Improved visual-quality performance process; white balance on brushes, finally!
Can feel sluggish and difficult to coax performance out of.
Adobe’s Lightroom has never been an easy application to explain to the uninitiated, but we’ll give it a shot. Lightroom 4 is, at its core, two things: a DAM (digital asset manager) and a raw-file developer. Sure, it also comes with new or updated modules for mapping and creating books, slide shows, and the like, but the key features are its Library and Develop modules.
Lightroom 4.0 allows you to bulk-edit images quickly so you don’t have to sit in one photo for hours.
Unlike a pure photo editor such as Photoshop CS6 , Lightroom will change your photo workflow significantly. Gone are the days of “open file A, adjust file A, save file A, close file A, open file B...” ad nauseam. In fact, it doesn’t even make much sense to think of files as being “open” or “closed” when working in Lightroom. This new workflow makes it possible to handle huge volumes of images quickly and easily and in a truly nondestructive manner.
Lifelong nerds may not be comfortable letting Lightroom 4 do all their image management, but once you learn to trust it and let go, Lightroom 4 makes it possible to get a ton more work done. In the end, as you use Lightroom 4, you’ll learn to like the way it organizes things.
Furthermore, Lightroom 4 makes it possible to create multiple versions, and still only save a single master file to the drive. If you love testing different treatments of the same image, then comparing them to find the best, Lightroom 4 will save you a lot of disk space over time.
Major changes in this version of Lightroom include an upgraded process version, a new map module for geotagging, a book module for basic books, and enhanced video support in the Library and on export.
Perhaps the most important feature to a photographer is the new‑and‑improved Process Version 2012. Lightroom 4 comes with major upgrades to its raw-processing engine and compared to Lightroom 3, we experienced more latitude when making exposure corrections, even better highlight recovery, better noise reduction, and a much improved clarity slider. Adobe has tweaked the layout and naming of the individual controls to be more consistent and easier to understand than the previous versions, too. For those who don’t like change, the older controls and process versions are available as well. And in the way-overdue department we finally have graduated filters, as well as white balance on brushes.
One yardstick we’ve long used to measure Lightroom is whether or not we have to launch Photoshop CS6 for deep edits. We’ve always felt that if we have to launch another app to finish a job, Lightroom has failed us. Lightroom 4 has gotten better, but it’s definitely not a full-tilt photo editor. For instance, we often need to open Photoshop to liquefy, build layers, swap heads to correct a blink, and make advanced spot corrections. Don’t get us wrong, though: If the bulk of your editing involves whitepoint, exposure, contrast, tone curve, cropping, split toning, or lens-correction adjustments, you can probably do 95 percent of your work without ever leaving Lightroom. But any serious photographer will still need to have a full-service image editor on standby.
Another area where we’ve wanted improvement from Lightroom is in the efficiency of the codebase. We’ve found that it’s just very difficult to coax more performance out of the program. Adding cores, increasing clock speeds, and adding RAM hasn’t seemed to move the needle very much in Lightroom, and nothing changes with LR4. Even more perplexing, we’ve personally seen Lightroom bog down on Core i7 boxes with 16GB of RAM and an SSD but fly on a 3-year-old Hewlett Packard laptop.
So should you buy Lightroom 4? We think it’s indispensable for any serious hobbyist and pro-photographer who is overwhelmed by the number of photos that he or she takes. For those thinking of an upgrade from Lightroom 3, the new process-version engine and the new low price make it a no‑brainer. However, we’re dinging Lightroom 4 and Adobe for the simply whacky performance issues we’ve experienced with the app.