ADOBE PHOTOSHOP LIGHTROOM 5

Photoshop’s little brother engineers its way around massive photo libraries

Since 2007, Adobe has offered Lightroom as a bridge between its consumer-centric Elements and the reigning 800-pound gorilla of digital imaging, Photoshop. With the arrival of Lightroom 5, Adobe has innovated its photographic whiz kid faster than ever before, delighting users in the process.

Available in traditional new and upgrade editions or as part of a $49.99 per month Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 ships with more than 50 improvements, most notably a trio of new features borrowed from its more expensive namesake.

The first is Advanced Healing Brush, which seamlessly rebuilds any area it touches by borrowing pixels from the surrounding area. Up-and-comers like Snapheal may have had it first, but Lightroom 5’s implementation is more robust and keeps users working in a single application.

The same can also be said for Radial Gradient, which can be used to place vignette effects anywhere to emphasize the most important part of a photo, reducing the contrast and brightness of surrounding elements. Lightroom 5 also includes Upright, a tool that intelligently analyzes horizontal and vertical lines and adjusts them automatically.

The most impressive new feature is a Lightroom exclusive called Smart Previews. With slim noteboot computers and solid-state storage fast becoming the norm, users can now move space-consuming RAW and JPEG master files to an external disk, replacing them with smaller, high-quality DNG stand-in files when that drive is disconnected.

Lightroom 5 adds a handful of incredible new features, including Smart Previews to cut down on limited SSD storage space.

Smart Previews are different than traditional preview files: They can actually be edited in Develop mode even when the original is not available, with image adjustments and metadata automatically applied the next time the master comes online. It’s an ingenious solution to the problem of ever-expanding photo libraries.

We created Smart Previews for a library of nearly 12,000 images, which took just shy of 90 minutes on a 2.7GHz MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The resulting previews totaled 12GB, less than a third of the space consumed by 41GB worth of original files, while still retaining enough quality to be shared via email or social networks.

Last year’s version added the ability to create photo books, and Lightroom 5 improves upon this with new templates and the ability to add page numbers and captions on individual photos or entire pages. Finally, videos can now be included as part of slideshows, although we found the range of export options (PDF, JPEG, or H.264 MPEG-4) somewhat limiting.

While a big step forward, small issues keep us anchored to Aperture for now. Lightroom 5 lacks support for Photo Stream, which Adobe blames on Apple having yet to release the necessary APIs. The latest version supports OS X full-screen, but it’s tucked away under Window > Screen Mode instead of a clickable icon in the upper-right corner.

The bottom line. For Creative Cloud members, Lightroom 5 is a no-brainer: it requires nothing more than your installation time. For everyone else, Smart Previews and the Advanced Healing Brush alone make it worth a purchase or upgrade.

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