A Computer Darkroom Feature Preview

On 9th January 2006 Adobe announced a public beta of a new software application that was eventually to become the mainstay photo management and editing application of many digital photographers. That application was Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Now move forward to 21st October 2009 and Adobe have announced the third Lightroom public beta. The intention this time round is provide photographers with early access to new features and technology so that Adobe have adequate time to respond to feedback.


So what's new and improved?

For this latest version Adobe went back to the drawing board and revisited aspects of the application that photographers have highlighted as areas in need of most attention, namely performance and image quality. The objective was to make Lightroom the "best in class" application for digital photographers whether they be a professional photographer with a growing collection of high mega pixel images or an amateur with a relatively small photo catalog.

In comparison to the public beta for Lightroom 2, the beta for Lightroom 3 doesn't contain many new features. Nonetheless, those that are present should make for significant workflow improvements, especially when the many minor changes and enhancements are also factored in. The following table lists some of the new and enhanced features found in Lightroom 3 public beta.

Workflow & Library:

Faster thumbnail scrolling and Module switching


Completely redesigned Import module


Publish Collections


Backup on exit


Enhanced sorting (i.e. sort by aspect ratio)


Enhanced collection and smart collection functionality


Import CMYK files


New thumbnail badge to show when photo is in a Collection


Optimise catalog command included in File menu




Improved raw conversion


Improved sharpening


Improved colour noise reduction


New Grain filter


Fill Light applied when Auto Tone button is pressed


Improved Post-crop vignette


Collections panel


Simplified local adjustment brush and graduated filter panel




Enhanced Slideshow export, which includes HD video


Music selection on Mac simplified and decoupled from iTunes


Sync slideshow length to duration of selected music track


Custom Print Package allowing free-form layout of multiple photos on a page


Enhanced Watermarking



The list of new features may not be as extensive as some might have wished for, but it is worth reminding ourselves that this beta is still pretty early in the cycle. Even so, some of the most requested features identified in previous versions have been included, which goes to show that submitting a feature request does pay dividends. You should refer to the Lightroom 3 beta Release Notes for details on other new features and enhancements along with information on Known Issues. The release notes also highlight changes to the minimum system requirements. In particular, the ram requirement has increased to 2GB. Mac users should also note that the beta and eventually the shipping version will not run on PowerPC or G5 processors.

Pre-flight Information

The Lightroom 3 beta will not overwrite or interfere with existing version 1.x  or 2.x catalogs nor will it allow you to upgrade a catalog from an earlier version. It should also be safe to work alongside your existing catalogs. Nevertheless, it 's important to mention a few important caveats to using the Lightroom 3 beta. I have already mentioned the first, namely that it is not yet possible to upgrade an existing Lightroom 1 or 2 catalog, so you will be forced into creating a new version 3 catalog. The second is that, as with all beta software, bugs do exist and it is therefore important that you work on copy images, especially if you decide to save develop settings back into the image. The third is that develop settings applied to images in the public beta are not guaranteed to transfer correctly to the final shipping version. In other words, the Lightroom 3 Beta is intended for testing purposes and to provide users with an opportunity to provide feedback to the development team.

As mentioned above, the main areas of focus for the development team were to improve both interactive performance and raw processing quality. In doing so, the first and most obvious problem for the engineers was to find the right balance between performance and quality, and it is here that Adobe would like you to focus most attention.

In terms of performance, users should find that scrolling thumbnails in the Grid and module switching are much faster and smoother than in earlier versions. This type of performance improvement is referred to as interactive performance. However, the very substantial improvements in image quality have come at the cost of reduced non-interactive performance. In particular, preview rendering is noticeably slower than it is in Lightroom 2. No doubt the engineers will work to improve the rendering speed, but it's unlikely that it will match, let alone beat the performance of Lightroom 2.

I have already mentioned that the raw processing and noise reduction algorithms have been significantly reworked. However, the extent to which they have been changed is such that for the first time since the Camera Raw Plug-in was released, it has been necessary to introduce the concept of Process Versions. By default, images that contain develop adjustments from previous versions of Lightroom will continue to use the original process version, but newly imported images will use the new process version. It's when a catalog contains both process versions that users will compare and clearly see the difference between the two, both in terms of image quality and increased preview rendering times. In my opinion, the improvements in image quality, particularly high ISO colour noise, are so great that the increased time required to render the previews is worth it, but others might not be so happy.

At present luminance noise is not applied to any images and the slider control in the Develop module Detail panel has been disabled when images have been converted to the new process version. This is by design and reflects the fact that Adobe are still working on the luminance noise algorithms. This lack of luminance noise should not be a problem for low ISO images, but there may be a graininess to higher ISO images. That being said, the improvements in colour noise and noise patterning are so great that the graininess actually looks quite natural.

Library Module and Workflow Enhancements

There hasn't been much in the way of UI changes, so the overall appearance of the Library module should be familiar to anyone who already uses Lightroom 2. The Library continues to be at the heart of Lightroom in so far as it's the module that provides most of the tools for managing your photographic assets. Imported images can be viewed in the Library in various modes or views. These include the now familiar  Grid view (G), Loupe view (E), Compare view (C) and Survey view (N). Each of these views is intended for a specific purpose in the your workflow, but you may find one view more useful than others. For example,  Grid view allows you see large numbers of images as thumbnails whilst at the same time providing a workspace for applying metadata, labels, ratings, keywords, flags and even quick development adjustments to images in bulk. As with previous versions of Lightroom Loupe view restricts these actions to a single image. Compare and Survey views are designed to make the tasks of rating and flagging easier, although some users will be irked to find that they still can't preview at 1:1 in Survey view.


Figure 1 - Library module Grid view

Other minor enhancements within the Library module include:

  • Collections can be created directly within a collection set by right-clicking on the collection set mages can be sorted by aspect ratio

  • The name of a collection is displayed when an image is added to a target collection

  • Stack badges can now be toggled on or off independently in the filmstrip via an interface preference

  • Erasing with the spray paint tool now requires the use of the Alt key

  • Select a folder in the Library module and choose a new option Import to here to launch the import dialog with that folder preselected as the destination

  • The import dialog provides source folder and destination volume capacity information

  • The option to include items from subfolders has been included in the primary Folder panel drop down menu

  • Choose Library -> Show Missing Images to locate offline or missing files

  • An icon has been added to grid thumbnails to indicate that an image is part of a collection. Click on that icon to view and/or visit the collection

  • Favourite sources can be added to the filmstrip source pop-up menu for quick access to specific collections or folders

  • Flash state is now included as part of the smart collection filter criteria

  • When the ‘spray can’ is used to add an image to a collection, the collection name is now displayed upon application


For Lightroom 3 Adobe has completely rewritten the Import module. Not only does it now look as if it belonged in Lightroom, but the functionality provided goes way beyond addressing many of the criticisms levelled at earlier versions. By default, the Import module will open into the expanded mode (figure 2 below). This view makes it much easier to visualise the whole process of importing your images. The Source devices and volumes are listed on the left side track and Destination on the right side track. It's important to note that both source and destinations panels give Lightroom access to all folders and subfolders on any connected hard disk, not just those containing images.

The thumbnails view of the images are located in between the two panel tracks. From here, individual images can be included or excluded by clicking on the checkmark. However, it's also possible to use keyboard shortcuts whilst scrolling through the thumbnails (e.g. P = Pick, U = Unpick, X = Unpick). Holding down the Shift key whilst applying a shortcut will auto advance to next image. Applying develop presets, keywords, metadata, etc is all done on dedicated panels within the destination panel track. Likewise renaming images on import and defining the initial preview size.


Figure 2 - Expanded view of Lightroom 3 Import module

In addition to the expanded mode Adobe have also included a compact mode (figure 3 below). This mode removes most of the complexity associated with the source and destination panels. The underlying idea is that Import Presets will already have been configured by the user.


Figure 3 - Import module Compact mode

The Import module also allows you to browse supported images on any connected hard disk in much the same way as a conventional File Browser (e.g. like Adobe Bridge). It's even possible to switch between Grid view (G) and Loupe view (E). There is even a zoom tool (Spacebar) that allows scaling from 1:4 through 11:1


Figure 4 - Import module in File Browser Loupe mode

Lightroom 3 beta will import the following file formats:

  • JPEG

  • TIFF (8 bit and 16 bit)

  • PSD (8 bit and 16 bit)

  • DNG

  • Raw files from supported cameras (visit http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/cameraraw.html for a full list of raw file support. File support for Lightroom 3 beta, aligns with Lightroom 2.5 and Camera Raw 5.5)

In addition to RGB, Lightroom 3 beta will also allow the import of CMYK*, LAB and Greyscale images.

* Any output, with the exception of export original, or develop adjustments to these images will take place in an RGB color space.

Publish Collections

Publish Collections is new to Lightroom 3 and is intended to allow you to easily publish your images to your favourite file sharing site directly from within the Lightroom Library module. The Lightroom 3 beta ships with a plug-in that gives you direct access to the Flickr photo sharing site. Obviously, you will need a Flickr account before the feature can be used. To set up the connection within Lightroom 3 beta is fairly straightforward in as much as all you need to do is click on the Flickr Set Up button within the Publish Collections panel. Pressing the button will open the Lightroom Publishing Manager window as shown in Figure 5 below.


Figure 5 - Lightroom Publishing Manager (Click for larger view)

The name you use within the Publishing Manager must be the same name as you use when connecting to Flickr via a web browser. The account must also be activated from within Lightroom before your Flickr Photostream will become available within the Publish Collection panel. Once the account has been activated publishing your images to Flickr is a simple matter of dragging your photos on to the Photostream collection then pressing the Publish button. Lightroom 3 beta will automatically begin the process of uploading the images to Flickr. Figure 6 below shows how Lightroom 3 beta shows the progress of the upload.


Figure 6 - Display of  Photo Publishing in progress

Viewing the images after they have been published to Flickr is relatively straightforward - right click on the Photostream to open the context menu then choose Go to Published Collection. Assuming you have an active internet connection will launch your default web browser at the Flickr page containing your images.


Figure 7 - View Published images at Flickr

Clicking on the Publish button any time after the images have been published to Flickr will import any comments, ratings, etc that viewer may have posted to your Photostream. These will be displayed in the dedicated Comments panel located on the right side panel track, just below the Metadata panel (see figure 8 below). Flickr Pro Account holders can subsequently modify their images and republish them to Flickr using the same procedure as described above.


Figure 8 - Photostream Comments

Library Filter Bar

The Library Filer Bar was first added in Lightroom 2. At the time many were critical of the amount of screen area that it took up, but were even more vociferous in their criticism of the developers decision to make the metadata filter operate at local level. Even worse was the decision to make the filter sticky. Thankfully, the latter two criticisms have been addressed in Lightroom 3 beta. By toggling the padlock button on the top right corner open/close you can dictate whether Lightroom will apply the selected filter to an individual folders/collections (local) or to all folders/collections (global).


Figure 9 - Library Filter Bar

Apart from the padlock enhancement little has changed in the Library Filter Bar. Nevertheless, and for the benefit of new users, it's worth repeating some of the description I provided in my review of Lightroom 2.

There are four sections to the Filter Bar: Text, Attributes, Metadata and None. The first three are used for a filtered search of the contents of your catalog and the last (i.e. None) is used to switch the Filter Bar off. The Filter Bar is activated from the Library>View menu or by pressing on the '\' key. By default, it contains four columns, but is easily configured to display between 1 and 8 columns (i.e. via menu on the top right corner of each column). The actual column layout can be saved as a custom preset by clicking on the Custom Filter pop-up located on the top right corner of the Filter Bar. Figure 8 above shows an example of the Filter Bar in use.

One of the most useful aspects of  the Filter Bar is filtering by keyword. The Filter Bar uses 'AND' between the columns and filtering within a column is an 'OR' function (i.e. hold down Ctrl/Cmd key then make appropriate selections within column). Using multiple keyword columns it is therefore possible for both 'AND' and 'OR' keyword filtering.

As mentioned above, the Filter Bar is also the location in which text based searches and attribute based filtering is carried out. The rule set for text based searches has changed little since Lightroom 1.x and they remain relatively self explanatory. However, it's worth mentioning a few of the less obvious filtering rules that come in handy for fine-tuned searches within the text entry field. For example, placing a '+' at the beginning of a word is the same as Starts With, placing a '+' at the the end of a word is the same as Ends With, and placing a '!' at the beginning of a word is the same as Doesn't Contain. Also, worth noting that the Attribute bar now contains White and Gray label chips for Custom Label and No Label respectively. Finally, multiple filters are activated by shift clicking the respective filter name (e.g. click Text then Shift+click Attribute followed by Shift+click Metadata).

Watermark Editor


It's been a long time coming, but at last Lightroom has a Watermark Editor. With this new editor you can apply a text or graphical watermark directly to a photograph. It's also possible adjust the size, orientation, location and opacity of the watermark. Saved watermarks can be applied from within the Slideshow, Print, Web and Export modules. In figure 11 I show a sample watermark applied to an image in the Print module.


Figure 10 - Watermark Editor


Figure 11 - Watermarking a photo in Print module

Develop Module

As discussed above, the main changes within the Develop module are associated with the raw image processing algorithms, sharpening and noise reduction. Nevertheless, there are a few other new features within Develop that many Lightroom users will no doubt find useful. Figure 12 below shows a Before and After comparison of the new raw conversion and colour noise algorithms in use. The images was shot on a Canon EOS5 Mk11 at 3200 ISO in quite poor lighting conditions. The color noise and sharpening are at default settings. Even allowing for JPG compression associated with the screenshot it should be pretty obvious that color noise in Lightroom is much better than Lightroom 2.5.

Figure 12 - Comparison between Colour Noise in Lightroom 2.5 and Lightroom 3 Beta

The inclusion of the Collections panel on the left panel track and the Effects panel on the right side are probably the most obvious. Figure 13 below shows both bounded in red.


Figure 13 - New Effects and Collections Panels

Local Adjustments

The Local Adjustment tools have been modified slightly with the removal of the button sets from the Adjustment Brush and Graduate Filter panels. The adjustment brush and graduated filter sliders can be reset by holding down Option/Alt and clicking on Amount. Another enhancement to these tools is the provision of an 'X' overlay when no colour is selected.



Adjustment Brush

Graduate Filter

The Gradient Tool and Adjustment Brushes have their own set of keyboard shortcuts, with the following being the most important:

  • Open Adjustment Brush - K

  • Open Gradient Tool - M

  • Show/hide Pin - H

  • Increase/decrease brush size -  ] / [

  • Increase/decrease feather - Shift+] / Shift+[

  • Commit a brush stroke or gradient and/or start new - Enter

  • Delete selected pin - Delete

  • Holding down - Alt/Option key activates erase mode

  • Toggle Auto Mask On/Off - A

  • Pressing 'O' toggles on/off the overlay

  • Shift+O cycles through alternative colours for overlay

  • Constrain gradient to vertical - hold down Shift plus drag

  • Invert gradient - '

  • Scale from centre - Alt/Option plus drag

Grain and Post-crop Vignetting

What do the sliders in Grain mean? Roughness affects the consistency of the grain. If we consider a smooth, flat area of an image (e.g. sky). Adding Grain with the Roughness slider at the left, the nature of the grain will appear relatively consistent across that area as you visually scan over it with your eyes. If you move the Roughness slider to the right, the grain becomes less even. Increasing the Size slider amount tends to soften the image (rove detail), so be careful not to push it too far to the right. The actual grain effect is designed to be close to visually uniform across the tonal range, unlike digital sensor noise. The high-level goal is to transform the visually unappealing characteristics of digital sensor noise into the more visually pleasing characteristics of traditional film grain that photographers are used to seeing. Figure 14 below shows an example were grain has been added for effect rather than to disguise a problem.


Figure 14 - Grain Effect at 3:1 zoom level

Post-crop vignetting was introduced in Lightroom 2, but many users complained that the manner in which it was implemented did not properly reflect the desired effect. In particular, photographers wanted a tool that increased/decreased exposure/brightness rather than simply paining black or white into the image corners. This time round we get two options, i.e. Highlight Priority (default) and Colour Priority. Figures 15 and 16 show the two options with the same settings applied. Again, like other new features you re encouraged to provide feedback on which you prefer and why.


Figure 15 - Highlight Priority Post-crop Vignette



Figure 16 - Color Priority Post-crop Vignette

Other Develop module enhancements include:

  • Crop presets choices have been edited for clarity

  • A checkbox has been added to the toolbar to turn on/off overlay visibility

  • The targeted adjustment tool is deactivated when switching to a new Develop panel

Slideshow Module

Adobe has added the ability to export your slideshows from Lightroom 3 beta as HD video. In addition, the link to iTunes has been broken which means that incorporating your music tracks is much easier than it was in the past. Lastly, for the slideshow mostly, is the facility whereby double clicking on the music track duration will automatically adjust the slide change time so that the slideshow duration matches the music.


Figure 17 - Export slideshow as HD video

Print Module

The last new feature I want to discuss is Custom Print Package. Like the Watermark Editor mentioned earlier the custom print package has been high up the request list from very early days. Laying out a page is relatively easy in so far as you can add Cells of various sizes using the button set located within the Cells panel. Once the cells are in place you can drag the images into them. Alternatively, you can create a free-form layout by dragging the images directly to a blank page then resizing them to taste. Figure 18 below shows fairly simple free-form layout containing 3 images of slightly differing size.


Figure 18 - Custom Print Package

Other minor, but nonetheless important enhancements to the Print module include:

  • Black or a custom color can be selected for a print layout background

  • The Identity Plate can be moved in small increments by selecting it and using the arrow keys

  • Match photo aspect ratio is now a persistent option in the Cell panel

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