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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Improves Workflow and Editing Tools

At a Glance
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3

    PCWorld Rating

    This compelling upgrade handles noise better, offers more-advanced RAW processing, and supports a smoother workflow.

Many professional photographers and serious hobbyists have been using Adobe Lightroom 2 as an integral part of their editing workflow. With Adobe Lightroom 3 ($299 for first-time buyers, $99 as an upgrade; prices as of June 25, 2010), even more photographers are likely to adopt it as a one-stop photo-editing resource.

Lightroom's core purpose has always been to provide tools for sorting, organizing, developing, and publishing photos, but version 3 upgrades Lightroom's flexibility with its new noise reduction engine and improved RAW processing, as well as the streamlined workflow.

Importing images into Lightroom 3 is simpler, which makes finding and defining your source and destination easier. For instance, the import interface reveals all attached drives but grays out all previously imported files, to avoid duplication. Once you've defined your naming convention for imports, the type of import, file handling, metadata, and other options, you can save an import preset (or several different presets) for future use with a couple of clicks. A compact view of import implements your presets and gives you control over editing metadata, keywords, and type of import. Unfortunately, the import interface ignores folder structures on CF and SD cards, so we had to waste time creating filters to define groups of photos and then import each group individually.

Lightroom now has direct support for tethered image capture for Nikon and Canon cameras, so you don't need to use the camera's own software--a useful option for studio photographers.

Once you've loaded your images into Lightroom, you can begin your core operations in the Develop module. The Develop module's most obvious change in Lightroom 3 is the direct access it gives you to all collections and recent folders; in the past, you had to go back and forth between the Develop module and the Library module. The bigger news, though, lies in how the module processes RAW files. Specifically, Adobe has rewritten the tool's demosaicing, sharpening, noise reduction, and vignetting algorithms; and you can now add filmlike grain to your pictures. In our tests, the resulting improvements were more obvious in some photos than in others--as you'd expect. But the noise reduction enhancement is very welcome, offering more-precise controls for reducing or eliminating noise while retaining more detail. For those image files previously processed in Lightroom 2.5, version 3 introduces versioning: You can choose to apply the new noise algorithms or use your old edits.

Incidentally, Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom now use the same RAW processing algorithms, so you can retain in either program any editing that you do in the other.

The Develop module's Lens Correction reads image metadata and automatically corrects distortions inherent in the specific lens used for the shot. Though Adobe supplies only some lens profiles from Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Sony, and Tamron, Lightroom works closely with Adobe Lens Profile Creator (available free online from Adobe Labs), enabling you to create a profile for any lens you use. (It's a comparatively easy process, involving photographing a target and then putting the images through Adobe's software to generate the profile.) Though we happen to like the creative distortions of certain lenses (which is why we use them), it is nice to be able to automatically remove flaws, and to have control over how much distortion to keep or add.

In view of how many DSLRs can now record video, it's only natural that Lightroom now supports video files. You can import, catalog, and preview video without leaving the Lightroom interface. The Slideshow module improves video output, too, by simplifying how it handles music and MP4 export. For example, select your music file, and Lightroom will automatically calculate the appropriate duration of each slide to have the show sync with the length of the loaded music file. Then you can customize your fade times.

A new Custom Package print option allows you to create pages with different background colors and place photos on it by using customizable cells of specific sizes or by dragging a photo from the filmstrip. You can overlay the cells, abut them, or arrange them however you wish; and you can fine-tune the placement of your identity plate by moving pixel by pixel with arrow keys

Lightroom 3 made few changes to its Web module. But you can now add watermarks--a much-needed addition. You can save several watermarks (such as logo, copyright, and name) to your Web pages, or you can edit right there, when you need to use them. This is a great production advantage when you need to upload a bunch of images.

When you use the Lightroom Publishing Manager, the program will keep track of which images you've uploaded to your Website, and which ones you've modified since uploading them (so you can republish them). In addition to managing FTP uploads, Lightroom pemits easy upload to Flickr. But Flickr is far from the first choice of most serious photographers. Uploads to more-suitable sites (such as Smugmug) are possible but require third-party plug-ins.

Given its deep improvements, Lightroom 3 is a compelling upgrade for photographers who depend on the program for smoothly importing, cataloging, and preparing their images. The superior noise algorithms alone make the upgrade worthwhile, and various tweaks to the workflow will save you time and hassles in any production environment. If you don't yet use Lightroom, now is a great time to jump in with both feet. You may sharply reduce the time you spend doing repetitive but necessary tasks, leaving you free to use Photoshop for more-creative imaging.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    This compelling upgrade handles noise better, offers more-advanced RAW processing, and supports a smoother workflow.

    Pros

    • New noise algorithm reduces noise, while retaining detail
    • Streamlined workflow cuts down on repetitive tasks

    Cons

    • New import module ignores folder organization on SD and CF cards
    • Supports only Flickr for site uploads
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