Adobe Lightroom 5 beta released: a review of the new features

Almost ready! Installing the new Lightroom 5 beta
Almost ready! Installing the new Lightroom 5 beta

Adobe has released the first beta version of their popular photo editing and library management tool – Adobe Lightroom, which now reached version 5. This update includes all the features in Lightroom 4, especially the new cameras added in the 4.4 update. I am a long time user of Lightroom, and have used it as my photo editing tool of choice for both my Canon DSLRs and my new Fuji cameras. I really like the integrated approach Lightroom has for both image library management, keywording, image adjustment (the main photo editing module) and printing or exporting. For me Adobe Lightroom has almost replaced Photoshop, for most of my images. I say almost because some image adjustments could only be done in Photoshop. At least until Lightroom 5.

May update: Lightroom is not affected by Adobe move to Creative Cloud. Lightroom 5 will be available as a one-time purchase.
Adobe Photoshop and the other Adobe applications are however moved to a subscription model from June.

Important improvements:

  • upgraded spot removal tool (with brush system)
  • offline images editing
  • auto-adjustments to straighten photos
  • new tool: radial gradient filter – the best thing since, well…linear gradients
  • support for a ton of new cameras, of interest to me being the Fuji X-E1 and X100s

Will I get the Lightroom 5 upgrade? Let’s start the beta test.

Lightroom 5 beta program

On April 15 Adobe released the first beta version – which I downloaded from the official Adobe Labs site. This is a good time to try for free one of the leading photo editing tools for photographers. The beta version will work until June 2013. Even better, if you and I have suggestions for Adobe there is a dedicated forum for this beta release.

You have to create a new catalog file the first time you start Lightroom 5 beta
You have to create a new catalog file the first time you start Lightroom 5 beta

Lightroom 5 beta is available for Mac (OS X 10.7) and Windows 7 or later, so if you have an older operating system you have to upgrade that first.

From my experience with last launches catalog files created with a beta version of Lightroom keep working perfectly with the full release. The Lightroom 5 beta does need a new catalog file though.

Adobe strongly encourages us to keep our main workflow separate from a beta tool (a very sensible recommendation). So although I like the new features in Lightroom 5 I wont use it exclusively.

As usual you need an Adobe ID to download the files – to register it only takes a minute.

Lightroom 5 features and my opinion about them

Radial filter (gradients)

I think this is the greatest improvement in Lightroom 5. I tend to use a lot of linear ones in my current workflow, but they are limited. I use +/- exposure compensation gradients, opacity gradients, saturation gradients on a picture-by-picture basis. However using the linear ones felt awkward and I often had to use several to simulate a certain effect.

The way the new radial gradients work is like this:

  • you draw an oval shape
  • move the standard sliders the way you like (exposure, saturation, contrast, clarity)
  • adjust the oval shape so the surrounding area gradually gets the adjustments and the oval shape “protects”
  • you can add a second radial gradient, this time with “inverted mask” on with adjustments that apply to the interior of the oval shape
  • laugh when you realize how much brush painting you needed to do the same effect the Lightroom 4 way

I emphasize that the area inside the oval shape remains almost unchanged, while the area outside gets gradually changed. To do the opposite, check “invert mask”.

I have to say that this tool is also pretty fun to use. It opens some very interesting creative possibilities in photo editing.

offline image editing

I am still searching for a usage scenario where I will use this feature. Lightroom 5 generates a medium resolution (2500 pixels long edge) DNG file (an open source file format) on which you can make adjustments even when the original file is offline. In theory I can keep the main library on an external hard drive, and only the main catalog file on the PC. And still be able to post process files when the hard drive is unplugged.

The gotcha with this Lightroom 5 feature is that you need to generate these smart preview files before putting the main library offline. So if I find I need a photo which has become offline I cannot do anything about it.

You can prepare the high-resolution previews one image at a time (boring) or by selecting multiple files. This is especially interesting if I use the Lightroom smart filters. I can see myself selecting all photos rated 5 stars, generating smart previews for them, and then edit them offline. On my Mac Air this might be an interesting workflow change. I will add more info to this feature the more I use it.

upright tool – Lightroom 5 brings software tilt-shift “lens”

No more need to buy an expensive, or nonexistent for Fuji X cameras, tilt-shift lens. Lightroom brings a correction tool that fixes perspective errors. And also slanted horizons, which I happen to shoot a lot.

Of course, like all photo editing tools this will decrease the quality of the image. So if you are photographing architecture don’t sell that tilt-shift lens yet. Lightroom 5 also crops the image, so the resulting file is smaller. The tool is very nice, and I find it works best if I enable lens corrections. I like the “auto” setting – it does a very decent job all by itself. The full setting tries to correct everything, and it loses too much information.

It is easy to confuse Lightroom. This image of the Petronas Towers below – which clearly has alignment issues – does not benefit from the new tool. So use in moderation.

spot removal tool update

The last reason to jump to Photoshop – a powerful clone/heal brush – is gone. Lightroom 5 brings an updated spot removal tool that does just that. This feature together with the radial gradients is enough reason to upgrade to Lightroom 5.

So let’s see the tool in action. I chose an image with SIngapore sky-scrapers, and wanted to remove the annoying cranes at the top of the image. I also fixed the perspective with the upright tool (set on auto). So let’s see Lightroom in-action:

so, that’s all?
Lightroom 5 features continued

You can read the list of updates Lightroom 5 brings on the official Adobe blog.

Other features the new Lightroom has:

  • PNG file support
  • Improved Photo Book Creation (you can save page templates)
  • updated Full Screen Mode (F shortcut)
  • configurable grid overlays
  • more search criteria for filters and smart collections
  • LAB color readout

You can watch a very interesting video about Lightroom 5 radial filter below

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