Today Adobe officially lifts the veil on the next version of Lightroom 5. While still very much a beta product, this is our first chance to take a peek at the new features that await.
If you haven’t encountered Lightroom before, this is Adobe’s combination DAM (Digital Asset Management) and RAW processing application that specifically targets workflow for professional photographers. If you’re a photographer and still using a combination of Photoshop and Adobe Bridge, this application will save your ass.
So what’s new and cool in Lightroom 5? We’ve stated in the past that every time we need Photoshop to accomplish some basic manipulation, it feels like a failure on the part of Lightroom to deliver. We’re pleased to see that Adobe has taken this to heart and supercharged a number of Lightroom’s existing tools which we will outline below!
Healing Brush: If you chose to simply click the tool in-place, it functions as before. If you click and drag the cursor around, you can paint custom shapes to heal non-circular patches. Another awesome change here is the ability to set the transparency on the correction, so you no longer need to build layers in Photoshop when attempting to merely soften the appearance of flaws, but not remove them entirely. (A good example would be a portrait photographer who wants to soften a line, but not completely eliminate it.) If you often heal dust spots in your images, you’ll also appreciate an overlay that helps you to locate spots more quickly. This stands out as one particular operation that previously required Photoshop for more sophisticated operations, and now we can accomplish more right in Lightroom itself.
Upright tool (before)
Upright tool (after)
Upright Tool: The upright tool automates straightening images. A new panel on the existing Lens Corrections pane in the develop module offers multiple options for correcting skew, rotation, and other little slips that can happen when photographing subjects by hand. It offers a fully automated option, and other options for prioritizing vertical lines or horizontal lines. Our experience with this so far has been pretty good - saving a lot of time over tinkering with the manual sliders in Lightroom, or even worse going out to Photoshop to manually stretch and pull corners into correction. Again, here’s a tool that should save you from depending on Photoshop for all but the most complex corrections.
Radial Gradient tool
Radial Gradient Tool: Have you ever wished you could apply an off-center post-crop vignette? Your prayers have been answered with this little addition. In fact the name “radial gradient tool” doesn’t fully reveal the tool’s true capabilities, because it provides all the same controls available to the Graduated Filter tool, so you have control over not just exposure, but also sharpness, contrast, whitebalance, etc. By default, this tool affects anything outside the selection area, but it can also be inverted to affect anything inside the selection. In previous versions of Lightroom, you could build this effect manually using the mask brush or graduated filter tools, but this is a more precise and much faster way of achieving the same result.
Smart Previews: We’re very excited about this one. We keep our master catalog on our supercharged desktop computers, but often we have to work on the road. Shifting all the RAW files to a laptop for transportation can mean a huge data move, but without the RAW files we can’t do any meaningful work in the Develop module. Enter Smart Preview files. This is an enhanced preview that’s based on the DNG’s lossy spec. It’s high-res enough to zoom in and judge focus and sharpness, but not so high res that the files are large. In fact, they move around quite snappily. The quality is good enough to allow some pretty dramatic exposure adjustments (we’re seeing +/- 2 to 3 stops) and full whitebalance control. We’d even go so far as to suggest that you could produce output good enough for a blog or social media post from Smart Preview files. Once you’re done working on the road, re-import the catalog, and Lightroom is smart enough to apply all of your advanced retouching to the original master RAW files. Sexy!
Video Slideshow: The cinematographers and hybrid shooters in the crowd will enjoy the ability to mix video and stills into a single slideshow. You’ll also get enhanced color and effects abilities right inside of Lightroom for your video files.
Book Module Updates: A smattering of updates to the Book Module provides additional flexibility in layout and customization controls.
All in all, there are a number of great changes coming in Lightroom 5 that will further reduce our dependence on Photoshop, and when working in a volume production environment, that’s something we can get behind.
Conspicuously left off this list are changes relating to the performance and efficiency of some of the core Lightroom behaviors that we’ve criticized in the past. We hesitate to dive too deeply into performance criticism when our tested product is still pre-announcement beta, but we also don’t think there’s any reason to hope these issues will be addressed before final release of version 5.
If you’re curious about the new features and would like to tinker with them yourself, the beta is now available for download at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom5/. Remember, never use beta products on your master files!