Sure to be a frequent topic here at improvephotography.com, Adobe today (4/21/2015) released a new version of Lightroom, their popular photo management and editing application and here are the notable things included in the update.[gap size=”4em”]
Note: This article was updated a few days after release to correct information about features in Lightroom 5 having been exclusive to Creative Cloud subscribers.
Already very popular in the photography community, Adobe has added a few notable features in the latest release of Lightroom that I am excited to try out:
Speed, Speed, Speed
Adobe has put a huge emphasis in this update on the speed of Lightroom. From faster import, to using the GPU (graphics card) to make the develop module faster (supposedly up to 1000x faster in some uses), to improved previews (new “auto” previews know how they should be sized based on the resolution of your screen), to faster exports. If none of the other features in this release get you excited, the speed improvements alone will be make updating to the latest version of the software well worth your time and money (if you aren't already a subscriber).
I can't wait to try this feature out and compare it with the other HDR work I have done on my landscapes. There is a simple process to merge multiple photos into a single HDR (high dynamic range) photo. Different from other HDR software however, the algorithms in Lightroom CC 2015 (or version 6 in the non-subscription version) are very carefully designed to work with only two shots: one at -2EV and another at +2EV. That's right, not one at 0EV, and not 3, 5, or 7 bracketed shots.
As I have talked about on the Improve Photography Roundtable podcast, I love taking panorama shots. It is kind of my signature thing. Maybe I am compensating for gear since I am using a crop sensor body and cheap(er) lenses, but it is really fun to take a 208 megapixel shot using 28 different shots and merging them together. In the past I have had to use Photoshop or the free (and still experimental) ICE program from Microsoft, but this is now supported in Lightroom and I am excited to see how it all compares. One thing right off I hope will make a big difference is the resulting file from the merge. With either Photoshop or Microsoft ICE the end result is a very useable TIF file, but still not quite the same as a RAW. Lightroom merges raw files into a single, high quality, 16-bit RAW (their own DNG format) that should give me a little more flexibility to play around with the shadows and highlights after merging things together.
A feature long offered by even the likes of the free Picasa application from Google, Adobe has finally added face detection to Lightroom! Anyone familiar with Lightroom will find it to work just as you expect. There is a new People module where the faces in a collection or folder are detected and shown similar to what you likely have seen on Facebook. You enter a name for the face and Lightroom starts applying that same name to the other faces it detects as matching. Like all face detection algorithms, it struggles if the face is a profile or largely covered up, but it is really easy to just drag the faces it doesn't recognize up to the ones you have already labeled to have Lightroom know that is the same person. You can also remove the face detection zones on photos where you don't want them to be, like people in back of a group shot who weren't part of the group, or faces on a book cover for example.
There is a new “brush” you can use when you have applied a gradient or radial filter so that you can mask out the effects of the filter. Like on a landscape scene where there is a building jutting out over the horizon and you want a gradient filter applied to the sky but not to the building – now you can use the brush to mask the building out and only have the gradient filter applied to the sky! As primarily a landscape photographer I am REALLY excited about this, means one less thing I have to go into Photoshop to do, which saves time.
Import To Collection
This may not seem like a big feature to most, but it is huge to me. I am a firm believer that collections are the best way to manage your photos. If you are still using folders as your primary way to manage your photos, just stop and give collections a really good try. You can check out my Photo Taco podcast on the topic here. Anyway, a new checkbox has been added to the import screen so that when you import you can immediately have the photos being imported added to a collection! Saves a few clicks I always have to do, which over time really adds up. There are actually lots of little tweaks to the UI to help skip clicks that I am sure we will be writing about or talking about on the podcasts over the coming weeks.
Lightroom on Android Tablets
With some of the later releases of Lightroom 5, a “mobile” version started to show up in app stores. It started with the iPhone, then went to the iPad, then Android phones, but the Android tablets had been left out in the cold. I am an iOS user (yep, that's right PC for computer and iOS for mobile), so I guess I can't honestly say it is one my favorite new things about Lightroom 6, but Android tablets now have the Lightroom Mobile app too. All of the mobile apps across all the platforms got some updates, I expect that to continue and for the mobile version to get more functional parity with the desktop version over time.
I am a fan of the app, I have found it practical and useful even as a hobbyist photographer recently when I used my iPad to cull photos with a client. In fact, we connected the iPad to an AppleTV and the entire family was able to provide input on the culling process in a really fun way. The kids even liked going from picture to picture. We were able to narrow it down to the best photos I needed to go back into Lightroom (and maybe Photoshop) to make them be their very best. It was really fun and made my Creative Cloud for Photographers subscription a little more worthwhile in that hour.
Subscription or Perpetual?
Those are the features I am personally looking forward to the most in the new version of Lightroom in April 2015. Now to the question I have heard from many photographers – should you pay for the Creative Cloud for Photographers $9.99/mo subscription, or $150 for the you-own-it perpetually licensed Lightroom 6? As a hobbyist photographer pinching all of the photography pennies I can, and a deep hatred for subscriptions that you seem to easily forget and under-utilize, I still think the subscription plan is the best way to go. Not only do I need Photoshop occasionally for some more significant edits,
but if you bought Lightroom 5 and didn't subscribe, you didn't get updates (besides camera support and bugfixes) on the product for 2 years! I don't think Adobe is planning to have that work any differently with version 6. Correction here thanks to a good reader of the website. Adobe promised through a FAQ issued at the time of the release of Lightroom 5 in May 2013 that no features of Lightroom would be released exclusively for Creative Cloud subscribers. They made the same promise in the help section for the new Lightroom CC (version 6) release here. So contrary to the reports from many media outlets I have heard over the past few days, there is no advantage as far as features in Lightroom itself between the subscription and the perpetual license.
Why do I think that? Besides the history with version 5, they have gone so far as to name it differently now. Matching the other Creative Cloud applications like Photoshop, Lightroom CC is now the name of the product under the cloud subscription. Lightroom 6 is the name of the stand-alone, perpetual license version of the application.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this was the last release where both options were available. Another correction here, although I still think it is possible the day will come when Adobe won't offer the software without a subscription, they did in fact promise in the FAQ already linked to above from May 2013 that “Future versions of Lightroom will be made available via traditional perpetual licenses indefinitely.” I think they backed away from that statement a little with the more updated information on Lightroom CC in saying “Lightroom will continue to be available as a stand-alone product, available for purchase with a traditional perpetual license.” So maybe it won't happen with a Lightroom CC 2017 update and a Lightroom 7 version will still be available for perpetual licensing.
You'll have to decide for yourself just how important it is not to have a subscription for this. $150 for the software seems pretty reasonable to me, especially to get a little assurance that if you need to cut monthly expenses at some point you won't be stuck not being able to manage your photos. Still, one thing to make clear is that you are not choosing between running the app from the web vs. on your desktop. Whether you pay a monthly subscription or you buy the perpetual license, the software is downloaded to your computer and run locally (not in a browser). In fact,
for right now (correction here as it updates are fully available for the perpetual licensing customers) when the release is brand new, the program you download should be pretty much identical with either option. So you should choose which is right for you based on how much you need Photoshop and if you are willing to pay a monthly fee.