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A Computer Darkroom Feature Review

Lightroom 3 has been a long time in oven, but it's finally baked and ready for serving. Has the wait been worth it? Well, if you've already been working with either of the two public betas you'll already be familiar with most of the features added since version 2 shipped in late July 2008. For those who haven't, the following is as good a place as any to start learning.

 

What are the headline features of Lightroom 3?

From the outset Lightroom 3 was never going to be packed with a long list of headline grabbing features. Sure there would be some, but these would in the main be spin offs from Camera Raw 6.  For Lightroom as a whole, the key objective was simple - make Lightroom the "best in class" application for digital photographers. Lightroom 3 beta 1 saw the first moves down this path when Adobe went back to the drawing board with the aim of improving interactive performance (i.e. scrolling and module switching) and image quality.  The first beta provided users with an opportunity to comment on the architectural changes and some of the new and enhanced features. For example, raw conversion and colour noise reduction algorithms were substantially overhauled in beta 1, but the absence of luminance noise meant that the benefits were to some degree masked. Luminance noise reduction was added for  Lightroom 3 beta 2, and was very favourably received.

With the final version we get a few more new features. For example, both automatic and manual lens corrections, some tweaks to the Auto Tone algorithms, and IPTC extensions. The following table lists the headline features that you'll find in Lightroom 3:.

denotes new since beta 2

Workflow & Library:

Faster thumbnail scrolling and module switching

Completely redesigned import dialog

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

Import DSLR video files

Tethered Capture

Animation in Library Histogram

Optimise catalog command included in File menu

Improved preview quality

New Library module keyboard shortcuts for more efficient module switching

IPTC extensions in Metadata panel

Lens and focal length added to Metadata filter bar and Smart Collections

Develop:

Improved raw conversion

Improved sharpening

Improved colour noise reduction

Improved luminance noise reduction

Point Curve in Tone Curve panel

Process versions renamed to 2003 and 2010 (Current)

Process version switch via pop-up menu in Camera Calibration panel

New Grain filter

Improved Post-crop vignette

Collections panel added

Simplified local adjustment brush and graduated filter panel

Automatic profile based lens corrections

Manual lens and perspective corrections

New develop presets

Output:

Enhanced slideshow export, which includes HD video

Export video files as originals

Ability to limit file size on export

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

New templates for Web and Print modules

Enhanced Software Development Kit (SDK)

A Swedish language translation of this review is available Here

Raw Image Processing Enhancements

I have already mentioned that the raw conversion, noise reduction and sharpening algorithms had been significantly reworked for Lightroom 3. In fact, the extent of the changes mean that for the first time since the Camera Raw Plug-in was released in 2003, it was necessary for Adobe to introduce the concept of Process Versions (i.e. Process Version 2003 and Process Version 2010 (Current)). The names represent the year in which the processing technology was introduced, which should give you an idea of how often Adobe plan on updating the process version.

By default, photos that contain develop adjustments from previous versions of Lightroom (i.e. 1 and 2) or versions of Camera Raw right up to version 5.7 will use process version 2003. However, freshly imported photos will use PV 2010. It's when a catalog contains images with both process versions that users will notice 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 and luminance noise, are so great that the small increase time required to render the previews is worth it.

Tip -  the new noise reduction and sharpening algorithms only apply to PV 2010 photos, PV 2003 photos will be rendered using the same noise reduction and sharpening algorithms as previous versions of Lightroom (i.e. Lightroom 1 and 2) and all versions of Camera Raw up to 5.7.

Performance in general has improved as the beta cycle progressed, and users should find that thumbnail scrolling and module switching are much smoother than in earlier versions. However, the very substantial improvements in image quality mentioned above have come at the cost of reduced non-interactive performance. In particular, preview rendering will likely be slightly slower than it was in Lightroom 2, especially when working with PV 2010 photos. To ensure the best balance between quality and performance Adobe have put a fair amount of engineering time and effort into developing an adaptive system when applying noise reduction and sharpening to previews for PV 2010 photos. For it to work well the engineers had to profile the noise characteristics of each supported camera over a wide range of ISO values. The operation of this adaptive system are quite complex and therefore beyond the scope of this review. Nevertheless, when it comes to noise reduction and sharpening of previews, you can be fairly confident that Lightroom 3 will do the right thing in most circumstances.

Tip - Working with Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 6

Lightroom and Photoshop Camera Raw share the same image processing technology to ensure consistent and compatible results across applications that support raw processing. These applications include Photoshop CS5, Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8. These applications must be updated with the Camera Raw 6.1 plug-in in order to ensure full compatibility with Lightroom 3 develop module settings. Refer to Lightroom 3 read-me document for more details on inter-application compatibility.

Library Module and Workflow Enhancements

There haven't been any UI changes in the Library module since beta 2, which means that the overall appearance should be familiar to anyone who already uses Lightroom 2 or has tried either of the two public betas. 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 photos can be viewed in the Library in various modes or views. These include: 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 photos as thumbnails whilst at the same time providing a workspace for applying metadata, labels, ratings, keywords, flags, and even quick development adjustments to photos in bulk. On the other hand, Loupe view allows you to view a single photo as well as zooming up to 11x of the original. This view is particularly use for checking sharpness and focus. The "gotcha" with Loupe view is that restricts rating, labelling, keywording, etc to a single photo. Compare and Survey are specialist views designed to make the tasks of comparing, rating and flagging multiple photos easier.

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Figure 1 - Library module Grid view

Other minor, but nonetheless important enhancements within the Library module include:

  • Match Total Exposures commands added to Develop Settings menu

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

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

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

  • Stack behaviour on double-clicking on stack count badge now expands the stack with all photos selected

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

  • When the ëspray caní is used to add an photo to a collection, the collection name is now displayed upon application

  • 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

  • Loupe view in import dialog supports large preview for photos on flash memory card

  • Import dialog defaults to New Photos when accessed via the Synchronize Folder command

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

  • Choose Library -> Show Missing Photos to locate offline or missing photos

  • Choose Library -> Find Previous Process Photos to locate photos first processed in earlier versions of Lightroom

  • Attributes filter bar includes icon for filtering video files

  • Ability to define the limit file size in Export dialog

  • An icon has been added to grid thumbnails to indicate that an photo 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, Lens and Focal Length are now included as part of the metadata filter bar and smart collection filter criteria

Tethered Capture

As mentioned above, there are relatively few major enhancements to the Library module since Lightroom 2. Nevertheless, those that have been included should please a lot of  users. For example, Lightroom 3 includes support for Tethered Capture, albeit limited to a selection of DSLR cameras from Canon and Nikon. Support for other camera makes may come at a future date, but this is very much dependent on the vendor making their SDK available.

Using Tethered Capture is relatively easy. First, you choose Library -> Tethered Capture. This opens the Tethered Capture Settings panel (shown in figure 2 below). The panel is used to configure the location for storing the captured photos, any metadata that wish to apply, etc.

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Figure 2 - Tethered Capture Settings

When the settings panel is configured to your requirements, click the OK button. At this point the tethered capture control panel will open (shown in figure 3 below). Pressing the large silver button will trigger the camera shutter, as will pressing the Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+T keyboard combination. The Develop Settings pop-up menu  is used to choose from any of the Camera Raw profiles already installed on your computer.

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Figure 3 - Tethered Capture control panel

The control panel can be hidden by clicking on the circle button located below the Close (X) button on the right side of the panel. Alternatively, the panel can be hidden by pressing on the Cmd/Ctrl+T keys. Unfortunately, the control panel doesn't support remote adjustment of camera controls such as shutter speed, aperture or ISO; nor does it support the "Live View" feature found in many recent DSLRs.

Video File Support

Another commonly requested feature is support for DSLR Video Files. However, as with Tethered Capture the support for video files is rather limited. In short, you can import the video files, view the index frame as a thumbnail in Grid view or full-size in Loupe view (shown in figure 4 below), and export the files in their original format, but you cannot edit them or even review them in Lightroom, Instead,. to view a video file, you press the camera badge either on the thumbnail or loupe window to launch an external viewer such as QuickTime (Mac) or Windows Media Player (Windows).

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Figure 4 - Video file support

Import

The concept underlying the new import dialog was to make it look and feel like it was part of Lightroom. In many ways the development team achieved their objective, but during the beta cycle some users have expressed the view that they would have liked them to go further. For example, a common request was that the dialog could be resized and have adjustable side panels, etc. Alas, most of this type of request goes well beyond the scope of changes that the development team had scope to undertake.

So, lets focus on what we did get. By default, the import dialog will open into the expanded mode (shown in figure 5 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 and Destination on the right side panel tracks. It's also important to note that, unlike Lightroom 1 and 2, which only gave access to folders that contained photos, Lightroom 3 displays all disk drives and folders, irrespective of whether they contain photos or not. This applies to both the source and destinations panels. Some users have found this behaviour quite irritating, whereas others have recognised the benefits of being able to look across the entire disk drive and folder structure on their computer or network. In effect, the import dialog has become a File Browser, albeit limited in what it can do with the files and folders.

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Figure 5 - Expanded view of Lightroom 3 Import dialog

The thumbnail (Grid) view of the photos is located in between the two panel tracks. From here, individual photos 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 photo. Applying develop presets, keywords, metadata, etc is all done on dedicated panels within the Destination panel track. Likewise renaming photos on import and defining the initial preview size. It's even possible to switch between Grid view (G) and Loupe view (E), and there is even a zoom tool (Spacebar) that allows scaling from 1:4 through 11:1. This is also possible when browsing a Compact Flash or SD memory card.

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Figure 6 - Import dialog in File Browser Loupe mode

In addition to the expanded mode the Import dialog also includes a compact mode (shown in figure 7 below). This mode removes most of the complexity associated with the Source and Destination panels. The idea with this arrangement is that the source and destination can be quickly identified via Import Presets that will already have been configured by the user.

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Figure 7 - Import dialog Compact mode

Readers already familiar with the new import dialog will probably be thinking that the shipping version isn't any different to the betas. Well, as mentioned above a lot has changed since beta 1, less so since beta 2. The changes are subtle and a lot of  them not immediately obvious to the user. For example, the performance enhancements only become apparent when you browse folders with large numbers of photos (i.e. thumbnails and photo enumeration has been speeded up significantly). A more obvious enhancement can be seen in Grid view. Actually,  there are three alternative Grid views i.e., All Photos, New Photos and Destination Folders. The first (All Photos) lets you see all of the photos within a given folder or subfolder. By default, if a photo is already in the catalog it will be greyed out and unchecked. The second view (New Photos) only shows photos that are not already in the catalog. This is the default view when the import dialog is accessed from the Synchronize Folder command. The last thumbnail view (Destination Folders) separates the photos into the folder structure that you've chosen in the Destination panel. Compact mode also provides support for adding  keywords and metadata preset.

 

 

 

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Image

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All Photos

New Photos

Destination Foldr

Figures 8a - 8c - Import dialog Grid views (click images for larger view)

Lightroom 3 will import the following file formats:

  • JPEG

  • TIFF (8 bit and 16 bit)

  • PSD (8 bit and 16 bit)

  • DSLR video files

  • 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, aligns with Lightroom 2.7 and Camera Raw 5.7/6.1)

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

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

Publish Services

Publish Services is intended to help users publish photos to their favourite file sharing site directly from within the Lightroom Library module. At present there is only a plug-in for Flikr, but the SDK has all the "hooks" necessary for similar plug-ins to be developed for SmugMug, etc. The current plug-in gives you direct access to the Flickr photo sharing site. Obviously, you will need a Flickr account before the feature can be used, but set up the connection within Lightroom 3 is fairly straightforward. Simply click on the Flickr Set Up button within the Publish Collections panel. This button opens the Lightroom Publishing Manager window as shown in figure 9 below.

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Figure 9 - Lightroom Publishing Manager

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 photos to Flickr is a simple matter of dragging your photos on to the Photostream collection then pressing the Publish button. Lightroom 3 will automatically begin the process of uploading the photos to Flickr. Figure 10 below shows how Lightroom 3 displays the progress of the upload.

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Figure 10 - Display of  Photo Publishing in progress

Viewing the photos 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 Lightroom will launch your default web browser at the Flickr page containing your photos.

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Figure 11 - View Published images at Flickr

Clicking on the Publish button any time after the photos 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 12 below). Flickr Pro Account holders can subsequently modify their photos and republish them to Flickr using the same procedure as described above.

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Figure 12 - Photostream Comments

Prior to Adobe including this feature in Lightroom I had never used my Flickr Pro account, but having the ability to manage photos from within the application was too good an opportunity to miss. You can view some of my photo galleries at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_lyons/ All of these galleries were uploaded and managed from within the Lightroom 3 beta.

Library Filter Bar

The Library Filter 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. Screams of "where have my photos gone" were common on the Lightroom User to User forum. Even worse was the decision to make the filter sticky. Thankfully, the latter two criticisms have been addressed in Lightroom 3, although we now have another group of users screaming that the change messes up their workflow. Seems like Adobe can't win with this particular tool. Anyway, back to what we have now. 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).

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Figure 13 - Library Filter Bar (Metadata view)

A Video File filter badge is included adjacent to the Virtual Copies filter badge the Attributes section of the Library Filter Bar. It's shown in figure 14 below as the icon with the red boundary. Clicking on this icon when viewing particular folder/collection will display all video files in that folder/collection. Clicking on it when viewing All Photographs will return all video files contained within your catalog.

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Figure 14 - Library Filter Bar (Attribute view)

The Filter Bar is undoubtedly quite powerful, but it is also somewhat obtuse in terms of how it works. For example, many users struggle to get their heads around the actual filtering logic used within the Text section. It's really not that complex, but 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. You can use the Cmd/Ctrl+L keyboard combination to toggle on/off the last filter you used.

By default, the Metadata filter 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 13 above shows an example of the Metadata filter 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).

IPTC Extensions

Many Lightroom users will already be familiar with the IPTC Core schema for metadata. Users add their data into predefined fields in the Metadata panel, which can then be saved to the image file or used directly within Lightroom for searching, etc. For Lightroom 3 Adobe have added the recently introduced IPTC Extension schema for XMP. This is a supplemental schema to the IPTC Core, and provides:

  • fields for additional information about the content of the image, e.g. name or location shown in the image, an organisation or event featured by the image, etc

  • fields to improve administration, e.g. for a globally unique identifier

  • fields for cultural heritage photos, including a title, a creator, a creation date and information about the source fields to precisely define the licensing and the copyrights of a photograph.

  • Currently, there appears to be little, if any other support for IPTC Extensions with Lightroom 3. For example, none of the fields are explicitly mentioned in smart collections or metadata filter bar.

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Figure 15 - IPTC Extensions in Metadata Panel

Develop Module

Lens Corrections

On 27th April 2010 Tom Hogarty, the Lightroom Product Manager, blogged about a previously unseen feature to be included in the final release version of Lightroom 3. You can read his comments on the Lightroom Journal This new feature is Lens Corrections, and will be discussed over the next few paragraphs.

Automatic Corrections

The new lens corrections in Lightroom 3 can be sub-divided into two categories - automatic lens corrections that are based on lens profiles, and manual corrections. The automatic corrections use lens profiles created by Adobe or custom profiles created by you or a third party using the new Adobe Lens Profile Creator application. Adobe has included an extensive range of lens profiles for Canon Nikon cameras, although not every lens in the respective manufacturers catalogue is covered. They have also included an array of profiles created by Sigma. These profiles are compatible with cameras from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony. Whether other lens manufacturers come on board is yet to be seen. 

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Automatic Corrections

Manual Corrections

Figure 16 - Lens Corrections

When applied, the lens profiles are designed to automatically apply three types of correction. That is, geometric distortion such as Pin Cushion or Barrel distortion (see external material for more info), Lateral Chromatic Aberration, and Vignetting. When  profile-based correction is activated (figure 16 - Automatic Corrections) Lightroom will use embedded Exif metadata for the lens and camera within the image to look for a matching lens profile. In the example shown in figure 17 below, the lens used was the Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 USM. The three sliders located under the Amount heading are actually intended for fine-tuning the automatically profile correction. In the example shown in figure 17 you'll see that I have already reduced the amount of vignette correction to 75%. This is because the profile for this particular lens tends to over compensate for the lenses natural vignetting. Again, in this example I have already saved this correction as the new default for the lens, which means that my correction will be automatically applied each time the profile is activated. Occasionally, it may be necessary to increase one or more of the Amount sliders, although I have only found this to be necessary for chromatic aberration with one lens (i.e. Sigma 14mm f2.8). The Amount sliders can also be used to completely remove the respective correction. For example, you may want a lenses natural vignetting to be applied in full rather than corrected. Also, note that these sliders only become active when  a lens profile is enabled.

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Figure 17 - Automatic Lens Corrections

 Tip - you can only apply automatic lens corrections when the appropriate lens profile is physically installed on your computer. This is because the profiles are not stored in the actual raw file or XMP sidecar. Therefore, if you move your raw files between computers or share them with others it is important that you also install a copy the lens profile on these computers.

Creating your own lens profiles is a fairly straightforward, albeit time consuming process. Adobe have provided all of the necessary software and guidance documentation, so all you need is the time and the space to set up the calibration charts and camera.

Tip - I am making available a series of lens profiles, for various Canon EF lenses not yet available from Adobe. You can read more about  the procedure for creating them and downloading copies for your own use here.

Manual Corrections

Switching to the manual corrections tab you'll see a mix of old and new adjustment sliders. The group of adjustment sliders listed under the Transform heading are new to Lightroom and operate independently of the automatic profile-based corrections. They're actually a mix of lens corrections, perspective corrections, and scaling. The geometric adjustment slider allows you to manually correct pin cushion or barrel distortion. The Vertical slider is used to apply a keystone correction to converging verticals (see figure 18 below for example). The Horizontal slider correct horizontal shifts, and is typically used to alter the horizontal viewpoint.  Rotate is intended to be used to adjust the rotation of the transform, not the actual image. The final slider, is goes by the name Scale. This slider is used to adjust the scale of an image (i.e. zoom in or out). Typically, you will want to use it to remove the grey border after applying one of the other transforms. Enabling the Constrain Crop checkbox will automatically crop the image to remove any of the grey padding that appears after a transform gas been applied.

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Figure 18 - Perspective Correction (mouse over for effect)

The remaining adjustment sliders operate much as they did in earlier versions of Lightroom. They've been retained for backward compatibility, but their presence may well lead to confusion, especially if the user subsequently applies automatic lens corrections from within the profile tab. Therefore, best policy is to avoid using them when a lens profile is available.

Applying the manual corrections to multiple images has also been taken care of with additional checkboxes being added to the Synchronise Settings dialog. As you can see from figure 19 below it's possible to apply all of the lens corrections or any combination of the four.

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Figure 19 - Synchronise Settings

Noise Reduction and Capture Sharpening

As discussed earlier, the biggest changes within the Develop module are associated with the new raw image processing, noise reduction and sharpening algorithms. On their own, colour noise and luminance noise are a substantial improvement over their predecessors, but together with the new capture sharpening algorithm they take image quality to a new level. Typically, details and textures are much cleaner, crisper and more natural. To see these new algorithms at there best I recommend that you make some prints.

Tip - it must be noted that these new demosaicing, noise and sharpening algorithms only apply when editing a process version 2010 photo

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Figure 20 - Detail Panel

While the actual UI for the sharpening tool is the same as Lightroom 2 the actual sharpening algorithms have undergone significant change and improvement. The improvements begin with the new demosaicing algorithms, which are more noise resistant than in previous version. That is to say, the new algorithm does a much better job of removing color and pattern noise, but leaves much of the non-pattern noise behind. This residual random or grain-like noise is actually what gives the sense of detail and texture that many find appealing. The sharpening is achieved by adding halos to the edges in an image. Typically, one side of an edge will contain a dark halo and the other a light halo. In Lightroom 3 these halos have been made more subtle. For sharpen radius values between 0.5 and 1.0 the halos are much narrower than before, which means that it's now possible to sharpen fine-detail in landscapes more effectively. In a recent post to the Lightroom 3 User to User forum Jeff Schewe wrote:

"There have been some subtle but important improvements in the sharpening tools in Lightroom 3. The radius has been tuned so lower than 1 radii are more precise...the masking has been improved to have more cut-off in the masked areas while also allowing for local-sharpening adjustment brush additions to the mask, which means you can punch the sharpening a bit more and then paint away the sharpening in areas that get too crunchy. There have also been some technical improvements in the way the sharpened data is blended back into the unsharpened image data...

But the biggest impact on the sharpening has been the removal of noise reduction in the actual demosaicing and placing the enhanced noise reduction with additional controls later in the processing. Which this means is the sharpening by default now no longer needs to compensate for the built in noise reduction of the demosaicing, which could not be turned off.

The end result is while the sharpening has been improved the biggest thing you are seeing is the increased "bite" the new demosaicing allows."

For a comprehensive explanation on Lightroom 3 sharpening (and noise reduction) I recommend that you obtain a copy of Jeff Schewe's & Bruce Fraser's latest Camera Raw book - Real World Camera Raw with Photoshop CS5. While Lightroom 3 is not specifically discussed the details associated with sharpening and noise reduction are applicable equally to Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3.

Next we have noise reduction. With five sliders available you could be forgiven for being confused, not to worry Eric Chan provided the following description for each noise reduction sliders:

  • Luminance - Controls amount (or "volume") of luminance noise reduction applied. Lightroom 3 has been tuned so that a setting of 25 is a reasonable balance of noise reduction applied, and detail preserved. This also means that the extra range between 25 and 100 can be used to control how much additional noise reduction to apply. A value of 0 means "do not apply any luminance noise reduction." When set to 0, the Luminance Detail and Luminance Contrast sliders should become disabled (greyed out). This slider is always enabled (for both process version 2003 and 2010). The default value is 0 (i.e., off).

  • Luminance Detail - Sets the noise threshold. Dragging the slider to right will preserve more details; however, doing so may cause noisy areas of the photo to be incorrectly detected as details (and hence will not be smoothed). Drag to left to increase smoothing; however, doing so may cause real details to be incorrectly detected as noise (and hence will be smoothed out). Other notes: effect mainly observable only on very noisy images. This slider is new to Lightroom 3. This slider will be disabled when photo is process version 2003, or when the Luminance slider (see above) is set to 0. The default value is 50.

  • Luminance Contrast - Dragging this slider to the right will help preserve contrast and texture; however, it may also increase perceived "noise blobs" or mottling in high ISO images. Dragging it to left when you want to achieve very smooth, fine-grained results; however, it may lose local contrast and textures may get smoothed out. As with Luminance Detail, results more noticeable on very noisy images (e.g., above ISO 6400 on a DSLR). This slider is new to Lightroom 3. This slider will be disabled when photo is process version 2003, or when the Luminance slider (see above) is set to 0. The default value is 0.

  • Color - It is designed so that its default value of 25 does a "pretty good" amount of colour noise reduction, balancing the competing requirements of suppressing ugly colour noise blobs whilst maintaining colour edge detail. Setting the slider to 0 means that no colour noise reduction will be applied at all. Setting the slider to higher values than 25 means that much more aggressive colour NR will be applied. However, doing so will likely cause "colour bleeding" at edges. The default value is 25 for raw files and 0 for non-raw files.

  • Color Detail - This control is mostly useful only for extremely noisy photos. It allows users to refine colour NR for thin, detailed colour edges. At high settings (e.g., 75 to 100), it will try to retain colour detail in edges, but this may cause pixel-level "colour speckles" to remain in the photo. At low settings (e.g., 0 to 25), it will suppress these small isolated colour speckles, but thin features in the photo may become desaturated (i.e., some colour bleeding at fine edges). For testing purposes, Adobe suggests you try zooming to 400% pixel view to get a clearer understanding of the effect. This slider is new to Lightroom 3. This slider will be disabled for process version 2003 photos, or when the Color slider is set to 0. The default value is 50.

Figure 21 below shows a comparison between the old and new colour noise algorithms. The photos 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 screen shots it should be pretty obvious that the new colour noise algorithms are vastly superior to the old. Figure 22 compares the same photo, but this time with a luminance noise adjustment of 25 applied. The left version uses default sharpening and the right has sharpening slider set to 50 and radius at 0.8

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Figure 21 - Compares Colour Noise in Lr 2.6 (PV 2003) with Lr3 Beta 2 (default noise/sharpening settings)

 

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Figure 22 - Compares Luminance Noise/Sharpening at 25/25 with Luminance Noise/Sharpening at 25/50

 For a comprehensive explanation on Lightroom 3 sharpening (and noise reduction) I recommend that you obtain a copy of Jeff Schewe's & Bruce Fraser's latest Camera Raw book - Real World Camera Raw with Photoshop CS5. While Lightroom 3 is not specifically discussed the details associated with sharpening and noise reduction are applicable equally to Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3.

Process Versions

Adobe received quite a bit of feedback from photographers confused by the process version options in the first Lightroom 3 beta. So, in addition to new names, they made several improvements with the aim of ensuring that photographers can access the best raw processing quickly and easily. The improvements are summarised below:

  • The graphic to let you know that the current image selected in the Develop module is a previous process version has been enhanced and relocated to a more prominent position over the lower right corner of the image (shown on figure 18 above).

  • Clicking on the process version graphic provides additional details (shown on figure 23 below) about what will happen if you should chose to update to the current process version, the ability to see a before/after view of the old and new process versions and the ability to update all the selected images or all of the images in the filmstrip at the same.

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Figure 23 - Update Process Version

Point Curve

For nearly as long as Lightroom has been around, now we finally we have it - an adjustable Point Curve. The parametric curve (i.e. original) operates as it always has, via sliders, by clicking on the curve and dragging up/down or using the Target Adjustment Tool (TAT). The advantage of this approach is that the adjustment of the curve is constrained to predefined limits, which have been optimised to prevent detrimental adjustments to the shadow, mid-tone and highlight regions. However, the in-built constraints occasionally prevent the user from making fine adjustments to specific parts of the tone curve. With the point curve very fine adjustments to specific parts of the curve are possible because you can set your own limits (lock points) and adjust the curve within them. Even greater control can obtained when you hold down the Alt/Option key while adjusting the curve. This flexibility, unlike the parametric curve, means that is possible to over adjust, thus causing some fairly extreme results. Some users may actually like what happens and use the point curve for creative effects.

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Parametric Curve

Point Curve

Figure 24 - Enhanced Tone Curve

Local Adjustments

Lightroom 3 beta 1 saw the removal of the button sets and Amount slider from the Local Adjustment panels . Since there was little, if any adverse feedback no further changes have been made to either the Graduate Filter or Adjustment Brush panels. Other enhancements to local adjustments include:

  • The  Color palette is filled with a cross (X) to indicate that not colour has been selected for the brush or graduate.

  • The adjustment brush and graduate filter sliders can be reset by holding down Option/Alt and clicking on Effect (Reset)

  • Double click on adjustment name (e.g. Exposure) to reset individual sliders

  • Sharpness values between 0 and -50 will remove any capture sharpening applied via global sharpening. Values between -50 and -100 will blur the area you brush (similar effect to lens blur)

  • Additional brush strokes or gradients (stacking multiple pins) to strengthen the effect of the first

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Adjustment Brush

Graduate Filter

Figure 25 - Local Adjustment Tools

The Graduate Filter and Adjustment Brush have their own set of keyboard shortcuts, with the following being the most important:

  • Open Adjustment Brush

- K

  • Toggle Auto Mask On/Off

- A

  • Open Graduate

- M

  • Toggle Overlay On/Off

- O

  • Show/hide Pin

- H

  • Cycles through alternative colours for overlay

Shift+O

  • Increase/decrease brush size

- ] / [

  • Constrain gradient to vertical

Shift+drag

  • Increase/decrease feather

- Shift+] or Shift+ [

  • Invert graduate

- '

  • Commit a brush stroke or graduate and/or start new

Enter

  • Scale from centre

Alt / Option drag

  • Delete selected pin

Delete

 

 

Keyboard shortcuts for Local Adjustment tools

Post Crop Vignette

Post-crop vignette 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. Adobe thought they had addressed the earlier shortcomings in beta 1, but user feedback quickly dispelled this idea. Thankfully, they reinstated the original post-crop vignette style in beta 2. So, we now have three vignette styles, i.e. Highlight Priority (default), Colour Priority and Paint Overlay (original). Highlight priority is intended to produce vignettes similar to what you would get with lens vignetting. Colour Priority produces a similar effect, but is designed avoid hue shifts. Figures 26and 27 compare the first two styles with the same settings applied.

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Figure 25 - Highlight Priority Post-crop Vignette

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Figure 26 - 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

  • Keyboard shortcut (X) to flip Crop Orientation

  • In the 2010 Process Version, the algorithms for Fill Light and Highlight Recovery have been changed to reduce the possibility of tone inversions (halos). You will likely need to fine tune the settings on these sliders after you upgrade the process version

  • New develop presets

Watermark Editor

 

The Watermark Editor (figure 27) first seen in beta 1 and underwent a fair amount of remodelling as the beta cycle progressed. With this new enhanced watermark editor you can apply a text or graphical watermark directly to a photograph. In addition to providing support for adjusting the size, orientation, location and opacity the watermark editor can also used to add creative effects such as a shadow. The watermark can be anchored in up to nine positions around the image or specific insets. The size of the watermark can be set proportionally or to fit or fill the photo dimensions. Saved watermarks can be applied from within the Slideshow, Print, Web and Export modules. In figure 28 I show a sample watermark applied to a photo in the Print module.

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Figure 27 - Watermark Editor

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Figure 28 - Watermarking a photo in Print module

Slideshow Module

In addition to JPEG and PDF Lightroom 3 can export slideshows as  HD video. Another change is the link to the iTunes music library has been removed. This means that incorporating your music tracks doesn't require iTunes, but you can only use single tracks. Double clicking on the music track duration will automatically adjust the slide change time so that the slideshow duration matches the music. The Playback panel has also been enhanced to include new buttons for selecting the music and automatically adjusting the slide change time. A palette tile and checkbox has also been included to enable the user to add colour fades.

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Figure 29 - Enhanced slideshow Playback panel

Other Slideshow module enhancements include:

  • Watermark editing included in Slideshow module

  • An option to prepare previews in advance will ensure that a slideshow is never interrupted waiting for image information to render to the display

  • Developers can now use ActionScript 3 galleries in the Web Module

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Figure 30 - Export slideshow as HD video

Print Module

The next 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 29 below shows fairly simple free-form layout containing 3 images of slightly differing size.

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Figure 31 - 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

  • Maximum print resolution increased to 720ppi

  • Rotate to Fit option and a Rotate Cell command were added to the custom print package layout tools

Web Module

Unlike the other four modules the Web module hasn't received much attention this cycle. That's not to say that there hasn't been any improvements, there have, but they are fairly minor and under the hood. The only really obvious enhancement to this module is the inclusion of the Watermark Editor. There are also some new Flash and HTML web templates.

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Figure 32 - Web Module

Additional information

Remember Rule 5 - Enjoy!

Adobe Community Professional

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