Maximum PC Staff Apr 02, 2010

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe’s stand-alone raw app gives you all the granular photo-hacking horsepower of ACR, plus even more sophisticated photographic adjustments tools and a powerful database tool for managing your collection. And like any good raw app, Lightroom is a nondestructive editor, saving changes to metadata settings, rather than changing the pixels themselves, as Photoshop does.

If you’re only familiar with image editors like Photoshop, Lightroom takes some adjustment. For one thing, there’s no “save” function; if you want to save to another format, like a JPEG or TIFF file, you’ll need to use export. The version we tested, 2.6, is fully 64-bit and robustly supports dual displays.

Lightroom's user interface makes full use of dual displays.

Version 2 of Lightroom is more tightly integrated with Photoshop, but we recommend that you do as much work in Lightroom as possible. All Lightroom edits are nondestructive, but once you load an image into Photoshop, it’s loaded as a 16-bit-per-pixel TIFF file. Any edits in Photoshop are baked into the pixels, and when you save and exit, the TIFF file shows up in Lightroom with the Photoshop changes. The original raw file is still present, but doesn’t have any of the changes made in Photoshop itself.

Photoshop users may find the selection of Lightroom filters to be limiting. Lightroom’s nondestructive nature required many commercial filters to be rewritten, and many filters still aren’t available. The app doesn’t boast a single standout tool, like Capture NX2’s control points, but we dig the ability to create and share presets for automated routines. Need to create more interesting skies, punch up a portrait, or achieve sublime B&W conversion? A large community of Lightroom users is there to help with freely distributed presets. Creating fantastic-looking images is easy once you’re familiar with how the tools work, but as with all apps except Bibble 5 Pro, noise reduction in Lightroom is limited.

Before and after shots after using Lightroom's graduated filters and tweaking the tone curve (original on top).

Because Lightroom is built on top of the Camera Raw engine, we expected performance similar to ACR in our JPEG conversion test. However, Lightroom actually took 11 fewer seconds than ACR 5.6 to convert 100 12-megapixel files, finishing the job in two minutes, 45 seconds.

Besides raw performance, Lightroom has great printing features, giving you robust control over print layout, multipage printing, and color management. Workflow and file-management capabilities are similar to that of Adobe Bridge, but with a UI that’s consistent with the rest of Lightroom. In fact, it’s possible to use Lightroom as a replacement for both Bridge and Camera Raw—but you’ll still need Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for a complete solution.

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Adobe Lightroom

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