Adobe Lightroom 3 Public Beta
Towards the end of October, Adobe made available a public beta of the forthcoming Lightroom 3 application. So far, it looks great. Read on for my initial thoughts.
First, a caution: this is a beta version of Lightroom 3, not the final shipping product which won't be available until next spring. As such, you may experience some glitches with it, although I must say that so far everything has works as it should for me. Even if your experience is as good as mine has been so far, Adobe advises that should only work with copies of your files to be safe. This may be nothing more than the Adobe legal department making sure they're covered just in case, but by the same token, you should probably heed their warning just to make sure you're covered, just in case.
Now that I'm on the record passing on this caveat, I should let you know where you can get your hands on the beta. You won't find it on the regular Adobe download site where updates and trial versions get posted. As with other new technologies, this can be found instead on the Adobe Labs website. The beta is available for both Windows and Mac in English only. It will automatically install the 64-bit version for those running a 64-bit operating system. Downloading and installing is straightforward. For Windows, you'll need at least Windows XP with Service Pack 3. It does run on Windows 7 for those who have already upgraded. On Mac OS you'll need at least OS X version 10.5.
In my opinion, one of the most important features of the new release is that Adobe has spent a lot of work re-architecting Lightroom from the ground up to improve performance and be more prepared for the future. Image files are individually getting bigger with the release of every new camera model and photographers are accumulating ever larger libraries of digital images. Add the two of these together and you can easily see the potential for problems. It's nice that Adobe has proactively taken steps to mitigate problems from both causes. This commitment to produce a more scalable product speaks volumes about Adobe's commitment to digital imaging. I've been playing around with the new beta for the past week or so and so far it has remained responsive even under the most demanding situations. I hate programs that expect users to wait when clicking from one image to another and Lightroom 3 Beta does not disappoint.
In the image processing area, Adobe has made major updates to their already good raw processing engine. Image quality from Lightroom looks remarkably good which means I'll need to resort to DxO Optics Pro less often. On problem images, clarity and noise reduction are notably improved over previous Lightroom and Camera Raw results. If you are an existing Lightroom user and want to retain the converted appearances of your existing images, fear not. Lightroom now lets you control what they call the "Processing Version" in the Develop module. By default, existing images will still be converted using Process Version 1 (the same as previous Lightroom version) with new images being converted by Process Version 2 – Latest (the new technology from Lightroom 3). Of course, you can easily reprocess existing image using Version 2 if you want, but you're not forced into it.
Adobe has also made major improvements in the import dialogs. No matter how much image optimization you do in Lightroom versus Photoshop versus your favorite other program, Lightroom is at heart a workflow application with a very good image database system. The process of Importing is key to building that image database and this new beta release makes it extremely easy. If you are using settings you have previously established or only making minor tweaks such as choosing a different input folder you can use the Compact view but if you need control the full Import dialog it now occupies the entire screen. Layout of the full window is clearly organized with choices dealing with where your images are coming from on the left, where they are going to on the right with a large preview / selection area in the middle. Choices dealing with whether you are moving or copying the image files are made along the top of the window. Everything is clearly laid out and makes sense which should be quite welcome if you are used to the cluttered layout of previous releases.
Enhancements in the publishing areas are evident as well. In particular, if you're a Flickr user you'll be overjoyed with how easy it now is to post new images to your Photostream. Adobe implies that they will have integration with other photo sharing sites in the final release, but looking at what they've done with Flickr will undoubtedly create more Flickr users. It is slick indeed. If you have a Pro account on Flickr, you can even synch comments entered directly on Flickr's website back to your images in Lightroom. It synchs both ways.
There are plenty of other features as well. You can now export slideshows with music soundtracks. Although nowhere near as flexible as dedicates slideshow applications such as ProShow Gold, Lightroom finally does support music. It can automatically calibrating slideshow timing to match the length of your soundtrack. Slideshows can also now be exported in full 1080P quality using the industry standard H.264 encoding. Lightroom now does watermarks right too. You can easily add either text or image watermarks in the Print, Web and Export modules. Printing has been made much more flexible too with the addition of custom print packages and templates. You can now backup your Library when you exit Lightroom rather than only when you launch the program so you don't have to wait on it. Intelligent right-click menus abound to let you easily add images to Collections and perform other common tasks. For a complete list of new features, check out Adobe's Lightroom Journal blog or the Adobe Labs site itself. Since this is still only the beta release of Lightroom 3, Adobe claims they aren't yet done adding new features either. No telling what else will get added by the time Lightroom ships.
The Lightroom 3 Beta will expire April 30, 2010. Until then, you can use it completely for free but Adobe would love to hear about your experiences doing so. The whole point of the public beta is to benefit from the input of a wide variety of users to make the final release as good as possible.
Update 11/21/2009 - Adobe has now made the Help documentation for Lightroom 3 Beta available online on their website here. You can also access it via the standard Help >> Lightroom Help (F1 key) while running the program. As with the program itself, Adobe says this documentation should be considered prelease as well. If you come across an error in the Help documentation, cut them some slack.