In it's 6th edition Adobe's flagship digital asset manager and photographers' multitool gets some impressive upgrades, a few brand new features, and officially joins Creative Cloud.
Meet Creative Cloud
For the first time, the flagship edition of Adobe Lightroom is marketed as Lightroom CC. Although Lightroom 5 was available as part of Creative Cloud, Adobe's subscription software plan, it was still marketed as Lightroom 5. With this new CC edition it's clear that Lightroom's future is as part of Creative Cloud, not as a standalone program.
Lightroom CC is offered as a part of the $9.99 per month Creative Cloud Photography plan, which also includes Photoshop.
There are, understandably, many people uncomfortable with the idea of renting their photo management software. Lightroom is still available as a standalone product, marketed as Lightroom 6, which you can purchase outright for $149 US. Reading Adobe's release and marketing messages, however, it's clear that Lightroom CC is the future. I would be very surprised if we see a standalone version of Lightroom after LR6.
Under the Hood Enhancements
Photoshop became a GPU-accelerated application with the release of CS4 in 2008, and Lightroom CC is now sharing in the performance boost. If your graphics card supports OpenGL 3.3 and above, you're going to get a better experience with CC. My MacBook Pro from 2011 feels snappy in the application and it's clear I'm experiencing a lift from the all new GPU acceleration.
Faces Become Familiar
Keyword tags have been a mainstay in Lightroom throughout the application's history. With Lightroom CC, you'll have an entirely new option for tagging your images, based upon the people in them. Yes, that's right: Lightroom knows who your friends are.
Lightroom CC has the ability to search for the faces in your catalog and find similar faces and group the images together. There's likely to be some manual intervention and correction required, but it's still a great way to go about tagging your images. People tags are an entirely new type of keyword tags, and Lightroom CC will help you get started on adding them.
There are some great feautres in Lightroom CC, but this one takes the cake for me. Our catalogs greatly benefit from keywording, and people tags help us find faces quickly.
This is a powerful feature that will change the way you approach local adjustments. If you're currently using graduated or radial filters this feature is going to greatly increase your precision.
When you add a radial or graduated filter, you're applying it to a "general area" of the photo. No matter how careful you are, it's almost unavoidable for the filter to "creep" into an extra area of the photo. With the Filter Brush you can refine that and paint it out. You can also use the filter brush to add the effect to other parts of the image.
Built-in High Dynamic Range
Up until now, building high dynamic range (HDR) images required either a clunky third-party plugin or trip to Photoshop. With Lightroom CC you can complete the high dynamic range process without ever leaving the application.
I've seen this feature shown off and I'm impressed by how it works. Because this feature actually uses RAW images, fewer frames are needed to generate the high dynamic range image. Adobe demonstrated this feature using only two images, and the results were spectacular. The HDR creation benefits from GPU acceleration too, as it will offload the heavy lifting to it if available.
Another feature you won't have to rely on Photoshop for is the panorama option. You can merge together numerous RAW images for a single, massive frame. Panoramas are also GPU accelerated as well.
The panorama option will automatically select a a projection, but you can also select from a spherical, cylindrical, or perspective alignment manually.
Updates and Enhancements
If you're a slideshow user, you'll find that Lightroom CC has some new features that users have been asking for. Pan and zoom options are included to better showcase your images. Additionally, 10 songs are supported for slideshows as opposed to the single track allowed in prior versions.
A feature I'm excited about is the ability to sync the image transitions to the selected music. Your images will transition along to the beat of your music.
Mobile Updates As Well
Adobe is also unleashing updates for iOS and Android as well. Each features a slightly redesigned interface. Android tablet support also arrives for the first time. The mobile apps retain the ability to work with images in collections synced to Creative Cloud.
Keeping on with the social aspect, one feature I'm excited about is Adobe Slate, a storytelling tool that Adobe is launching today. This is an app that allows you to build visual stories from your images, and then publish them to the web. One of the long-time criticisms of Lightroom was that the path to publishing your work was either unclear, complicated, or, in the case of Lighroom-generated websites, a bit poorly thought out. The new Slate goes a long way to making sharing your photo stories easier and more fun.
Be on the lookout for a future tutorial covering Slate in full.
So, Should You Upgrade?
Well, maybe. If you are already a subscriber then you're on the upgrade train. If you are Lightroom 5 user who's purchased a standalone license the choice is a little harder.
Fundamentally, the core features of Lightroom remain unchanged: organizing, correcting and adjusting, basic retouching. Panoramas and HDR are pretty neat, but not essential to most people. Likewise, slideshows are nice, but not Lightroom's bread and butter. The new People and Filter Brush features are very tempting, though.
People shows a lot of promise. It should take significant work out of the keywording process but it's also not a magic bullet. You're still going to have to add contextual keywords to images with people in them.
The Filter Brush moves some key Photoshop work, local adjustments, into the RAW process. This isn't a completely neutral move, however. There's still a strong argument for doing local adjustments as a layer in Photoshop for both better control and a more flexible workflow. Certainly this will be great for quick adjustments, but maybe not exactly a feature worth shelling out for.
So should you upgrade? That depends on your budget, of course, and this is ultimately an incremental enhancement of an already mature product. If you're doing fine on an earlier version of Lightroom and don't feel the need to make the switch, then don't. If you do make the switch, however, you won't be disappointed.
Recapping Lightroom CC
As a mature application, Lightroom's core is pretty stabilized by now. However, the Lightroom team seems to find new features to enhance the digital workflow with each major release. Lightroom CC is no exception. Some features will reduce (or at least change) your use of Photoshop, while others will help to increase your catalog organization and presentation.
What features are you
most excited about? Will any of these fundamentally change the way you
use Lightroom? Feel free to check in with your thoughts on this latest