The latest iteration of Adobe Lightroom reveals both refinement and new features. There's plenty of competition for top billing, but the star of this show is how Adobe has integrated video management into the software alongside its excellent still photography tools.
Lightroom 4 will allow you to import video clips from digital cameras, which reside in the Grid view with photos. A neat trick, however, is that users can scrub through the clip by simply mousing over it. It's fun and a helpful time saver.
Lightroom automatically chooses the image for the thumbnail view, but you can change that. It may sound like a small thing, but when there are dozens (or hundreds) of videos in your library, the ability to select the best poster frame for each is important.
As expected, tools for trimming and grabbing a single frame from the snippets are included. But Lightroom 4 doesn't stop there. Using the Quick Develop panel, budding movie makers can apply standard Lightroom presets (such as sepia toning), adjust white balance, change exposure, and tweak whites and blacks--all non-destructively, just like with still images. In fact, Lightroom 4 even lets you make virtual copies of video clips so you can experiment with different effects without maxing out your hard drive.
If you need more editing tools than are available in the Quick Develop module, use the Capture Frame command, edit a single frame from the clip in the Develop Module, save those settings as a preset, then apply the preset to the entire clip. This technique works great.
What I couldn't figure out, however, was how to connect edited video snippets together and export them as a single multi-scene movie. At first it looked as though the Slideshow module could accomplish this. But a warning message appeared during export saying that the selected files were not used.
On the other hand, Lightroom's organizational tools do work for videos. You can add snippets to collections, label them with stars, and mark them with just about anything that could be used to mark photos. And when it's time to publish, photographers can upload directly to Facebook and Flickr, or simply export snippets to their hard drive.
Develop Module refresh
The Develop Module receives both a refresh and new features in Lightroom 4. The Tone controls in the Basic panel have been reorganized to reflect a logical workflow as photographers work from top to bottom in the panel. Start with exposure and contrast first, then refine with highlights, shadows, and then adjustment for whites and blacks.
Click on the Adjustment Brush icon in the Tool Bar, and new slider controls appear such as Temperature, Tint, Highlights, and Shadows. This makes an already good tool even better.
The killer new feature in the Develop Module, however, is Soft Proofing, which allows photographers to tune images for output to print or Web. While in the Develop Module, press the S key to switch the histogram to Soft Proofing. Choose the color profile you want to work with, such as Adobe RGB or sRGB, then create a virtual soft proof that is placed in a stack alongside the original image.
You can tell Lightroom to show destination gamut warnings that indicate where tone clipping will appear for your chosen output. The warnings appear on your preview as a blue overlay. You can then use slider tools to adjust those areas for a more accurate output.
It's easier to share photos with friends and clients via email in Lightroom 4. Adobe has added a built-in email client that allows photographers to send single or multiple images using their existing online accounts.
Getting started involves telling Lightroom which account to use, letting Lightroom validate it, then the application will remember this information for future use. There's also an Address Book feature that stores frequently used recipients. Unfortunately there isn't an import function that allows users to tap into their existing Address Book database on their Mac.
The photo attachment can also be sent in a variety of sizes using a pop-up preset list. Users can create their own presets for special circumstances.
Book and Map modules
Other noteworthy features include the Map and Book modules that have earned spots in the top navigation bar.
Books enable photographers to self-publish their work using layout tools in Lightroom, then save the finished product to PDF or send the job to Blurb. The Blurb integration is actually very tight. As authors add pages, for example, they see an updated estimated price for Blurb printing in the inspector.
The Map module will feel comfortable for those who have been tagging images with other applications or who have been using metadata to find pictures via Google or Flickr. You can view pictures by location in Lightroom, or add geotags, if they don't already exist.
Lightroom 4, which will run in Snow Leopard or Lion, promises to be a compelling upgrade for all Lightroom users. Video functionality and soft proofing are particularly attractive, especially when added to enhancements and new tools in the Develop module.
Lightroom 4 Beta requires a multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support and 2GB of RAM. It also needs at least 1GB hard-disk space and a minimum display resolution of 1024×768.
Keep in mind that this is a beta release. More refinement is sure to follow before the official 4.0 launch. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Beta 1 is available from the Adobe Labs website.