Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Software Review: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2

Written by T. Michael Testi

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 is the much anticipated second version of Adobe's highly praised photo management and editing system. Photoshop Lightroom 2 adds new editing tools as well as enhances the existing environment, while at the same time reduces the dependence on Adobe's Photoshop.

On the outside, Photoshop Lightroom 2 retains much of the look and feel of its predecessor, while providing many workflow improvements that will have current users singing its praises. As well as the expected improvements to existing functionality that one would anticipate in a version two product, there are also a lot more features to improve your importing, processing, managing, and the showcasing of your images.

Lightroom 2

Before we look at the improvements and enhancements, what do you need to run Lightroom 2? You will need Windows XP SP2 or Vista on an Intel Pentium 4 - 1.4 GHz or higher, or Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5 on PowerPC G4 or G5, or Intel Based Processor, 1GB RAM 1 GB hard drive space, 1024x768 display, and CD-ROM Drive.

For those who are new to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, I find that there is still some confusion between Lightroom and Photoshop. The basic difference it that Photoshop is an image editing program. It has the big guns to do just about anything you want to an image. What it doesn't have is true image management, organization, and workflow processing that a photographer might want and need. Sure, it has Adobe Bridge, and that works great to a point, but for someone who is a photographer; whether professional or hobbyist, it really is not enough.

That is where Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 comes in. It has all of the things that Adobe Bridge was missing; these include things like advanced file management, enhanced printing capabilities, and easy web output. Lightroom then adds much of those image processing capabilities that Photoshop contains and are used by photographers. It puts it all into a single package.

Does that mean that you no longer need Photoshop? For some that answer would be yes. In fact Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 is the better choice, especially for those who do not do a lot of advanced processing. For others, Lightroom is a better way to get to that point where they send their file to Photoshop for additional enhancements.

So what is new with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2?

• Local Adjustment Brush - gives you a more flexible method to apply more accurate enhancements by targeting a specific area of a photo for dodging, burning, as well as other local adjustments. Make exposure, brightness, clarity, or other enhancements exactly where you want them.

• Multiple monitor support - now can take advantage of a second monitor attached to your system. You can configure your workspace to manage image workflow and presentation more effectively. You can open a view of say your Library module in a second monitor while working on printing in your first monitor.

• Extensible architecture - gives you the accessibility of the wide range of plug-ins to help you quickly and easily transfer your images to your favorite sharing sites and photo labs.

Lightroom 2

• Volume management - allows you to manage and organize your images across multiple drives and continue to work with the high-resolution previews; even when your originals are off line. A Volume Browser lets you check the status of local and networked volumes at a glance.

• Smart collections - can be created based on metadata rules that you specify. Smart collections automatically stay up-to-date with the photos that meet the criteria that you specify.

• 64-bit processing support - lets you utilize the advanced memory handling capabilities of the latest Mac OS and Windows based systems.

• Improved organizational tools - now lets you sort and filter large volumes of photos using powerful metadata filters that let you quickly find the photo that you want.

• Better nondestructive photo editing - lets you adjust and enhance color, exposure, and tonal curves nondestructively on more than 190 camera raw file formats, as well as JPEG, TIFF, and PSD files.

• Enhanced Photoshop CS3 integration - now works with Smart Objects, panorama stitching, High Dynamic Range (HDR) functionality, multiple layer workflow and more. Your work in Photoshop is automatically updated in Photoshop.

• Improved Batch Processing - lets you quickly import large volumes of photos from cameras or camera cards, and automatically renaming files, organizing them into folders, and making nondestructive adjustments.

• Enhanced Output Sharpening - will help you improve the appearance of your photos with enhanced algorithms that can automatically sharpen photos when you export files or output print and web creations.

• Better printing - now gives you more ways to quickly arrange a photo for printing multiple sizes on one or many pages, with more flexible and customizable templates to better use your paper and ink resources. You can create picture packages that contain one photo in a variety of sizes on a page.

There are a lot of improvements in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2. To begin with, the better disk-based management and volume monitor. Now there is a more disk-based browser to the folders where your images are so you can more easily see where everything is. It will even let you know when your disk is getting full.

Then there is the smarter keywording. Key word suggestions are now much more intelligent. When you use a lot of words in combination, Lightroom remembers and by using one, the other common ones are moved to the top of the list.

Lightroom 2

I love the localized adjustments in the Develop module. You can paint an area in which you want to make your adjustment. Once you have your area brushed in, you adjust it further to intensify or reduce the effect. The fact that you can open your files in Photoshop as Smart Objects to tweak your Lightroom adjustments is wonderful. You can merge multiple exposures to a single Photoshop HDR. Select multiple images to merge as a panorama. The list goes on.

While I was disappointed that third party filters were not included in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2, there is a little crack in the dike, in that there is an export module plug-in framework that will let you export your photos to a website, assuming there is a plug-in available. Adobe has even created an exchange site for those who want to list their plug-ins so perhaps this will be a feature in the future.

Overall, I think that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 is a significant upgrade or new purchase. The upgrade is $99, and as a new purchase it sells for $299. If your focus is photography, this upgrade really expands on the base functionality of version 1 and makes it a must-have, in my opinion. While I will continue to use Adobe Photoshop for my heavy duty work, when dealing with photos, my first stop is always Lightroom.


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