted, that is until a brush stroke is applied.

Using the turny triangle to the right of the paint pop-up expands the Paint panel (figure 16d) to reveal user presets (denoted by '+/-' buttons coloured tiles) for up to two brush Effect values for each of the paint options. To configure a preset button click the button then adjust the Effect slider. Note that there is no visual cue as to how much this settings will effect the image until the brush stroke is applied to the image.

To define a brush tint value or preset you need to double-click the larger of the six tint tiles (Figure 17) then click the colour picker on the colour palette. Click the larger tint tile to close the  colour panel.

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Figure 17 - Localised Corrections - Tint Adjustments

So, having described the various tools it only remains for me to work through an example. Figure 18 shows a screenshot of the Lightroom Develop module with Local Correction panel opened.

The first correction I wanted to correct was to slightly brighten up the eye of  the "Pied Oystercatcher". This necessitated a small brush, so I set the Size slider read 5, the Feather slider read 10, and Flow was also set to 100. Next, I chose the Exposure brush and initially set the Effect value to 2, and made sure that Auto Mask was On. To apply the brush I clicked just off centre of the eye, a pin icon is placed on the image to denote the start position of the initial brush stroke, and made a few circular motions with the brush. By hovering the mouse over the pin I was able to see the extent of the adjusted region and realised that the brush had spilled over into the plumage a little. So, holding down the 'Alt/Option' key I brushed this area again to remove the over spill. Finally, I clicked on the pin to activate the expanded brush control set and reduced the exposure value to 1.89 then hit the Enter to commit the correction, and prepared for the next.

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Figure 18 - Localised Correction - Before View

The next correction was to the lighter underbelly plumage, which was a tad on the dark side. I set the brush Size slider so that it read 10, the Feather slider read 60, and Flow was again set to 50. Next, I chose the Exposure brush and adjusted the Effect slider to a value of 3. Again, auto mask was set to On. Clicking on an area of light plumage placed a new pin point on the image, which again denotes the start position of the initial brush stroke. Using the larger brush I applied multiple strokes to brighten up the light plumage. At first it was too light, but that wasn't a problem as I knew could easily fine tune it later.

Next it was necessary to edit or "fine tune" the already applied brush strokes so that the plumage was as just as I wanted it. Again hovering the mouse over the pin showed me the extent of the region created by the auto mask. The idea this time was to adjust the entire region rather than use the erase brush. So, I clicked on the pinhead to expand the full brush control set (figure 19). Given that the exposure brush was a tad  too light I pulled the slider down to 1.2. I also decided to increase the Saturation of the region to 10 units and Clarity to 20 units. By adjusting exposure, saturation and clarity I had effectively applied three corrections in one.

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Figure 19 - Localised Correction - After View

Local Corrections have their own set of keyboard shortcuts. The following are probably the most important:

  • Open local corrections 'K'

  • Show/hide Pin 'H'

  • Increase/decrease brush size ']' / '['

  • Increase/decrease feather 'Alt/Option+]' / 'Alt/Option+['

  • Commit a brush stroke and/or start new Enter

  • Delete selected pin 'Delete'

  • Holding down 'Alt/Option' key activates erase mode

Other changes to the Develop module are found in the Detail panel (figure 20), which now includes the Chromatic Aberration and Defringe controls previously found in the Lens Corrections panel. The Detail panel also includes a new 1:1 preview window which can be used to preview sharpening and noise adjustments without zooming the actual window to 1:1. The "nipple" cursor can be used to pinpoint the area of the image you want to preview when sharpening.

The final change to panel layouts within the Develop module can be seen in what is now called the Vignettes panel. This panel contains two types of vignette, the first is for Lens Correction and the second for Post-Crop edge effects. The standard vignette tool is used to correct dark corners arises from light fall-off  and/or over shading from lens hoods, etc. Post-Crop is intended for more artistic uses such as edge burning and has the advantage of also respecting cropping, whether central or offset.

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Figure 20 - Detail and Vignettes Panels

As a result of user feedback the engineers have enhanced the Basic adjustment panel so that it's now possible to cycle through the controls using either the comma '< 'or period '>' keys. The keyboard '+/-' keys now increase/decrease the active control, and larger adjustments can be obtained by holding down the 'Shift' key when holding down the '+/-' keys. Tapping the semi-colon ';' key resets the active control to its default value.

The Clarity control can now be adjusted for negative values, which has the effect of softening images. This particular feature is likely to be ore useful when applied as a local correction brush than globally.

Lastly, for the Develop module anyway is the reworked Auto Tone adjustment 'Ctrl/Cmd+U', which has been modified in response to user feedback that this feature in Lightroom 1.x resulted in over bright images. Again, Adobe are asking user for their comments and thoughts on the new behaviour.

Print Module

Print quality from Lightroom has always been highly regarded, but the absence of: Soft Proofing, Output Sharpening, Print to File, Print Packages and Books meant that some users had to look elsewhere when preparing their work for print. With the release of Lr2beta we have good news and bad news. The bad news is that Soft Proofing and Books are not included, and it's highly unlikely that either will be included in the final version. Whether the inclusion of the others is sufficient to offset user disappointment is another matter.

Picture Package

The underlying concept of Picture Package to to allow photographers to quickly create multi-page layouts containing a single image that are arranged in multiple sizes. A picture package can contain up to six pages with each containing the same image in various sizes. The size and placement of the image on each can be done either manually or automatically. Figure 21 shows a very simple example were I manually placed and sized the image on to the first page of the package. Figure 22 below it shows a more complex example were I used the preset cell sizes to automatically optimise the placement of the same image on the remaining five pages.

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Figure 21 - Single Page Layout in Picture Package

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Figure 22 - Multi-page Layout

If placement and sizing are not important then using the Auto Layout option will result in the most efficient use of your paper. Alternatively, cells can be sized in place by dragging and edge or corner, they can also be positioned anywhere within the grid. To move the image whilst leaving the cell in position you hold down the 'Ctrl/Cmd' key click on the image and drag. To delete a cell simply click it and hit the delete key. A complete page can be deleted by clicking on the red X button that appears on a page when the mouse is hovered over it.

Print to JPEG

 

Lightroom 2.0 now provides support for printing directly to JPEG files. This means that users will be able to prep their print layouts, convert to the appropriate ICC profile then save the file as a JPEG which is ready for sending directly to their preferred lab. Customising the file dimensions is achieved by "scrubbing" your mouse over the numerical value (see yellow bounded area in figure 23 below).

 

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Figure 23 - Print to JPEG

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning, Lightroom Lr2beta is nearly feature complete, but it's still very much unfinished. Some of the new features still require a fair amount of refinement whilst others are as near perfect as they'll ever be. I think that it's fair to say that Adobe have listened to users and tried to incorporate as many new features as possible, but obviously couldn't include everything that was requested. Nevertheless, they're open to feedback, they want to hear your thoughts on what does and doesn't work, your pain points, etc. So, don't be shy, and...

Remember Rule 5 - Enjoy!

Adobe Community Professional

 
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