Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom 4
by David Em
Review by David Em
Adobe Software ISBN/ITEM#: B007BG9VLK
Date: 03 April 2012
Links: Adobe Lightroom 4 at Amazon.com / Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 (Adobe.com) /
Now we're up to Lightroom version 4, and in the intervening time the program has edged out its competitors, including Apple's worthy Aperture, to become the software tool of choice for most serious digital photographers.
UNDER THE HOOD
Lightroom 4 requires a fair amount of processing oomph to run smoothly. This is hardly a surprise in an era of huge megapixel-count cameras and the correspondingly huge files they generate for both still photographs and video.
On the Mac side, you'll need a 64-bit system, while in the Windows domain, you'll need Vista or Win 7; XP is no longer supported. On either platform, I recommend throwing as much memory and processing horsepower at Lightroom as possible.
The code that drives the program's core functionality has been revamped with PV 2012, the processing engine that makes it all run. The panel controls that drive these functions have been improved as well, extending their capabilities and making them easier to use.
If you've made changes to an image in Lightroom 3, you can update the changes to the PV2012 Lightroom 4 version by clicking on a warning icon. You'll probably want to do this individually rather than globally, since the results may be unpredictable with some images.
INTERFACE AND INTERACTION
Working with Lightroom 4 is a very fluid experience. Uncluttered dark gray screens allow you to concentrate on your images instead of the interface. I set the program up with a second screen in Grid (i.e. light table) mode for an overview of the images I'm working with, and used my main display for the actual work.
It's very easy to set up Side by Side, Before and After, and other preview modes. There is also a History panel to keep track of all your changes, and unlike the one in Photoshop, it remembers your actions after you close the program.
A Sync feature lets you selectively apply individual or group settings to several images at once, and you can produce highly selective single or multiple localized adjustments with a Graduated Filter tool and a Brush tool. With these you can locally edit white balance, noise reduction, and moire patterns.
DEVELOPING YOUR IMAGES
Version 4 makes it much easier to adjust the tonal ranges in your photographs. The Recovery, Brightness and Fill Light filters have been phased out and replaced by Highlights, Shadows, Blacks, and Whites. Moving your cursor across a histogram of an image shows where the Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights and Whites in your image will be affected by new palette controls that can affect each one of these in the positive or negative direction.
As in previous versions, all the operations you perform on your image files are non-destructive. To explore different ideas for a photograph, you can make virtual copies of the original and experiment to your heart's content without ever altering the original pixels.
Another big improvement is point controls for the Curve adjustments, which can now be performed on individual channels. The implementation is highly functional and intuitive, with additional slider controls for different portions of the tonal range.
The PV 2012 Exposure and Clarity controls are more subtle and precise than the previous version, as well as those found in Photoshop CS 5.5, which are harder to control. A new White-Balance Eyedropper is very precise thanks to a fine mesh of image pixels that appear under the dropper when you make a selection.
In addition to the revamped Basic panel controls, you can now apply localized corrections using the Temperature, Tint, Noise and Moire sliders. Chromatic aberration can be deep-sixed with one click. The Hue, Saturation, and Luminance targeted adjustment feature is fantastic for manipulating a single color range beyond the Red, Green, and Blue channels, including color ranges such as Aqua, Orange, and Purple.
New to Lightroom 4 is the Map module that extracts GPS information in your file and matches it up with Google Maps to give you a visual reference of where your image came from.
GPS is still exotic on dedicated cameras, however on Smartphones it's ubiquitous. If there's no embedded GPS data in your photos, you can add it by hand, then apply the tag to other images shot at the same location. You can use the Search function to find a specific location on a map, and the rest is drag-and-drop easy.
The second major addition to Lightroom is the Book module. The program provides book layout templates you can drag images into from Collections you've organized. You can arrange pages with single or multiple images or two-page spreads.
Unfortunately, you can't design your own templates, but the built-in ones offer a wide array of choices, including pages with caption and text boxes. There are paragraph and text style options, but no text overflow capability between pages yet. In addition to dragging images from the Grid or Filmstrip views, you can drag them from page to page.
Once designed, you can either output your book as a PDF file or send it to Blurb for publishing. The issue here is that you're restricted in your designs to Blurb's size templates, which may not be the same as another publisher you might choose to work with, such as Amazon's CreateSpace. One nice feature is that as you put your book together, Lightroom updates Blurb's price for printing the final book in real-time, based on your changes.
While the Book module is no competition to Adobe's InDesign, it's very fast, very intuitive, and perfectly adequate for many, if not most, photo book projects.
A third significant improvement to Lightroom is its expanded video capabilities. Since virtually all cameras and cell phones capture video as well as stills, this capability is now a core function for both professional and amateur photographers.
Just as the Book module is not a direct challenge to InDesign, the video options aren't directly competitive with Adobe's Premiere Pro or Apple's Final Cut Pro. Instead, they're designed to let you make simple trims and perform image adjustments to video clips.
There are several nice features bundled into the video editing. Like still image enhancements, everything you do to your video clips is nondestructive. You can choose any frame in a clip and turn it into the clip's thumbnail, as well as export any frame as a still image. Hovering your mouse over a thumbnail lets you scrub through the file.
There's a Quick Develop panel to make simple and preset adjustments to your clips. You can adjust images with finer controls, however the method is a little roundabout. First you export a single frame from the clip, then you make your changes in the Develop module as you would with any other still image. Then you save those changes as a preset, and apply it to your clip.
Not every Lightroom feature works on video files; the program alerts you to which ones are available, and which are not. Despite some limitations, this is a very powerful, quick, and easy way to adjust your camera's video files. Once you're done, you can export the file in H.264, DPX, or the file's original format, as well as upload them to Flickr or Facebook.
Other nice tweaks and enhancements to Lightroom 4 include a new Soft Proofing function that previews how your images will look printed on different papers based on their icc profiles, as well as providing you with realtime visual warnings about which colors are out of gamut for a particular profile, allowing you to adjust your file in realtime to compensate for any discrepancies.
I really like the Grain and Vignetting tools and the use of presets to apply changes to multiple images in one fell swoop. Lens distortion corrections now include hundreds of camera and lens combinations, as well as the ability to adjust vertical and horizontal linear alignments and overall rotation. Cropping is nondestructive, and a crop can be simultaneously applied to multiple images in the Filmstrip.
Some of Lightroom 4's new features in are incremental, while others like Book and Map geotagging represent new territory for the program. I had no stability issues in my tests, and am impressed with the program's excellent capabilities and fluid interface. Overall, Lightroom 4 is the best dedicated digital photography editing application on the market.
My only disappointment with this version is I was hoping to see a robust set of remote studio camera preview and shooting controls, which would complete the package by enabling Lightroom to be used in production capture environments.
Adobe has halved the price of the product to $149 for the full version, and $79 for an upgrade from Lightroom 3, making it an outstanding value. Highly Recommended.
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