I have been using the public beta version of Lightroom 4, and I like some features and have a few gripes. This post is not a full review of Lightroom 4, just some quick observations.
The first big news is that Lightroom 4 is now a 64-bit application and will not run on older operating systems like Windows XP. Although this may be bad news for Windows XP users, in general, it is a good move since 64-bit systems can use more memory and handle internal operations more efficiently and expediently. Upgrading to Windows 7 64-bit for those still on the Windows XP now has an excuse!
Much of the change in LR 4 is under the develop module, so let’s start there. I am glad to see that Adobe revamped the “Basic” panel and made it more sensible. Gone are the exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks, brightness, and contrast sliders which were quite confusing and ill-explained in what exactly they did. Welcome the new set of sliders, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks. Although more sensible, I do not understand why the stacking order is not Whites, Highlights, Shadows, Blacks to put them in the order of what tonal ranges they cover. The Exposure slider affects the full range and seems to be better behaved than the same slider in Lightroom 3. The Whites slider controls the very high values, highlights the next zones down like the highlight areas with detail. Shadows and Blacks are the clearest labels in the bunch. I would hazard a guess that with some overlap, the sliders control the zones as follows:
Blacks: Zones I-II
Shadows: Zones III-IV
Highlights: Zones IIX-IX
Whites: Zones IX-X
So far, so good! My previous two posts on the behavior of the Exposure and Brightness sliders may become relics in short order. Another important change, a very sensible one, is that all the sliders work the same way. Moving them to the left darkens, to the right lightens. In Lightroom 3 they worked in strange ways, one increased blacks to darken or increased recovery to bring back highlight detail, not very intuitive. If you were so used to the old basic panel and would like to use the fill light and recovery sliders, you can display that control set by changing the “Process” to 2010 in the Camera Calibration tab.
A disappointing change is in the “Clarity” slider. It used to add a controlled amount of mid-tone contrast that brought back some of the lost clarity in the digitizing process. If you pushed the old slider too much, it could have resulted in halos around high-contrast edges. The new one protects against the halos but significantly affects the tonal and color structure of the photograph in a bad way. As far as I’m concerned, the clarity slider has become useless. They might as well call it the “Grunge” slider. Try it with a photograph with some smooth areas and you will see the mud being smeared on those parts. Bad move, bad, bad … Even the skin tones become muddy! What were you thinking, Adobe?
The Tone Curve remained the same, with the addition of per channel control, a la Photoshop curves. The overall behavior is the same, and the addition of the channel-based curve control may be good for some instances. One of my favorite tools in Lightroom, Hue, Saturation, Luminance panel, is unchanged. The same is true for the Split Toning and Detail panels, they work as they did in the earlier version.
The Lens Corrections panel has a minor change, the profile-based chromatic aberration does not have a slider; it is on or off and is independent of whether the Profile Corrections are enabled or disabled. They must be confident of the way it works at Adobe to remove the slider. Nice to know that. I would have liked to see that in the manual corrections panel since it is not tied to the profile, but that is a minor issue. The chromatic aberration sliders are gone from the Manual control of the lens corrections as well. Also gone are the lens vignetting sliders. The Effects and Camera Calibration panels round up the tool panels with no change in them.
The local adjustment tools Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush have become richer, with more control over the color and tonality of the selected areas.
On the left-hand side are the unchanged panels doing what they did before, not much news there.
The New Modules
Look at the modules bar at the top, and you will see two new modules, Map and Book. The first will help geotag photographs to identify the locations where they are taken. The second, Book, ties Lightroom to the online book-making site Blurb. At first, I thought it would not be too useful to me since I do not use Blurb, I found out that I can save the “books” in PDF format for my own use. That is a convenient tool. I hope other on-demand printing services, like MagCloud, soon offer plugins to create content directly from Lightroom.
Print Improvements (and some misses)
The panels under the Print module are the same as well. Although there is an important printing-related new feature in Lightroom, Soft Proofing, it is accessible under the Develop module rather than print. The reason may be because any adjustment that needs to be made will happen in the develop module. Once turned on by placing a checkmark on the toolbar at the bottom, the soft proofing will display the image in the simulated color space of the chosen destination device and substrate. A nice feature here is the ability to create a virtual copy for print and make printing adjustments to it. Nice!
At the bottom of the panel stack, there is a pleasant surprise in the Print Job panel. There are two new sliders, Brightness, and Contrast, which allow output-specific adjustments to the image when activated by placing a checkmark in the “Print Adjustment” box. My recommendation on this would be not to use it to cover careless processing or skipping monitor calibration or profiling but to use it for minor changes that may still be required even after a very meticulous workflow. In any case, a useful feature to have for sure.
Other options are the same under Print. I am disappointed that they did not add an easy-to-use text placement option for print layouts. There is one for the slide show, and another for watermarks; why not put at least the same controls to the print? Getting consistent placement of identity plate text on a page requires jumping through the hoops. But, hey, there is an option “Keep Square”; particularly important! This is a major weakness in Lightroom, it has been since the beginning. It will be particularly useful to have multiple lines, or multiple boxes of text along with simple graphic integration, at least a line, to the template creation. Look at any one of the folios to see what I mean. I had to take each photograph to Photoshop and add the text there. Being able to add a block of text will be the icing on the cake!
The Slideshow and Web modules are as they were before, for my needs they are marginally useful. I wonder if it makes sense to consider bringing print, Web, and slide show modules under one “Output” module. Some features may cross-pollinate and offer more usability.
The price is very reasonable now, $149 new purchase, $79 for the upgrade. If you have an academic version, which cannot be upgraded, the price of the new student and teacher copy is $79 too. All said it is worth spending $79 for an upgrade (if your computer is using 64-bit OS,) even $150 for the full product considering how much Lightroom does under the hood, and how reasonable the price has become. I ordered my copy; it is on its way! In the meantime, I am using the 30-day trial version and so far, happy with the performance.