It used to be the case that Lightroom was considered useful primarily for image organisation and RAW workflow. However, its image-editing capabilities have come such a long way that for many photographers, it now acts as a replacement for Photoshop for an increasing number of imaging tasks.
Two versions available
Lightroom CC is available through Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service, the least expensive of which – the Creative Cloud Photography Plan – costs £8.57 per month and includes Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC. For those who’d rather not subscribe, Adobe also offers a standalone version, called Lightroom 6, for a one-off price of £103.88, and an upgrade (from any previous version) costing £59.09.
Edit on the move
The standalone version of Lightroom doesn’t include any Creative Cloud features such as synchronization with Lightroom Mobile, which is one of Lightroom CC’s finest features. Lightroom Mobile is a free app for iOS and Android. Once you’ve signed in, any collections that you choose to sync will appear on your tablet or smartphone as a proxy file. These smaller files (Adobe calls them Smart Previews) are quicker to sync over the air than a full-sized RAW. Any edits you make to them are automatically synced and applied to the full RAW file on your home computer.
One of the biggest additions to the new Lightroom is GPU acceleration. Lightroom now takes advantage of compatible graphics processors when processing and previewing images, providing a boost to the program’s speed. We found the update to be particularly noticeable in the Develop module, which feels far more responsive. Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter adjustments were noticeably snappier than they were in Lightroom 5, although your mileage may vary. To take advantage of the new enhancements, you’ll need a graphics card that’s compatible with OpenGL 3.3, which includes most cards made in the last two years.
Merge to Panorama
Also new to Lightroom is a tool which allows you to select several images in your library and automatically merge them into a panorama shot.
Lightroom offers three types of panorama stitching method and previewing each is quick and snappy, even for very large files. There’s also an Auto Crop feature that’ll remove any transparent pixels, leaving you a tidy and finished-looking image with the minimum of effort. Even better, the Merge to Panorama tool creates a new RAW file in DNG format. This means you don’t have to apply the same adjustments to each exposure before you merge them. Instead, you can approach your merged panorama as you would a fresh RAW file straight from the camera, making localised adjustments as the scene dictates. These files can easily be over 30,000 pixels in width and supremely detailed, but Lightroom still handled them fairly quickly. By contrast, in-camera panorama shots are usually saved as JPEGs, meaning they don’t have nearly as much data in the shadows and highlights and leave far less scope for post processing.
Merge to HDR
Inside the Merge menu there’s also a new HDR option. Just like the panorama tool, this allows you to select several bracketed files in Lightroom and merge them to a DNG file. The file that emerges looks not unlike the initial, balanced exposure, but it contains significantly more data than a standard RAW file, meaning extra detail can be teased from the shadows and highlights. The Exposure slider, which usually goes up to +/- 5 stops is expanded to +/- 10 when editing a merged HDR file. The tool doesn’t offer the kind of exaggerated, heightened-reality aesthetic for which HDR is best known, but it’s great for expanding dynamic range without losing realism. Best of all, the tool also works on virtual copies of a single RAW file, so you can create a sequence of bracketed shots from one RAW and create an HDR image, even if you didn’t shoot different exposures at the time.
Although it was once not possible to make highly-localised adjustments in Lightroom, that’s no longer the case thanks to the program’s great range of brushes. A new addition is the Filter Brush, which is useful for removing unwanted areas affected by the Radial and Graduated Filter tools.
Value For Money
Lightroom has evolved into a key component in many photographers’ workflows and this new version further strengthens its position. For its significantly improved performance and amazing HDR/Panorama features alone, Lightroom 6/CC would be easy to recommend. However, the new Lightroom is a major step up from its predecessor in many other ways as well.
For example, it now has an all-new facial recognition tool that’s great for filtering shots of particular people. It also boasts advanced video slideshows and improved web galleries, so it’s now better than ever for organising, editing and sharing your shots.
For many photographers, Lightroom CC will now represent an all-in-one organisation and editing solution. Shooters that carry out more complex editing tasks in Photoshop will find their workflows quicker than ever.
For owners of previous versions, the upgrade price of £59.09 is tempting, but for our money, the best value is in the form of the Photography Plan subscription. The annual cost of £102.84 is a fraction cheaper than the standalone price of Lightroom 6 and includes Photoshop CC, alongside a set of mobile apps (Lightroom Mobile, Adobe Voice, Photoshop Mix, etc).
These extend the power of the software and provide a professional-level suite of convenient editing tools.
The latest Lightroom has taken a big step forward in terms of its performance and features, meaning your post-processing workflow will be smoother than ever. The subscription version, Lightroom CC, unlocks the cloud-based features and includes a copy of Photoshop CC, making it a great value package.
- Street Price: £8.57 per month or £103.88 standalone
- Free trial available: Yes (30 days)
- Min System requirements
- Windows: Intel or AMD processor with 64-bit support, Microsoft Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, through Windows 8.1
- Mac: 64-bit multicore Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.8-10.10
- Both: 2GB of RAM (8 GB recommended), 2GB of available hard-disk space, 1GB of Video RAM, Open GL 3.3 and DirectX 10-capable video card for GPU-related functionality, Internet connection required for activation and content download
- Visit: www.adobe.com/uk
This review was first published in the July 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.