I really don’t often use this space to blather on about how good some piece of commercial client-side closed-source software is, but, well... Adobe Lightroom is a truly great piece of work. Not only is it just the thing for the serious photographer, I think it may have advanced the state of the GUI art.
What It Does · I’ve noticed that the descriptions of what Lightroom does are kind of vague and not that helpful, so here’s a short list.
First of all, Speed is a Feature. Everything I’ve used Lightroom for so far, it’s fast, as in amazingly fast.
It’ll import the pictures from your camera or memory card. I haven’t checked this out much yet since I’ve been happy with the Mac’s built-in “Digital Capture” utility, but I will.
It has a nice library manager for scanning through your pix. You can label ’em and rate ’em and colour-code ’em and sort ’em into collections, and then pull selections out based on any of these.
Its module for touching up photo is called “Develop” and it lets you crop, wrangle the histogram, white balance, tone, brightness, contrast, saturation, vibrance (what’s that?), tone curve, sharpness, lens correction, and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t figured out yet.
All this editing is done as deltas, thus is non-destructive.
It’s got a super-nice Export screen that meets my needs exactly.
It also has subsystems called “Slideshow”, “Print”, and “Web”, but I haven’t really tried these out much yet. My first pass through the Slideshow screen was a little disappointing; for slideshows on my Mac I find the built-in Graphic Converter program to be really super. We have a lovely Canon photo-printer so I’ll check out the Print facility and report back. As for Web presentations, I’ve got all the machinery I need for that.
What It Doesn’t Do · The question is whether I still need Photoshop Elements. The answer is yes, but not very often. Lightroom has a “Sharpen” slider, but it doesn’t seem as sophisticated as what Unsharp Mask does. Also there’s something that advertises itself as being like Clone Stamp (what you use to remove things from pictures), but it’s a little tricky to operate and I haven’t been getting good results with it yet.
It’s good that I don’t need Elements very often because after a few days with Lightroom, it feels agonizingly slow.
GUI Wow · First of all, did I mention it’s fast?
Second, there’s no Save button. It just takes care of that. And remember, all the edits are deltas, as in non-destructive. It occurs to me to wonder why all software that edits any data in any way whatsoever doesn’t work like this.
The crop function is immensely better than Elements, because it remembers what you did and you can keep going back and changing your mind and making slight deltas.
I had become pretty accomplished with Elements’ mighty Levels control, but the combination of Lightroom’s Histogram and Tone Curve tools seems to get me results that are about as good with a little less work, and I go off the rails less often.
Your working area is in the middle, and there’s a library photo-strip across the bottom, then there are tabs full of controls on the left and right. You can make the tabs go away (they reappear on mouse-over, like the Dock’s auto-hide) and I usually do.
Getting into full-screen mode is a single keystroke. There’s another keystroke, “L” which turns the lights out; that is to say, in a couple of strokes all of the GUI is greyed then blacked out, leaving only your picture. Mmm, tasty. And hey, keystroke controls with no command- or control- or anything.
There’s a nice side-by-side compare-two-pictures mode.
It’s really good at remembering what you just did, so you very rarely have to type in something more than once when you want to do it again.
It looks just amazingly wonderful on my big 25" Sun monitor.
It’s easy to learn. I keep meaning to get around to looking at the Getting Started material, but haven’t yet.
Did I mention it’s really fast?