With the widespread adoption of digital cameras, professional photographers have come to rely on a variety of imaging programs for specific tasks. Beyond basic pixel editing in Photoshop, these include RAW file processing and conversion, image organizing and archiving, and printing. Wouldn't it be less cumbersome if such functions were available in a single, integrated program? And wouldn't it be even better if Photoshop's copious features and capabilities were streamlined, reducing your need for books, videos, and workshops to master them?
That's the thought behind Adobe Lightroom, an all-new pro-oriented program that Adobe recently released in a public beta version. Very different from industry mainstay Photoshop, Lightroom takes a completely fresh approach to image processing. It is user friendly yet comprehensive, with features including file import from memory cards and cameras, RAW conversion, image processing, slide shows, and printing, not to mention keywording, indexing, cataloguing, and archiving.
Don't get too excited: Lightroom isn't ready for prime time, and won't be available for purchase until late 2006. So why did Adobe release the beta now? Because Apple's conceptually similar Aperture software, released at the end of last year, beat it to market. (See our review in the March/April 2006 issue.)
Adobe's clever but uncharacteristic move made a good thing out of a bad situation: The download site, found at labs.macromedia.com/technologies/lightroom, includes an online forum in which users can provide feedback on bugs and suggest other features they would like to see included. As a result, Lightroom will be a better product for photographers when it finally rolls out. Note that the original Lightroom beta is Mac-only but that a Windows version is coming; both will expire when the retail product arrives.
Even at this early stage of development, Lightroom is impressive. It's more modest in its aims than Aperture, at least for now, and I find it a good deal easier to use. This simplicity is reflected in its basic structure of four separate Modules, each dedicated to a different imaging task yet instantly accessible within a single workspace. Switching modules requires a single mouse-click; this changes the view in the main image window, along with menus, control panels, and information displays. A strip-style image browser remains at the bottom of the screen at all times.
The first Module you're likely to use in Lightroom is called Library, and it reflects the core of the program itself. Unlike Apple's Aperture, which requires you to physically store your images within its own proprietary library database, Lightroom gives you a choice. You can import files into the Library itself, or you can have the program catalog them wherever they currently reside. This makes the database much smaller and allows you to store your images on internal or external hard drives.