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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Review

Lightroom Digital Darkroom Software Provides a Powerful Photography Workflow

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User Rating 2 Star Rating (1 Review)

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Lightroom 4 Box Cover

Lightroom 4 Box Cover

© Adobe
Through a series of modules, Lightroom helps photographers manage, develop, and present their photos. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom was developed to meet the needs of professional and serious amateur photographers, and Adobe has done very well in this regard. While Lightroom can offer a lot of benefits for more casual shooters, most of them would probably be better off sticking to a program like Photoshop Elements, or other "family photo" organizing software.

Lightroom Pros

  • Provides powerful tools for managing large quantities of images and processing camera Raw files.
  • All edits are applied non-destructively via instructions written into the metadata of the file.
  • Presets allow you to work efficiently and experiment with many variations of settings.
  • Macintosh and Windows versions are shipped on the same disc and share a license.
  • Lightroom manages video clips since version 3 and version 4 adds playback, editing, and sharing of video.
  • Lightroom 4 now can send photos by email directly.
  • Native 64-bit on Windows and Mac.

Lightroom Cons

  • The learning curve can be steep for new users. Takes time to learn the quirks.
  • Some features only work in specific modules, which can be confusing at times.
  • While it's improved significantly from version 2, performance can still be sluggish at times, particularly in the Develop module.
  • Requires a separate photo editor if pixel-level editing is desired.
  • 32-bit Macs and Macs running OS 10.6.7 and lower are no longer supported. Windows XP is no longer supported.

Lightroom Description

Lightroom 4 Main Interface

Lightroom 4 Main Interface (click for larger view)

© Adobe
  • Lightroom guides the photography workflow through a series of modules: Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web.

  • The Library module is where photos are organized and managed via keywords, flags, collections, metadata, and search features.

  • Photos can be reviewed in a number of layouts such as grid, loupe, survey, and compare. Flags, ratings, and labels help with sorting.

  • The Develop module provides myriad ways of adjusting exposure, tone, color, lighting, vignettes, and more.

  • The Map module allows you to add location information to photos (geo-tagging) and find or sort images by location.

  • The Book module lets you design photo books with a variety of templates and upload them for printing.

  • The Slideshow module helps you present your photos in a slick, professional presentation that will impress your clients.

  • Slideshows can be exported as video files (including HD video), a series of slides in JPEG format, or as a PDF slideshow.

  • The Print module provides complete flexibility in creating contact sheets and picture package layouts.

  • Applies intelligent sharpening according to the output type and media selected, taking the guesswork out of sharpening.

  • The Web module offers a variety of customizable templates for eye-catching Web galleries which can be uploaded directly to a Web site via FTP or exported as a package for a Web developer to post.

  • Lightroom provides Publish Services for sending photos to Flickr, Facebook, SmugMug, and mobile devices. New Publish services can be added through plug-ins.

Guide Comments - Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

New Map Module in Lightroom 4 (click for larger view)

© Adobe
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is broken down into a series of modules as described above. This module approach presents the photography workflow in a way that makes sense and is easy to follow. Not coming from a photography background, I found this approach (and some of the terminology) a bit foreign. In the beginning, I struggled with several quirks and inconsistencies, but after referring to online tutorials, and working with the software over a few weeks, it all began to click.

I'm not saying the quirks went away, I just learned how to deal with them. For instance, when you want to apply settings to multiple photos, they must be selected in the grid view and not the filmstrip. Stacks only work in folder view and not collections. Flags applied in folder view don't stay with the photos when you put them in a collection. You don't save your edits, you export them.

Once I got beyond that initial learning curve, I had a number of "Aha" moments, and the power of Lightroom became clear to me. Probably the biggest benefit for Lightroom users is the non-destructive approach to editing photos in the Develop module. Every adjustment you make is applied as a series of instructions that can be tweaked as much as desired with no reduction in quality, nor the need for multiple file versions.
How I Process Photos in Adobe Lightroom

Although Lightroom does not offer pixel-level editing, it does offer region-specific editing with graduated filters, and the adjustment brush. These tools let you apply corrections to exposure, color, and lighting only in the areas where they are needed. I processed hundreds of vacation photos through Lightroom for this evaluation, and I found very few instances where I had to go to Photoshop for further editing.

Lightroom also allows photographers to present photos to clients as slideshows, web galleries, printed contact sheets, and/or picture packages. The flexibility provided in these modules is incredible. You can customize every detail right down to your identity plate. OLightroom's Publish Services feature allows you to post your photos (and subsequent edits) to popular online services such as Flickr, Facebook, and SmugMug. Additional services can be added through plugins. The Publish service also simplifies exporting to local and network locations for archiving or syncing with mobile devices.

Lightroom 4's improvements include highlight and shadow recovery, new adjustment brush options, a white balance brush, a photo book creation module, location-based photo organization (geo-tagging), soft proofing, improved online sharing, and extended video support, including video playback and editing--one of my wishlist features from version 3. While these are all welcome additions, I wish I could report improvements to Lightroom's performance. But sadly, Lightroom 4 still bogs down considerably after working a while in the Develop module, at least in my experience with the Windows version over several months.

Probably the best thing about this version of Lightroom is the significantly reduced price, slashed 50% from previous versions. For new customers, Lightroom now costs US$150 MSRP, and US$79 for upgraders. There is also a new student/teacher version for US$79 MSRP.

It's obvious that Adobe has gone to great lengths to meet the digital darkroom needs of photographers with Lightroom. Lightroom is best suited for serious amateurs and professional photographers who work with large numbers of images and who often work with raw camera files.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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