If you're a disorganised photographer then chances are you store your digital photos on your computer, back them up and then forget about them until someone says:
"Do you have a picture of a women on a bus in London eating a sandwich?"
Of course you do, but how the devil do you find it. In steps Adobe's Lightroom package that allows you to catalogue your photo collection and edit your photos without getting too "Photoshopy" and then print them or publish them to the Web.
Lightroom has been around for sometime, but with a new version, Lightroom 3, entering public beta, what can we look forward to in the new model, and should you start using it from today.
The first thing you should note is that this is very much a beta and Adobe is keen to express that. What that means is that there is no official support for the software and there are a number of features Adobe says are yet to come. It also means that you can't import your current Lightroom 2 catalogue into the software package just yet and that's probably not that much of a bad thing - you don't want all your metadata corrupting do you?
So for the purpose of our review we imported a number of images into the catalogue and ran the software side by side measuring the performance and keeping a close eye on the differences.
So what's new? Well one of the main things that isn't is the interface. While there were fairly large changes from Lightroom to Lightroom 2 in the look and feel of the package, here, the transition to Lightroom 3 is going to be minimal. For us that's a good thing. While not everything is perfect, we are happy with the structure of Lightroom and find it fairly easy to navigate around the package. The same can be said for Lightroom 3. The panels are all in the same place and apart from the odd new button or panel, everything is how you know it.
The main focus therefore has been on how the program works with your images and how you get them in.
The import window sees the biggest overhaul with a completely redesigned interface that is not only more in keeping with the design style of Lightroom, but also in functionality.
Split into three panels, you can select the source from the left, the target on the right and see the images you're importing in the middle, whether it's from a disk, drive or memory card. You now also get "Loupe" ie single image view and can choose to add, copy or move them into the catalogue. There is also the option to add metadata or keywords as before and save all those options so it's just a press of a single button the next time. If you aren't interested in any of that you can compact the import view to a single bar, which gets to work straight away. Overall it's a massive improvement and makes getting your images into the system quick and simple, especially in comparison to Lightroom 2.
Those familiar with Lightroom know that the package is split up into different zones; Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web.
New features to the Library include adding photo uploading services support so you can now upload images directly to flickr and the like. Within the beta you can only upload to flickr, although Adobe says that other galleries, presumably like their own Photoshop online service will be added.
The system works as a gateway to the service rather than just an uploader and that means you have control over what is online, what isn't and the ability to sync it with comments for example.
Interestingly you can also create a synced folder that doesn't have to be online but on a network drive or even your iPhone. With the system you can then sync photos to and from that device. It's easy and if you are transferring images on an external hard drive it's a good way to "check-in" and "check out" images from your catalogue.
Elsewhere multiple info views have been added to the Loupe view, there is the ability to auto sync in library mode (something that was only available in develop previously) and greater import control into specific folders. A small detail, but nonetheless one we've found helpful is the ability to see within sub-folders. And lock filters from folder to folder.
Develop has seen the most "under the hood" development, after all Adobe has got to justify the upgrade from 2 to 3 somewhere. Here you get improvements to the processing options for RAW and jpeg.
The imaging improvements are there but for the most part subtle. Zoom in 1:1 and you'll see the changes, work from afar and you'll be wondering whether it's done anything, but they are there.
New tools and sliders to master include sharpening, colour noise reduction, a re-structuring of the vignette tool for a more natural effect as well as the ability to control the colour and highlighting vignette to boot.
You can also add a grain effect for those looking for more of a "film" look, although we personally haven't found a reason to use this yet.
There is also a camera calibration mode now that allows you to try and correct chromatic aberration, however this isn't an automated process like some software packages, which would be a really nice addition.
Finally Brushes has had a good overhaul and its now a lot easier to use on your photos.
When the package is finally ready you'll also be able to choose whether or not to reimport your Lightroom 2 images in with the new settings or leave them as they were - either way doing so will change the look of the image.
The good news is that in the beta the processing and general performance of the software was good, nippier in most cases than Lightroom 2, although we aren't ruling out the possibility that it's because our Lightroom 2 catalogue has over 16,000 (yes 16,000) photos in it.
Slideshow, Print, and Web
Slideshow gets a brief look in via the ability to add music from your music folder to your images. A nice touch is that the software will automatically change the length the photos are shown so it fits the music to save you having to try and work it out. You can then dump the slideshow into H.264 to do as you will.
Likewise Print gets more "interactive" templates that make it easier to create printouts for your clients all at the drag of a mouse, rather than having to actually really understand anything.
As for web support? Easier watermarking and that's about it for the moment.
Lightroom 3 looks to be taking the software in the right direction, although for beta users you will be mainly seeing under the hood changes rather than anything that will visually knock your socks off from the get go.
Adobe is clearly following Microsoft and the Windows 7 route here by allowing its user base to get to grips with the software in order to hear how they use it so the package can be improved. It's a new way of developing software but one that is worth the input.
I think the biggest disappointment is the inability to upgrade my current catalogue - doing so would allow people to give it a good run for its money rather than treating it like a sandbox. If this was the case it would allow you to really get to grips with what does and doesn't work by the time the software eventually comes out.
Promising, but without the ability to import your own catalogue you'll find this is a weekend intrigue rather than your new favourite software package until the final version is released.