Header
 

Logo

A Computer Darkroom Feature Preview

On Monday 9th January 2006 Adobe announced the first public beta of Lightroom. Little did we realise at the time that it would become the mainstay photo management and editing application for many digital photographers. So here we are, six years on, same day, same month, and they've done it again. Today is the day that Lightroom 4 goes into public beta.

 

So what's new and improved?

Lightroom 3 was predominantly about upgrading the underlying code, although quite a few new features where included. Unfortunately, the early releases were quite buggy and some of the new features failed to inspire. No Books! No Soft Proof! Argh, what are they thinking was the cry. To be fair, version 3 was not nearly as bad as some made out. For example, we got vastly improved sharpening, noise reduction and automatic lens corrections in the Develop module. We could import and manage video and CMYK files, a watermark editor and customised print layouts were headline features in the Print module, and on the output side version 3 introduced the ability to export slideshows as video.

For Lightroom 4 Adobe went right back to 2006. They've reviewed the feature requests, and spoken to users. So, which features came to the top? Yes, you guessed - Soft Proofing, Books, Geotagging and Video. Obviously, these aren't the only requested features, but the fact that they've all been included should please a lot of photographers.

The following table lists the top level features included in Lightroom 4 public beta:

Library & Workflow:

Native video support including basic editing

 

Manage images by location with new Map module

 

Enhanced DNG support

 

 

Develop:

New 2012 Process Version

 

Simplified Basic Adjustments (tone controls)

 

Per channels curves adjustments

 

Updated Clarity adjustment

 

Additional local adjustments

 

Automatic Chromatic Aberration correction

 

Soft Proofing

 

 

Output:

Photo Book production in new Books module

 

Enhanced output model for storing settings applied in Web, Slideshow, Print and Book modules

 

Video publishing via Publish Collections

 

Email directly from within Lightroom

 

Adobe Revel (formerly Carousel) export

 

 

The list may not be as extensive as some might wish, but it is worth noting that each required a significant body of engineering work, and is much deeper in functionality than their name suggest. Ideally, readers should refer to the Lightroom 4 beta Release Notes for a more comprehensive list of new new features and enhancements. The release notes also include information on Known Issues and limitations.

Lightroom 4 System Requirements

I expect there will be a fair amount of grumbling when users, especially those using Windows, read Lightroom's new system requirements. In particular, support for Windows XP is gone, and Lightroom can no longer run in 32-bit mode on Mac platform. The official list of system requirements for both platforms is as follows:

Mac

  • Multicore Intel® processor with 64-bit support

  • Mac OS X v10.6.8 (Snow Leopard) or v10.7 (Lion)

  • 2GB of RAM

  • 1GB of available hard-disk space

  • 1024x768 display

  • DVD-ROM drive

Windows

  • Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor

  • Microsoft® Windows Vista® with Service Pack 2 or Windows 7 with Service Pack 1

  • 2GB of RAM

  • 1GB of available hard-disk space

  • 1024x768 display

  • DVD-ROM drive

An Internet connection is required for Internet-based services (e.g. Books and Maps)

Beta Limitations and Precautions

The Lightroom 4 beta will not overwrite or interfere with existing catalogs nor will it allow the user to upgrade a catalog from an earlier version. In other words, it should be safe to work alongside existing catalogs. Nevertheless, it's important to mention a few caveats when using the Lightroom 4 beta.

I have already mentioned the first, namely that it is not yet possible to upgrade an existing Lightroom catalog. Therefore, users will be forced into creating a new version 4 compatible catalog. The second is that, as with all beta software, bugs do exist and it is therefore important that users work on copy files, especially if they decide to save develop settings back into their files. The third is that the new Process Version 2012 (PV2012) develop settings applied to files in the public beta are not guaranteed to transfer to the final shipping version. In other words, the Lightroom 4 Beta is intended for testing purposes and to provide users with an opportunity to provide feedback to the development team; it's not yet ready for production use.

Process Version 2012

As mentioned above, the Basic panel tone controls associated with raw image processing algorithms have been reworked. The changes are significant and have necessitated the introduction of a new process version (i.e. PV2012). I expect there will be a lot of questions regarding compatibility, etc with current versions of Lightroom and Camera Raw. Hopefully, Adobe will address these over the coming days/weeks. In the meantime, the following information (provided by Adobe) might help explain the reasoning behind PV2012.

There are many reasons why Adobe are revising the tone controls in Process Version 2012. Adobe are striving to provide controls that:

  1. implement a new tone mapping algorithm, for easy yet powerful  contrast management.

  2. are more accessible and intuitive to new users.  Ideally, it should be clear to users which control to grab when faced with a specific photographic problem. In other words, fewer overlapping behaviours among the controls.

For example, in 2010 there are three ways to adjust the overall image brightness: Exposure, Brightness, and Fill Light. They affect the highlights and shadows in different ways, but they all affect the mid-tones. In 2012, there is one way to adjust the overall image brightness: Exposure.

  1. subset cleanly for mobile and tablet applications, where UI real estate is at a premium.

  2. are more easy to synchronise between raw & jpeg.

In 2010, this is hard because raw & jpeg have different baseline settings (e.g., Brightness, Contrast, Blacks, and Point Curve have different defaults), and also because some of the internal math is different. In 2012, tone controls have the same default settings and the same math for raw & jpeg. This facilitates mixed raw/jpeg workflows and means that tone presets can be applied effectively to both raw & jpeg images.

  1. are available in both global and local tools, with the same behaviour.

  2. reduce the need for parametric & point curves when performing common tonal adjustments (because curves are less intuitive to new users).

Library Module and Workflow Enhancements

There haven't been much in the way of UI changes, so the overall appearance of Lightroom and the Library module in particular should be familiar to anyone who already uses an earlier version. 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 photographic assets. Imported images can be viewed in the Library in various modes or views. These include the now familiar  Grid view (G), Loupe view (E), Compare view (C) and Survey view (N). Each of these views is intended for a specific purpose, but users may find one view more useful than others. For example, Grid view allows the user to see large numbers of images as thumbnails whilst at the same time providing a workspace for applying metadata, labels, ratings, keywords, flags and even quick development adjustments to images in bulk. As with previous versions of Lightroom Loupe view restricts these actions to a single image. Compare and Survey views are designed to make the tasks of rating and flagging easier.

Image

Figure 1 - Library module Grid view (Click for larger view)

Other minor  Library module and workflow enhancements include:

  • New Zoom ratios (1:8 and 1:16)

  • Move multiple folders from volume to volume (Previously only single folder workflow was enabled)

  • Filter and search images by a saved or unsaved metadata property (Smart Collections)

  • Hierarchical Develop Preset display in Quick Develop

  • Layout overlay for tethered shooting workflow when attempting to match a specific layout template (View menu)

  • Photos in publish collections that have been modified can be set to not re-publish (Publish Services)

  • Flag status is now ‘global’ (One setting per image regardless of location in folder or collection)

  • Stacking is now possible in collections

  • Additional Metadata controls on export

  • Disk burning now available on Windows 64-bit systems

  • Module tips

It's rare that Adobe bow to pressure when it comes to the Lightroom UI. Fact is, UI changes can quickly come back to haunt the developers, especially when elements that were visible one day are gone the next. Nevertheless, there was a recognition that the Module Picker with two new modules is starting to get a little cluttered. Add to this the fact that some users don't use some of the modules and would dearly love to switch them off. So, how did Adobe address the problem? Simple, they provided a context menu for the Module Picker in which the user can choose which modules are shown.

Image

Figure 2 - Module Picker menu

Native Video Support and Editing

Unlike Lightroom 3, version 4 supports video playback directly with the Library loupe window. This should prove very popular with photographers who shoot both still and video. Even more popular will be the fact that Lightroom now supports a wide range of video formats including AVCHD (i.e. the native format for Sony DSLRs and mirrorless cameras such as those from Panasonic).

Image

Figure 3 - Video Editing in Library module (Click for larger view)

Lightroom 4 also provides support for extracting a single frame as a JPEG file. Also supported is the ability set the Posters Frame and Trim videos. These features are accessed through the controller that appears in the lower section of the Library loupe window. The controller can be expanded by either end and dragging.  The trimming controls are located at either end of the controller

Image

Figure 4 - Video controller

In addition, Lightroom 4 also supports adjustment of the video using a subset of the same controls used for still images. Figure 5 below shows the controls available when editing video.

Image

Figure 5 - Basic tone adjustments

Lightroom 4 caches video in a dedicated folder, and the size of is cache can be limited from within the File Handling panel of Lightroom preferences.

Finally, for video, Lightroom 4 provides support for exporting to DPX files.  DPX is a lossless, folder-based format intended for interop with Adobe Premiere Pro.

Enhanced DNG Support

Lightroom 4 provides options for Lossy Compression during import, export and preview update.

1. On import, users can specify a preference to use lossy compression (only enabled for ACR 6.6 and later DNG compatibilities) to generate the DNG from proprietary raw files. But the imported DNG will always keep the same pixel size as the original. This compression can also be applied during the Update DNG Preview and Metadata command.

2. On export, the user can additionally specify the target image size of the exported DNG using the existing image sizing controls in the Lightroom export dialog. The image sizing controls are limited to specifying the long edge and megapixel sizes when the DNG lossy compression option is turned on.

Image

Figure 6 - Export DNG files

Why lossy compression? Well, Adobe have seen other vendors try to address the problem of relative file size between JPEG and raw formats by offering alternatives such as sraw. With DNG lossy compression the user can half the file size at full resolution with minimal artefacts and all of the flexibility of raw. The question the user must ask themselves is - does every file need to be saved at full, lossless compression file size? Probably not. But rather than archiving 8-bit lossy compressed JPEGs why not archive the more flexible, higher quality, lossy compressed DNG files?

Lightroom 4 also includes an option to embed "Fast Load Data." What is that? Turn it on for a folder of DNGs and compare the image to image load time in the Develop module when compared with the proprietary raw file.

Image

Figure 7 - DNG File Handling Preference

There is also new Metadata and filter options available for DNG file types. These can be found in Smart Collections and the new DNG metadata panel in the Library module

Image

Figure 8 - DNG Metadata panel

Direct Email

Direct email from within Lightroom has been a very popular feature request from the days of the very first public back in 2006. Personally, it's not a feature that I have any real need for, after all there have been alternative ways of achieving the same objective for nearly as long as Lightroom has been around. Nevertheless, Adobe clearly felt that it was a worthy request and invested time and resources in developing a fully integrated system for sending images via email from within Lightroom itself.

Image

Figure 9 - Direct Email

The Preset drop-down menu has a facility for creating customised sizes. Actually, all that it does is open the normal Export dialog window, which then allows you specify the size, format, etc for the file. The address button opens a self contained Address Book, which is only accessible by Lightroom. It's also worth noting that it's not possible to use the address book within your default email application.

Map Module

The Map module is the first of  only two new Lightroom modules introduced since version 1. It's intended to enable users to geotag their images thus keeping a permanent record of the location at which they were taken. The Map module supports two methods for geotagging images. The first and probably the one most users will utilise is simple drag and drop. The second requires track logs generated by GPS loggers (e.g. Garmin Etrex Vista Hx) or even a mobile/cell phone such as Apple's iPhone.

For manual geotagging to work the photographer must remember or have noted down somewhere the location at which each photograph was taken. Once the photos are imported into Lightroom the user switches to the Map module and types the location into the search field on the top right corner of the map window (figure 10 below). Assuming the computer is connected to the internet, Lightroom will search for the location and render the appropriate map. In some situations there may be more than one location with the same name, in which case the user must make a choice based on the information provided by Google.

Image

Figure 10 - Map module (Click for larger view)

The location shown on the map by the orange marker with a dot in the centre might always be  as close to the actual location as required. In this situation, unlocking the marker (click on padlock badge) then holding down the Ctrl/Cmd key (Windows/Mac) dragging the marker allows for more accurate placement. Once the marker is in the correct location it only remains for the relevant photos to be selected then dragged to the flag.

To geotag photos using a tracklog the log must be in the GPX format. The log is selected using the drop-down menu just to the right of the marker padlock. The only aspect likely to confuse users is setting Lightroom to use the correct time zone information, but even this is easily managed using the Offset Time Zone control panel (figure 12).

Image

Figure 11 - Tracklog options

Image

Figure 12 - Time Zone Correction

Book Module

As I mentioned above, Books was a feature requested by many photographers from the very first day that Lightroom went public. Obviously, the comparison was being made between Lightroom and applications such as Aperture and iPhoto, both of which had supported books from their beginning. Well, Books have finally made into Lightroom. Not just support for books but a module all of its own.

Lightroom 4 supports two types of output, PDF and a direct connection to Blurb, a popular photo book vendor in the photography community.

Image

Figure 13 - Book module (Click for larger view)

In Book, the user picks a book format, output type, and size in the Book Settings panel on right side. Laying out a book can be done manually or using the Auto Layout feature. I suspect many users will find the auto layout feature quite useful, especially if they create their own set of page layouts. This is done through the Auto Layout Preset Editor as shown in figure 14 below.

Image

Figure 14 - Auto Layout Editor

For users who prefer the manual method of laying out a book there  is Page selection panel from which they can choose any one of 180 predefined page types or better still use some they've created for themselves in Adobe Illustrator.

Image

Figure 15 - Page selection (Click for larger view)

When Adobe decided to do books they were clearly intent on giving the user maximum flexibility. This is particularly the case when it comes to type (text). Using the Caption and Type panels it's possible to configure pretty much any text layout, style or colour one can think of.  It's also possible to define the colour of the page background either on a page by page basis or globally (Background panel).

Image

Figure 16- Text editing Book (Click for larger view)

The following summarises other important features of Book:

  • Flexible auto-layout tool with preset-based customisation

  • Over 180 professionally designed page layouts

  • Drag and drop behaviours for reordering pages or swapping image locations

  • Helpful layout guides and page bleed information

  • Flexibility through cell padding for text and photo cells

  • Dynamically located photo captions based on existing metadata or manual entry

  • Powerful type tools based on industry leading type technology found in Photoshop and Illustrator

  • Customisable background color

  • Elegant background graphics to enhance the style of travel or wedding books

  • Tight integration with Blurb book printing service

  • Set size, cover, paper quality directly within Lightroom

  • Price estimate dynamically provided during book creation

Once the book has been completed it only remains for the user to upload it to their Blurb account for printing.

Develop Module

So, here we are at the Develop module where two of the most significant changes have taken place. I've already touched on both (PV2012 and Soft Proofing), but now it's time to put a little more meat on the bones.

Image

Figure 17 - Develop module

The following summarises changes to the controls in the Basic panel:

  • Added controls for Highlights, Shadows, and Whites.

  • Removed controls for Recovery, Brightness, and Fill Light.

  • Exposure in PV2012 is a combination of 2010's Exposure and 2010's Brightness. It is now the main control for setting the overall image brightness.

  • Contrast is (mostly) the same in 2010 and 2012.

  • Highlights and Shadows are the new tone mapping controls.

Recommended use: set the overall desired image brightness with Exposure, use Highlights and Shadows to set the relationship between the mid-tones, highlights, and shadows.

Example: Typical high contrast image - Set Highlights to negative value and Shadows to positive value to "relight" the scene. This procedure pulls down the highlights and lifts up the shadows, thereby "evening out" the lighting in the image. Users should not be afraid the full range (i.e. values as high/low as +100/-100).

  • Whites and Blacks are the highlight & shadow clipping controls. They are useful for adjusting how much of the highlights and shadows are clipped off, while preserving the overall tonal relationships in the image.

  • Clarity: The positive direction of Clarity is now integrated with the new tone mapping logic. Hence the appearance and effect are different than before. Halos on either side of a high-contrast boundary should be reduced. The minus direction of Clarity is unchanged (same behaviour in all process versions).

Image

Figure 18 - Process Version 2012 Tone Controls

All controls in PV2012 have a default of 0 and a range of -100 to +100 (except for Exposure which is still measured in stops, with a range of -5 to +5). This is true for both raw and jpeg. The ideal workflow is from top to bottom. That is to say, set Exposure first then work down through the adjustments as appropriate for the image being edited.

All toning controls in PV2012 are directed (oriented) such that the "right" direction" means a brighter image, and the "left direction" means a darker  image. Contrast is the obvious exception ("right" means more contrast and "left" means less contrast).

In PV2012, the default point curve for raw files is Linear. In PV2010, it is Medium Contrast. The actual internal default tone curve for raw files is unchanged. Adobe have simply recentred the UI so that Linear is the default user-visible setting. In other words, the old "Medium Contrast" default curve in PV2010 is now effectively "built into" the new "Linear" curve in PV2012. That is why the default rendering is unchanged. The Tone Curve now includes the ability to correct tone/colour on a per channel basis.

By default, photos that contain develop adjustments edited in previous versions of Lightroom or Camera Raw will continue to use the original process version (likely PV2010), but newly imported photos will use the new process version. It's when a catalog contains multiple process versions that users will compare and clearly see the difference between the two, both in terms of the actual adjustment sliders and image quality. In my opinion, the improvements in image quality are so significant that the time spent learning how the new controls is well worth it.

One limitation of the new process version that will probably become apparent to users of Develop Presets is that presets created in earlier versions of Lightroom do not work correctly in PV2012. Adobe are still investigating approaches to "migrating" presets forward. Hopefully, the issue will be fully resolved by the time the Gold Master version of Lightroom 4 ships.

Local Adjustments

The Local Adjustment tools have been updated to reflect the new PV2012 settings.  Both the Adjustment Brush and Graduate Filter panels incorporate the new controls. If the photo being edited is PV2010 then the panels will open with the old sliders rather than those shown below.

The adjustment brush and graduated filter sliders can be reset by holding down Option/Alt and clicking on Amount. Although not new, the button with the = 'X' overlay indicates that no colour is selected. Clicking on it will open the colour palette from which any hue saturation value can be selected by a simple mouse click.

Image

Image

Adjustment Brush

Graduate Filter

The keyboard shortcuts for the Gradient Tool and Adjustment Brushes haven't changed, but it's always worth repeating them for new Lightroom users:

  • Open Adjustment Brush - K

  • Open Gradient Tool - M

  • Show/hide Pin - H

  • Increase/decrease brush size -  ] / [

  • Increase/decrease feather - Shift+] / Shift+[

  • Commit a brush stroke or gradient and/or start new - Enter

  • Delete selected pin - Delete

  • Holding down - Alt/Option key activates erase mode

  • Toggle Auto Mask On/Off - A

  • Pressing 'O' toggles on/off the overlay

  • Shift+O cycles through alternative colours for overlay

  • Constrain gradient to vertical - hold down Shift plus drag

  • Invert gradient - '

  • Scale from centre - Alt/Option plus drag

Soft Proofing

It's been a long wait but eventually we have Soft Proofing in Lightroom. However, the way it has been implemented in Lightroom is nothing like it is in Photoshop. So, be ready to learn some new tricks.

Image

Figure 18 - Soft Proofing activated in Develop module (Click for larger view)

Image

Figure 19 - Soft Proofing panel

Using Soft Proof

  1. To enable "Soft Proofing" - click on new checkbox labelled Soft Proof

  2. This checkbox will now toggle the Proof Preview on and off. (Shortcut key: "S")

  3. When the proof preview is enabled, a new panel appear just above the Develop Basic panel. This panel allow the user choose a colour profile and rendering intent. The Develop loupe is rendered using these settings.

  4. Pixels that are out-of-gamut can also be highlighted in the photo, similar to how the clipping indicators work (yellow boxes in figure 18 above). There are two overlays that can be toggled independently: a red overlay showing pixels that are outside the gamut of the selected destination profile, and a blue one showing pixels that are outside your display's gamut. The controls for toggling these appear at the top of the histogram whenever the proof preview is enabled.

  5. With the proof preview enabled, the user can now adjust the photo in any way that they want to make it look best given the constraints of the output profile.

  6. The first time an adjustment is made to a photo while the proof preview is on, the user will be asked if they want to make a virtual copy to hold those corrections. If yes, a virtual copy is created and selected, the colour profile's name is recorded in its "copy name" metadata field, and the adjustment you just made is applied to that copy instead of the original photo.

Note that the background colour of the proof preview defaults to "Paper white", which simulates the paper white colour of the profile. This colour is also used for Lights Out when proofing is on. Also, when proofing is on, Before/After now assists the user with comparing the current proofed copy of the photo with any other copy of it. Adopting this approach enables the user to refer back to the ideal, output-neutral rendition of the photo while making adjustments to the proof.

Other useful features within Soft Proof include the live updates to the histogram as the proofing profile is changed, and even more useful is the scale RGB scale used to represent the pixel values is 0 to 255 rather than the normal 0 to 100%. Using this latter feature is also to soft proof normal RGB working space profiles (e.g. sRGB, Adobe RGB, etc), which is very useful as a quick check before exporting files for the web, etc.

Updated Chromatic Aberration Correction

 

With the introduction new automated Chromatic Aberration (CA) algorithms there is no longer any requirement for lens profiles or manual sliders to correct for CA correction. This new correction solution can even correct CA present in images shot with a Tilt Shift lens, something the previous methods didn't fair too well at doing.

Image

Figure 20 - Chromatic Aberration Removal

Slideshow, Web and Print Modules

The Slideshow and Web modules in particular have seen little to no love this time round. The Print module hasn't faired much better, but there is one new feature buried deep within the Print Job panel. What is it and why is it hidden? Well, the feature goes by the name Print Adjustment and basically all it does is increase or decrease the brightness and/or contrast of the image being sent to the printer. The actual image data as stored by Lightroom is unchanged, only the data going to the printer is changed. In an ideal world such a feature shouldn't be required and many would argue that Adobe should not have included it, but sometimes ideology has to give way.

Using the new adjustments is a bit clunky, but for some users it may well be worth the time an effort invested. Basically, the adjustments are applied on top of the normal develop settings during printing. These adjustments are stored per printer profile, not per photo. Also, there is no visual feedback within the Lightroom. To see the effect of an adjustment the user must make a print, allow it to dry, assess it, then refine the adjustment as necessary. The process is iterative and may require a few attempts before the print finally matches the screen. Once the correct settings have been established the user can pretty much forget that they ever made the correction.

Image

Figure 21 - Print Adjustment

Again, and not to stress to breaking point - Print Adjustments are meant to address the "my prints are too dark" problem, providing a simple way to consistently tweak all prints on a particular printer. Soft proofing is a more advanced feature, allowing you to hand-tailor a particular photo for a particular printer. For the majority of users soft proofing will be more than enough to get an excellent screen to print match.

Remember Rule 5 - Enjoy!

 

Links to other useful material on Lightroom 4 beta

Lightroom 4 Beta can be downloaded from Adobe Labs.

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape has produced a video summarising the new features of Lightroom 4.

 

Andrew Rodney (AKA The Digital Dog) has produced an excellent overview video for the new Soft Proofing feature.

 

Adobe Community Professional

 
Footer
Contents on this site: Ian Lyons © 1999 - 2012. All Rights Reserved