For the fourth iteration of Lightroom, Adobe has enhanced the processing capabilities and added features to aid photographers with handling modern photographic challenges, such as the integration of video. Although Lightroom is primarily a photographer’s tool, it is also indispensible for video producers and editors who have to deal with a large volume of photographs, such as when producing documentaries that are based on archival images. Lightroom is the ideal application to store, organize, adjust, crop and prepare stills for video editing.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 offers enhanced image processing, such as improved highlight recovery.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom competes directly with Apple Aperture, and each has its loyal proponents among photographers. Both are powerful tools, and each new version tends to leapfrog that of the competitor. For now, Lightroom offers the more advanced video features. It is, of course, a cross-platform application.
Let’s first look at the improvements for photography. Image processing and color science have been enhanced in Lightroom 4. If you open photos that have been processed and catalogued with previous versions of Lightroom, you have the option of sticking with the old correction or updating the file. Naturally, all changes are non-destructive, so your original photo remains unaltered.
The biggest changes have been made in highlight/shadow recovery and noise reduction. Highlight/shadow recovery is critical in digging out detail in bright skies and dark areas in an image. If you work with camera raw images, Lightroom uses the same raw processing engine as Photoshop. There’s also advanced black-and-white conversion that lets you use eight color channels to control the tonal qualities of the black-and-white image. In other words, you have more control than merely desaturating the image. Finally, there are new selective brushes to control such options as white balance within areas of the picture.
Images can now be geotagged in Lightroom 4.
Adobe has responded to the increased use of smartphone cameras with online social media and photo services like Flickr and Facebook. Lightroom 4 lets you organize images based on location information embedded in the image metadata. This function is aided by a Map module accessible at the top of the interface. Lightroom also offers enhanced sharing integration with some social media sites.
The big new selling point for photographers is Lightroom’s photo book creation functionality. This was a feature that previously had some Lightroom users jumping over to Aperture just to use, but no longer. Photo book creation lets photographers design coffee table book layouts that are ready to send to the printer. To enter the Book module, click the title button at the top (like Slideshow or Web).
As a video editor, plug-ins are something I use a lot. A video plug-in is typically applied as a filter within the editing application, but photo plug-ins work differently. Lightroom sends your image to an external application launched from the Develop module’s Photo/Edit In pull-down menu command. This architecture has been available since version 1.0 and developers have been steadily creating photo-compatible versions of their tools. Adobe Photoshop, Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks, Tiffen Dfx, Digital Film Tools Film Stocks and DFT PhotoCopy are all available as external “plug-ins.”
Photoshop, Magic Bullet Looks, Tiffen Dfx and other applications may be used as plug-ins for further enhancements, such as brush strokes and textures.
When you send a photo to an application like Magic Bullet Looks, Lightroom gives you the option to send a copy with or without the Lightroom correction “baked in” for further processing. When you are done, the external application returns you to Lightroom, where you then have two versions of the photo—the “before” image and the “after” image with the look added.
I like using Lightroom for processing photos, but I also find these plug-in options quite enticing. For example, adding selective focus filters, stylized effects, textures or painterly effects can be best achieved using an application like Photoshop or Tiffen Dfx. By starting and ending in Lightroom, you maintain the ability to organize these images in a central environment.
Photographers have increasingly had to deal with video as part of their workflow, so photo organizing/processing applications have added video features. This includes Adobe Photoshop, Bridge and Lightroom. In Lightroom, videos are accessed in the Library module, but you have only limited processing control. You can’t open video files in the Develop module for full color correction. Individual videos can be opened in a viewer by double-clicking the file in the browser. You can trim the in and out points of the clip and set a reference frame for the browser thumbnail.
Lightroom supports limited color correction and trimming for video files.
The Library module does allow limited adjustments, as well as the application of custom and built-in presets. With video clips, you can adjust white balance, exposure, contrast, black and white points and vibrance. A variety of video formats is supported, which on my Mac Pro included ProRes HQ and 4444 files from an ARRI Alexa and RED files from both RED ONE MX and EPIC cameras. Although the RED images are a raw format, Lightroom still sees these only as video, even when I used the EPIC to shoot stills. If you do nothing to the RED files, then Lightroom applies the in-camera metadata settings created by the videographer. If you adjust the color metadata settings of the .r3d files using RED’s free REDCINE-X PRO application, then these updated settings will be recognized by Lightroom.
To test the custom presets, I exported a .tiff from an EPIC file out of REDCINE-X PRO using the flatter REDlogFilm gamma curve. This was imported into Lightroom as a photo, so I was able to bring it into the Develop module and make detailed image corrections. I saved these parameters as a custom preset. Doing this enabled me to open my RED files in their native .r3d raw format (using the same REDlogFilm metadata setting) and apply the custom preset as a batch to all of the files. Although it’s possible to work with RED files inside Lightroom 4, frankly it’s a slow process. REDCINE-X PRO is the better tool if you are a RED photographer/videographer, but there’s no reason you can’t use the two applications together. This is especially true if you are using an EPIC camera for still photography, such as fashion shoots, since Lightroom 4 is far better as a tool for adjusting and organizing still images.
Lightroom supports numerous codecs, including RED camera raw files.
Another new video feature is the ability to export color corrected and trimmed video clips. Lightroom 4 offers three options: original, H.264 and DPX. If you export as “original,” then no color adjustments are applied and the existing clip is merely copied in its original size and length. DPX image sequences and H.264 files accept the color changes and are exported between the trimmed in and out points (if set). The maximum video output size is 1920 x 1080 for H.264 and DPX, but I was unsuccessful in exporting RED files as anything other than the original format. The ProRes files from Alexa, however, exported in all three variations and included the baked-in settings I’d used to offset the camera’s Log C gamma profile.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 continues to improve as the best cross-platform photography application. It sports a new, lower price ($149), and it will be available through the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription service. The new processing features bump its power up a notch, but if you need to create photo books, then this upgrade is essential. If you are a video professional, then it’s not the most ideal tool for dealing with video, but obviously that’s merely a secondary feature rather than the primary intent of the software. Nevertheless, photographers who want a limited ability to make color adjustments and organize their video clips in a familiar environment will welcome the new video features.
Product: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Pros: Advanced photography color correction tools, cataloguing and a new photo book creation mode.
Cons: Improved but still limited support for video. RED still image files are accessed as video, not raw photos, and the full develop module is not available.
Bottom Line: The best photo processing application gets better with new video, photo book and map support.