It took Adobe almost 2 years to update Lightroom – one of the most popular photography-oriented software available out there. There was a lot of rumours and a lot of hype surrounding the release with leaked information about upcoming features making everyone super excited. In the photography world it looked a bit similar to Apple releasing their new i-family products.
Editions & pricing
After months of waiting new Lightroom was officially released on 21st April 2015 in two editions:
- Lightroom 6 – boxed version available for 149$ and
- Lightroom CC – subscription based for 9.99$ / month in photography subscription model.
As you may guess the difference isn’t only in the name and pricing model. Lightroom CC gives you some additional benefits related to the cloud like file-syncing, free access to mobile, web & desktop versions of Lightroom (including iPad version which I myself really like). And for 9.99$ you get access to Photoshop CC as well what is a huge benefit and a really small price for this amazing software.
After nearly 2 years in development expectations for new features are very high, especially as the competition like Capture One made huge progress during that time (many think that it is currently the best RAW converter), so let’s start with new features list:
- Performance improvements,
- Merging to panorama and HDR directly inside Lightroom,
- Face recognition,
- Ability to modify local adjustments using a brush
There are other changes and improvements like improved slideshows, back-end improvements to map module to increase its stability and performance or new HTML5 web galleries and of course support for newer cameras and lenses. But these are minor things and I won’t focus on them in this review.
Lightroom is a really great tool but one of its biggest weaknesses has always been its speed. Lightroom 5 was sooo terribly slow. I have quite a powerful PC yet it slows down from time to time significantly.
So for version 6 Adobe promised some significant improvements here. Unfortunately I don’t see much of them. Lightroom 6 is advertised to use GPU to speed up computing. It turns out, however, that this feature is only used for settings found in Develop module (tip: make sure you update your GPU drivers, otherwise your GPU might not get properly detected by Lightroom). I heard that Exposure slider is now a dozen or so times faster than it was in Lightroom 5. Sounds incredible, right? The only problem is that for me it already did work very fast. Same for distortion correction. If something took fraction of a second to do, if it’s 10 times fast faster – I won’t notice. But if you’re using very large resolution screens (like 4K or 5K) the improvement might be significant (I’m still on Full HD screen). What I would notice is speed improvements in accessing photos, moving between them, scrolling through large collection of images, syncing setting in Develop module, exporting, etc. But these operations are as slow as previously. And it looks Lightroom gets slower, the longer the editing session is so I have to kill it every few hours and start again (LR 6 already crashed a few times for me).
I would be unfair if I would say that there is no improvement at all – quite big thing for me is that local adjustments (gradients, brushes, radial filters) work really fast now! I tend to use them more and more recently and in version 5 they could become painfully slow after adding several local adjustments to one image. This time, however, even after adding around 10 of different adjustments, editing was still close to real time – GPU computing at its full glory 🙂 Good job on that Adobe!
Merging to panorama & HDR
Two big missing features that were already present in Photoshop for years – merging to panorama & merging to HDR – made finally its way into Lightroom. And I must say that it’s very convenient. You simply select photos you want to merge, click CLTR + M for panoramas or CTRL + H for HDR and you get preview of merged photo with just a few options. For panoramas it will be projection, for HDR – alignment and deghosting strength. After that you click ok and final merged image is created in the background (meaning that you can edit other photos at the same time for instance). Once the image is created it appears in your catalogue and you can fine-tune it. Workflow is very easy in such case.
BTW I intend to review HDR module in depth in coming days as HDR is my primary interest.
However, both tools are overly simplified for me, for instance there are only 3 types of projection for panoramas and no option to adjust control points like in PTGui. And PTGui is so much faster! Similarly there are much more options in Photomatix or Oloneo for HDRs (like deghosting options, numerous tone-mapping sliders). And so far I prefer the output from Photomatix. So although these tools are a great addition, for serious photography work I will probably still use dedicated software as it’s simply better at it. Even for noise reduction, clarity improvements or sharpening I prefer to use 3rd party dedicated plug-ins because they tend to give better results.
Also I’m not happy with GUI of those two new tools which look like taken from different software – their look is not consistent with the rest of GUI!
Face detection was another of the big missing features in Lightroom for a few years and Adobe finally decided to add it to this version. You might find it useful if you’re sport photographer to tag athletes, portait photographer to tag models or simply tag your beloved ones and find photos of them easily. After tagging all your photos, you might then easily find all photos on which a given person is.
I already ran the process of face detection through my whole catalogue (excluding RAW images) and the process took around 15 hours! Most of the time it did a really great job detecting (and properly recognizing) even difficult to detect faces (eg. very small, low-resolution, very low-contrast, partially covered). BTW if Lightroom detects a face it recognizes, it suggests a name for it saving you a lot of time as you can easily confirm its guess by clicking on the tick icon. But there’s a catch. Unfortunately Lightroom quite often detects face when there isn’t one at all, eg. it thinks that tree, bush, detail in architecture is a face. And even suggests who it might be (why on Earth it was me most of the time?!). Funny 🙂 but it happens a bit too often and becomes irritating after a while. I guess Adobe just needs to fine-tune their algorithms and it will work almost perfect.
Ability to modify local adjustments using a brush
This is a cool addition. It allows you to modify gradient or radial filter by masking it using a brush tool. It’s extremely useful if there is an object that you would like to exclude from gradient (like a tree, house in landscape photo that stands against the sky you want to modify, etc.). Basically it removes biggest issue in gradient filters which is affecting objects standing out against the sky.
Unfortunately it is the only new feature as far as editing images is concerned.
Summing up, it’s a really good update with a lot of new features and improvements over last edition.
New features are very welcome, even if they came a little bit late to the party, they will make workflow much easier. However, I will probably stick with PTGui for panoramas and Photomatix for HDRs as both tools just have more options which are really useful in case of serious photography work and if you really want to control what is going on with your images. Lightroom counterparts are very nice but limited at the moment and so I will probably use them only in case of quick edits.
Also I’m disappointed with overall speed. After reading all leaked information I had really high hopes here, but these expectations weren’t met. Also there seem to be some stability issues for me as I already got several crashes, something that didn’t happen with Lightroom 5 for at least few months. Hopefully this will get quickly fixed in a patch. While talking about performance I must say that GPU computing works fantastic in case of local adjustments – previously adding them resulted in very slow performance but now there is no performance loss at all.
Moreover, I’m a little disappointed that apart from ability to mask local adjustments with a brush there are no other changes to imaging features. Image quality won’t become any better with this update and I feel that Lightroom started to fall behind Capture One which nowadays probably offers best RAW conversion available on the market.