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Sneak Peek: Adobe Lightroom Beta

Is It Really Photoshop for Photographers?

By Joe Farace

"Waddaya mean," my friend Ralph, asks, "what else is Photoshop for?" I hated to be the one to break it to Ralphie but Adobe Photoshop has changed a lot in its journey from that cute little FotoMat desktop icon, to the all-seeing-eye, to the oh-so-Forrest Gump feather. It's evolved from just being a photographer's tool to one embraced by artists and Web designers too, so there are lots of tools that photographers seldom use. (Other than Save for Web, how often do you use Image Ready?)

Along the way, stuff--as they say--happened. When handed a tool that has the capacity to capture images unhindered by film processing costs, some of us have unleashed our internal creative demons and shoot, shoot, shoot. Where once a wedding photographer may have had a hundred, maybe two hundred, 5x5 proofs to edit, they are now faced with four hundred or more images. And while Photoshop CS2 Bridge, bless its pea-pickin' heart, is a good way to edit lots of images, it ain't the fastest way. Enter Adobe Adobe Lightroom, a.k.a. Photoshop for Photographers.

Right now Lightroom Beta is available to the public for beta testing, which means you can download it (http://labs.macromedia.com/technologies/lightroom/) and use the program for free to see if you like it. You can also send Adobe comments on how they can improve the product. (We'll get to that part later...)

[Editor's note: In this preview, we will sometimes refer to the application as Lightroom, but keep in mind that the application currently only exists as Lightroom Beta, an unfinished product.]

 

IT'S THE OPPOSITE OF DARKROOM, GET IT?

Duh. Dumb name aside, Adobe Lightroom may become the perfect software for photographers who shoot lots of images and don't need extensive tweaking to make the images look like the way they want. Don't get me wrong, Lightroom has some very cool image editing features, but when drastic surgical procedures are called for, you'll need the big kahuna, Photoshop CS2, to save the patient.

The Lightroom application, whose price has yet to be determined, consists of four modules: When you launch Lightroom it opens in Library, which is the location for photo management. I know, I know, Adobe Bridge is used for this function too, but think about Lightroom's Library as Bridge on steroids, much easier and faster to use. Hey, there's even a digital loupe to check sharpness and a comparison feature that will let you select the best shot of the Bride's cousin Fiona by assigning a rating and then later you can view the Library with only those of a specified rating displayed.

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Adobe Lightroom Beta in Library module (click image for larger view)

Lightroom supports more than 100 camera RAW file formats, DNG, TIFF and JPEG. When importing your photos, they will be placed into a Shoot as displayed on the left panel. (Each image can be in only one shoot.) After importing, you can create Collections in which photos can live in more than one collection. The Filmstrip is located on the bottom of the screen and contains the photos selected in the Library). The filmstrip will remain populated with these photos throughout the other modules.

Throughout the program's modules, palettes can be arranged and hidden and the entire interface can be customized to suit your workflow. This means that if you don't have a widescreen monitor (though highly recommended), you can move palettes out of the way to display the maximum number of images and speed up the sorting process.

The Library module includes a Quick Develop palette that lets you make minor corrections on color balance, brightness and contrast along with a Convert Photograph to Grayscale that's a heckuva lot better than what's built into Photoshop. If you want to add effects or tweak the image file in more depth, click into the Develop module where you can perform image adjustments that, unlike Photoshop, include some one-click image tweaks such as Antique Grayscale--no plug-ins required.

The toolset is slider based in a scrolling pallet so everything's out there for you to see instead of hunting for a menu and working in a Control Panel. Even the ubiquitous Curves, now called Tone Curve, can be adjusted with a slider and is much more intuitive to use than yanking graph lines up and down in Photoshop.

Oh there's lots of other tools, too, including a Grayscale Mixer; HSL Color Tuning with separate sets of sliders for Hue, Saturation and Luminance; Lens Correction; and controls for split toning.

But wait, there's more. The Detail palette has controls for Sharpen, Smooth, and De-Noise (not Des Moines), along with Lens Corrections for color fringe and vignetting, and Camera Calibration. Like Lance Armstrong's bike, they're designed for speed. Images created by Adobe Lightroom can be edited later in Photoshop CS2 or Photoshop Elements, but Lightroom does not support some of the non-photographic file formats that are used by Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

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Adobe Lightroom Beta in Develop module (click image for larger view)

The Slideshow module enables you to create slideshows for onscreen viewing and exporting, and includes an interface with controls that let you create slick presentations that are as good as PowerPoint and easier to assemble.

The Print module provides many ways to set up your output, offering a set of templates as well as control palettes that exceed the capabilities built into Photoshop. Both Print and Slideshow modules work only on selected photos. You can multi-select with the Shift or Command key in the Library before entering Slideshow or Print or multi-select in the Filmstrip to add photos.

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Adobe Lightroom Beta in Print module (click image for larger view)

WHAT IS A PUBLIC BETA?

Adobe Lightroom is unfinished and you can help shape it into something that reflects your own personal digital imaging wish list. The term beta software usually means that the software is feature complete, but not fully tested. Lightroom Beta 1 is not yet feature complete, so it is not a beta in the technical sense of the word and the final feature set will be based on the input Adobe receives from the people who use it first. This where you come in ...

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Adobe Lightroom Beta Feature Request Forum

You can let Adobe know how you feel and what you want by visiting any of the three forums located on the same page where you downloaded the software: Lightroom Beta General Discussion, Lightroom Beta Feature Requests, and Lightroom Beta Bug Reports. This is your chance to have direct, one-on-one interaction with a software company and an influence on the product you will use. Take advantage of it by letting Adobe know what you like about Lightroom and what you don't like. They may not use every one of your suggestions, but if enough people have similar ideas, it's a good chance the shipping version will include your input. Please take the time to read any Welcome, Read This First, or Top Issues and Questions threads in the forums before posting; it makes the beta testing process much more efficient and is helpful for everyone.

I can't beat up on Lightroom too much. After all it is a beta, and glitches exist. But I gotta tell you, there isn't much here I didn't like. Performance on a minimum Apple Power Macintosh G4 system can be sluggish at times when working with lots of images, but it's still a beta and my computer is a bit old. Colleagues running the same beta version on Mac G5 systems see no performance degradation.

So what are you waiting for? Download Lightroom, use it and help make it better. You may never use Photoshop again.

 

Lightroom's Public Beta System Requirements

Power Macintosh computer with G4 processor; Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger); 768 MB memory; 1,024 x 768 resolution screen. Right now, Lightroom Beta only supports PowerPC-based Macs. Adobe says "We want to be able to test Lightroom on a production version of these new (Intel) systems prior to making it publicly available." A Microsoft Windows version of Lightroom Beta is under development, but was not available when I was finishing this sneak peek. The final, packaged version will be available for both Mac OS and Windows platforms and Adobe predicts they "should be released within a few months of each other."

Price: TBA