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For everyday snapshots of your kids, your dog, and your road trip to see the world’s largest ball of twine, your Mac comes with iPhoto, a simple way to organize and edit your photos. But pro shutterbugs and photography enthusiasts need far more serious tools to manage ever-growing libraries of tens of thousands of images. Adobe’s latest iteration of Lightroom aims to answer that call with pro-level organization and photo management, as well as robust editing tools for perfecting your shots.
In fact, Lightroom 3’s editing tools are the real strong point. Edits are nondestructive, so you can go back and tweak (or remove) any of the adjustments you’ve made or create multiple versions of the same image with different treatments. Lightroom doesn’t support layers, masks, or other advanced Photoshop tools, but for many photo enhancements, it’s quicker than pulling out Adobe’s big gun.
Lightroom's stacking tools aren't as good as Aperture's but the great Filter menus in the Library view make it easy to narrow down your searches.
One of the best new features is automatic lens correction, which can correct for distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting for each of your lenses. Downloadable profiles are available for popular lenses, and if there isn’t one for your favorite glass, you can create and save your own for later re-use. The RAW conversion process has also been improved, enhancing fine detail. New noise-reduction tools produce smoother images at high ISOs without serious loss of quality, and the sharpening is also improved. When using both features, you do need a bit of skill to get the balance just right, but that’s always been the case with noise reduction and sharpening. Other changes include a natural grain effect, perspective-correction tools for fixing things like converging verticals in tall buildings, and a more natural-looking vignette effect.
On the back end, Adobe has completely re-engineered Lightroom 3 to improve overall performance, and this is especially noticeable with big catalogs and high-resolution images. Even on a modestly powered MacBook with 2GB RAM, our test library of 30,000 images loaded noticeably faster than it did in the previous version of Lightroom.
Some other impressive changes improve input and output. Adobe has streamlined importing photos, and the new tethered shooting lets you connect certain cameras directly to your Mac, sending shots into Lightroom as you go--perfect for studio photography. On the output side, Lightroom 3 supports visible watermarks, multi-image print layouts, and exporting photo slideshows as HD movies, complete with soundtracks. Lightroom can also now sync your photos to a Flickr account for automatic web sharing.
So Lightroom 3 is a seriously powerful professional tool. But is it better than Apple’s Aperture 3? When comparing the two, Aperture is much better at organizing images. It has a clean, uncluttered interface, it scrolls through thumbnails a little more snappily than Lightroom, and its ability to store albums both inside and outside projects provides much more flexibility than Lightroom’s confusing Folders (on the hard disk) and Collections (virtual albums), which really don’t mesh well. While Aperture excels as a cataloguing tool, Lightroom has the edge when it comes to editing.
It’s a no-brainer for Lightroom 2 users thinking of upgrading, but Lightroom 3 versus Aperture 3 is another story. If cataloguing is more important, then Aperture is the way to go, but Lightroom’s beefier editing tools offer more flexibility for pro photographers and advanced hobbyists.
Photoshop Lightroom 3
PRICE: $299; $99 upgrade
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.5 or later; Intel processor
Superb image-editing tools. Web-, slideshow-, and print-output options are even better than before. New lens corrections. Widespread performance improvements
$100 more than Aperture 3. Screen-hungry interface. Collection and stacking limitations.