Adobe Ships Finished Version of Lightroom 4; Read Our Early Review

March 6, 2012

By Theano Nikitas

After almost two months in public beta, Adobe has just released the finished version of its Lightroom 4 (download it here) image editing and organizational software. (The Lightroom 4 beta software officially expires on March 31, 2012.)

New features abound in Lightroom 4 ($149 full version; $79 upgrade), including some Develop module advancements, broader video integration, geo-tagging, book layout and direct-to-Blurb publishing as well as the oft-requested soft proofing functionality.

Other improvements, like more flexible DNG support, may be considered more like tweaks than updates but, overall, the differences between LR3 and LR4 are more notable than those between LR2 and LR3.

Rather than identify each and every new feature or enhancement, we’re going to concentrate on the most notable additions in this review.

Before you get too excited about Lightroom 4, those of you with older computers and operating systems — especially Windows XP — will have to upgrade to a 64-bit system. While I’m cross-platform and am covered on the Mac side, I’m a little saddened that I won’t be able to use Lightroom 4 on any of my Windows XP desktops. But XP is a little long in the tooth and we’re seeing a gradual transition away from the older OS. It had to happen sooner or later.

Still, minimum system requirements for LR4 are fairly modest. Beyond the 64-bit system, you’ll need 2GB of RAM and 1GB of free hard drive space. I worked with the beta on a 4.5-year-old Macbook Pro with 4GB of RAM and running OS X 10.6.8 (you’ll need 10.6.8 or 10.7 for LR4) and it ran fine.

Here’s what’s new in Lightroom 4.


Develop Module
Lightroom continues the modular interface of its predecessors, although with the addition of two new modules: Map and Book. But the first time you’ll encounter a noticeable change is in the Develop module’s Basic panel. In addition to a new process version — which you can elect to apply or not to images that have been treated in Lightroom 3 — the default starting point for all the adjustment sliders is a neutral “0”. This gives users more leeway to move through the various develop settings and is one of the program’s notable improvements.

Even more obvious is the disappearance of recovery, brightness and fill light. These are replaced by highlights, shadows and the ability to modify white and black points (and, therefore, clipping) individually. Newcomers to Lightroom will find these changes more intuitive but current users will have to adjust their workflow—and their mindset—to accommodate the new sliders.

I have a soft spot for fill light and, even though it wasn’t perfect, I miss it already. However, the new highlight and shadow recovery sliders seem to provide more exacting adjustments. It just takes longer and requires closer attention to detail (no pun intended) as one is modifying an image. And, if you really want to use recovery, brightness and fill light, just go to the Camera Calibration panel and choose PV 2010 from the Process drop down menu to revert to the LR3 Basic panel.

Localized corrections are not new to Lightroom but in version 4 you can now brush on white balance and noise adjustments. Both are important and useful additions but I found myself using the white balance brush more frequently than noise reduction, particularly on runway images (imagine trying to color correct a show with 3 different light temperatures across each image, including colored spotlights). Localized moiré removal is also possible and also works quite well.

Scroll down to Lens Corrections (Profile) and you’ll notice a new, separate option for removing chromatic aberration. CA removal was, previously, part of the lens correction profiles but is now more effective—at least on most of the images we tested—as a standalone option.

Soft Proofing
Perhaps one of the most-often requested features for Lightroom has finally arrived. Even if soft proofing isn’t part of your workflow now, anyone who prints (or shows their images on their website or in a virtual gallery) should use this feature to get the most accurate output. It’s certainly a huge improvement over what can be accomplished in Lightroom’s Print module.

Soft proofing in Lightroom 4 is a relatively simple process. A one-click virtual copy keeps your original image in its pristine state so you can apply a myriad of adjustments until your proof matches the master. You need to choose an ICC profile and, if you’re outputting to print, select paper and ink. Gamut warnings (monitor and destination) are clearly visible and, while some images will be more challenging to adjust than others, it shouldn’t take too much time or effort to achieve the desired results.

It’s no surprise that Adobe has extended LR4’s video options without the complexity of most video editing software applications. In addition to organizing, previewing and scrubbing .mov, .mp4 and , yes, even .mts (AVCHD) files in the Library module, photographers can now make adjustments, trim clips, capture individual frames and easily upload the final video to social media and image sharing sites from within Lightroom.

LR4’s video capabilities are limited, of course, and some features are not readily apparent. But most of its video tools are truly photographer-friendly so there’s basically no learning curve.

Beyond trimming clips by setting in and out points, perhaps the most useful aspect of these new features is being able to apply LR4’s Quick Develop presets and settings to video footage. Video clips cannot be opened in the Develop module. Instead, to gain access to a fuller complement of adjustment tools, you can easily capture a JPEG frame from the clip and bring it into the Develop module.

There you can make additional tweaks, save them as a preset and apply them to the entire video back in the Library module. It’s a familiar (and painless) method of making video clips look good. They can then be exported directly to Facebook or Flickr via Publish Services from within Lightroom. You can also click the “find more services online” to export to Picasa, for example. These new video capabilities don’t replace a full video editing program and they’re not supposed to. But making adjustments, color correcting footage, applying special effects (e.g., converting to black and white) and other tweaks to video don’t get much easier than it is in Lightroom 4.

Book Module
Adobe partnered with Blurb to add a Book module to LR4. DIY photo books are very hot these days, so being able to create and export a book layout to Blurb from within Lightroom is very convenient. You can save a book and get back to it whenever you have time.

Adobe reminded us that the Book module is not InDesign and it’s far from it. You get more choices when you download software from the Blurb website (along with the ability to use an InDesign plug-in). Part of the logic behind limiting options was that too many features can bog down non-designers and, in many ways, that’s probably true. Fewer choices often speed completion of a project. But even with limited choices (e.g., five book formats/sizes and three paper surfaces), having the tools to create and export and book directly to Blurb is certainly convenient.

Template based, with some flexibility in individual page layouts and the ability to add text and captions, the Book module is both fun and frustrating. Using the tools is mostly intuitive but there are small, but important, tasks — like deleting a single page — that aren’t readily apparent. There are layout limitations as well but with workarounds.

For example, if you don’t find a page layout in the presets that match your vision, Adobe Senior Digital Imaging Evangelist and software wizard Julieanne Kost suggests you use Photoshop to create a custom single page layout, save it as a JPEG and import it into Lightroom and drag and drop it onto one of your pages. While you can’t create your own template, per se, you can save the book (with or without images) to use again. You can also output the book to a PDF.

If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with the manual layout, you can pick a template, click a button and Lightroom will automatically populate the pages with your images.

Once you’re finished with the layout, just click “send book to Blurb” and you’re pretty much done. A couple of nice touches: the estimated price is displayed in Lightroom and you can opt to exclude Blurb’s logo on the printed book or save a few dollars by letting it sit fairly unobtrusively on the bottom of the last page.

I’m waiting for my book to be delivered but the samples I’ve seen look really nice. The images look great and the books were well-constructed.

Map Module
Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of geotagging nor do I use it on a regular basis. Keywords work perfectly fine for me. But pretty much all smart phones record location data, some compact cameras are equipped with built-in GPS and DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark III offer an optional GPS unit. Lightroom 4 makes it easy to use this feature. If the location information is in the file, LR4 reads the metadata and plots the images on a map. You’ll need an internet connection since LR4 uses Google maps, but the whole process is seamless.

If you don’t have a GPS-enabled camera, there are several ways to attach batches of images to various locations. You can search by location (including address) or popular sites like the Empire State Building and then drag and drop images onto the location.

GPX log files can also be utilized to match images to the log’s capture time and also plot them on the map. So if you ever need to search by location — let’s say you want to find all the images you shot at Joshua Tree or on various wildlife treks to Africa — you can easily do that, too. In fact, all you have to do is click on that particular marker on the map. Create and save a location and the next time you shoot at Joshua Tree or in Africa, it’s quick and easy to add those images to the map.

Concerns about privacy? Just opt to not include location data if/when images are exported.

The Bottom Line
You don’t have to use — or even like — all of the new features or modules in Lightroom 4 to appreciate the upgrade. I doubt that I’ll ever use the Map module, for example, but it doesn’t bother me that it’s there. On the other hand, I love being able to paint on white balance adjustments and noise reduction. Cumulatively, however, Adobe has moved Lightroom forward in a significant manner. We think that photographers will value the new features and under-the-hood innovations, albeit after a brief period of adjustment given the changes in the Basic panel. At the same time, Adobe has made the program more welcoming to newcomers without compromising the professional-level core Lightroom is known for.

Pros: More effective shadow and highlight recovery; additional brush on options (white balance, noise reduction, moiré removal); expanded video capabilities

Cons: Current users will have to adapt their workflow to incorporate the new Basic panel features; minor aspects of video options require a little hunting around; some features in the Book module can be confusing and frustrating to use

Price: $149 full version; $79 upgrade

More info:

Download it here.