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Photoshop Lightroom puts the workspace in the middle, adjustment tools on the right, and additional tools on the left. Each module follows this basic layout.
Adobe Photoshop slices, dices, and in the hands of an expert, it can turn photographic water into wine - or so it would seem. True, Photoshop has been the catchall application for digital-photography enthusiasts and pros, but it was designed for editing individual images, not for processing, organizing, and outputting tens, hundreds, or thousands of photos at a time. Like Apple's Aperture, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom fills this role, giving photographers a full box of tools to handle large-scale image adjustment, batch processing, photo management, and more.
Lightroom takes its interface cues from a host of modern apps, including iTunes and Aperture (4 out of 5 stars, Mar/06, p38), and Bibble Labs' Bibble Pro (4 out of 5 stars, Feb/07, p62). Lightroom fills the screen with a single large window made up of a number of customizable panels. Compared to Aperture, Lightroom's most striking difference is its five user-selectable modules (Adobe-speak for screen layouts): Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. Only one module is active at a time, its respective panels making up the user interface. For example, when the Develop module is active, the middle of the interface is the main viewer panel; to the left are the History and Snapshot panels (more on these later), among others; and adjustments are on the right.
If you've worked with the public beta of Lightroom - or Aperture, for that matter - you will feel right at home in Lightroom 1.0. But if this sort of layout is new to you, it may take a while to locate all of Lightroom's tools. (By "a while," we mean about an hour for most people - the interface is quite intuitive.)
An elegant interface is one thing; a responsive speed-demon of a productivity app is another. Lightroom is both. Even on a first-generation MacBook with a 2GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 1GB of RAM, Lightroom's interface was snappy and its animated movements were smooth. Previews and image adjustments drew quickly. Switching between modules will be a breath of fresh air if you're tired of the often-jerky transitions - and tirelessly spinning beach ball - of Aperture. Lightroom doesn't require the latest processor or video card.
Here's another huge plus: Lightroom uses the same underlying technology behind Adobe Camera RAW, meaning that it can read and process the RAW files produced by more than 150 cameras. It also means that RAW files with adjustments made in Lightroom can be exported and opened in Adobe Camera RAW (or Bridge) with the adjustments intact. The app also has strong Photoshop integration. If you need to make edits that only Photoshop is capable of (masking, layers, or pixel-level edits, for example), Lightroom lets you automatically open an image in Photoshop and then save your work back into Lightroom, which is handy.
By clicking on the bull's-eye icon under the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) adjustment tool in the Develop module, you access what the app calls a Targeted Adjustment Tool. You can now click any part of the image itself and adjust the hue, saturation, or luminance of the color you selected in your image by clicking and dragging. The Tone Curve adjustment tool also has a Targeted Adjustment Tool option. Here's just one example to illustrate how cool this is: Say you have a photo that is mostly dark, with a row of lit yellow candles in it. You want the candles to glow with a more saturated, brighter yellow, but you don't want the rest of the image to change. With the Targeted Adjustment Tool turned on (and Saturation or Luminance selected), you simply have to click on one of the candles and drag the cursor upward until you're satisfied with the changes.
Lightroom's History panel is something you've probably never seen this side of a RAW image. It's a cool carryover from Photoshop, whereby each adjustment you make is recorded as an item in a list. By clicking any adjustment in the list, your image will revert to the state it was in when that adjustment was completed. You can toggle between any of these states as often as you want. It's a simple, yet superb, feature.
After Library (organizing images) and Develop (tweaking images), Lightroom has three additional modules: Slideshow, Print, and Web. These last modules could probably be consolidated into one übermodule for outputting. The printing tools are superb. The Web gallery choices are nice but limited (though a simple Flash gallery is offered). A dearth of options leaves the Slideshow module looking like it was tacked on. Expect all three of these modules to be filled out in the next update. Maybe we'll even get an option to design and output photo books, as Aperture has.
Adobe has also promised to open Lightroom up to third-party add-on modules in the future. It's crowdsourcing at its best: If Adobe doesn't make a module that everyone is asking for, you can bet someone else will.
The bottom line. Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 has killer app potential, although it isn't there just yet. It's more responsive and simpler to use than Aperture, though not quite as refined or as complete. It's still a toss-up between the two apps. But if you regularly edit, organize, and output digital photos (especially RAW images), you can hardly go wrong with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0.
REQUIREMENTS: 1GHz G4 or later or Intel processor, Mac OS 10.4.3 or later, 768MB RAM, 1GB disk space
Responsive, fast, easy to use. Compatible with Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and other Photoshop apps. Better RAW adjustment tools than Aperture. Universal binary.
Interface feels cluttered on a small monitor. Underdeveloped slideshow module.
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