A question that often arises is how to make Lightroom faster. On my computer the biggest bottleneck comes when I’m looking at images in the Library module’s Loupe view or in the Develop module. Even images for which Lightroom has created 1:1 previews can take a few seconds to render properly. This may not sound much, but it’s annoying when flicking through images trying to decide which ones to process. It’s even more frustrating when zooming in 100% to check details which are important to me, such as that the eyes are in focus in portraits (above).
Luckily, there’s a relatively easy fix – and it doesn’t involve upgrading your computer or adding RAM (although those things may help). You can put it into action without spending money, and you should see a benefit regardless of how low- or high-spec your computer is.
Fast Load Data
The key is to convert your Raw files to the DNG format. You may not like the sound of it (I’ll explore some of the pros and cons later on the article) but it really does help. Why? It’s all to do with something called Fast Load Data – a partially processed preview of the image that enables Lightroom to render previews faster than it can from a non-DNG Raw file or a DNG file without Fast Load Data.
The net result of converting your Raw files to DNG and including Fast Load Data is that it enables Lightroom to rapidly display previews of your images. That means less time waiting and less frustration for you.
Converting to DNG
The best time to convert your Raw files to DNG is when you import them from your camera’s memory card. To ensure you get the full benefit of using DNG, make sure you go to the File Handling tab in Preferences and tick the Embed Fast Load Data box (above). Do this before you convert any Raw files to DNG, otherwise you will miss out on the speed increase that DNG can give you.
These are the key steps to follow during the import:
- Select the Copy as DNG option in the Import window (above). This tells Lightroom to copy the Raw files from the memory card to the specified folder on your hard drive, converting them to DNG as it does so.
- Set Build Previews to 1:1 in the File Handling panel (above).
- After the import, go to the Catalog panel and select Previous Import. Then go to Library > Validate DNG files. Lightroom checks the files you have just imported and converted to DNG to ensure they are not corrupted. Any corrupted files are placed in a Temporary Collection that appears in the Catalog panel. I’ve yet to see a corrupted DNG file, so I don’t think it happens often.
Other Pros and Cons of DNG to Make Lightroom Faster
If you read around on the topic of DNG you will find that opinion varies widely as to whether it is good idea to convert your Raw files to the format.
Note that some Leica and Hasselblad cameras use the DNG format already – so if you are lucky enough to own one of those then the discussion is irrelevant. There’s also at least one Pentax camera that gives you the option of using either DNG or Pentax’s own Raw format (.PEF). If you own one, selecting DNG saves you having to do it at the import stage (if you choose to use DNG).
Bear in mind that camera generated DNG files don’t contain Fast Load Data – only DNG files created by Adobe software do so.
First, the case against using DNG:
- It takes longer to convert your Raw files to DNG than it does to simply copy them. This is true – but as long as you’re happy to go away and do something else while your computer gets on with it, it won’t be much trouble. I often leave mine running overnight, especially if I have a lot of images to import and convert.
- Not all applications open DNG. If you ever use, or think you may use, your camera maker’s proprietary Raw conversion software (such as Canon’s Digital Photo Professional) you should probably stick with your camera’s native Raw format, as the majority of these programs don’t recognise DNG. Check the documentation if you are unsure.
Using DNG purely to increase Lightroom’s speed is little use if you don’t use 1:1 previews. By default Lightroom discards 1:1 previews after 30 days (you can change that under the File Handling tab in Catalog settings), so even if you tell Lightroom to create 1:1 previews when you import your images, they will eventually be deleted by Lightroom. Not sure if an image has a 1:1 preview? Just select the image (or images) and go to Library > Previews > Build 1:1 Previews (above). Lightroom will build 1:1 previews for any selected images that don’t currently have them.
Now, some other benefits of DNG:
- DNG files are smaller than other Raw formats. Converting your Raw files to DNG upon import reduces the amount of space they take up on your hard drive by up to 20 percent. That could be useful, especially for high volume shooters.
- You may own a new camera with Raw files that aren’t recognised by your version of Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) if you are using Photoshop (not all readers will have upgraded to the latest versions). In this situation you can use Adobe’s free DNG Converter application to convert them to DNG. Adobe usually updates the DNG Converter to work with files from new cameras before Lightroom and ACR.
- Embedded file verification. A DNG file contains a checksum that enables Lightroom to check if the original source data is corrupted. DNG is the only Raw file format that does so. It means that you can check your images after you have converted them to DNG to make sure there are no issues with corruption.
Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module
My latest ebook Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module is a complete guide to using Lightroom’s Library module to import, organise and search your photo files. You’ll learn how to tame your growing photo collection using Collections and Collection Sets, and how to save time so you can spend more time in the Develop module processing your photos.