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Speed Test: Photoshop Actions vs. Lightroom vs. Manual

By Rick Ralston 

As part of a Photoshop actions tutorial I wrote for Professional Photographer Magazine (coming in the March 2008 issue) I did a speed test comparing Photoshop's actions, Adobe Lightroom and the manual process. I took 100 raw images and ran them through a series of tasks. The results are a little surprising.

Lightroom has taken some of the functionality of Photoshop, made it easy to apply settings to multiple images and added some other niceties such as building slideshows and advanced printing—all aimed at the professional photographer. But you still need Photoshop to edit images at the pixel level and for compositing. Lightroom works with raw files and only applies settings to the images upon export.

The Results:
Photoshop actions: 14 minutes, 32 seconds (including action creation time)
Adobe Lightroom: 25 minutes, 20 seconds (including droplet creation time)
Manually: 52 minutes, 10 seconds

pslightroom.jpg

Tasks:
Open file
Run Unsharp Mask
Resize image to 6 inches on the longest side at 300 ppi (using File > Automate > Fit Image)
Add two lines of metadata (File > File info) and one selection from a drop-down menu
Convert to Profile (ProPhoto RGB)
Save into "Print" folder
With image still open:
Resize image to 2.5 inches on the longest side at 72 ppi (using File > Automate > Fit Image)
Convert to Profile (sRGB)
Save into "Web" folder
Close file

Disclaimers:
1) Mileage will vary.
2) These are not professional tests. It was just me, my MacBook and a digital watch.
3) I only ran this test on one machine. Maybe Lightroom would have run much faster (compared to Photoshop) on a faster machine (or even a PC). I don't know.
4) I have to come clean that I like Lightroom and thought it would be faster. That said, I took special care to be impartial. I still think Lightroom's a good addition to the graphics automation field and it will only get better with future releases.
5) This particular list of tasks contained a Photoshop filter which required Lightroom to run a Photoshop actions droplet that ate up a fair amount of time. It also required me to create two catalogs in Lightroom and run the tasks twice (once for the Print images and once for the Web images) since Lightroom can only export to one folder at a time. Even though these might be anomalies, it points out how Lightroom was designed to be a companion to Photoshop.

Hardware: MacBook 2 GHz Intel Core Duo, 1 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Software: Mac OS X 10.5.1, Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended 10.0.1, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.3.1, Camera Raw 4.3.1
Raw Image Size: 3872 pixels W x 2592 pixels H - averaging 8.4 MB