I have written and documented the unexpected, and for me undesirable, changes in Lightroom 4. This post will wrap up this subject and I will move on. Earlier, I was taken by some of the improvements in Lightroom in the new release and recommended the upgrade without doing much testing. Let this be a lesson to me!
Lightroom 4 has a new process engine under the hood known as the 2012 Process. It is remarkably good in handling overexposed photographs. The older version could, with the help of recovery and exposure, restore some highlight detail but at the expense of some color shift. This was most noticeable in photographs where the sky and the clouds were overexposed. The sky color would invariably shift towards cyan, needing further and often complex corrections. The 2012 process, by using highlights, whites, and exposure, brings back the detail while retaining color quite close to the original sky color. That deserves a round of applause.
The “Basic” panel tools have been reorganized, and the confusion between the exposure and the brightness sliders is eliminated. Adjustments starting in the middle and affecting the image the same way are also good improvements. So is the correction of chromatic aberration, it is one click and any color fringing is gone from most images.
If you want to use Lightroom as a front end to Blurb you will likely enjoy the book creation. And the geotagging is a convenient feature without needing extra plugins. All these are welcome changes.
Although the basic panel adjustments are more sensible, I find it difficult to get the results I could from Lightroom 3, process 2010. The new tools’ behaviors are not finessed, I guess that’s the best way I could express it. One of the adjustments I found quite useful, the clarity adjustment has become totally unpredictable and lost any use I might have for it. That is too bad, which I have documented in different posts and also on Adobe forums (forum 1, forum 2). Take a look at the image on the left, click on it to see it larger and feel free to save that large image. Then follow the steps below to see the behavior:
- Import the image to Lightroom 4
- Create a virtual copy
- When the virtual copy is selected, enter the develop module
- Scroll all the way down to Camera Calibration
- Change the Process to 2010
Now you have two identical images one using 2012 process and the other 2010. Now, in 2012 process image, move the slider to the right and observe what happens to the tonality of the squares, the light ones become muddy and the dark ones try to catch up with the light ones. Pay attention to the histogram as it loses the spiked appearance which is normal for this image and becomes all bundled in the middle. Then, switch to the virtual copy using process 2010 and move the clarity slider to the right. Notice that the overall tonality of the squares remain essentially the same except when two squares meet creating an edge that gets the clarity treatment. Look at the histogram which retains its overall appearance and creates small heaps of tones due to the change in the edge tonalities.
Printing is another unwelcome change, my reasonably well-controlled experiments using two computers and four different applications clearly show that Lightroom 4 print is significantly and unexpectedly lighter. Combined with the lack of improvements in the print module makes that not useful to me either.
The Solution (The Ugly)
I have come to the conclusion that I cannot use Lightroom 4 with this much idiosyncrasy especially in two areas that are important to me. So, I chose one image, any image, and reset all the settings. Then went to the Camera Calibration and changed the process to 2010. Then I created a preset, called Use 2010 Process, and deselected all the options except “Process Version”. To automatically apply this preset to all the new imports, I right-clicked on the preset and chose “Apply on Import” which put a plus sign next to the name. From this point on, all the imports are automatically applied this preset and all use the 2010 process. If I see an image that is overexposed, for that image I may switch to the 2012 process and correct the problem. The chromatic aberration correction and other parts seem to work the same in 2010 or 2012 processes, I’m glad.
I likened this Lightroom upgrade to Windows Me or Vista which most users remember not very kindly. There are many users who seem to be quite pleased with the changes in Lightroom 4, in fact, some wish the clarity adjustment were even stronger. It is quite possible that there are segments of Lightroom users with different expectations and needs and this product is satisfying the needs of some of these segments (now I am wearing my professor of marketing hat!) Time will tell if Adobe will see the unsatisfied, and generally quiet segment(s) and make changes in Lightroom 4.x or 5 to address these issues. In the meantime, I will be using Lightroom 4 as a glorified Lightroom 3, that’s the “ugly” part. I guess if I did my homework ahead of time I could have saved myself the cost of the upgrade. But again, considering not many dissatisfied users are as vocal as I am, maybe my upgrade mistake will serve a purpose after all.