This year marks Lightroom’s fifth birthday: not a bad milestone for a piece of software that’s sometimes regarded as an uncomfortable compromise. But Lightroom has gone from strength to strength since 2007, and version 4 (in public beta until the end of March) adds a handful of new features.
The number of editing tools has been expanded. The Recovery and Fill Light sliders have been replaced by tools for adjusting highlights, shadows, and fixing the black and white points. The Clarity slider has received an update, providing a better effect while keeping tell-tale halos on edges to a minimum. The adjustment brush has received a boost as well. It can now make local adjustments to white balance – useful for images with mixed light sources – and noise reduction, on top of its existing capabilities.
Lightroom’s workspaces also gain a few additions. The Map module, for instance, allows images to be endowed with geolocation metadata. It will also display the position of photos already tagged by GPS-enabled cameras; however, our experience with the Maps module was that it was the one area of the beta that felt a tad sluggish – hopefully something that will be fixed by final release.
The Book module is also new. A much-needed addition, this ties in with photobook maker, Blurb, to allow glossy photobooks to be assembled and ordered within the application. There’s a choice of book sizes, from 7 x 7in up to the huge 12 x 12in, and outputs range from cheap small, soft-cover books to expensive large, hardback versions on glossy paper. Adding pages is a snap, and there are templates for those who don’t want to worry about the finer points of page design. Those who would prefer to use a book service other than Blurb are reasonably well catered for, too: finished books can be output as a PDF.
The Maps module brings geotagging to Lightroom, allowing location metadata to be added to existing photos, and displaying tagged ones on a map.
Lightroom’s video abilities have received a shot in the arm. Lightroom 3 was only on nodding terms with video; now, videos can be viewed, trimmed and colour corrected with basic tools such as white balance, exposure and contrast, vibrance, and white and black point. Most will still want to use an external editor, however: you can’t mix two video clips together, and there are no audio tools to speak of. Once processed, video can be exported as H.264 clips.
There are other extras and welcome additions, and an annoying niggle from previous versions has been removed. Previously, “Picked” or “Rejected” flags would be lost when the image was viewed as part of another collection. Flags are now global, and tracking images is easier.
Equally handy is Lightroom’s new soft-proofing tool. This provides a preview of how edited images will look, either in a different colour space (an Adobe RGB image in sRGB, for example), or with a custom printer profile. Hit “S” and out-of-gamut colours will be highlighted in red, allowing for greater reliability when printing. It works well but, as with previous versions, Lightroom doesn’t support CMYK colour profiles, which means users of some professional print services will be left out.
Finally, networking is still absent: Lightroom 4 can keep track of and edit images on a remote disk, but the catalog has to be local. It’s a minor consideration for consumers, but professionals with more complex data-management needs will continue to be frustrated.
Gripes aside, the additions mean Lightroom’s appeal to photographers is unlikely to be diminished. The only thing that could get in the way is its price: with Aperture on the Mac stealing a march at $85, the current Lightroom looks pricey at more than $300. Adobe will doubtless be cautious of cannibalising sales of the $130 Photoshop Elements 10, but a shock price drop would give Lightroom a well-deserved lift with professionals