Lightroom 3 Beta Release – First Impressions

Software Review

image I was quite surprised, like many others no doubt, to find out last Friday that Adobe had released a beta version of Lightroom 3 just 15 months after the full launch of Lightroom 2. They certainly managed to keep that one quiet! Lightroom has become my software of choice for DAM and RAW processing and I’ve used it from the very first beta release of version 1, so I was very keen to try out the new LR3 beta version. Some of the new features touted by Abobe are as follows:

  • New performance architecture, to allow for growing image libraries
  • Noise reduction for high ISO shots
  • Watermarking tool
  • Portable sharable slideshows with audio—designed to give you more flexibility and impact on how you choose to share your images, you can now save and export your slideshows as videos and include audio
  • Customizable print package for custom print layouts
  • Film grain simulation tool
  • New import handling dialog
  • More flexible online publishing options including ability to post images to sites such as FLICKR

Needless to say, after only a day or two there are already a substantial number of detailed reviews, first looks, videos and blogs (some of which I listed below) out there already. Most of these I suspect, have been posted by members of the Alpha testing group who are able get their hands on new Lightroom versions long before the general public do. Funnily enough I’ve only seen Michael Reichmann admit to being an alpha tester.

First Impressions

Firstly, I’ve only had a weekend so far to look at LR 3 beta so these are my very first impressions. When I first saw the list of improvements and new features from Adobe I can’t deny I was a tad disappointed. Where were Soft Proofing, Lens Distortion Correction, Perspective Correction, and a decent Keyword Manager? These were all around the top of my list of improvements, and plenty of others from what I gleaned from the various forum and web postings. I can’t say Film Grain Simulation, Exporting to Flickr and Watermarking were anywhere near getting on my list, so I really can’t understand why any time has been spent on these rather trivial features. However, this is by far from the finished package, and like the release of LR2, I can only assume they are saving the best till last. At least I truly hope so. Lets take a look at some of the headline changes.

New File Import Dialog

Well it’s called a dialog box, but it’s long, thin, very dark, has rounded corners, has a horizontal work flow and dims the rest of your screen when it’s opened. It’s quite unlike any dialog box I’ve seen before. In fact once expanded, it bears a more resemblance to a Lightroom module rather than a dialog box and has side panels and even a flourish! So just what is going on here?

image

Well there is more functionality perhaps, but I’m really not sure about the way it’s been presented. What’s the old adage “If it aint broke , don’t fix it”. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the old import dialog box in LR2 and I wasn’t aware of any significant proportion of users reporting problems with it. It performed admirably in my book so I have to confess I’m rather surprised time has been spent on developing this. You can however, you can have far more thumbnails visible (albeit with some weird vignette applied) and zoom in on photographs before importing them, which is perhaps a good thing. However, the way this is now presented, it’s now surely an Import Module, and is no longer a dialog box. If that’s the case may be we should be seeing it as proper module and listed on the Module Picker.

I can understand why Adobe have gone with the dark colour, so you can judge your colour photographs against a similar background before importing them. However if it’s going to be a dialog box, make it look like the others please, remove the stupid corners and make it match the other dialog boxes, lets have some continuity through out LR. As presented here it now looks very much like a bolt-on application and I truly hope the rest of the dialog boxes within LR are not going to end up looking like this.

RAW Processing

We’re promised faster and better RAW processing as the desmosaic engine for LR3 has completely been re-written from the ground up. However, being a PC user it’s not easy to determine, as this version seems optimised for Macs not PC’s. Just read the feedback on the forums already and you’ll see what I mean. Fast on a Mac, slow on a PC. I guess that’s understandable as I’m sure LR3 Beta is probably developed on Macs and then ported to PC’s, and who can blame Adobe when you have the awfully sluggish Windows Vista to deal with.

My primary catalog has in excess of 100,000 photo files now, and it’s got to the stage where the size of the catalog has effected the speed of my workflow even on a quad-core 64 bit system running at 3.2 gHz, so speeding up my catalog is another key feature I was looking for. Unfortunately you can’t import your existing LR2 catalog into LR3 beta so I can’t test this feature. To import files and preserve your existing LR2 modifications you have to first save your edits as XMP side car files (Save Metadata to File from the Metadata menu in the Library module or via CRTL+S) and then read them back in once you imported the files into LR3 beta (Read Metadata to File from the Metadata menu in the Library module or via CRTL+R). Unfortunately there is a bug that prevents the user importing more than one folder at a time. Thus it’s highly unlikely I’m ever going to import my whole catalog folder by folder to test this feature.

I’ve tried a few side by side comparison of how LR3 beta processes RAW files as compared to LR2 and so far I can’t tell that much difference. On a few it definitely seems better, much smoother, but oddly quite a few of my pictures were rendered noticeably darker but I suspect this is something to do with a change in the way post crop vignetting works. It’s a bit too early to for me tell.

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If you import a picture processed in LR2 you will see a little grey alert icon above the histogram on the left-hand side in the Develop Module. To take advantages of the the new LR3 beta process engine and controls such as the new noise control, and new post crop vignetting, you’ll need to click on this to upgrade. You can also choose which process version to use from Settings | Process Version.

Noise Reduction

The Colour Noise Reduction algorithm has been re-written for LR3, but if you elect to use the LR3 beta process engine you’ll find the Luminance Noise Reduction option greyed out. The latter I guess is still work under progress. The Colour Noise Reduction is supposedly greatly improved, with criticism of the old version being that it tended to soften your image too much. There is a noticeable improvement with the Colour Noise Reduction but I, like most I suspect, have used well established 3rd party products (in my case Noise Ninja Pro) which have provided sophisticated results and provide the ability to apply selective noise reduction to different parts of the image. Unless the final release of LR3 intends to add noise reduction to the brush tool I see little here to threaten the wide use of the third party products or alter my existing noise reduction workflow.

Custom Print Package

Lightroom 3 allows custom print layouts which gives much more control over your print layout, and you can even add colour backgrounds if you wish. This is some welcome additional functionality, but what we really want is the ability to add custom borders, frames, mattes and text.

Watermarks

Watermarks have been improved..a little. You can apply text or graphic and adjustable size, position, and opacity.

Other Improvements

At long last you can now choose to backup your catalog when you exit Lightroom rather than the next time it starts. You can sort Images by aspect ratio now too. You can also now create a collection directly within a collection set by simply right-clicking on the collection set, and you can now select to have an icon displayed on the grid thumbnails to indicate that image is part of a collection. One other point that pleases me is that filters are no longer ‘sticky’ to a folder or collection. Many’s the time I’ve returned to a folder and wondered where many of my photographs were only to eventually remember I had some filter applied. Catalog file optimisation is now selectable from the File menu rather than been hidden. Some of the more popular print sizes have been added to the crop presets, although I’m sure most of us will have already have created our own. You can also export your slideshows as movie files, even in full HD at 1080p. Post cropping vignetting has been modified ability to select either Highlight Priority or Colour Priority, and can produce a more pleasing effect. You can also now add grain to your pictures, to emulate film grain. I thought this a rather odd function to add as it’s normally the realm of Photoshop or third party plug-ins to provide these type of features. May be this is a sign that Adobe are eventually going to add some of the functionality oh Photoshop to LR. I certainly hope so, the less Photoshop the better as far as I’m concerned. There are also many other minor improvements that I’ve not yet had time to investigate.

What other features can we expect?

I guess I’m really hoping that this is not it, as I suspect there are not nearly enough new features to temp the majority of user to upgrade based on this feature set alone. As with the release of LR2 I’m pretty sure Adobe will have kept one or two barnstorming features for the final release that will tempt even anti-upgrade stalwarts to relent. As Tom Hogarty stated in his Lightroom Journal blog “We’re not even close to finished in terms of features” and this is reiterated in Michaal Reichmann’s review on the Luminous Landscape. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Lightroom 3 Beta Resources

Download Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta from Adobe Labs
Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta Release notes
Lightroom 3 Beta Learning Centre
Lightroom 3 Beta First Look – Luminous Lightroom
Lightroom 3 Beta Tutorials – Juleanne Kost

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