Photoshop Lightroom 3 has a new feature list that seems modest: a handful of enhancements to the raw-image processing engine in the Develop module and a few additions to each of the core modules. But these small improvements are all in the service of streamlining the process of managing your photos and providing high-quality images.
Although Lightroom previously did a decent job of reducing noise, Lightroom 3 features entirely new noise-reduction algorithms that do an amazing job of eliminating noise while still preserving detail in your photos.
Adobe has added new adjustment options for both colour and luminance noise reduction, providing sliders for preserving detail, and, in the case of luminance reduction, one for adjusting contrast. These new controls let you quickly dial in the right amount of reduction without making the final image overly soft.
In revamping the raw processing engine in Lightroom 3, Adobe has also improved the sharpening algorithms. These enhancements are more subtle than the noise-reduction tools, especially as sharpening in Lightroom 2 was already good. What blew us away was how easily we could use Lightroom 3’s improved raw processor to restore a number of high-ISO shots taken years ago with an older DSLR; they gained new life thanks to Lightroom 3.
Part and parcel of these new image-processing tools is a general performance boost across the board. Lightroom 3 feels much zippier than its predecessor, especially when it’s building thumbnails after import, and when you’re moving between images or using the adjustment brushes in the Develop module.
Version 3 offers beefier lens-correction tools, enabling you to adjust the geometric and chromatic distortion in an image based on the profile of a specific lens. The program ships with profiles for lenses from Canon, Nikon, Sony, and others, but you can create your own profiles with Adobe Labs’ Lens Profile Creator. Lightroom 3’s post-crop vignetting has also been enhanced, letting you create more natural-looking vignettes.
Filling in the gaps
Lightroom 3 contains a number of other new and improved features. For example, it now supports tethered shooting, letting you capture images directly to your Lightroom library from a DSLR. And a comprehensive watermarking feature lets you add watermarks quickly and easily.
The new Custom Package option in the Print module lets you create flexible photo layouts across multiple pages. The layout editor in previous versions only let you use multiple versions of the same photo on a page; Lightroom 3 lets you use different photos in each cell.
Other small enhancements include a more intuitive Import dialog box, and a Publish Services feature that lets you create a synchronised set of images on Flickr or your hard drive. In addition, Lightroom can now import and catalogue video files alongside your photos. You can’t edit them, but just being able to automatically get movies off a camera card is a welcome step.
Some of the little inconsistencies found in previous versions have been fixed – no longer does the N key do one thing in the Library module and another in Develop – but we still found a few places where Lightroom’s overly modal nature gets in the way of our workflow.
For example, you still create stacks only in the Library’s primary catalogue view; if you’re working in a collection, you can’t stack (or unstack) photos. And you can rename a file or add a keyword only in the Library module. Also, the new Publish Services feature is available only in grid view. This drove us crazy when we finished editing a photo and had to go through several extra clicks to get it into the Publish queue, especially as you’ve long been able to export files directly from the Develop module.
The image-processing enhancements in Lightroom 3 are impressive, solidifying the program’s position as one of the best tools for managing, editing, and publishing photos. This isn’t a blockbuster update, but offers enough to make it well worth the upgrade fee.