I would love to be able to say that I've been using Adobe
Lightroom for many months, but I can't. Actually, at time of writing
this Preview I've had a copy for about 48 hours. That said, I've been
aware of Lightroom (codename Shadowland for those into
that sort of thing) for the best part of 12 months, and was
given access to a preview video in early December 2005. Over this period
I have participated in on-line focus groups, and like a few other
Photoshop CS2 and Bridge beta testers I was asked to provide
prioritised feature wish lists. Obviously at the time most of us had no
idea of the use to which the information would be put. I mention all of
this for a number of reasons, but not least of which is to dispel any
notion that Lightroom is Adobe's rushed alternative to
Aperture. As a matter of fact,
Lightroom has been an ongoing project at
Adobe for a long time. Furthermore, Lightroom is not a
pre-bound version of Bridge and Camera Raw. Lightroom
lacks many of the features required for efficient multi-format file
management found in Bridge, but on the plus side, it
provides the much sought after off-line storage feature that is
currently absent from Bridge. It also
includes a much more comprehensive array of colour and tone correction
tools than Camera Raw 3. Nevertheless, it is important that I
stress the point - Lightroom is unfinished; i.e. there are many
features still to be incorporated. The application described below is
actually much closer to late Alpha than early Beta. You're getting a
see it now because Adobe wanted its customers to see what the future
holds, and they want your feedback.
12 June 2006
Adobe Lightroom Public Beta 3
has been released. This new version contains a fair number of new and
enhanced features, so I've written a review article to cover the
18 July 2006
Adobe Lightroom Public Beta 3 for Windows has been released.
Other than the omission (temporary) of the Web module Windows users
should find the feature set is broadly similar to that found in
Mac Beta 3.
However, I've also put together a short review specifically for Windows
users, which can be found here.
So what is Lightroom?
Lightroom is designed to provide digital photographers with an
efficient, powerful way to import, select, develop, export, print and
showcase large numbers of digital images. It allows photographers to
spend less time sorting and organising their images, thus giving them
more time to actually take and edit the images. It was designed
from the ground up using a high level scripting language. Since its
modular architecture is intended to allow greater flexibility than most
of the current alternatives it should allow additional features
(includes those from third parties) to be easily and quickly integrated.
When you first open Lightroom you'll be presented with a
dialog called "Five Rules". The first four rules give a quick
overview of the Lightroom workflow, the fifth I'll leave until
later. The workflow for this Beta is relatively simple to follow, comprising of
four steps: Library, Develop, Slideshow and
Print. Over the next couple of pages I'll briefly cover the key
points of each module.
The Library is the location in which all
your folders and images are stored. It also contains a Search
facility, a method for creating Collections, plus areas for
Keyword and Caption input.
Using the special Import dialog you'll find that importing
either new or existing image libraries into Lightroom is fairly
straightforward. With Lightroom you have four import options:
leave the images where they are (i.e. reference them), move them to a
centrally managed library, copy them to the managed library, or convert
them to DNG on import to the managed Library.
The Import module also allows you to rename the images on import, but
only on into the managed library. Renaming of referenced
images is not yet supported. This highlights an important distinction between Lightroom and
Bridge - in Bridge you can easily rename an image or
images at any time whereas
Lightroom only allows you to rename the images as part of the
Unlike Aperture, Lightroom libraries are not
written into special packages or even the much criticised unitary
database. With Lightroom you can access your images via the
Finder in exactly the same way as you've always done. Actually, you
access the Finder from within Lightroom itself, which makes finding
files, images, templates very easy.
Images can be imported into self-contained libraries
called Shoots or placed in the main library. Whilst an image can
only ever be in one Shoot it's perfectly possible to have the same
image appearing in more than one Collection. Likewise,
Lightroom will not allow you to import the same image a second time.
If an image has somehow been corrupted or needs to be replaced for some
reason then you'll need to delete the original version and it's associated
index file. A really nice feature of Lightroom is the ability to
browse all of your images in one window (i.e. view your entire image
library). This is achieved by selecting the option Show Entire Library
from the Photo Library panel. Using Collections something similar
can be done in Bridge, but it's nowhere near as fast or smooth.
Importing images and building the series of preview
thumbnails associated with each image can take a long time in Lightroom, but this is a
temporary issue that Adobe hope to resolve some time in the near future.
Even so, Lightroom will generate high quality preview images
very quickly once an image or group of images is selected. Obviously a
higher priority is given to selected images, but Lightroom still works away in the background.
Compared to Bridge you should find that scrolling through the thumbnails
is very fast, likewise the speed at which the larger preview images
appear. As you browse through the library you can also Rate images,
place them into Collections, etc.
The Library module also has a panel called Quick
Develop in which you can select an alternative White Balance
and/or development Preset. It also allows you to make fairly crude
adjustments to: Exposure, Brightness, Contrast and
Quick Develop in Library Module
The left and right pointing arrow buttons are used to
apply step changes (i.e. exposure increase/decrease is equivalent to EV
0.33 and the remainder +/- 10 units each time button is pressed), whilst the X button is used to reset the
control. The Auto button only applies to Exposure. Other than the
Histogram and the actual image there's no other feedback. I'm sure
that once users establish how the button controls actually work they'll
ignore Quick Development. In the meantime, readers of this site will have
the jump on them.
Off-line Storage Warning
Another bone of contention with many Bridge users is the
fact that it does not provide a means of locating or accessing images that
are stored off-line (i.e. a disk drive or DVD that's not currently
available on your computer). With Lightroom this issue has been
substantially addressed. As can be seen in the screen-shot shown above
Lightroom initially identifies such images by a yellow alert badge.
Furthermore, if you attempt to edit an off-line image a dialog appears to
tell you the last know location of the image along with an offer to locate
the image. Once you connect the disk drive or insert the relevant DVD
Lightroom very quickly locates the image, thus allowing you to begin
the process of editing the image. Whether this will meet the needs of
users with 100's of thousands of off-line images is another matter.
Lightroom provides support for around 100 native
RAW formats which is just about the same number as Camera Raw.
So, having mentioned Camera Raw it's worth identifying the basic tools
common to both applications: White Balance, Exposure, and
Tone. We then have the more advanced tools such as: the Tone Curve,
Detail, Lens Corrections, and Camera Calibration.
Since most readers are already familiar with these tools I'll not waste
bandwidth waffling on about them. Nevertheless, I should mention that
whilst the Rotate, Colour Sampler, Crop and Straighten
tools are missing from this build Adobe have confirmed that they will all
be implemented in a later Beta build
- Rotate, Crop and Straighten tools added in Lightroom Beta 2.
Image Development Tools in
OK, so the Tone Curve tool looks different, it is
different, very different! In many ways the new Tone Curve tool is
a vast improvement over the same tool in Camera Raw, that is except that
there is no way to pick a point on the curve and drag. The only way you
can manipulate the curve is via the slider controls for Compression
and Luminance. There are a total of six sliders, two each to
control the: Highlight, Midtones and Shadows. Not
withstanding the fact that the sliders provide a method of control not
previously seen in an Adobe application I expect that, over time, most users will get used to this
arrangement. Of course there's also
the built-in highlight/shadow Clipping Controls (also known as
range sliders) that go with
curve adjustment (hold down the Option/Alt key whilst dragging the little
triangles on the bottom axis of the graph). Also, whilst I'm waffling
about clipping controls I should mention that activating the Clipping
Display on the
Histogram requires that you click the word Highlights
or Shadows. Other than that they work like they do in
Camera Raw 3.
I mentioned 100% previews when discussing the Library
module but skipped on the detail. I think Adobe have done us really proud
in the way they've implemented the Loupe feature. OK, so it's not
as cool looking as the loupe in Aperture but it is faster, and it doesn't
get in the way of the image.
Loupe View in Develop Module
So now we get to the new tools, the really cool tools,
the tools that we should have had all along. So what tools are these? HSL
Color Tuning, Split Toning and Black & White. HSL stands for Hue,
Saturation and Luminance. It's a tool I found almost
indispensable in LaserSoft SilverFast. OK, so many don't like
editing in HSL mode, but for me it means that I can fine tune specific
colours in the RAW image rather than wait until later in Photoshop. This
tool is very powerful and enables me to eliminate some colour issues that
even adjusting the Camera Calibration Profile doesn't fix.
Black and White was another area that kept coming
up amongst Photoshop CS2 beta testers, especially the desire to have true
black and white editing tools within Camera Raw. Well, as we've already
established the Develop module within Lightroom has Camera Raw at
its heart. So, not only have we got the ability to convert our images
into greyscale but we can also manipulate them in such as way as to mix
colours thus creating effects such as Split Toning.
Greyscale Mixing and Split
Toning in Develop Module
There's really no way in the space available here to do
justice to the Develop module. However, as one last taster of the
features available I really must mention the ability to edit Camera
JPG images. Yep, you read right - JPG! Just about every tool
available for editing RAW images is available to JPG's. I must admit that
when I first heard this I was aghast at the thought. I just couldn't
believe that Adobe would waste their time on such a task, but they did,
and man did they do well. Lightroom can also edit PSD and TIFF
files, but the layers are not supported.
The Slideshow module in Lightroom is a vast
improvement on Bridge. On the left panel you choose the template to be
used and on the right panel you configure how you want to show to appear.
Some of the slideshow transitions are interesting but they also seem to
require a fairly high end graphics card.
Grid View in Slideshow Module
Lightroom has three slideshow output options:
Preview (the show appears in Lightroom window), Play (the show
appears full-screen on your monitor), and Export (the show is
saved to HTML, PDF or Flash format). It's also possible to build web
galleries within Lightroom but I've not had the time to test this
feature. I don't propose to go into any more detail on the Slideshow
because I would hate to spoil your fun.
The last module in Lightroom is Print,
which contains all of the Page Layout tools. In this module you
can use predefined Templates to print single images, Contact
Sheets or create and save your own Custom Templates. In terms of page
layout the Lightroom print dialog is a lot more feature rich than
it first appears, which is certainly a welcome advance on Photoshop.
Print Module - 2 by 2 Autofill
I did mention Photoshop, didn't I! With all its colour
management settings we know that printing from Photoshop can be a
nightmare for some. OK, so you're now thinking: is Lightroom any
easier to understand? Well, it depends on what you mean by easy.
Lightroom has two options for Colour Managing your prints:
Managed by Printer and Other. In the case of Other you
simply choose from the list of printer profiles in the ColorSync
folder, pick the Rendering Intent (i.e. Perceptual or Relative
Colorimetric). Lastly, but not to be forgotten is the Print Resolution
and Print Sharpening feature. The default printer resolution
is 360dpi but you can change it by simply clicking the current value and
typing your preferred value (e.g. 240dpi). Likewise, the default
sharpening value is Low but this is probably insufficient for anything
bigger than 10 by 8 inch.
Even though there's an option for Save and Save
As under the File menu I've yet to find anything that
activates them (both are greyed out and will probably vanish from the
shipping product). So, when finished editing an image
I simply choose Export. The Export dialog gives you the option to
rename the image(s), choose the format (JPG, TIF, DNG), the pixel
dimensions, and the ICC profile to be embedded into the image. The list
of ICC profiles is rather short: sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998) and
ProPhoto RGB. Alternatively, you can choose to continue editing
the image in Photoshop. To do this you simply choose Edit in Photoshop
CS2 from the Photo menu or hit the Cmd+E keys. Photoshop will
launch, but be warned that the image when opened into Photoshop will be
in the Adobe RGB (1998) colour space. I have not yet found any way
of changing this.
Last but not least are the ways in which you can have
Lightroom appear on your monitor - hit the L key a few times
and cycle through Lights Dim, Lights Out and back to
Lights On. Then we have the try and trusted F key for cycling
through the various screen modes. Editing an image in Lights Dim is a
real joy for those who can't recall keyboard shortcuts because they can
still just barely see the controls. Whilst on the subject of keyboard
shortcuts I should mention that Adobe have decided to depart form many of
the Photoshop/Bridge/Camera Raw defaults. This may cause you a bit of
confusion at first but you'll soon get used to the changes. If you're too
lazy to figure them it yourself then Adobe have a comprehensive list on
their dedicated web site (see Conclusion for details).
As I mentioned at the beginning, Lightroom is
still very much unfinished. It would be easy to list features that I
found missing or downright awkward to use but doing so would miss the
point that Adobe are trying to make. So, whilst Adobe have certainly
listened to users (me included) and tried to incorporate as many of the
features that a Photographer working totally within the digital domain
requires, they couldn't include everything. However, they're open to
feedback. They want to hear your thoughts on what does and doesn't work,
your ideas for additional features, your pain points, etc.
So now we come to the really good news - Adobe have made
Lightroom available to everyone as a Public Beta. The bad news is
that Lightroom is only available on the Mac platform at present
but Adobe are working hard to get a Windows version ready. If it's any
consolation to Windows users please spare a tear for the diehard Mac
users who refuse to upgrade to OS X 10.4 (Tiger). The minimum
requirements for Lightroom are:
Mac OS X 10.4.0 (Tiger) or higher
G4 or G5 processor (Yes, it will work on a PowerBook or
512MB RAM (preferably more)
1GB or more free hard drive space
I've tested Lightroom on my Apple PowerBook
with a 1.33Ghz G4 Processor and 1.25GB of ram, a PowerMac Dual
2.5GHz G5 processor with 8GB or ram and a PowerMac Dual 1.25GHz
G4 processor with 2GB. Apart from the time taken to import he images,
etc it's quick, even on the PowerBook.
If you recall right back at the beginning I mentioned 5
rules and that I'd explain the fifth later. Well, the fifth rule is: -