Competition between Adobe and Apple intensifies this morning, with the release of beta version of an Aperture-competing product called Lightroom.

Adobe this morning introduced the public beta of Adobe Lightroom, a new digital imaging solution for professional photographers. The beta will be demonstrated at Macworld Expo San Francisco.

RAW power for pro photo people

The product is described as an attempt to "deliver a complete photography workflow". It's a modular system that offers the kind of support and features for processing RAW and non-RAW images Aperture provides. It's expected to ship in "late 2006", the company said.

The beta test aims to gather feedback from photographers that helps identify the kind of workflow patterns they need. The beta is for Macs, but in the end the product will support both Mac and Windows. The test software is timed to expire at the end of June 2006.

"We first showed an early version of Lightroom at the Adobe Ideas Conference in April 2005 to demonstrate a new streamlined digital photography experience, from capture to print," said Shantanu Narayen, president and chief operating officer of Adobe.

"Today's Lightroom Beta leverages Adobe's renowned digital imaging innovation, in areas such as raw image processing, so that even in beta form photographers will find world class technology that complements Photoshop," he explained.

Adobe - focus on image

Lightroom Beta has a new user interface that is focused on the image itself. These features include a command ("Lights Out") to make control panels and tools fade into the background to make the image clearer.

Another feature, "Identity Plate", allows photographers to apply their own branding to the application and its output, so that it becomes their own personal gallery for showcasing work. They can also rapidly scroll through hundreds of images and Quick One-to-One Zoom allows instant magnification of the finer points within the image.

Setting the DNG standard

Critically, Lightroom supports over 100 cameras and incorporates RAW image conversion with new advanced features, such as split-toning controls which create richer black and white images. Imported files can also be converted to Digital Negative format (DNG) or renamed and segmented by folder or date. DNG is Adobe's attempt to create an industry standard for RAW files.

The application also offers ways to help photographers present their work, such as the capacity to showcase images in slideshows with drop shadows, borders, backgrounds and a snapper's own logo (branding).

Lightroom is also capable of exporting images in Flash, PDF and HTML. It ships with a number of customisable templates, including ones for contact sheets

Lightroom requires Mac OS X 10.4.3, 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 768MB RAM and a 1,024-x-768 resolution screen. Pricing hasn't yet been set