Photo By Jonathan Barkey

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Lucky us — we got to try Lightroom 1.0 just before its official debut. This milestone for Adobe radically rearranges key Photoshop functions within a super-streamlined virtual workspace designed for organizing and processing large groups of images. Lightroom 1.0 should be familiar to the many people who’ve been using the free Public Beta. The commercial version has been further augmented and refined, and it’s available for both Windows and Mac OS (available for purchase February 19 for $199). The new program combines a broad range of functions — viewing, cataloguing, image editing, multimedia output and advanced printing — in a single package.

Although it’s called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the software diverges from Photoshop in three important respects: features, interface and image processing. For starters, Lightroom dispenses with most of Photoshop’s graphic-arts features and concentrates on essential organizing, post-production, display and output tools for digital photographers. Also, unlike Photoshop’s deep layers of menus and dialogs, Lightroom’s simpler interface keeps most functions immediately at hand or easily accessible.

|| |—| | What’s Hot • Non-destructive editing preserves original picture data. • Works with RAW, TIFF, JPEG and PSD files. • Supports both Windows and Mac OS. What’s Not • Version 1.0 lacks image layers, dodging and burning, filter effects, and other standard Photoshop features. • No discounted bundling with Photoshop, but early adopters get a price break. • Lightroom Beta users will finally have to pay up. Bottom Line • Amazingly full-featured, all-in-one imaging solution for serious shooters. • “Virtual” processing technology points way toward further software advances. Related • Adobe press release. • Apple Aperture Review | Most significantly, everything that happens inside Lightroom is virtual, not physical. That means that the photos you “import” into Lightroom’s Library don’t actually reside there but are represented by Lightroom-generated preview images and associated metadata. Since the software alters instruction sets instead of actual pixels, all visual edits (color, tone, cropping, sharpening, etc.) are non-destructive. So your actual images remain untouched, whether you’re working with RAW, JPEG, TIFF or PSD files. This also means you can view changes in real time, batch-edit large groups of photos very quickly, maintain permanent edit histories, and create numerous virtual file versions instead of space-consuming physical duplicates. To share with others, you can export copies (never the originals) as single images or batches — in whatever size, quality and file format they need.

Based on our experience with the Lightroom Beta, we’re happy that Version 1.0 looks and feels remains pretty much the same. It’s a single window (showing one or multiple images), with a Filmstrip on the bottom and info/tool Panels keyed to whichever processing Module you’ve selected: Library is for managing your image folders and collections, including compare/select, keywording, captioning, metadata searching and basic image adjustments. Develop has a full suite of color and tonal controls, as well as cropping, sharpening, noise reduction and other fine-tunable settings. Slideshow, Web and Print each has its own layout, text and design options, including preset templates.

Of the new features in Lightroom 1.0, two really useful ones provide different kinds of image versioning. With Snapshots, we were able to preserve multiple History states for a given file, which we could recall at any time. And, with Create Virtual Copy, we could save different edited versions of the same file, no extra disk space required. (The “copies” behave just like the “originals”.) Also new are Stacks, which let us group similar images (including Virtual Copies and real copies edited in Photoshop) together as one, or Auto-stack a sequence based on capture time.

Next on our “Way Cool” list is the Targeted Adjustment feature, which acts as if Photoshop’s Color Picker were connected to its Selective Color controls. With it, we could click on any area in our photo and then, by adjusting Tone Curve, Hue/Saturation/Luminance or Grayscale Mix, selectively affect just the chosen color. Two modest but very useful tools: Red Eye removal, whose natural-looking results easily best those of Lightroom’s only competitor, Apple’s Aperture ($270, street); and Spot Removal, equivalent to Photoshop’s Clone Stamp and Healing Brush. We used it to erase a large dust spot on one image, and then batch-applied the same retouching to all similar shots. Of course, like everything else Lightroom does, these effects are non-destructive and always reversible.

Many of Lightroom’s new assets are of the meat and potatoes variety: not flashy but valuable for serious work. Prime example: when importing your images from a memory card, you can specify primary and secondary download locations, as well as automatic developing presets. Others: batch export processing using Photoshop Actions, and the ability to create separate libraries. We were also impressed that Lightroom 1.0 let us create physical folders and move actual image files via drag-and-drop, just like a conventional picture browser.

Also new are preview image settings tailored to monitor size; image zoom up to 11x; a “pick or reject” flagging system; drag-and-drop Keyword Tags and a Keyword Stamp; metadata searches by camera and lens used; drag-and-drop Collections; Survey View, for comparing more than two images; and new file format options for editing images in Photoshop. Three features we would like to see Adobe add in subsequent versions: the ability to save Histories when swapping Lightroom-edited files with other Lightroom users; being able to FTP image files to another recipient from within Lightroom; and the ability to set sharpening based on output size. (Adobe says they’re working on these.)

In discussions with Adobe this reviewer asked about Lightroom’s compatibility with Photoshop and its integral Adobe Bridge media browser. First, they said that the next generation of Adobe Camera Raw would share the same tools as Lightroom and produce identical results. They noted that Lightroom borrows Bridge’s five-color image tags and that Bridge can read Lightroom-generated XMP metadata, such as captions and keywords. They also said that, depending on settings, Lightroom could import images faster than Bridge can generate previews. Translation: the new way beats the old way.

Which leads us to our final thought: will Lightroom be a Photoshop competitor or companion, or a bit of both? Our guess it that it depends on who’s using it and how. See for yourself starting February 19, when Lightroom 1.0 becomes available for purchase ($199 through April 30 and $299 thereafter) or as a free 30-day trial download.