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Will Lightroom 4 Be Worth The Upgrade Cost?

LR41It’s here! The latest version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Currently in beta release, meaning it’s not finished but ready for real world testing, I eagerly downloaded a copy of Lightroom 4 Beta and have been playing with it for a week now. I’m a constant Lightroom upgrader, starting with version 1, and this post will be a quick look at whether or not this upgrade makes sense from a cost/benefit point of view.

Highlights/Shadows

LR42Wow, wonderful. Nice improvement in what each can do compared to the older Highlight Recovery and Fill Light. Also an improvement is the ability to go up or down (actually left or right) with both of these sliders. I see more solid colors in the shadows when the slider as used as compared to the Fill Light option. Adobe has also added in Whites alongside Blacks (both of which can now also be increased or decreased instead of just increased as in version 3).

Video Inline And Edits

It’s a nice touch to be able to watch video inside of Lightroom. Is it required? Nope. But it is smoother. What is nice is to have the ability to adjust exposure, blacks, whites, contrast and vibrance. It’s little stuff and I hope Adobe keeps it that way to not bloat the software. I have other software that can really handle video well and this subset is perfect for quick edits I might want to do on the road or with non-production pieces. I also like that the rendering of the preview seems to not hold up the rest of the thumbnail creation any more. What I mean by this is, when a bunch of images are loaded in and I view them in grid mode of the Library, it used to hold up on the videos, using another process to render a preview image for that thumbnail, before showing me all the other previews on the screen. Now it will put a black space holder there and continue to show the picture previews, which saves time.

Maps

Will Lightroom 4 Be Worth The Upgrade Cost?
Hell Yeah! It was nice that version 3 had a spot for GPS data but reliance on third party software seemed odd, especially when something like Flickr made it relatively easy to stamp images after the fact. So far, I enjoy the feature that lets me pull up a map via Google and drag and drop images, one at a time or in groups. It’s useful and appreciated.

Book

The book module gets a “meh” rating in my opinion. I won’t be using it a lot and that is part of my rating. For those who want to create their own books, it IS nice to have everything in one location, as in iPhoto, to create a book, rather than exporting to a folder, uploading to a site, etc… If you plan on making many scrapbooks or print books, this will certainly rate “Hell Yeah!” for you from the ease of use.

Email

It’s a little thing. Overlooked in the past maybe? We share images via email all the time. I’d love this to go a step further and be able to send a text to someone’s phone, but I’m crazy like that. To me, this feature is icing on the cake, not a reason to upgrade.

No Defaults When Importing

Ahhhh, just my photos without Lightroom’s choice of enhancements when importing. Nice. In the past, Lightroom jacked up some settings on import and, while I could make a Preset to counter this, it was annoying at time. Now things like the Tone Curve are left at “Linear” instead of “Medium Contrast”, something I often backed out. I really like this as a starting point now.

LR44White Balance In Adjustment Brush….Kinda

This is a feature I’m happy to see added. The Adjustment Brush gets some more adjustments. It now can control Noise and Moire, but most useful for me is the ability to change the white balance of a particular area. This is great when shooting in two different light sources or with heavy shadows (and white snow). My beef with the current setup is the slider allows for color temperature control, but not as an absolute degrees Kelvin, only relative scale from yellow/orange to blue. It works, but I’d love to be able to set a shadow to 7500K rather than slide around trying to find the right sport. I hope that make that adjustment in the final release.

Spot removal

The improvements in Spot Removal mimic the improvements they made in the DNG fast loading technique. A step back…Adobe adjusted how they create the DNG files upon important to allow the vital image information to load first. In the past the whole file had to be loaded before you could start playing in the Develop module. Now, the image pops up very quickly and while it finishes loading, edits can be started more quickly than in version 3.

I noticed the Spot Removal feature was also tweaked to help those with slower machines. Even on my bogged down travel laptop, I can click from spot to spot and not have a significant delay. In the past, I would click a spot and Lightroom would then select a likely spot to heal or clone from for me. This was a nice update that came about in version 3. But on a slow machine, I had to wait for that process to complete with the current spot before clicking the next. If I had 20 spots on a screen, it was boggy and tedious.

In version 4, I can click away as if I’m playing Whack-A-Mole and Lightroom will catch up with those suggestions when it gets a chance, much the same as a camera buffering images before writing them to the card. This is awesome and speeds up spot removal significantly.

Conclusion

From what I’ve seen of the Beta (minus the occasional crash) I really enjoy the improvements Adobe has made and will gladly plop down money to upgrade. I believe the improvements will give me better results faster. The increased speed in processing and moving between images from Library to Develop alone is worth the expense to me as time is money for me when it comes to play with pictures.

Now, what about you? Have you had a chance to take a look at the Beta version? If photography is not your business, do you think the changes are worth the (likely amount of) $100 to upgrade?

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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