Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 review

If you like Lightroom 4, you’re probably going to appreciate version 5 even more. The latest iteration of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom introduces a new set of well-thought-out features while maintaining snappy performance. Our stock MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina Display laptop had no trouble importing large raw files, scrolling through hundreds of thumbnails, or applying sophisticated image edits. In other words, Adobe kept its house in order during this refresh. See all software reviews.

Some of the touted new features, such as Smart Previews and Upright, are quite innovative. Others are refinements to existing tools. Some of my favorite improvements didn’t even make the top five list, yet make a noticeable difference in my interaction with the application. Take a look at all Digital photography software reviews.

Full Screen Preview is an excellent example. Now, when you press the F key, your image is presented to you in true full screen with a solid background. It’s beautiful. No more cycling through full-screen modes hoping to get what you want, but never receiving it.

Lightroom 5 can now handle PNG files alongside common formats such as JPEGs and TIFFs. And a new -Q shortcut lets you toggle back and forth between Clone and Heal spot-removal modes. These are part of Adobe's signature Just Do It improvements that make image management a little more enjoyable.

UI Enhanced: The elegant Lightroom 5 interface.

Headliners

As for the stuff that’s designed to grab your attention: As a group, these features are practical as well as impressive. Upright provides four modes to straighten images with a click of the mouse. Smart Previews lets you work on your images even when the originals aren’t available. The Advanced Healing Brush corrects irregular shapes. The Radial Gradient tool provides a new way to direct your viewer’s eyes to a particular area of the image. And Video Slideshows enables you to connect separate clips into a single presentation.

Image Editing on the Go: You can build Smart Previews on the fly, leaving the original files at home.

Smart Previews

If you want to leave your original files on a hard drive at home, but still have image editing capability in Lightroom, try Smart Previews. When you create Smart Previews during import, or on the fly (Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews), Lightroom builds lossy DNGs (Digital Negative versions) of those images. Even with the masters offline, you can still correct the photos and work with them as you normally would. When you reconnect the hard drive containing the masters, that editing information is retained.

In my testing, I copied a folder of 254 raw and JPEG files from my Pictures folder on to an external hard drive. This would be the new home for 1.86GB of data. I then redirected my Lightroom Catalog to the external hard drive for those originals.

With the external hard drive still connected, I next created Smart Previews for all 254 images. The Smart Previews added 347MB to my Lightroom Catalog folder (where the DNG files are stored in a container called Lightroom 5 Catalog Smart Previews). But I was then able to remove the 1.86GB of original files from my Mac, resulting in a net savings of approximately 1.5GB.

There are a few things you can’t do when working with Smart Previews. You can’t print a photo book, make roundtrip to Photoshop, or apply noise reduction. You’ll have to reconnect the hard drive with the originals to do those things. But for the most part, you can work as you normally would, and save a lot of space on your computer along the way.

Advanced Healing Brush

Adobe brings brush strokes to the healing tool (something that Aperture users currently enjoy), but with a nice twist.

Annoying Spider Web: I wanted to remove the distracting spider's web in this image.

The basic improvement is that you are no longer limited to using circles for corrections. You can instead brush over a stray thread and watch it disappear before your eyes. When using the healing brush for portrait retouching, try the Opacity slider to diminish a facial line instead of removing it altogether. It’s a more elegant correction.

Healing Brush Applied: The spider's web is now removed.

The twist I mentioned is that Adobe has added a checkbox labeled Visualize Spots at the bottom of the interface. When you check the box, you’re presented with a graphical representation of the image that makes it easier to spot dust and dead pixels. An intensity slider can adjust the mask to help you best see the flaws for that particular image. Visualize Spots is easy to use and is effective when checking large areas, such as an expansive sky, for imperfections.

Visualize Spots: This tool makes dust easier to spot.

Radial Gradient Tool

Much to the envy of Aperture users, Lightroom photographers have enjoyed the linear Gradient tool for some time now. In version 5, they also get a Radial Gradient tool that allows for circular selections.

After Radial: The Radial Gradient tool helped me tone down the brightness of the window so it doesn’t detract attention from the subject.

Once you choose an area with Radial Gradient, you have 12 sliders for adjusting the area outside of the selection. If you wish, you can invert the mask by checking the box beneath the Feather slider, and apply the corrections to the area inside the selection.

The Radial Gradient tool helps you focus attention to a part of the image where you want to direct the viewer’s eye. In my example, the window light was just a bit too bright, pulling attention away from the subject. By using the Radial Gradient tool to tone down the window, I was able to make the composition a bit more balanced.

Video Slideshows

Most of our digital cameras capture both stills and video. Now Lightroom can combine those assets into what Adobe calls a video slideshow.

Video Slideshow: This feature creates a video slideshow using your video clips.

The best approach for organizing your movie is to put all of the assets—both stills and clips—into a Collection. The Collection becomes a holding area and storyboarding workspace. Once you’re ready to create the video slideshow, select the assets you want to use, then click on the Slideshow module at the top of the Lightroom interface.

Lightroom will create a video slideshow for you that you can further fine-tune, if you wish. This feature can also be used to connect video snippets into a short movie.

Even though the ability to combine video snippets is an improvement over Lightroom 4, this module still needs work, especially if you compare it to the capability of Aperture’s slideshow tool. Options for actually crafting your presentation in Lightroom are limited, and options for exporting are even fewer.

Upright

The Upright tool is downright impressive and immensely useful. I haven’t seen anything like it before. In my view, this is the killer feature in Lightroom 5. With Upright, you can quickly correct a tilted image by simply clicking a button.

Tilted Building: The building in this image is not quite right.

Upright is located under the Basic tab of the Lens Correction box and offers four modes: Auto, Level, Vertical, and Full. Level and Vertical are for images that need either horizontal or up and down adjustment. Auto looks at the entire image and is the most balanced option. I found myself using Auto most of the time. Full is more aggressive than Auto.

Building Corrected: A much better representation of the building using Auto mode in Upright.

If you want to continue to tweak the image, click on the Manual tab and take advantage of the specific sliders in that area. But more often than not, Auto Upright is going to get the job done.

Go to the next page to see our original Photoshop Lightroom 5 Beta review.

Sharon Machlis

When Adobe last updated its photo-editing application Lightroom to a new version in January 2012, the changes were pretty substantial. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 had an overhauled image-processing engine, new sliders, a new slider interface and a couple of additional modules. 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5, released today as a free public beta, is a considerably less dramatic update. This version focuses on adding features that photographers have been requesting, says Sharad Mangalick, digital imaging product manager at Adobe. These include tools that make it easier to do tasks like straighten crooked photos, correct perspective distortion, get rid of unwanted portions of a picture and delete sensor dust. 

I took some time to check out the beta of Lightroom 5. What follows are some of the new features I tried out and my impression of how well they work. Click here to Download Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Beta.

Perspective correction. The new Upright tool within Lightroom's lens-correction panel deals with two problems you may encounter with a photograph. One is the classic "Oops, I didn't hold my camera straight so my photo is tilted." The other is a perspective issue that can be caused by the limits of your equipment, not poor technique: Unless you've got a pricey tilt-shift lens, taking building or cityscape shots often means your building lines aren't vertical, especially for a wide-angle shot.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 beta review

The Upright tool includes an auto-correction button along with three presets for level, horizontal and vertical corrections

Straightening a tilted horizon is already fairly easy - you just rotate your photo until it's straight, although it does take some finessing to get the angle exactly right. Fixing perspective distortion is trickier, generally involving several sliders and some tradeoffs - because often if you straighten one building in a cityscape, others start looking warped.

The Upright tool includes an auto-correction button along with three presets for level, horizontal and vertical corrections. As with any Lightroom setting, results can then be further tweaked manually.

I tried Upright on a tilted photo that was snapped through the windshield of a moving car (so it's blurry) and a skyline photo that needed perspective correction. In both cases, the one-click auto-correction button gave excellent results. For someone like me who takes a lot of cityscape and wide-angle shots, Lightroom 5 may be worth the upgrade for this tool alone.

Improved spot removal. Earlier versions of Lightroom have a spot-removal tool that can be resized but not reshaped; it's a round tool that can only be used by clicking on one spot at a time. Lightroom 5 allows you to click and drag the spot-removal tool, in essence turning it into a brush that can handle any shape, not just a circular spot.

I'd hoped the tool would use Photoshop's relatively new content-aware technology to try to figure out exactly how to fix the area being brushed - that certainly would have been worth an upgrade. Instead, the tool either clones another section of your photo onto the area you want fixed or "heals" it by matching texture, lighting and shading from another area of the picture. In both cases you can choose the portion of the photo you want the tool to use as a guide.

The spot-removal tool "heals" a section of your photo by matching texture, lighting and shading from another area of the picture.

This new spot-removal tool is useful for trying to remove one or two distracting objects from your photo. However, for complex tasks like removing power lines through tree branches, you're still much better off using the content-aware tools in AdobeCreative Suite 5 or Creative Suite 6. If you don't own full-fledged Photoshop or another editing software that has power retouching tools, though, the spot removal in version 5 may be a useful improvement over earlier Lightroom versions.

There's also a new slider and view that make it easier to, well, spot dust spots. I used it on one of my favorite photos and discovered a sensor dust spot I'd never noticed before - one that might show up if I decide to make a large print.

Radial filter. This filter is aimed at helping make quick adjustments to broad areas of a photo - for example, drawing attention to the subject by brightening the subject and darkening or blurring the rest of the photo. While this can already be done with the adjustment brush, some users may find it more convenient to do it with a single oval filter that doesn't require multiple brush strokes.

Smart (i.e., smaller) previews. If your main Lightroom system is a laptop and you've got a modern-era digital camera, chances are you don't want to store thousands of 10+MB RAW image files on that hard drive. It's easy enough to put your entire catalog and original image files on an external drive, but what happens if you want to take your laptop somewhere and still have your full catalog available?

Smart previews can generate smaller - significantly smaller - preview files on one drive even while your full image files reside on a separate drive. Whatever changes are made to the small version are automatically synced up with the original file the next time your system is connected to that external drive - without the user having to initiate a sync.

There are a few dozen other changes, such as support for PNG files, true full-screen photo viewing mode by hitting the F key, saving customized book-page layouts and adding videos to slideshows.

Bottom line

Not sure whether Lightroom 5 is worth the upgrade? It's not as clear-cut a decision as was moving to Lightroom 4, when the software made a major leap in functionality.

Download the beta (no earlier Lightroom version or license is needed) and see whether you use the new features enough to justify the upgrade. The free beta will work through June 30. Adobe has not yet released pricing information for Lightroom 5.

If you're not a Lightroom user and aren't happy with the way you currently organize and edit photos, I'd suggest giving this version a try: It's a great chance to use Lightroom free to see if it meets your needs.

Verdict:

Not sure whether Lightroom 5 is worth the upgrade? It's not as clear-cut a decision as was moving to Lightroom 4, when the software made a major leap in functionality. Download the beta (no earlier Lightroom version or license is needed) and see whether you use the new features enough to justify the upgrade. The free beta will work through June 30. Adobe has not yet released pricing information for Lightroom 5. If you're not a Lightroom user and aren't happy with the way you currently organize and edit photos, I'd suggest giving this version a try: It's a great chance to use Lightroom free to see if it meets your needs.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5: Specs

  • Windows
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor
  • DirectX 10–capable or later graphics card
  • Microsoft® Windows® 7 with Service Pack 1 or Windows 8
  • 2GB of RAM (4GB recommended)
  • 2GB of available hard-disk space
  • 1024x768 display
  • Internet connection required for Internet-based services*
  • Mac OS
  • Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support
  • Mac OS X v10.7 or v10.8
  • 2GB of RAM (4GB recommended)
  • 2GB of available hard-disk space
  • 1024x768 display
  • Internet connection required for Internet-based services*
  • Windows
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor
  • DirectX 10–capable or later graphics card
  • Microsoft® Windows® 7 with Service Pack 1 or Windows 8
  • 2GB of RAM (4GB recommended)
  • 2GB of available hard-disk space
  • 1024x768 display
  • Internet connection required for Internet-based services*
  • Mac OS
  • Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support
  • Mac OS X v10.7 or v10.8
  • 2GB of RAM (4GB recommended)
  • 2GB of available hard-disk space
  • 1024x768 display
  • Internet connection required for Internet-based services*

OUR VERDICT

Not sure whether Lightroom 5 is worth the upgrade? It's not as clear-cut a decision as was moving to Lightroom 4, when the software made a major leap in functionality. Download the beta (no earlier Lightroom version or license is needed) and see whether you use theLightroom 5 is a practical, finely crafted version of Adobe’s excellent photo management application. The Develop Module continues to be the star of the show. But Smart Previews is clever, and should be well-received by laptop-toting photographers. If you’re already a Lightroom user, the upgrade is practically a no-brainer. I also think that the £100 price tag represents a good investment for serious photographers who enjoy fine-tuning their images. new features enough to justify the upgrade. The free beta will work through June 30. Adobe has not yet released pricing information for Lightroom 5. If you're not a Lightroom user and aren't happy with the way you currently organize and edit photos, I'd suggest giving this version a try: It's a great chance to use Lightroom free to see if it meets your needs.

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