I don't know about you, but Adobe's Lightroom has transformed my post-production life. A day's shooting used to mean another day of editing but these days, thanks to Lightroom, it's just an hour or two. Originally launched five years ago, 2012 sees the arrival of this fourth incarnation of the software, following the release of a Beta version earlier this year.
As with any new version of an already established software, Lightroom 4 (Lr4) is largely a tweak with some welcome additional features. That said, Adobe has also broadened the program's functionality and appeal by offering improved video editing capabilities. We're covering the major changes here. Also worthy of note is the price. A full version of Lr4 costs £86.57 while an upgrade is £49.24 (both prices excluding VAT). This is substantially cheaper than previous versions and could well be a response to the arrival of Corel's impressive AfterShot Pro, which costs just £79.99 (including VAT). When it comes to system requirements Lr4 drops Windows XP support. PC users require Vista with SP2 or Windows 7 with SP1, while Mac users will need to be running OS X v10.6.8 (Snow Leopard) or v10.7 (Lion).
If you're already familiar with Lightroom, you'll be on common ground when you open up Lr4. The familiar Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web modules on the top right-hand side of the screen are still there, but have been joined by two new additions - Map and Book. More on these later.
There are also changes to the panels on either side of the central picture area. With the Develop module selected, the list of Presets on the left of the screen has now been rationalised into folders rather than the long list of Lr3. This is very handy if you regularly use Presets or create ones of your own.
The controls to the right represent the business end of Lightroom and it's here that many of the biggest still imaging improvements are accessed. In the Basic panel, the Fill and Recovery sliders have been replaced with more intuitive Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. What's more, these sliders now start centrally at 0 so it's much easier to go back to the beginning if you overcook your retouching. The upshot of these changes is more precise control and improved recovery of highlights.
Further improvements down this right-hand side include an improved Clarity slider that's less likely to create halos around subjects, an embellished Tone Curve control enabling you to make changes to individual RGB colour channels and a greater variety of local adjustment controls.
The Soft Proofing function is a result of customer feedback and is a handy way of ensuring what you see on your screen is what everyone else will see on your website or when the image is printed out. It's essentially a simple way of checking the colour gamut.
In the Develop module, there's a Soft Proofing tick box at the bottom of the screen. Check this to enter the Soft Proofing mode, or hit the shortcut key (S). Doing this turns the image background white and changes the histogram so it has two icons in the top corners. On the left is monitor gamut for website output, on the right is destination gamut for prints. Depending on your proposed output, selecting one or the other will bring up highlighted areas that are outside the gamut, giving you the option to tweak them as required. The values in the histogram itself also change from percentages to actual RGB values, allowing you to accurately assess image colours.
Printer profiles can also be loaded in to enable you to check specifics with your own printing set up.
Lightroom 4 has some further enhancements when using DNG, primarily designed to speed up operation.
When converting images to DNG, there's now an option to Embed Fast Load Data into the image file. This metadata adds around 200kb to each image, but is designed to load images up to 8x faster in the Develop module. While the speed is increased, I personally didn't find it that much faster. Without the Fast Load Data, an image on my MacBook loaded in 5.5 seconds, with it on, the same image loaded in 4.9 seconds.
Eyebrows may also be raised at Adobe's decision to include the ability to save DNG files with some lossy compression applied. To do this, Lightroom uses the same principle as JPEGs and discards information. Furthermore, users can also dictate maximum image dimensions, further reducing file size. While not everyone's cup of tea, this option does have its uses. A wedding photographer, for example, shooting 1000 images may only pick 200 to show to the client. That leaves 800 images that they will never use, but don't want to throw away. Using the lossy compression will keep the files, but take up less storage space.
Lightroom 3 only had rudimentary video support, but Lr4 offers more creativity, although still falls some way short of full-on video editing software.
There's the option to change the in and outpoints on a video clip as well as make other changes to footage through the Quick Develop control. More advanced alterations aren't done through the Develop module, however. Instead, a single frame has to be captured then developed as a still image, saved as a preset and then applied back to the whole video clip, which does seem to be a laborious way of going about things.
The Map module
The new Map module is a godsend for landscape photographers, or those who simply like to catalogue their images by location. Any picture files with embedded GPS data will have this information shown when selected from the filmstrip across the bottom of the screen. Alternatively, you can search the world map for a location where the shots were taken. Once found, highlight the shots in the filmstrip and drag and drop them on to the location. This will then create a flag showing the number of shots taken in this spot. Click on the flag and the images can be scrolled through.
When you've put the images on the map, the GPS co-ordinates are then embedded in the files. However, if any locations are sensitive, or you don't want to reveal the GPS co-ordinates, this can be turned off when the files are exported from Lightroom.
The Book module
A handy function if you want to put together photo books quickly and easily. Adobe has partnered with Blurb and you can choose, lay out and then upload your shots to the Blurb site through Lr4, although it's also possible to export pages to PDFs.
Using this module makes it surprisingly easy to put together a good-looking book. Definitely one to play with if you're a social photographer and it enables you to keep all of your post-production in one place and with one program, which for most will be a good thing.
I've spent a good few hours playing with Lightroom 4 and think the changes only enhance the user experience. Despite the additional video functions, however, I'd say it remains primarily a still image-editing tool, where the additional functions are both well thought out and welcome. If you want to give it a go without splashing the cash, a 30-day trial is available from the Adobe website at www.adobe.com/go/trylightroom.
Taken from the May 2012 issue of Photo Professional magazine