Price: £85 plus VAT . £48 plus VAT (upgrade) . £39 plus VAT (Creative Cloud single-user subscription)
Pros: Lots of ways of sorting images and building catalogues; number of creative presets; the Healing Brush is very good for simple areas; considerable control over exposure and colour; nice retrograde geotagging; radial gradient masking
Cons: Library is starting to get overly complex; a number of bugs; Upright tool well hidden; Advanced Healing Brush not actually called that in the app; zooming in and out for adjustments is cumbersome
With Adobe’s Creative Cloud rolling out across the digital landscape, it was inevitable that Lightroom would also be part of it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sign up for CC to get it – you can just pay for a download or a box copy, and keep it. If you do have a Creative Cloud subscription, you'll be able to use Lightroom 5.
It’s always been the case that Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture have jumped ahead of each other with each subsequent release, but Adobe's application is now the more feature-rich of the two. Headline new options include an advanced Healing Brush, the Upright tool for straightening images, Radial Gradient for off-centre effects, smart previews, video slide shows and a new version of its photo book creator.
Everything starts with the Library tab, and the interface makes it nice and clear where you are at all times. There are three main ways of taking care of images. These include Folders that show you where images are; and Catalogs, which display any collections you’ve made and recent imports. The final option is Collections, which start off with Smart Collections – basically searches based on specific criteria such as imports from the past month or recently modified.
In some ways all of this is overkill if you are just trying to load a folder of photos and select the best ones. It can do that, but where it really pays off is if you have thousands of images and numerous folders, and you want to be put them into different catagories. The size of the thumbnails you’re looking at can quickly be increased, so you can do a preliminary check. Lightroom also gives you a few options that make sorting thumbnails later easier, such as rating them.
Images can be rotated, of course, but the most powerful functions are when you right-click on a photo. Pictures can be zoomed into by selecting Open in Loupe, though this isn’t as fancy as Aperture's implementation. Flags, rating and colours can be applied, a photo can be added or removed from collections, rotated or exported immediately.
There are also options to move the image into a Stack and Lightroom offers a range of stack management functions as well. In a case of clear overkill, there are also Develop settings, which are lifted from the next tab along, but allow you to apply a variety of effect presets right away.
You’re probably better off leaving that for the next tab and concentrating on sorting images into those you want to develop. The Develop section is where you can decide whether you really need Photoshop.
Navigation is either via the top left, where it's necessary to switch between different levels of zoom manually, or by using the mouse. Clicking and releasing on a photo zooms in to 3:1, and switches to a hand tool so you can move around the image. Clicking and holding zooms in to where the cursor is, and when you release it zooms back out.
It’s a little unusual, but it’s a fast way of checking images. The main photo controls are in panels on the right, and the left are a set of Presets that use them. These cover black and white, toning, colour, effects, general editing and video. You can also create presets yourself with the settings on the right – save them and they will appear under User Presets over on the left. There are actually a lot of really useful effects here, especially if you use mono or like retro effects.
The actual mechanics cover the whole range of functions from temperature and tint, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks, clarity, vibrance and saturation. Those are just the basics, there are also tone curves, eight channels of colour, saturation, luminance and black-and-white control, as well as options for split-toning, sharpening, reducing noise, camera calibration and lens correction. Finally, you can add vignettes and grain.
On their own, these would be an impressive raft of adjustments, but Lightroom also has a number of useful tools. These include Crop, Spot Removal, Red-Eye Fix, Graduated Filter, Radial Filter and an Adjustment Brush – all of these work like the same tools in Camera Raw in Photoshop. There’s also a handy white balance tool and a fringe colour selector. The white balance tool simply requires you to click on a neutral tone, or in practice, a white one. This is then adjusted to pure white tone and everything else is shifted accordingly. For wedding or portrait photographers, this is a real time-saver.
Much has been made of the two new tools, Upright and Advanced Healing Brush. But where are they? The set of tools in Develop include Crop, Spot Removal, Red Eye, Graduated Filter, Radial Filter and Adjustment Brush. Upright, is a one-click tool to correct horizons and wonky images, even when you can’t see the horizon itself, but it isn’t with the tools just mentioned.
Instead, it’s down under Lens Corrections. Click on the Basic tab and there’s a sub-heading for Upright. Either click on Auto, or Level and Vertical to do it manually, for a quick correction.
As for the Advanced Healing Brush, it appears that marketing has got ahead of actual programming. This is the Spot Removal tool. It has two options, Clone and Heal. Heal is the one you’re looking for. It's exactly like the one in Photoshop and works when you mark something to be removed. The app searches for similar texture content to replace the area with, then blends it in using the original tone for the area so it’s a considerably better fit.
If you don’t like the new content, you can move it and select a new area. For relatively large objects, in small spaces, surrounded by complex scenery though, it doesn’t work very well and you are better off using the Clone brush. With these range of tools and the Adjustment brush that paints on the area to adjust, you have everything a photographer actually needs.
On the next tab along is the map, where you can tag where photos were taken. It’s handy for landscape photographers or simply those who like to go back to places. Images with geotags can be placed automatically, but the first time you drop a photo without geotagging onto the map, there’s a request to send data back and forth between Lightroom and Google Maps, so the image can be retroactively tagged. Moving the cursor over an image in the strip at the bottom will start a flag jumping up and down if it’s been located on the map. This is handy for those images that are geotagged and you can’t remember where it was.
Lightroom's Book option has been updated. It offers a range of sizes, finishes, paper types and formats, and updates the prices on screen as you go. Thankfully these are both UK-priced and sourced with Blurb, the online printer, and are quite competitive. You might want to use your own specific printing company, in which case you can output the book design as a PDF, but for most people there are some nice options here and it’s a time-saver to have it fulfilled within Lightroom itself.
There’s a selection of presets that Auto Layout can fill in for you, though at the time of launch the presets didn’t work. They were there, but Auto Layout defaulted to filling them using the wrong preset. Photos in the cells can be moved and resized, you can add text, and so on, but until this is fixed it’s all a little moot.
Those new features keep coming and propel Lightroom well ahead of Apple’s Aperture. The fact that you don’t have to subscribe to own your copy is also a good thing. Busy photographers may view this as the release where they can let go of Photoshop. There are some excellent tools, some useful presets, making this a great app for photographers.