Adobe Lightroom – living in a room filled with light?

I’ve been meaning to write up my impressions of Lightroom for some time now, but it was only after prompting by a colleague over the weekend that I got around to really putting my thoughts into writing. So: Pete, you will have seen most this already; everyone else, I hope you find something useful in this post!

Almost since I got my Canon EOS 350D, I’ve been a dedicated user of Pixmantec RawShooter Premium for processing my RAW images.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll ignore the fact that some people don’t see the RAW advantage

I was gutted when I learned that Adobe had bought Pixmantec. The disappointment turned to frustration and anger when both Adobe and Pixmantec failed to contact existing customers to explain what would happen. Eventually they did, and announced that we would be entitled to a copy of Adobe Lightroom when it became available. Shortly afterwards, the Windows beta was released. I quickly downloaded and installed it, but found that I was so used to working in RSP that the Lightroom interface took a lot of getting used to.

Sackler Crossing reflections

In the end, I decided that I’d better “bite the bullet” and try to spend sufficient time with Lightroom that I could become accustomed to the way it works. RSP is utterly fantastic, but the fact remains that it is going away, so I may as well try to learn this other beast.

It’s not like I haven’t been able to get results… on Sunday we visited Kew, and I took a bunch of shots that I was happy with… it has just taken me a fair amount of time to get them processed, so I’ve only uploaded a few to Flickr so far. More to follow.

The point is that I’ve made an effort to use Lightroom, and the comments below directly reflect my experience so far. Here are some assorted thoughts on the subject.

  • Don’t try to teach yourself Lightroom just from the UI. Watch the tutorial videos from Adobe, and hunt down any others you can find. This was they only way I managed to make any progress.
  • Lightroom seems to want to emulate “traditional” photographic workflow, to some extent, particularly around the selection and proofing of photos. When you watch the tutorial videos, it all looks very cool (Library module). Unfortunately, things like the bug / incorrect feature where pressing B doesn’t actually add the photo to the Quick Collection, in the Windows beta the interface doesn’t actually dim, etc. kind of make all of that more painful than it should be.
  • The engine seems slower than RSP. Too many of the slider changes lead to the “Working…” overlay before I see the difference in the image. However, that could be a side effect of using an older machine (Thinkpad R40). I ought to try on a faster one.
  • Not only does the engine / application seem slower, the workflow is slower. Much, much slower. I can’t just add a bunch of photos to the processing queue as I go, I have to Export them. And the Export dialog box doesn’t choose a single logical location (like a subdirectory of the current photo directory), I have to change it if the collection I am working on changes. I don’t have to export individually, I could do a batch… but…
  • It is hard to tell which images have been processed / adjusted already. In RSP I could tell with a glance.
  • There are too many sliders. Now that I’ve understood the way that they are supposed to work (from the videos), things are clearer. However, I could get good results much more quickly in RSP: tweak curves, adjust colour, clean up detail and noise, add to queue. In Lightroom I spend 20 minutes adjusting a photo, then have to go through that File->Export menu to save it off.
  • In my view, the zooming functionality is poor. In Loupe mode I can click to go 1:1 and back again. In RSP I could zoom up to 400% really easily using a slider. Great for dealing with the detail and noise settings.
  • My existing RSP settings (RWSettings) are not currently understood by Lightroom, so I’ll have to keep a copy of RSP around to reprocess older shots if I ever need another copy, or to make an adjustment.

Having said all of that, there is clearly a lot of good stuff in Lightroom.

  • The library features (tagging etc.) should be great, when I start to use them properly. Currently I really don’t organise my shots at all, so that will be an important aspect of the software for me.
  • I think the finer controls are probably pretty nice, but they seem to take a long time to use (at the moment – I’m sure I’ll speed up – this is one reason I wanted to force myself to use it now).
  • The printing stuff looks great, if only I had a photo printer that was usable at the moment – watch the videos and look at the groovy Mac stuff where it can generate a full-quality PDF contact sheet in seconds… I wish I could do that on Windows… my next home laptop may have to be a MacBook.
  • Once you get the keyboard shortcuts (Shift-Tab), clearing the interface away in order to work with just the photo works very nicely.
  • The fact that Lightroom doesn’t distinguish between RAW, JPEG and TIFF files is excellent. I get the same functionality across all the filetypes. I’ve used this already, and I’m impressed. Previously I stepped into The Gimp to adjust levels on JPEGs. I’m still likely to use The Gimp for image cleanup, but the fact that I can do the core image processing in one place is excellent.

I realise that Lightroom is still a beta, and that it is more “at home” on Mac currently (from looking at the videos / screencasts). I’m sure that features and performance will improve. On balance, I’m reasonably impressed. The fact is that RSP had the workflow, performance and quality just right for me… but times change, and Lightroom appears to have a lot of promise. Once I get over my initial frustrations, I may even come to enjoy using it!

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8 thoughts on “Adobe Lightroom – living in a room filled with light?”

  1. Not sure if that was a ploy to get me arguing about RAW vs JPEG again, but you have got me downloading a copy of the beta. I am interested in the fact that it will work with JPEGs as my camera is, quite frankly, too slow with RAW and I find them annoying but this does not mean I don’t want a good solution for cleaning up and storing my photos.
    Any idea what the final pricing will be? what about platform support – I really want linux support too

  2. No, it wasn’t so much trying to reignite an argument, more a reminder to self that I’d never found the time to take that discussion any further πŸ˜‰

    It’s nice, but I hope your kit is up to it – an R40 is probably the bottom end of the spectrum in terms of “usable”.

    No idea of final pricing, but Aperture is pretty costly (was $499, now $299 I think) and I suspect the market Adobe is going after is probably in the same general range… the truth is that I have no real clue… I made my investment in RSP and RSCE, so I’m glad that Pixmantec and Adobe have recognised that.

    Wondered when the platform question would come up… there’s a discussion on the Luminous Landscape forum that suggests no Linux port, but the contributors there are probably as much in the loop as I am (i.e. not at all). Give Adobe’s current lack of major Linux involvement, I’d assume not. Try the beta under Wine πŸ˜›

    For my next trick, I really need to write up my thoughts on RAW processing on Linux. Don’t hold your breath, but that’s another topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a few weeks now.

  3. It even feels slow on my T43… there becomes little point in using it if it is too slow though, as most of what I want it for is going through the 200 photos I get on a shoot and finding the 5-10 that I like. Touch them up a bit and mark them as favourites so I can find them again… ACDSee is great for the rest of it, but the cataloging is not perfect (I like that in Lightroom you just have to press 1-5 to mark them as 1-5… that way I can actually catalog my photos by preference).

    Otherwise ACDSee is very good. It apparently has the fastest jpeg preview (read an article about some big US sports magazine using it for finding photos during the superbowl [i think], and they got the profossional photographers to give raw+jpg, they just looked at the jpgs till they found the 1 photo out of 1500 that they wanted to print. Then they got the raw…)

  4. Hmm. ACDSee may be good, but I’ve had bad experiences with it borne out of trying to teach my mother to get photos off her Pentax with the supplied “ACDSee for Pentax”.

    I’m hoping LR performance will improve as it moves out of beta, but I’m not hugely hopeful. The point is, if RSP was fast on my R40, what is LR doing that slows it down so much?

  5. Hi Andy,

    I was hoping to do some work on the Lightroom beta 3 in order to post a solid review too sadly more urgent matter called me (finding a new job, considering big blue πŸ˜‰ ).

    Anyway you may check my review of beta 1 if you are a Windows user.

    Well done Andy,

  6. Nice read, i’ll have to try LR a.s.a.p.

    Anton, for editing JPEGs you could try Bibble, it has some wonderful tools (Perfectly Clear, Noise Ninja) but just don’t try to use it on any RAW files since it will really slow down your system.

  7. Just to add a comment about Bibble – I am contemplating buying BibblePro (only USD 130 – a bargain!) and it seems incredibly fast, even for RAW images. Of course I am now running a dual core AMD64 machine, so that probably makes a hell of a difference…
    I want to avoid windows, so Bibble is really my only choice at the moment.

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