At the heart of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 is a new RAW processing engine, the same as that used in Adobe Camera RAW, which is found in Photoshop CS5. Here, we've taken RAW files from a selection of cameras and run them through a variety of RAW conversion processes. We've used the new Adobe raw process (labelled as 2010 in Lightroom 3), the last-generation process (2003) Bibble Pro 5, and finally, the applicable manufacturers' own software.
To keep things simple, all RAW converters were switched to their default output settings. You can take it as read that with some tweaking, all of the various RAW converters shown in this comparison can give better results, but keeping everything at default settings gives us a good 'baseline' for comparing how well they deal with these various cameras' RAW files.
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As you can see, Lightroom's new RAW process is significantly improved over the earlier 2003 engine which was used in Lightroom 2. Not only is detail frequently slightly better defined in low ISO images, but noise (especially chroma) is visibly reduced towards the higher end of the ISO scale from all of the cameras shown here. The new processing engine also does a better job of pulling detail out of high ISO files than the previous version, and in most cases, we feel that Adobe's 2010 process gives the best results of any of the conversion engines used in this comparison.
Look at all ISO settings from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 to see how much less chroma noise is visible in files converted using the new process, and much better detail is rendered towards the top end of the ISO scale. The improvement is also very apparent in the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV's ISO 25,600 and ISO 51,200 images, where Canon's Digital Photo Professional gives increasingly blotchy results, and both Bibble Pro 5 and Adobe's 2003 process struggle with chroma. In contrast, Adobe's new 2010 process delivers excellent detail and relatively low noise at the expense of a noticeable 'grittiness' which we don't find objectionable, but can of course be reduced using the 'luminance' noise slider in Lightroom 3 (which by default is set to zero).