Overview of the Lightroom 5 Beta

In mid-April, Adobe announced the Lightroom 5 Beta. In this article, we’ll take a look at the new features, as well as shine a spotlight on some minor, but very welcome improvements to the Lightroom experience.


Without a doubt, the biggest new feature is the advanced healing and cloning capabilities that have been added to the Spot Removal tool (Q). In previous versions, we were limited to a circular tool, which was great for dust spots, but challenging for other types of retouching.

In Lightroom 5, the circular limitation is no more! You can now click-and-drag a retouching stroke over an item you want to remove. Just as before, Lightroom will search for another area of the image to use as a source for the detail it uses to fill the brush stroke. If it chooses an area that doesn’t work so well, you can still reposition that source detail to a better area. This is a huge improvement to the retouching capabilities in Lightroom. Does it totally replace Photoshop for retouching? Absolutely not. But the improvements to the Spot Removal tool mean that there will be a lot more retouching that you can do in Lightroom.


Another cool new feature related to retouching is Spot Visualization. This addresses the fact that subtle dusts spots can sometimes be hard to see, especially in areas like skies or gray studio backgrounds, and it’s not uncommon to miss a few and only see them after you’ve had a big print made. With the Spot Removal tool active, under the main preview image is a checkbox for Visualize Spots. This changes the display to a black-and-white mask-like view of the image. In this view, spots that are difficult to see show up much better. There’s also a slider that allows you to adjust the contrast of the Visualize Spots mask to help you find those spots you may be missing.


The Radial Filter lets you apply any of Lightroom’s local adjustments with a circular or elliptical mask. Just as with the Graduated Filter or the Adjustment Brush, the changes you apply with the Radial Filter can be changed at any time after the initial application, and the mask can be resized, feathered, and even inverted to give you precise control over how an adjustment affects the image.

The Radial Filter is located between the Graduated Filter and the Adjustment Brush, or you can activate it with the shortcut of Shift-M. By default, any adjustment is applied to the area outside the radial shape. This makes it easy to apply a noncentered vignette, or slightly darken everything in the image except that one important area. To invert the mask so that the adjustment affects what is inside the shape, use the Invert Mask checkbox, or just press the Apostrophe key (‘) on the keyboard (pressing the Apostrophe a second time will revert back to the normal behavior for the mask). You can resize the mask by using the handles, and if you position your cursor over one of the edges, you can drag to rotate. And don’t limit yourself to just one! Multiple Radial Filters can be applied to the same image, offering you a great degree of control for applying localized adjustments.


This new feature is great for automatically fixing tilted horizons, as well as the phenomenon of converging vertical lines, or keystoning, that’s so common with photos of tall buildings. The Upright feature can be found in the Develop module in the Basic tab of the Lens Corrections panel. Before you use Upright, be sure to turn on Enable Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberration; the math that goes on under the hood in calculating the corrections will be more accurate with these two features turned on.

To correct a tilted horizon, just click the Level button and Upright will analyze the image content and automatically adjust the image to remove the tilt (to see a subtle tilt better, you can activate the new grid overlay by choosing View>Loupe Overlay>Grid). To correct for a keystoning effect and make vertical lines truly vertical, click the Vertical button. Depending on the nature of the keystoning in the image, the correction may be quite significant, and also may require some cropping. The Full button will apply the corrections and automatically crop the image, but I generally prefer to apply a manual crop as it gives me more control. For a more subtle correction, try the Auto button. This may not make the vertical lines entirely straight, but it is an improvement and a good balance between the original and corrected views.


If your main computer is a laptop and you keep your images on external drives, you’ll love the addition of Smart Previews. A Smart Preview is a lossy DNG file that Lightroom uses so you can apply Develop module adjustments to files even if you’re not connected to the hard drive where the image is stored. A new checkbox in the Import dialog lets you build Smart Previews when you import files, and if you want to have Lightroom automatically generate smart previews for every image you import, there’s a checkbox in the Import Options section of the General Preferences that will make this a default for the Import dialog. You can also generate them for existing images in your catalog by choosing Library>Previews>Build Smart Previews (there’s also a menu command there to Discard Smart Previews). Or, you can click on the Original Photo option under the Histogram in both the Library and Develop modules.

When the drive containing your images isn’t connected, instead of seeing a question mark on an image thumbnail as in previous versions of Lightroom, if a Smart Preview exists, you’ll now see a black rectangle, indicating the original image is offline. But since that Smart Preview is there, you can still work on the image in the Develop module and the changes will automatically be synced with the real image once the hard drive is reconnected. Smart Previews do make the file size of your catalog larger, so you may want to only turn them on for those images that you are most likely to be working on while away from your external hard drives.


Those are the major new features and improvements in the Lightroom 5 Beta, but there are many more small, but significant additions and enhancements. Here are a few of the more noteworthy ones: You can save custom pages in the Book module, as well as add and customize page numbers. You can combine both still images and video clips in a slide show. There are new sorting criteria for smart collections. With the new Grid Overlay (mentioned above in the Upright section) active, hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key to display options to modify the Size and Opacity of the grid. Pressing F will give you a true full-screen view of the active image.


If you want to give the new Lightroom a try, don’t use it with the actual images in your current Lightroom catalog (it is still beta software). Copy several folders to a new directory and use those for testing the cool new features in the next version of Lightroom.

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