Adobe Lightroom is the choice workflow application for a good number of professional and serious amateur photographers, and these folks can now get a look at the programme's next version for free.
The company announced that Lightroom 5 Beta is now available as a free download at labs.adobe.com. The new release lacks the kind of head-turning new major features like Lightroom 4's introduction of Maps, but it's a worthy improvement over its predecessor, adding useful tools like a more capable healing brush, new perspective corrections, Smart Previews for more efficient editing, and video slideshow creation.
We met with Adobe product manager Sharad Mangalick last week via web-conferencing for a look at Lightroom 5's new capabilities.
"Within the Photoshop family, Lightroom is the workflow solution for not only pros, but anyone who considers photography a passion," said Mangalick. "Image quality is paramount, but we also want photos to be able to evoke emotions and tell a story. Everything is grounded in two tenets: image quality and workflow."
In all, the new version introduces 50 updates, including what Adobe calls "JDI" for "just do it." These are minor fixes and capabilities requested by users that the programme's developers can implement quickly. In Lightroom 5, some of these include support for PNG files, a full-screen mode with no borders, and configurable grid overlays.
A more beefy addition is Lightroom's new Advanced Healing Brush, which allows photo editors to remove distracting elements from photos, replacing them with background texture nearby in the image. Managlick showed how the healing brush can now help photographers remove sensor dust spots by inverting the image to a negative for a clear view of the spots.
The Radial Gradient tool no longer is limited to a circle, but can use an adjustable oval to, for example, bring out an important area of the photo using vignetting.
A real boost for workflow efficiency is the new Smart Previews capability. This lets you edit photos without needing to manipulate the full raw image files, which these days can easily be from 20 to 30MB for each photo. Instead, with Smart Previews, you can edit the images on your PC or laptop while keeping the actual full raw files on an external drive. This way, you're manipulating a 1.3MB smart preview rather than that full 25MB-plus file — which speeds up the response of editing actions considerably. It also saves that smaller internal SSD drive on your laptop from having to store all those huge photos files.
The new Vertical perspective correction tool can fix warped-looking images without ruining other parts of the image. Say you have a slanted post that should be upright next to some people. Often, straightening the post will distort the people's faces, but the Vertical tool lets you get both objects looking right.
A couple of new output choices also make their way into Lightroom. The new version will let you include video clips as well as still images in slideshows. Lightroom 4 already has some basic video-editing capability (you can even apply lighting and colour adjustments), but you couldn't join clips. The other new output option comes thanks to an improved Book module, which now lets you create your own layout templates for re-use.
Adobe reps haven't put out any pricing info for the update yet. You can install it on a PC running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8, or on a Mac with OS X 10.7 Lion and later. The company is encouraging beta testers to leave comments at http://feedback.photoshop.com after downloading the free Lightroom 5 Beta from labs.adobe.com. The beta expires on June 30, 2013, which makes me suspect that we'll see the full released version around that time, if not before.