Adobe Lightroom – not quite there yet, sadly

Lightroom is Adobes newest photo-handling software. It is based on at least two very good ideas: firstly, its meant to be a complete, integrated package for a digital workflow. It’s packing a RAW-converter, a picture-database, basic editing and several other functions into one program, with a very nice and functional user interface. Secondly, it’s based on the idea of non-destructive editing: no matter the amount of tweaking and editing you perform, Lightroom will not change one single pixel in your original image. Instead, it saves all your work in either an accompanying text-file or simply in the database. This also means that re-editing and creation of different versions is easy and flexible.

Lightrooms interface takes a little time to get used to. But in fact it works well – and looks good.

However, the program is let down by three serious problems: first of all it is painfully slow when it comes to scrolling in the library. Rendering thumbnails takes forever. It could be my machine – even though other similar programs are running at much higher speed on the same machine. It could also be that I have simply not found out how to best set up Lightroom for maximum speed.

The second problem has to do with the way Lightroom handles colours. Internally, it always uses the prophoto RGB colour-space and all editing is in 16bit. Not before a photo is send to its final destination, this is changed. If, for example, you export to JPG, it will be changed to 8 bit sRGB. This is not in itself a bad idea. However, contrary to the “Proof” function in Photoshop, there is no way to preview the result. You just have to hope that your colours won’t change too much.

The third problem also has to do with JPG export. Unlike other Adobe products, there is no preview of the effects of the compression you apply. You can only chose an amount and cross your fingers. Furthermore, since the photo can be downscaled in size only during the conversion to JPG, you can only apply sharpening on the full size version of the photo. Again, you just have to hold your breath and hope it will look all right, even if the final photo is much smaller.

The end result is that exporting to JPG becomes a tiresome process of trial and error, if youinsist on the best possible quality.

This is so much more annoying, since most of these problems could be easily solved with features such as “Proof” and “Save to web” which are already part of Photoshop. If Adobe will include these features in a later version of Lightroom, it will probably become my first choice for most of my photo-handling – even if it requires a hardware update. But for now I’ve decided to skip it in favour of other solutions.

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