Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta 2
A couple weeks ago, Adobe Labs released the second public beta of Lightroom 3. Being rather fond of the first public beta, I downloaded it. Here are some thoughts on the new features.
If you had previously installed the first Beta of Lightroom 3, the first time you run Beta 2 it will ask you to update your catalog. If you'd rather create a new one, you can do that too, but since mine was a created just for the beta anyway, I chose to upgrade it.
Once my catalog was open, I was immediately struck by how fast the display reacts. Adobe software engineers have definitely spent time optimizing the code and it shows. Everything from loading images to simply clicking around on existing ones is noticeably faster.
The Import dialog has seen some changes. You can now "dock" a folder by double clicking on it. Doing so clears up a lot of the clutter by getting rid of all other folders at that level in the tree. The other folders are still there, but not shown. To return to the normal folder tree at that level, double click on your docked folder again and the other ones are back again. One of my pet peeves about tree structures for folders regardless of application is that they often lead to excessive amounts of scrolling to navigate. This docking business cuts down on that a lot.
Adobe claims they have also added support for importing and managing video files shot on DSLR cameras but I have not tested that. Functions such as rating, filter and tagging all apparently work for common video formats. Since more and more photographers are shooting video in addition to still images, I'm guessing this was inevitable. Even though I don't shoot video right now, I think I can say they did a nice job of this in at least one regard. If you don't have video files, Lightroom doesn't force you to ignore them in the interface. Workflow is seamless for regular images.
Noise reduction in the first beta was quite well implemented, but it's now even better in Beta 2 with the addition of luminance noise reduction controls. With the built in capability to filter images by ISO, it is easy to target reduction of luminance noise to those images that most likely could benefit from it without having to apply it to everything, and without having to do it image by image. Side by side comparisons of images processed in Beta 2 versus Beta 1 show mostly subtle improvements, but improvements nonetheless. Images that need a lot of noise reduction definitely come out better in either Beta release than in previous versions or Lightroom or Camera Raw. Lightroom seems to now giving Noise Ninja and Neat Image a run for their money.
Adobe confused folks a bit when they introduced their improved raw conversion in Beta 1. They tried to let people use the new technology without being required to if they preferred the old results. They did this implementing what they termed "process versions" to let you choose between the old and new ways of conversion. Had they simply upgraded the raw conversion to the new method, photographers would have been forced to use the new method. A few might not have liked this, but they wouldn't have been confused by now having a choice to make. This Beta release tries to clarify things by adding a more prominent indication as to which was used for a given image right next to it in the Develop module. If you click on it, the program explains what this whole process version thing is all about and guides you through deciding if you want to change to the new method. They've also renamed the old and new ways as "2003" and "2010" based on the year each was introduced. That seems as good a naming convention as any I guess. It definitely makes it easy for them to name new ones in the future.
Those who are used to Curves in Photoshop or Camera Raw will love the changes Adobe has made to Curves in Lightroom Beta 2. Rather than being limited to the medium and strong contrast and other presets, the Point Curve control now has a button next to it that gives you full control of the tone curve. The way a curve displays is still a bit weird compared to Camera Raw, but I'm getting used to it.
A huge new feature added to Beta 2 is tethered shooting for select Nikon and Canon cameras. If you have a camera new enough to support tethered shooting from either company, Lightroom may now let you do so directly into the program. They don't seem to support everything yet, but hopefully they're working on added the few missing models people are complaining about. This won't help me in the field, but I'm toying with using it for shooting at home with macro and other subjects. Tethered shooting doesn't work currently in 64-bit Windows but I'm hoping they fix that by the final release of Lightroom 3. In any event, it's great to have the option for when it can be used. By the way, I plan to do a review of other tethered shooting options shortly, so if this interests you, keep an eye out.
There are plenty of other tweaks throughout as well. The new Publishing Services have seen a few changes to let you better specify the file size and to set the title. Publishing now supports video formats too. Watermarking has seen improvements as well to give users more flexibility in how and where text gets applied. Slideshow now lets you prepare previews in advance to guarantee your results don't get interrupted if your computer can't keep up.
I'd love it if Adobe would add support for tagging images with GPS data as other programs do. Basically, if you have a small GPS data logger that saves files in the right format, it would be nice if Lightroom would match up the shooting time from images as you import them with the time-stamped GPS data and add the appropriate meta data. It's also odd that Lightroom doesn't yet support soft proofing as part of its implementation of color management. This seems to be a glaring omission since it does support printing. Beta 2 even upped the maximum print resolution to 720ppi but still no soft proofing. Given my home setup, it would also be great if Adobe provided integration with other databases, not just SQLite. The embedded SQLite is great on my laptop, but I'm running Microsoft SQL Server at home and I'd love to have an easy way to replicate the built-in SQLite catalog to SQL Server to give me even better query capability. Better support for correction of pincushion and barrel distortion would be nice too. Right now, I have DxO Optics set up as an external editor in Lightroom, but the more I can do directly in Lightroom the better.
Adobe claims over 350,000 people have downloaded the first beta. That's a pretty wide distribution. Feedback from that many photographers has clearly had an impact on the development of Lightroom 3. This new Beta 2 release is good stuff. No word yet on when the final release of Lightroom 3 will be out, but we're definitely getting close.