The newest incarnation of Lightroom uses the new Adobe Camera Raw 6.1 for it’s RAW conversion. Since this is a review of Lightroom and not ACR, I’m not going to get into the nuances of the newest ACR suffice to say that overall it appears to be an improvement over previous versions. One of the first things new users will notice is an exclamation point icon on the bottom of some images. This message is that LR wants to apply the new ACR default settings to the image. Upon allowing the update, you will notice a slight change in the handling of shadows, color rendition and a few other areas and overall, it looks good. If you’re someone who prefers the camera manufacturers software for RAW conversion, you’re probably still going to prefer those. The color rendition, quality of detail and overall fidelity provided in those programs (Canon Photo Professional, can’t speak for NX2) still has an edge over Adobe’s CR. This should be expected, given that ACR accommodates almost all types of RAW images and therefore isn’t quite as specialized as those from the Camera makers. That said, for those who do prefer ACR for it’s convenience and options will be very pleased with the new engine overall.
The only downside to the new engine is that you need to have ACR 6.1 running on your system, meaning you need to be running Photoshop CS5. If not, than you will need to render RAW images in LR before opening in Photoshop, which means an extra TIF (if that’s your selected preference for external editing) on your drive and more time spent waiting for an editable-image to be created before being re-opened. Of course, LR offers the option of “open anyway” rather then “render using Lightroom” but the results are inconsistent and frankly a bit unreliable for accurate rendition and conversion. So, if you’re not running CS5 be prepared for a little extra leg work to reap the full benefits of Lightroom3’s develop Module.
Noise Reduction Improvement
Adobe is pushing heavily the improved performance of Noise Reduction in LR3, which is no surprise since Noise Reduction is an item of large interest for photographers given the “Noise Wars” being waged between the camera manufacturers to push the high-iso-noise-performance envelop further and further. So the question is, how good is LR’s new noise reduction? The short answer is very good, in fact certainly better than previous versions of Lightroom and Photoshop. Luminance and color noise are handled nicely with details staying largely intact (compared to previous versions) and realistic. To get a sense of the improvement, I’ve set up the comparison below between LR3 and LR2, Aperture3 and noise Photoshop plugins Nik Dfine and Imageonic Noiseware. I’ll be posting the results soon.
Lens Correction Tool
Another crucial addition to the develop module is the inclusion of the Lens Correction tool. The LC too is taken directly from Photoshop, with all of the same parameters with the exception of scale and edge transparency (I would not recommend using the LC tool for scaling anyway). In addition to the default Photoshop parameters, Lightroom has raised the bar by including it’s own camera/lens profiles- similar to DXO software. These profiles, when applied, automatically correct a the image based on the lens and camera preset detected by LR. This is an excellent feature, and works well for most images. I would, as a recommendation use the automatic profiles as a starting point, as different images shot in varying situations will certainly require different levels of correction. Another great feature is the ability to batch lens correct, as the lens correct option has been added to the list of options when syncing develop settings across a number of photographs. Overall, the LC tool is yet another vital work flow time saver especially when trying to stay solely in Lightroom for image editing.