First Look: Lightroom 3: The Top 3 Best Features

April 1, 2011

By RF Staff

Most major software releases have always been driven by new features and updated functionality. However, this trend has changed in the past few years; software manufacturers now turn their attention toward making their software better and more reliable from the performance and user’s experience. Such changes are seen and implemented in Adobe Lightroom 3, where Adobe has spent a great amount of time, with the latest version, working on updating and optimizing the overall underlying code of the program. In this version, most of the changes lie in the performance; for instance, users will notice that Lightroom now renders thumbnails and images for preview much faster than previous generations. Adobe has also improved the area of image processing as well.

Process Version & New Adobe Camera RAW
Lightroom 3 brought a much-needed update to the rather old image-processing algorithm, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The algorithm was last updated in 2003 and, as we all know, many drastic changes and improvements have been made to digital imaging sensors since then. Some of these changes are the push for better high ISO imagery, and more resolving resolution and detail. Being able to process the files and bring these kinds of details out are important. This new algorithm is deployed as ACR version 6, if you use it as a plug-in with Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. In Lightroom, this is referred to as Process Version 2010 or PV2010. The other option, Process Version 2003 or PV2003, is based on the previous ACR 5 demosaic algorithm. PV2010 is a better-optimized algorithm for modern and older digital cameras alike, and it is one of the best assets that shipped with Lightroom 3. This is the biggest leap made by Adobe to push image-processing technology to new heights.

There are a few things to note about PV2010 before using it in your digital workflow. First, PV2010 will be applied to your new files—images that have not been previously processed in ACR or Lightroom—automatically. PV2010, however, will not be applied automatically­­­­­­­ to previous processed files. So, if you update your current catalog from Lightroom 2, or import images that were processed with ACR 5, then you will have to manually update the processing algorithm to PV2010; otherwise, it will stay at PV2003. You can simply check the processing version by going to the settings menu when you are in the development module and select the process sub menu as seen in figure 1. The other way is to simply look for an exclamation point notification (figure 2) in the development module loupe view, in figure 3, and click on it and update one or all of your images in the filmstrip.

New & Improved Noise Reduction

PV2010 is also the driving force behind the new noise reduction in Lightroom 3. Luminance noise is one of the two types of noise in digital images and it is the most difficult type to remove. Luminance noise is left behind usually after the removal of color noise. This new noise reduction algorithm represents a big leap forward in image-processing capability and yields an outcome that rivals that of many great Photoshop plug-ins. With the former PV2003, users only got a slider for luminance noise reduction that gave very minimal control over the application. In the current version, users can now control the detail amount that they would like to preserve and the contrast amount of the detail. For a comparison between PV2003 and PV2010 with and without luminance noise application please refer to figure 4.

Color noise reduction also got an update in PV2010 and Lightroom 3. Although the changes are quite subtle compared to luminance noise, it still represents an improvement to an already great tool. With PV2010 the overall rendering of the images have changed along with the ways in which noise is rendered and applied in basic demosaic algorithm. In PV2003, users only have one set of controls for color noise, represented by one slider controlling the amount of sensor color artifacts that they want to remove. The current processing version improves the way color noise is removed and also adds a detail slider to the mix. With this slider, the user can control the threshold of how much color noise is removed from the area of fine detail, edges, and lines; a sample of the new color noise reduction is shown in figure 5.

Brand New Lens Corrections Tool
Another new and noteworthy feature is the Lens Correction Tool built into the development module. This tool takes many cues from the Lens Correction filter in Photoshop and implements many of its features and attributes into Lightroom. At the basic level, this tool uses the various lens and camera profile combinations that ship with the program to correct for lens barrel distortion resulting from the circular deformation of the various glass elements in the lens. Figure 6 demonstrates a before and after correction effect. Additionally, the tool also automatically corrects for chromatic aberration, resulting from the diffraction of light that passes through the lens in the edges of the images.

Advanced Lens Correction & Transformation
On a more complex level, this tool offers photographers even more control with the various transformations that may be done to an image. The manual controls, built into the Lens Correction, works on top of the lens profile correction, giving us added layers of control and the benefit of performing extreme corrections. For instance, we can override the lens barrel correction that was applied by the profile; transform the image vertically to correct for converging vertical parallel lines that result from point the camera up or down when capturing the image (figure 7), and correct for converging horizontal perspective lines in an image (figure 8). Additionally, there’s also a Rotate and Scale transformation tool as well. The Rotate tool functions in a similar manner to the Crop Overlay tool. However, when the image is rotated here, it does not automatically crop into the image. The Scale tool allows you to zoom in and out of the image and yields a look that is similar to the Crop Overlay tool. However, do note that you cannot really zoom out or scale out any more than the native resolution of the image with the Crop Overlay tool.

Besides the transformations mentioned here, there are also a few other additional controls as well—one being the lens vignetting. This happens mostly from light falling off at the four corners of the frame resulting in a darker exposure in those areas. The usefulness of this depends on the type of photography you do. This natural occurrence effect might be well received in portraiture and wedding photography, and not so well accepted in architecture or some types of landscape imagery.

We can now further add or remove the light fall-off effect to darken the edge even further, or correct for it and make the edge brighter. When this slider is used, we also get a midpoint control to manage the distance of our vignette from the edge to the center of the image.

Finally, we can correct and control the various aspects of chromatic aberration even further with the red/cyan and blue/yellow sliders; by adjusting these two sliders up or down we can control a majority of the aberrations. To add the icing on the cake, we also have a “defringe” selection box where we can have Lightroom work on reducing chromatic aberration halos around the highlight edges only—or on all of the edges

The new processing algorithm and new tool sets that I’ve discussed here are what represent the best new and improved features in Lightroom 3. With these tools and capabilities, many more of the editing basics can now be done within the RAW data. This eliminates the need for us to export intermediary files for handing over to Photoshop, making it easier to keep track of the files, creating a more efficient and less redundant workflow and yielding a much better final image result.
Art Suwansang is an award winning international wedding photographer, educator and lecturer based in Southern California. He lectures for multiple photographic organizations, consults for multiple photographers and companies internationally, and offers digital photography tutorials through his new Web site Rule of 3Rds Additionally, he is also an adjunct professor at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica College. Visit his Web Site at