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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Review

Half the price, and many new features and enhancements. What are you waiting for?

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Is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 worth the upgrade or getting for the first time? Read on and find out why this version rocks while costing less!


Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is something I couldn’t live without and it has undergone another major improvement with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. Even better, the price for the full version has been halved: the full version is now $149 and the Lightroom 4 upgrade (from any earlier version) costs $79.95 , making this product a great value. (Previous versions were priced at $299 and upgrades were $99.) You can download a 30-day trial if you have any doubts.

I’ll deal here with the new features in Version 4. For comprehensive background information on what Lightroom is and how it works—and to get an overview of how it has evolved—see my earlier Lightroom tutorials:

  
Lightroom 4 has the same basic interface as previous versions, with added features and functionality. Installation was a snap, and when I started the program it gave me the choice to start a new catalog or to open my old one. I chose the latter. I also had a checkbox choice to open that catalog every time Lightroom starts.

The program needed to upgrade the old catalog to the one for Version 4, which took a few minutes. The Catalog contains thumbnails of the images, so you can browse through them even if they are offline. The old catalog is left intact if you want to use Version 3 again. But if you use Version 4 on a trial basis and then decide not to use it, the changes you have made in the Version 4 catalog won’t be available in Version 3; the new features of Version 4 can’t be carried back to Version 3.

There is a handy Tips section when you start up that is a good quick guide for newcomers and can be dismissed if you're an experienced user.

The first thing I did in Adobe Lightroom 4 was to go to the Preferences and Catalog Settings, the sort of thing I always do with any new application, to make sure the settings are what I want. See the tutorial listed above, Getting Started in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, Part 2, and the section there on Setting Things Up, Preferences and Catalog Settings, for information on these settings. Some are just choices but others are things that I think should be changed from the defaults to save you a lot of trouble later on. 

Lightroom 4 picked up my settings and preferences from Lightroom 3 and also loaded my existing keywords, presets, and Identity Plate. I love it when things like that happen!  The first time I did an import I checked the settings in the right hand panels, which I needed to set the way I want them; those settings didn’t carry over.

To make initial browsing faster I like to have the program create 1:1 previews on import, so I can zoom in to a 100 percent view as I browse a folder without waiting for each preview to be generated. Then I accept the default to delete these large previews after 30 days, to keep the catalog smaller. Smaller previews are still available after the 1:1 previews are deleted and they are rebuilt on the fly whenever I zoom in to an image.

The basic layout and functionality of Lightroom 4 will be familiar to users of previous versions. The most obvious change is that there are two new modules in upper right of the screen, Book and Map, as you can see in the screenshot below.

 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 screen shot

 

The Develop module

The Presets on the left side of the screen are now arranged under categories, and there are six new ones for videos. Many others can be downloaded from many sources.

One of the most significant changes is new and more sophisticated Develop algorithms, and as a result the sliders in the Basic panel have been rearranged. They may take a little getting used to but the improvements are significant; you can now get much more highlight and shadow detail, extending the dynamic range of your digital captures with high quality and retaining a realistic look. In Version 3 you had to be careful with mixing too much Recovery and Fill, which could cause an odd look to slightly soft edges of shadows. That is no longer a problem with the new adjustments.

 

Sliders in Adobe Lightroom 4

 

The zero position of all the sliders is now in the middle. It’s vital to keep an eye on the histogram while making adjustments. (Its panel is closed in the figure above, but it’s always open while I’m working.)  It is your exposure meter, especially for darks and lights, which may not always show well on a monitor. You don’t want the ends pushed up against the walls of the histogram well, except in certain circumstances when you want absolute blacks and whites. Watch the histogram change as you experiment with the sliders to get the best feel for how they work.

If you hover the mouse over the histogram you will see several regions highlighted in light gray, and the corresponding adjustment slider will be highlighted.

 

Exposure and Contrast controls Adobe Lightroom 4

 

Exposure works as before and Contrast is now right under it. It is generally best to work from the top down with the sliders (going back and tweaking as needed). In the past I preferred to use the other sliders before Contrast, which was located below them, as the others changed the tonalities with more control of the darks and lights than Contrast did. But with the different functionality now, I assume Contrast is in a logical order.

The Exposure slider works as before, lightening or darkening the image. Moving the Highlights slider to the right brightens the lighter areas of the image and moving to the left tones them down. The move stretches out the histogram and leaves the very lightest or darkest tones anchored. In contrast, moving Exposure moves the entire histogram, albeit with some change in shape. The darkest tones are lightened more when the Exposure slider is moved right than with the Highlights slider. Moving Whites is similar but gives more aggressive changes.  Moving it to the right you can easily blow out highlights.  

Moving the Shadows slider right lightens the darkest areas and to the left darkens them, but even the most drastic move protects the darkest and lightest tones. This slider seems to do about the same thing as the previous Fill slider, which I loved for softening the tonalities of an image, providing virtual fill flash. Moving Blacks is a more aggressive move and going to the left (darker) you can go too far, blocking up blacks. Again, keep an eye on the histogram.

You should set the best Exposure first; in many cases it’s all you’ll need to do. Then I’d tweak Contrast and then use Highlights and Shadows to bring out more detail, and be very careful with Whites and Blacks if further changes are needed. You don’t need to memorize how the sliders work, just try them, working from the top down. If you move one in the wrong direction you’ll see it. And don’t neglect Clarity, which was introduced in v3, for midtone punch. After Exposure, it may be all you need in many cases.  And it, too, is now improved to give a more natural result. It gives a slightly different appearance than it did in Version 3, reducing saturation somewhat.

Auto adjustment also utilizes these new algorithms to give more sophisticated results than in the past. And the Adjustment Brush has added white balance (Temp and Tint), noise reduction and moiré pattern removal to its arsenal of features.

 

Adobe Lightroom 4 adjustment brush

 

The Lens Correction panel in the Develop Module allows for correction of barrel and pincushion distortion, other distortion oddities of certain lenses, and vignetting (light falloff at the corners). As in Version 3, these lens corrections are available for a wide and always increasing number of lenses. From the image metadata, corrections are specific to the camera body, aperture, focal length for zoom lenses, and for any teleconverter attached. There are also sliders for fine-tuning the correction for distortion and vignetting. There is now a separate checkbox for removal of chromatic aberration, independent of the other lens corrections. (Chromatic aberration is the red-blue and yellow-purple fringing most commonly seen at the edges of bright areas). By clicking the checkbox it is corrected automatically, without the need for user tuning of sliders.

And as before, a Manual Correction tab is available for further barrel and pincushion distortion corrections in addition to the automatic correction, and this is the place to make very powerful perspective corrections.

The Book Module

The Book module lets you do a sophisticated layout and upload to Blurb or output as a PDF file, which is great for uploading to the Internet or to an iPad. The layouts are handled in the right hand panel.

 

Adobe Lightroom 4 book module

 

There is an auto layout that you can tune, and Adobe offers 180 predesigned layouts. They are accessed from the dropdown arrow on the Page panel.

 

Adobe Lightroom 4 book settings

 

You can find many tutorials on the web to help you learn about using the Book module.

The Map Module

The Map module lets you view your images on a Google map if they have been encoded with the GPS location, similar to the capability I have on my iPhone 4S. You can also drag images to the map to encode their location. Just type the place name at the top of the world map to zoom into it and drag and drop a picture or a set of pictures to the spot from which you shot it. The metadata for the images will have the location information (latitude and longitude) written into it. You can also go to a location on the map and see the pictures you took there.


Adobe Lightroom 4 Map module

 

Soft Proofing

Lightroom now has soft proofing, accessed in the Develop Module; hit the S key or in the menu bar go to View > Soft Proofing > Show Proof. The Histogram panel changes functionality and becomes the place where you can select a color profile for online viewing (sRGB) or for a printing substrate. (When you are done, the S key or menu choice will toggle the Histogram panel back to its normal functionality.)  All you need to do is select your desired paper profile and the rendering intent (choose between perceptual and relative colorimetric). To see all available profiles click Other in the Profile choices.


Adobe Lightroom 4 soft proofing

 

You will have the same gamut warning solid color overlay that you see in Photoshop and you can then tweak the image with all the color and tonality controls in the Develop module to tweak the print to your liking.

Toggle the soft proof view on and off with the checkbox below the image, or you can click Create Proof Copy, circled in red above, to place a virtual proofed image in the filmstrip with the original. This is useful if you want to compare several different proofs, on different papers, for instance.

Video support

Videos now have improved support. Point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones are supported as well as high-end DSLRs. As in Lightroom 3, video files are imported along with stills, but now in Version 4 you can play clips within Lightroom and mouse over to scrub through them. You can extract individual frames, trim a clip, and use the Quick Develop panel to do many adjustments to appearance. You can also apply video presets (see the figure below). Or you can capture a single frame and edit it with all the Lightroom Develop controls and save it as a preset that you can apply to an entire clip. But you can’t merge clips.

 

Adobe Lightroom 4 video clips

 

You can export videos in H.264 codec and publish directly to Facebook and Flickr by dragging a clip into their icons in the Publish Services panel on the left side of the Library screen.

Email

You can now email images directly from LR instead of having to export them first. Highlight one or a group of images and go to File > Email Photo. In the From field, if your desired email client is not listed, choose Go to Email Account Manager and fill in the information for your account. Most popular services are supported.

 

Adobe Lightroom 4 email photo



Click the Preset button in the lower left to choose a size and quality for the image, or create one of your own choice. In the lower right you can save a custom preset. Then click the Send button. There will be a brief delay while the images are sized and converted to JPEGs. Then you will get your standard email message form with the specified recipient and subject and the image(s) attached. This form is editable; you can write a message, add or change recipients, or change the subject.

Opening files in Photoshop

The Develop module in Lightroom uses Adobe Camera Raw behind the scenes, but the ACR version in Lightroom 4 is newer than the version in Photoshop CS5. So when you open a file from Lightroom into Photoshop CS5 or earlier, you will get this message:

Adobe Lightroom 4 Render in Lightroom window

 

If you have made any color or tonal adjustments, in order to preserve the appearance of the image you need to click Render using Lightroom, and not the default choice of Open Anyway. That choice will throw away your color and tonal adjustments but will honor crops and lens corrections.

If you try to open several images as a layer stack or panorama, you get the above message without the Render using Lightroom choice.

When Adobe Photoshop CS6 comes out, its companion Adobe Camera Raw will be ACR 7.0 and this compatibility issue will not be a factor.

Other goodies

You can extend the built-in capabilities with numerous presets and plug-ins, for things like unusual color and tonal effects, online printing and probably some things nobody has thought of yet.

For help right at your fingertips, go to the Help menu and choose the first item, Lightroom Help. In addition, you will find many useful tutorials on the Adobe web site and many other places on the Internet.

I’m excited about the new capabilities of Lightroom 4 and recommend it highly.

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