Maximum PC Staff Aug 11, 2010

Adobe Lightroom 3 Review

At A Glance

Ansel Adams

Lens distortion correction; great noise reduction; improved performance; better stability.

Ron Galella

Video capability limited to catalog only; current social media features pretty lame.

Enhanced performance and new killer features make this a must-have app

Lightroom is tailored for photographers who often don’t need or want the robust image-manipulation tools offered by the pricier Photoshop. From its outset, Lightroom presented photographers with a logical, clean workflow that facilitated photo improvements rather than alterations.

Lightroom 2 added 64-bit support and some refinements—welcome, certainly, but the second version didn’t seem like much more than an incremental update. Lightroom 3, on the other hand, adds a couple of killer features—lens correction and improved noise reduction, namely—that really boost its worth.

While Lightroom 2 offered limited versions of lens correction and noise reduction, Lightroom 3 takes that capability to the next level. First, the app offers profile-based lens correction for owners of Canon and Nikon professional lenses. It also incorporates the entire set of Sigma lenses. So if you’re shooting with a wide-angle zoom that may have issues with barrel distortion, Lightroom can automatically correct it. You can even build profiles for your own lenses, if you’ve got the patience, by using Adobe’s Lens Profile Creator .

Lightroom 3's improved lens-correction capability lets you straighten out photos, such as this image of a door, which was off axis originally.

Auto-correcting for lens problems is one thing—what’s even cooler is altering lens settings yourself. We took a photo of a door in Venice, Italy. The shot was a little off-center, and the lens axis wasn’t perpendicular to the plane of the door. A few tweaks with the lens correction transform tool, and it looked much better. A little more time, and the image could have looked like it was shot from a camera mounted on a tripod and set up with a plumb bob and protractor.

You can, of course, also add lens distortion—for example, to achieve that barrel-distortion effect from fisheye lenses—if you’re going for a certain aesthetic.

Adobe spent considerable time tweaking Lightroom’s noise-reduction capabilities as well. Earlier versions had noise correction, but the results were often poor, particularly with high-ISO images. We would often use third-party noise-reduction filters in Photoshop to clean up images shot in poor lighting at high ISOs.

We took an image shot at ISO 3200 on a Nikon D300 and tweaked noise levels in Lightroom 3. The overall impact was dramatic—and that was just a quick-and-dirty setting, where we pushed luminance and color noise settings to 50 percent.

Noise correction for high-ISO images is greatly enhanced over Lightroom 2.

Of course, Adobe added other features, too. One of Lightroom’s past strengths has been support for output to photo printers. Lightroom 3 gives you even more control over this, with flexible multi-image print layouts. If you’ve got a 13x19-inch printer, you can lay out multiple images onto a single sheet, either for a collage or to trim into separate photos.

If you find yourself having to build slide shows for others, you can create them in Lightroom and then export them into PDF format, as a set of JPEGs, or into a video file in MP4 format. You can even add music (for video export or playback directly in Lightroom), but there’s no automated Ken Burns–style panning or zooming effects.

Performance in Lightroom 3 also seems improved—particularly cataloging performance. Lightroom built a catalog from a 24GB set of images in a little more than a minute. Our entire set of photos (nearly 400GB) was successfully cataloged in about 10 minutes. This is actually a first, as Lightroom 2 would always crash trying to build this massive catalog.

There are still issues left unresolved. Multiple-catalog support is still annoying—Lightroom closes and reopens itself if you switch catalogs. The app also still supports only two displays, and that second display offers limited capability. We’d love to have more flexible support for dual displays, or even three or more monitors.

Still, it’s likely that Lightroom 3 will finally replace Adobe Bridge as our workflow solution of choice. It’s easier to use, the new features offer interesting new options, and the improved output capabilities are genuinely useful.


Adobe Lightroom 3

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