My biggest question about Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe’s new $299 photo management and processing application designed for professional photographers, was: Why do I need this instead of some other Adobe application?
After testing out Lightroom, I quickly discovered some answers. Photoshop Elements has a great organizer and good editing tools but no batch image-processing capabilities. Photoshop CS3 has much more powerful editing tools but no organizational tool. And the Bridge organizer application that ships with Adobe’s Creative Suite is designed to serve the multiple applications in that suite, not just Photoshop.
Lightroom, however, has tools for importing, managing, processing, and displaying large quantities of images. The program’s basic tagging system isn’t nearly as attractive as that of the consumer Elements application, but it allows you to search and find images by an incredible array of metadata elements–for example, you can search by camera lens and/or camera serial number. As you scroll through images in a filmstrip at the bottom of the window, you can use keyboard keys to attach flags, ratings, or color codes. You can zip through a couple hundred images in no time.
Lightroom has few of Photoshop’s micro-level tools–you won’t find any selection tools, for instance. But it offers the same engine for working with digital camera raw-format files, and it gives you a huge variety of color and exposure adjustments. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom writes your edits to a database rather than to the original files, so they’re nondestructive.
When you’re applying your changes, you can have Lightroom give you four different A/B choices of before-and-after representations of your image, with the B side showing a live preview of the changes’ effects. When you click on the application’s tone curve, it shows you a graphical representation of safe or reasonable areas to which you can expand your adjustments. Unfortunately, the feature felt sluggish on the 3.2-GHz P4 system I used.
The program has some of the best printing features I’ve ever seen. For example, when printing multiple images on a page, you use sliders to adjust how many rows and columns you want on the page, and the application gives you a live, scaling preview of how your images will fit.
Lightroom is a sophisticated, intelligent application, and I’d recommend it to professional photographers. I just wish its features were included in other Adobe apps; I’m a little annoyed that it’s an extra expense.