Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

The Art of Raw Conversion #024

 

Adobe Lightroom™ Diary

as of now Mac only

review diary by Uwe Steinmueller

Also pictures by Bettina Steinmueller

 

 

 

1/9/2006 Adobe Lightroom in public beta 1

Over the last two months one of the hottest new software packages was Apple Aperture (see our diary and review). Overall the reaction is more like: Great idea but not quite ready for prime time if you are a professional photographer. Of course there was always the question: What will be the answer by Adobe? Today Adobe presented the answer: Adobe Lightroom!


Lightroom

But this answer comes in a quite surprising form: Lightroom Public Beta 1 for Mac right now. This means everybody with a Mac can download the first Beta for free (we were told it expires 6/30/2006). Why is Adobe doing this?

  • Official answer: the developers want to get a very broad input (and they will get a lot!). This point is of course valid.
  • Our personal take: Adobe wants to stop Apple to establish Aperture as a too strong application in the market. Probably Adobe will succeed here too.

Reviewing this kind of beta is hard. Here is why:

  • Adobe not even claims the application is feature complete and we are certain this is true
  • Talking about bugs does not make sense here as it is an early beta

At first we wanted to get into the many things in our long wish list and also talk more about bugs. Instead we will talk about the concept and what we think of it. We try to compare to Aperture at all features that we cover.

What have Aperture and Lightroom in common. These are the first n-to-n (means from import to publish) workflow tools that only focus on photographers. Adobe Photoshop was created as a tool for designers in the first place and just evolved into the prime tool for photographers too.

Here is what the n-to-n workflow needs to cover (at least):

  • Photo download and import
  • Photo Organization (Folders, Collections, Albums ....)
  • Photo inspection (light box, as large as possible)
  • Photo editing (basic editing, not all what Photoshop can do)
  • Photo publishing (Print, Web, Documents, ...)
  • Photo sideshows (presentation)
  • Photo archiving (CD, DVD, ...)

All digital photographers do all these steps for quite some time but use many different tools that fit not very well together. There is a lot of talk about the digital photography workflow. I often call it "Workbumping" (more like driving on a bad dirt road than on the highway).

Design note on Lightroom: The Lightroom designers tried to be as simple as possible for all presented operations. The public beta will be a good opportunity to find out where Lightroom might be too simple. We applaud this approach (we have the same design goal with RawShooter from Pixmantec). On the other side Lightroom tries to solve the quite complex issues of the photographer's workflow. The main complexity is actually that there are virtually hundreds if not thousands of essentially different personal workflows and no application can please everyone. Check yourself how well the Lightroom designers got a good balance.

Let's have a look how Lightroom tackles the different workflow tasks:

Photo download and import

There are two ways to get images into Lightroom (download from CF/SD cards or import from existing files).

We would recommend only to import form existing files. To understand this we want to explain a key difference between Aperture and Lightroom. Aperture requires that you import the real files into Aperture and the interface to the world outside Aperture is cumbersome at best. You can do the same with Lightroom but we would not recommend this. But with Lightroom you have also the option to import the photos by reference. This means the files stay in their original location and will not be touched by Lightroom.


Import files via reference to the original location

The downside of this option is that you may remove the files outside and Lightroom will not find them anymore. We have checked that Lightroom will fail gracefully (actually it seems that moving files on the same disk is no problem, this feature is supported by Mac OX X/Unix while it maybe harder to implement on Windows) and give you the chance to point Lightroom to the correct image location. We only would import by reference. This requires a bit of planning where you want to keep your original "master" files and how you organize the structure. We think the structure we propagate in our books works just fine.

Note: We strongly believe that Aperture will fail in the market if Aperture will not also adopt the "import by reference" approach (we proposed that already in our Aperture diary). On the other side we think that Apple can quite easily also allow to import files by reference. This only depends on how much Apple insist on their current principles. We really hope they adopt a more pragmatic and professional solution.

The download in Lightroom will import the real files into the system and that is why we use an external downloader application and also rename at this step.

Photo Organization

The core to any well behaving photo organization program is a catalog/library. This is a specialized image database (stores originals, previews, metadata and is also needed for fast search). Photoshop Bridge only uses primitive files for this task and should never be used as a real photo organizing application. Aperture and Lightroom use in their core real databases.

Note: We added 23000 RAW files to Lightroom and found with this beta version that deletes (deleting the file and the library entry) were extremely slow on our Quad Mac (in the magnitude of more than 20 seconds). Also the image selection was not on the next image but the whole library. As said we cannot tell what is a principle problem here and what is just the state of this early beta. A professional tool should be easily be able to handle 100K of images.

Overall the import into Lightroom is pretty fast. But the full generation of all previews is not fast at all (see below).

Note: Importing layered TIFF/PSD was not working properly. Also the Lightroom developers share with the Aperture developers the idea that even imported PSD/TIFF files should not be edited directly by Photoshop. There is an easy way around that: just drag the file to the other application (e.g. Photoshop or any other RAW converter). Here Lightroom is way less a closed shop than Aperture.

The principle import unit in Aperture is called "Project" and in Lightroom "Shoot". The "Shoot" holds the principle information for the images and also the references to the original files.

Lightroom has Collections which do about the same as Apertures Galleries.

At this point Apertures smart galleries, sophisticated search functionality and metadata handling is way more advanced than what this beta of Lightroom can offer. But even in terms of organization Lightroom wins big time because of its openness.

What about Stacks?

Lightroom right now does not support Stacks. We are quite confident that the final version of Lightroom will have Stacks (as we understand Stacks are even part of Photoshop Elements). For us Stacks are from now on a must have feature of every photo organization program.

Supported RAW files

Because Lightroom is based on Camera Raw it supports nearly all known RAW file format. The RAW support for Aperture is selective (there is also the bug in Aperture that prevents to import RAW files with additional IPTC information to be imported properly).

Browsing and Lightbox

Lightroom knows three ways to view photos:

  • Grid (thumbnails from tiny to pretty big)
  • Loupe (fit window or 100% magnification)
  • Compare view

Note: all the toolbars and also the filmstrip can be hidden and then work in auto hide mode

 


Grid view


Loupe view (fit window)


Loupe view (1:1 means 100% magnification)

Switching between "fit to window" and 100% is just a click on the image (nice). To make all things easy we have only these two zoom modes. In the end only in rare situation do we really need more than 100% view (and here we then just would use Photoshop). Like Aperture also Lightroom is not a Photoshop replacement. But it is designed to get to good results without Photoshop in many cases.


Compare view

The light box feature in Aperture is clearly more sophisticated but we would think that in most cases Lightroom offers all we really need.

Lightroom is not really designed to use two monitors but we did some trick (both of our monitors are 1600x1200):


Dual monitor usage

We stretched the Lightroom window so that the editing palettes are on the second monitor. This way we can still display the images full screen and use the editing palettes on the second monitor.

Photo Editing / Develop

Here Lightroom is probably ahead of Aperture because it uses Camera Raw under the hood. But it is improved so that also JPEG, TIFF and PSD can be edited. We recommend to start with RAW though.


Develop

We don't think the integration of develop features is complete yet. We will hopefully see soon:

  • Shadow/Highlight
  • Crop
  • Straighten
  • Perspective
  • Dust removal
  • Color samplers

New are the following features:

  • Tone Curve
  • Grayscale Mixer
  • Split Toning
  • HSL Color Tuning
  • Preset Browser

Tone Curve


Tone Curve

This feature will confuse quite a few users. This is actually a curve that is tuned via 8 sliders:

  • 3 pairs for Highlights, Midtones and Shadows
  • and 2 sliders that allow the user to define what he calls highlights, midtones and shadow

Some will probable cry where are my real curves and Lightroom may even add Curves later. We still find curves not very intuitive and too easy to mess up.

The power of this tool is in the fact that it keeps the curve from too much clipping in the highlights/shadows and also avoids negative slopes. Also it helps the user concentrate on the three important regions in a picture:

  • Highlights
  • Midtones
  • Contrast

Grayscale Mixer


Grayscale Mixer

With this control you should be able to create nice B&W images and some may even also use the Split Toning feature.

HSL Color Tuning


HSL Color Tuning

First we were shocked by these 18 sliders. But after some initial tests we think they are easy to master and make perfectly sense.

Preset Browser

Lightroom also features a new Preset browser that let you define your own presets:


Define your own custom preset

We welcome this feature as you can define your own settings (based on selected operations only).

Overall we are very optimistic that Lightroom's Develop features will be a strong offering while Aperture may need to improve its editing capabilities.

Slide show


Slide show

We only mention this module here. It is nice but the possible output options are not well defined yet. If you want to generate a good professional web gallery Aperture (although still too limited) would be our choice.

Printing


Printing

Printing was never really well supported in Photoshop. We see that Lightroom is on the right track to more support for printing. Aperture is not that good for printing because it does not even implement the use of rendering intents.

Speed?

Hard to tell for a beta application but sometimes we would like to get the previews faster (1200x1600 monitor). But of course Adobe did not do a lot of optimizations yet. Speed seems to go down with lots of images (23000 in our case). But the key problem is probably the delete (deleting the file and the library entry).

Note: We tested Lightroom on a Quad G5 with 8 GB of memory and 2x500GB disks.

Preview Speed (know problem)

Both Aperture and Lightroom use generated previews to be able to display the images fast and while the user is looking at one image the fully rendered image is generated from the original file.

Lightroom create 4-5 different previews per image:

  • Full size
  • 25% of full size (50% in one dimension)
  • 25% of the above
  • and again 25%
  • sometimes also a 5th preview thumbnail of again 25% smaller size

Here is what we want to do. We want to browse through images and the first preview has to be a good estimate whether the image needs more attention. If the first preview is not good enough we need to wait for the the fully rendered RAW file and that takes a lot of time if you browse hundreds or even thousands of images.

Without all previews generated the preview speed of Lightroom is not fast enough (once all previews are generated speed and quality is fine). Unfortunately we have no real indicator when Lightroom will have done all our 23000 previews. We would rather wait a bit longer on import but then be sure all previews are done than wait during real work. Maybe Lightroom could allow the user to have it his way. But the clearly needs to be way to know what the status of preview generation is.

Note: The Activity Viewer gives some indication that Lightroom is still working but it maybe better to have a clear message "Still 123 out of 23000 previews to generate". Then if this number gets down we know where we are and if not we would know Lightroom hangs. On our sysstem the full creation of 5000 previews in all sizes takes a few hours.

We found out that Lightroom creates as a last step the full sized previews and this takes a long time. Again we hope it gets faster in the final version. But speed is probably not the main concern. We need a clear feedback about the status of Lightroom.

 

Once the previews are fully generated Lightroom allows quite a fast browsing through many images.

 

First Conclusion

Lightroom is a much needed application. Especially because Apple's Aperture has in our opinion some fundamental design flaws:

  • No import by reference (Lightroom solves that)
  • Limited support for cameras (Lightroom supports most of today cameras)
  • Raw converter is part of the OS (we are not convinced that a pro application should depend on this)
  • Aperture has very high demands on the hardware (Lightroom should work on a much broader hardware basis)
  • Aperture costs $500 and this beta is free for now (planned release towards the last quarter of 2006). We hope the final price of Lightroom will be attractive (we did not hear any estimated sales prices yet).
  • Aperture is Mac only (Lightroom is planned for Windows too)

Main issues with Lightroom Beta 1

  • Feels slow with namy images in the library (>10000). Adobe knows this and will like fix this problem.
  • Preview generation is slow and not transparent for the user
  • Support for layered TIFF/PSD not what we need

In some areas Aperture is of course the more mature and fascinating product. We also doubt we would see Lightroom today without Aperture. We also believe that Aperture can improve in a way that makes it a stronger competitor.

Lightroom is an exciting new application. Many books will be written about Lightroom. The future of Lightroom is wide open but this beta is not a bad start.

 

Bugs in Beta 1

  • White Balance off for Nikon D2x (known bug)
  • Problems with some TIFF/PSD using alpha masks
  • If I have a shoot selected and delete files Lightroom will display the entire librry afterwards
  • At some point for a larger collection (1100 files in shoot and 5700 files in library) the thumbs showed upside down (the final rendered image was correct)
  • Often we find the exposure higher than in other RCs

Note: Be aware that if you use beta software that you work at your own risk. This is true for any beta and not particularly Lightroom. We mention this because we got a zombie process that we cleared off by a simple re-boot.

Uwe's Lightroom Wishlist (1/9/2006)

  • Handling of layered PSD/TIFF files without the need to create a copy for editing outside of Lightroom (can be done with drag/drop today)
  • To be able to use the Lightroom browser to copy/move the original files
  • Inverse rating (e.g. priorities lower than 4 stars)
  • Multiple libraries (can be done today with some tricks)
  • Stacks (see above)
  • Smart collections based on queries
  • Export the ratings and metainformation to Bridge
  • Being able to edit the presets
  • Introduce folders to structure shoots and collections
  • More advanced dual monitor support
  • Advanced Web Gallery support
  • Color samplers
  • Dust removal
  • Perspective, Straighten, Lens Distortion, Crop
  • Camera Defaults
  • Being able to define a user default for highlight, midtone, shadow split in Tone Curve
  • Have a floating window to show EXIF data while in Develop mode
  • Show the name of the shoot or collection in the titlebar
  • Allow 200% magnification. It is hard to correct chromatic aberrations with only 100% views
  • We would like to see a more advanced sharpening in Lightroom
  • Maintenance functions to remove files that lost a valid reference (I am talking here of hundreds or thousands of files)
  • Speed up the preview generation
  • Have a user function "Update Previews" so that the user knows they are up to date and optimal speed is guaranteed

For more information on Lightroom look at the official Adobe Lightroom beta web site .


1/18/2006 Lightroom Beta 1.1 posted

Adobe posted a new Beta 1.1 for Lightroom


2/7/2006 New Adobe Lightroom Tutorial Movie

Adobe posted a new Lightroom tutorial to explain the basics of the "Develop" module.


2/10/2006 Lightroom Tone Curve

The tutorial we mentioned in our last note is an excellent introduction to the Lightroom Tone Curve. We want to summarize the basics here.


Infrared B&W using Lightroom Tone Curve

To learn new tonality tools it is often a good idea to use a B&W image (just use the excellent Lightroom B&W tool). We find the design of the new Lightroom Tone Curve excellent and want to explain why.


Linear Tone Curve

Note: The brightness and contrast sliders are duplicated because sometimes you can get already good results just using these two controls.

Note: Best you start with a linear setting (all sliders set to zero) and watch how the curve is changed if you change a single slider. Don't care that much about the curve shape but more on the image itself.

Here is a basis tonality adjustment workflow (after you got you basic white balance right):

  • Define the global contrast range by setting :
    • White point (avoid clipping highlights)
    • Black point (avoid losing shadow detail)

    Sometimes you can be more aggressive here for B&W images than for color photos.

  • Set (midtone) brightness and contrast


Typical brightness curve


Typical contrast S-curve

The midtones are crucial for any image as this is the tonal range for the main image content. Avoid flat and over contrasty images.

While the midtones define how the main parts of the image are displayed the shadows and highlights need perfection to make a great image from a good one.

  • Tune the highlights


Highlight sliders

The highlights sliders let you concentrate only on the quality of the highlight portion of the photo. The Luminance slider defines the brightness. The compression controls the contrast in the highlights. Here you always have to balance details in the extreme highlights. We try to avoid too aggressive extreme highlights and more likely tone the compression down a bit.

 

  • Tune the shadows


Shadows sliders

This time you focus only on the shadow part of your photo. The brightness controls how open you want the shadows and the compression changes the black at the lower end of the shadows. In some cases a strong shadow compression can help to get a solid black foundation for your images.

  • More tuning control


Defining Shadow/Midtone/Highlight ranges

Because there is no firm definition what is considered shadow/midtone/highlight Lightroom allows you you to define the range yourself.

Conclusion

We find the new Tone Curve control in Lightroom an excellent tonality tool for the following reasons:

  • Flexible
  • Lets you focus on the different critical regions of your photo
  • Avoids some pitfalls of normal curves (e.g. bad transitions)

Actually we hope to see the same tool also in Photoshop CS3.


2/14/2006 Lightroom Beta 2 posted

Adobe posted a new Beta 2 for Lightroom

New features:

  • Crop/Straighten
  • Allows to edit the original layered TIFF/PSD files (a feature we requested). The user can now decide:


Edit dialog

We think this is a real major improvement over beta 1.

  • Hierarchical Keywords


Create hierarchical keyword lists

 

Bugs fixed:

  • If I have a shoot selected and delete files Lightroom will display the entire library afterwards. Seems to be fixed.

New bugs:

  • Does not preview larger versions of layered TIFFs properly (shows only low resolution upsized thumbnails) and shows "Loading'" forever:


Low resolution TIFF preview

 

 

 

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