Lightroom 4 Review
Amadou Diallo | Software/App Reviews | Published Mar 6, 2012
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 offers an impressive list of features, the vast majority of which will be familiar to those who explored the previously-released public beta Adobe made available in January.
These include a completely new book-creation module, expanded support for video, soft proofing capability, and geo-tagging of still and video images via a Google Maps-powered module. Image editing tools have also been significantly updated, with a new process version (PV2012) that includes a reworking of the Basic panel controls and new localized editing options. If you've spent time playing with the public beta and are already comfortable using these features, you can jump ahead to a listing of the few (and mostly minor) changes that have gone into the shipping version of Lightroom 4.
One welcome surprise to everyone, though, is Adobe's announcement of a 50% price drop. For the first time in Lightroom's five year history, the retail price is now $149 US for a full version. Upgrade pricing for current users as well as the student/teacher versions also see a (more modest) price reduction to $79 US.
I've been using the shipping version of Lightroom 4 for a few weeks with my own personal image catalog and in this review I'll take you through the tools and features that have changed since Lightroom 3. Keep in mind this is not a step-by-step Lightroom tutorial, rather an illustrated guide to what has been added and updated. My goal is to explain the new features so that you can decide whether the upgrade to Lightroom 4 is one you should make. Of course, if you've already decided to take the plunge, this article will help you get started in exploring these new features for yourself.
We'll take a look at the following features:
- Develop module (part 1)
- Develop module (part 2)
- Book module
- Map module
- Soft proofing
- Video support
- Changes for public beta users
Before we get started it's important to note that the minimum system requirements for Lightroom have changed. Lightroom 4 does not support 32-bit Macs. You must be running a 64-bit Intel processor and OS 10.6.8 or higher (read this Apple support document to determine whether your Mac has a 64-bit processor). On the Windows side, support for Windows XP has been dropped. Lightroom now requires a version of Windows Vista or Windows 7.
Lightroom 4 introduces Process Version (PV) 2012. What's a process version and why should you care? Well, it's the image processing engine behind Lightroom (and Photoshop's Adobe Camera Raw plug-in). The Lightroom engineers make periodic tweaks to its components to provide better image rendering and/or enable new editing functionality. While the rendering performance sees some minor changes, PV2012 stands out by introducing a redesigned and recalibrated set of the Develop module's Basic panel tools, along with more localized editing options. Simply put, PV2012 is of huge consequence for every serious Lightroom user. Its changes are significant and will have a direct effect on your editing workflow.
As with the introduction of previous process versions, Lightroom, by default honors the current (in this case PV2010) process version of your existing images. If you desire, you can simply go on working as you always have. But should you choose to update an image to PV2012, a whole host of new functionality awaits.
Select any image in the Develop module that was imported in Lightroom 3 or earlier and you'll notice a warning icon in the lower right (shown below), indicating the image has not been updated to PV2012.
|A warning icon appears at the bottom of the Develop module when an image processed via PV2010 or earlier (circled in red) is displayed.|
After clicking the icon you can choose to update the selected image or all images in the filmstrip. Once an image is updated to PV2012 you will notice a revised collection of tools in the Basic Panel (shown below), as well as a noticeable change to the appearance of your image.
Gone from the Basic panel are the Recovery, Fill Light and Brightness sliders. Instead, what you see in Lightroom 4 is a separate grouping of sliders labeled Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. Moving any of these sliders to the right (a positive value) brightens pixels. Negative adjustments darken pixels. The default value for all items in the Basic Panel is now set to 0 for raw files, just as they have always been for JPEG images.
|Many of the Basic panel controls
in Lightroom 3 (shown above)...
|...have been changed in version
4 with default values set to 0.
It's very important to understand that for many of the Basic panel tools, the internal effects ranges have been changed, meaning that a slider value of say +50 in a PV 2010 tool may not correspond to +50 in the equivalent PV2012 tool. When updating PV2010 (or earlier) images which already contain manual Basic panel adjustments, slider values will be carried over or 'transposed' to the appropriate PV2012 settings. But the appearence of your image will change, often significantly. For this reason, I encourage you to apply PV2012 on an image by image basis to your existing photos to get a feel for what the new tools can do. Or simply import new images, which will automatically get the newest process version, and explore the new features with those images.
The WB selector's sample area is now zoom-dependant, mimicing the behavior seen in Adobe Camera Raw. Clicking with the WB tool on an image displayed in say a 1:2 (50%) view will result in a white balance calculation based on a wider range of pixels than performing the same action with the image at a 1:1 view. Put more simply, when you adjust the Scale slider for the WB selector's loupe window, the image area you see in the grid is now the same area that LR will sample to determine WB.
|The loupe window of the WB selector
indicates the sampling area on which the
WB calculation will be made.
|Setting the Scale slider to the lowest
possible magnification results in a wider
area of pixels from which to sample.
Sampling over a wider area of pixels should lead to more accurate WB settings in noisy images by minimizing the impact of random pixel values. In previous versions of Lightroom, a consistent grid of pixels was being sampled regardless of the image view or Scale slider setting.
Exposure and Contrast
The Exposure and Brightness tools in previous versions of Lightroom have essentially been combined into a single control in PV2012. Exposure is meant to be used to set midtones to a desired level of, yes brightness. Exposure adjustments appear to have gentler roll-off towards the highlight and shadow end in PV2012, making for a less contrasty transition away from the midtones.
Of course, precise control over contrast can be found in the Contrast slider, which works as you'd expect. Once overall image exposure has been set to a pleasing value, use the Contrast slider to increase or decrease the luminance difference between pixels brighter than a midtone and pixels darker than a midtone.
The Exposure and Contrast sliders exist at the top of the editing panel for good reason. Taken as a pair, these tools perform the bulk of the heavy lifting in traditional image edits. The results can be significant and in many instances you may find they get you very close to a finished image.
One notable addition to Lightroom 4 is that its highlight recovery algorithms are now automatically enabled in the image processing engine. When compared at their default settings you may well find that with raw files PV2012 consistently reduces highlight clipping to a greater degree than its predecessor, PV2010.
Highlights and Shadows
While a negative Exposure value can help reduce highlight clipping, up to a point, the Highlights slider is the primary means with which to perform highlight recovery. While it is, in principle, the most direct substitute for Lightroom 3's Recovery tool, Highlights - in addition to moving in both positive and negative directions - has a more aggressive parameter range and should be used much more conservatively. A little bit goes a long way here. It's also worth pointing out that when all three RGB channels are clipped in the initial capture, all that any of these tools can do is make white pixels less white. To recover any visible detail, the image must contain real data in at least one RGB channel.
Of course the Highlights slider is not just a tool for fixing blown out details. You can use it to even out tones in directional lighting scenarios and even push bright tones closer to maximum white, examples of which you'll see in the image comparison that follows.
The Shadows slider works on the opposite end of the tonal spectrum and is used to control the luminance of pixels that photographers generally think of as being in shadow. A negative Shadows value will darken these pixels while having as little effect as possible on the absolute darkest pixels of the image. In short, you get the ability to set rich, satisfying dark tones for your image without clipping large amounts of image detail to maximum black.
In the example below we'll compare a before and after set of images using the Highlights and Shadows sliders in addition to the Exposure and Contrast controls we looked at previously.
Whites and Blacks
The Whites and Blacks sliders address the far ends of the histogram, controlling the brightest and darkest pixels respectively. They have the most constricted tonal range of any of the previous sliders and are meant to be used to set the endpoints of your image's dynamic range.
These tools are most effective when used after the general tonal relationships in the image have been established with the sliders we've just discussed. Again, note their position in the tool layout. Move the Whites slider to the right if your aim is to move the image's brightest pixels closer to pure white. When you move the slider to the left you are effectively creating a more gently-sloped roll-off from the brightest pixels in the image to those that are almost as bright.
The Blacks slider performs a similar task with the image's darkest pixels. A negative move can clip pixels to maximum black, giving a sense of deep rich shadows. The trick of course is to limit the adjustment so that important shadow detail is not obscured.
While the functionality of the Clarity slider remains the same - to adjust midtone contrast - the algorithms behind it have been updated. The Lightroom 4 version can be used more aggressively when set to positive values without leading to noticeable halos along high contrast edges.
Lightroom's localized adjustment tools, the Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter, get some new options. In Lightroom 4 you can selectively adjust WB to correct for mixed lighting situations, apply noise reduction only where it is needed and remove moiré patterns.
|In addition to the revamped Basic panel controls, you can now apply localized corrections using the Temparature, Tint, Noise and Moiré sliders.|
RGB Point Curves
In Lightroom 4's Tone Curve panel you can make Point Curve edits to individual RGB channels, a task that until now required a trip to Photoshop. Click the 'Edit Point Curve' icon at the lower right of the histogram window then click the panel's Channel menu and select the curve you wish to edit. The Targeted Adjustment Tool (TAT) can be applied with each channel. With precise control over individual RGB curves you can fine-tune color balance, convert color negatives to positives images (or vice versa) or apply any number of creative color techniques.
|You can mimic creative darkroom effects like cross-processing by manipulating individual RGB curves.|
With Lightroom 4 you now have the ability to create and design books via a brand new Book module. While you can output your final layout in PDF form, Lightroom 4 provides a direct link to Blurb, the popular self-publishing service, complete with real-time price estimates that update as you specify book size and add or delete pages.
Whatever type of book you create, you'll spend a good deal of time inspecting its pages. Lightroom 4 offers four view settings. You can cycle through each one using Cmd/Ctrl+plus to zoom in, Cmd/Ctrl+minus to zoom out, or use the view-specific shortcuts shown below.
|Multi-Page view (Cmd/Ctrl+E)||Spread view (Cmd/Ctrl+R)|
|Single Page view (Cmd/Ctrl+T)||Zoom view (Cmd/Ctrl+U)|
Page templates and layout
The Books module is template-driven and while you cannot design a custom page template, Lightroom comes with a large variety of pre-built page designs that accommodate single and multi-image pages, two-page spreads and several image and text combination options.
The subset of catalog images that will make up your book must reside in a Collection, so the first step, obviously is to create one (a Quick Collection works as well). Once you've organized your image collection in the Library module you navigate to the Books module (Opt+Cmd+4 on a Mac, Alt+Ctrl+4 on Windows) which, by default generates an Auto Layout, creating book pages to accommodate all of the images in your Collection and arranging them in the order in which they have been sorted in the Collection.
You can move images onto pages by dragging thumbnails from the Filmstrip directly onto a the photo cell of a page. Any preexisting image will in the photo cell will be replaced. You can also click and drag an image already on a page to another page. In this instance, though, the image to be replaced remains in the layout, swapping positions with the image you have just moved.
Creating a book, even with a selection of great images and pre-built templates, involves a lot of design decisions and fine-tuning. Among the choices you'll have to consider are book size and format. Lightroom offers five book sizes of square (7 x 7 in. and 12 x 12 in.), portrait (8 x 10 in.), and landscape formats (10 x 8 in. and 13 x 11 in.) You can also designate a background graphic or solid color via the Background panel. A single book destined for Blurb can have as many as 240 pages.
In order to enter text on a page you must first do one of the following: select a page template that includes a text cell, or enable either a photo caption or page caption option in the Caption panel. Lightroom offers typographic tools that will be familiar to users of page layout programs, with controls such as tracking, leading, kerning and baseline shift available. You cannot, however, import text. You must copy/paste text into one text cell at a time. There is no autoflow option whereby overset text can automatically flow into text cells on additional pages.
With all of the planning and hard work that go into a book layout, Lightroom makes an explicit 'Create Saved Book' button available (see below). When you name and save a book it is listed alongside a book icon in the Collections panel. Clicking on it will display the images associated with the book in the Filmstrip of any module. You can even jump straight to the Book module with all of your layout and type settings as you left them by clicking on the arrow that appears to the right of the collection when its highlighted. It's worth noting that these explicit 'Create Saved' options are also available in the Slideshow, Print and Web modules. And once you create this saved collection, Lightroom automatically saves any future changes. The collection will always reflect the most recent changes you have made.
|When you hit the 'Create Saved Book' button...||...the images and layout settings of your book are saved in the Collections panel. The icons for the four highlighted collections represent book, slideshow, print and web output respectively.|
The Map module leverages GPS data with none other than Google Maps to provide visual location information for your images. If your camera records GPS information, using Maps requires minimal effort. Select the geo-tagged image(s) in the filmstrip and the map automatically updates to show the location at which the image was captured. You can also import GPX tracklog data and have images automatically tagged based on date/time stamps. Once tagged, a metadata panel displays the GPS coordinates for the selected image and the map provides road, satellite, hybrid and terrain views. You can zoom in far enough to see cars on the street.
|The Map module provides a visual reference of all of the locations for which your images have been tagged. Each orange pin displays the number of images tagged with that location.|
Smartphones aside, few photographers at this point are capturing GPS data with their images. To this end, Lightroom makes the way that most of us will begin using the Map module - by manually geo-tagging our images - a relatively simple affair.
With images selected in the Filmstrip, you can type in an address or location, just as you would in the web browser version of Google Maps (note that an Internet connection is required). A yellow search result marker is then placed on the map at that location. You can tag images with location data by dragging and dropping them from the Filmstrip anywhere on the map or by right-clicking a location on the map and setting the selected images to that location. An image pin denoting the number of images tagged with those specific GPS coordinates is then placed on the map.
|You can find a location simply by typing into the Map module's search bar.||Using the map's zoom slider you can control the precision of the geo-tag for your images.|
Once you've dropped images onto the map, Lightroom automatically fills in the appropriate coordinates in the GPS metadata field. Additionaly, you can enable Lightroom to use reverse geocoding whereby it attempts - via the Google Maps engine - to fill in neighborhood, City, State, and Country information automatically based on the GPS coordinates. This feature can save a lot of typing if you're placing pins on urban cities or popular destinations. Obviously, in more remote locales, reverse geocoding will not be as accurate. This feature does involve the transfer of specific data from your computer to Google's servers. You can enable/disable the feature at any time via the Catalog Settings preferences.
Searching by location
While there's no denying the satisfaction of marking a map with all of the places you have photographed over the years, the real pleasure comes after you've tagged your images. That's because you can use the map as a search tool. Clicking on an image marker automatically makes a selection in the Filmstrip of images matching the GPS data. In addition, a small image window pops up, allowing you to scroll through thumbnails of the entire set of selected images.
|Each image shown in thumbnail view becomes the 'most selected' image in the Filmstrip, allowing you to go straight to the Develop or Print modules with that image populating the main image window.|
You can create saved locations (shown below) which makes adding future images to those same coordinates fast and easy. Perhaps of equal importance though is that you can set a saved location as private.
|The Private option is checked for this saved location. When exporting images associated with this saved location, none of the location data will included with the exported version.|
Lightroom 4 includes long-awaited soft proofing functionality, providing an onscreen preview (the soft proof) of how your image will appear in print (the hard proof). The concept, if not the actual practice of soft proofing is rather straightforward. Monitors, by and large, are capable of displaying a wider dynamic range and color gamut than we can print. Simply put, there are image colors you can see onscreen that cannot be printed. If you can preview this mismatch before you print, you can make specific adjustments to the file destined for the printer to address these differences.
Previewing print output
In the Develop module go to View>Soft Proofing>Show Proof or use the keyboard shortcut (S) and your image is displayed in the main editing window surrounded by a 'white' background. In the soft proofing panel located just beneath the histogram, you can select any ICC profile that is installed in your system, choose between a Perceptual or Relative (colorimetric) rendering intent and immediately observe how these two parameters affect the contrast, saturation and brightness of your 'print' image.
In short, you are previewing the print output on your monitor. Checking the Simulate Paper & Ink box takes things to a more precise level of comparison. Instead of showing the white background as defined by your monitor (which will always be brighter and more neutral than printing paper), this option attempts to mimic the hue of the paper you've chosen via the ICC printer profile, applying it to the background and throughout the image area. The deep rich black of your monitor is similarly mapped throughout the image area to the relatively weaker tone of the ink/printer/paper combination specified in your selected ICC printer profile.
If all you could do was see just how much flatter and duller your print was going to look in comparison to what you see onscreen, soft proofing would be very depressing. Fortunately this is only the start. When you hit the Create Proof Copy button, Lightroom makes a virtual copy (VC), places it alongside your original image in the library and adds the profile name to the image's metadata (for easy searching).
Now you're free to make adjustments to brightness, contrast and/or saturation until this proof copy more closely resembles your original image. And because your changes are applied to a VC, your original image remains unaltered. Note that if you attempt to make edits in soft proofing mode without first creating a VC, Lightroom will prompt you to create one.
Although not soft proofing per se, in Lightroom 4's Print module you can adjust both brightness and contrast of the print output without altering your catalogued image. There is no visual preview of the adjustments so getting them right will require a fair bit of trial and error. If you constantly complain of prints that are too dark (or light), however, and are intimidated by the soft proofing workflow described above, this offers a quick way to adjust your print output without affecting your catalogued image.
Enhanced video support
Lightroom 4 expands significantly on the range of options available with video files. You can playback and scrub video in the Library module. You can trim video clips non-destructively as well as apply a subset of Lightroom's image editing tools. Common video formats like .mov and .mp4 are supported along with .mts files generated from AVCHD output.
|You can drag the trim handles (circled in red) to remove unwanted frames from both the beginning and end of the video clip. A time marker below the thumbnails shows the location of the playback head.|
You can apply image enhancing edits by using the Library module's Quick Develop buttons. Note that the Crop, Highlights, Shadows and Clarity options are disabled for video files.
While video files cannot be opened in the Develop module, you can apply a subset of the Develop module tools by selecting a saved preset.
|The Saved Preset option at the top of the Quick Develop panel includes video-compatible presets.||If you choose a non-video preset containing settings that cannot be applied, the dialog box shown above appears.|
You can export video directly from Lightroom in either DPX, H.264 or the file's existing format. Video files can be included in collections that are published to Facebook and Flickr via their Lightroom-supplied plug-ins.
|A popup menu in the playback bar allows you to select the poster frame for a clip - the thumbnail that appears in Grid view. Additionally you can extract a single video frame as a JPEG file.|
We've now looked at the headline features and additions to Lightroom 4. Here are some other noteworthy changes that have been included in the new release.
- DNG lossy compression option and the ability to export reduced resolution raw files
- New zoom ratios of 1:8 and 1:16 in the Library and Develop modules
- NR effects are now rendered in image previews other than 1:1 view
- One-click Chromatic Aberration (CA) removal in Lens Corrections panel
- Ability to filter searches by saved versus unsaved metadata status
- Ability to hide modules by right-clicking on the module picker
- Crop tool supports four digit aspect ratios (facilitates using screen resolutions as aspect ratios)
- Global flag status (regardless of image location)
- Color managed Flash galleries
- Email images directly from Lightroom (using desktop client or AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail accounts)
- Language options (Mac only)
- Ability to simultaneously move multiple folders between volumes
- Hierarchical presets display
- Disk burning available on Windows 64-bit systems
If you've already explored the public beta you'll find very little has changed with the final release. Here's a list of the differences that you will see in the shipping version.
- Lightroom 3 (and earlier) catalogs can now be converted
- Blurb books can now contain up to 240 pages
- Reverse geocoding has been enabled in the Maps module
- Video compatible presets have been added and Develop module presets have been updated
- Auto tone settings in the Develop module have been updated
- The range of temperature and tint WB adjustments in the localized tools have been expanded
- Process Version (PV) is now an option in the copy/sync dialog
- The Clarity slider has a gentler effect on overall image brightness when moved in a positive direction
- The chromatic aberration (CA) algorithm has been adjusted
Lightroom 4 is a substantial upgrade and for many users will represent a significant change from their current Lightroom workflow. Yet it does not take long to get the hang of the changes to the Develop module, for instance, and after processing dozens of images in PV2012, I find I am consistently getting pleasing results in fewer discrete steps.
Users who are importing video from their cameras will be pleased with Adobe's decision for greater video support. It's clear that Lightroom is not aiming to compete with Adobe Premiere, or even iMovie for that matter. Yet the tools that are on offer represent a commitment to video and make a strong case for using Lightroom to manage your video content as well.
With GPS support clearly on the rise from camera makers, the Maps module may soon become a much more essential part of many photographers' workflow. The Books module still feels rather un-Lightroom-like at this point. It's not as intuitive to use as it could be, but to be fair does offer quite a number of options for tailoring content to your needs.
For many (myself included), the use of Lightroom is based first and foremost around image quality. Adobe can add all the bells and whistles they want in order to keep pace with the competition, but I have to be able to get great looking results from my raw files. With version 4 it's clear that the Lightroom team has kept its eye on the prize, so to speak.
The raw conversion engine introduced with PV2012 strikes a better balance between image sharpness, detail rendition and noise reduction. A new, automated CA correction tool works impressively well on a range of images. And the addition of more localized adjustment parameters saves some trips to Photoshop. Put simply, you can get superior results from raw files compared to previous versions. It's hard to think of a more compelling reason to upgrade than that.
And while the changes to Lightroom 4 are significant, keep in mind that Adobe traditionally saves at least another feature or two for their famed '.1' releases. So stay tuned.
Amadou Diallo is a technical writer at dpreview, a photographer and author who has taught Lightroom in seminars and workshops throughout the U.S. His fine art work can be seen at diallophotography.com.