Ligthroom 3 – First Impressions

My upgrade copy of Lightroom 3 arrived yesterday morning – I’d ordered it on CD rather than as a download because I still like to have a box with the serial number on it. So here are my first impressions – and most of the things I mention I’ll post more about later, where helpful with some images to show the differences. Today I’m still trying to get to grips with it while cursing at not being able to get out and take pictures until after the gas engineer gets here to deal with our water heater that gave up on us just as I tried to shower this morning.


It installed without problems, other than me putting in my old serial number when required to licence the product and wondering why it didn’t work. Of course I needed the new one which was on the plastic container with the CD, and once I had entered that it actually automatically created another set of boxes ready filled in the original serial number. It would have been clearer had it provided both sets of boxes to start with, and labelled one of them ‘original’ and the other ‘upgrade’. It’s the kind of little thing that suggests an inability to think like the user seeing the install program for the first time. They really need to have idiots like me to test it on!

Other than that, there should perhaps be a rather more accurate warning about the time it will take to update your existing catalogue. I think it said it may take a few minutes and it actually took six hours. Yes I do have an over-large catalogue and a slightly ageing computer!

Stability and Speed

So far I’m both impressed and a little depressed with LR3. The promised extra speed and stability doesn’t make itself felt on my system, if anything it sometimes feels a little more sluggish at many operations. I’ve seen the message “an unknown error occurred” perhaps a dozen times today, and it doesn’t inspire confidence. And as with previous versions I’ve found a need to keep an eye on the software slowing down, when to keep working efficiently you need to exit and reload. It doesn’t take a great deal of time but it shouldn’t be necessary, and suggests some poor memory management.

A couple of times today, when I’ve been working through a filmstrip selection filtered to show only images with 2* and greater I’ve suddenly realised that LR3 has reverted to working on the full set of images, and there have been a few other similar glitches. Some of them may have been due to user error – often a problem with new software, but I’m not sure.

High ISO Images

Good news came when I tried the software on a set of images taken last Halloween, some at high ISO, and I think that every image showed at least a slight improvement thanks to the new processing engine, and certainly because of the improved noise reduction. Still perhaps not up to the best of external NR software – such as Noise Ninja, but I think the gap is small. If you are interested in seeing pictures rather than examining them microscopically I think you will find it good enough.

Distortion, CA and Vignetting

The other really big feature LR3 promised for me was the automatic treatment of distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. I’ll write more about that with some examples in a later post. It works pretty well and seems very flexible, and if a lens preset doesn’t do the job you can still do more things manually than you could before. But the real problem is that at the moment few of the lenses I use are covered by the software.

Lens profiles

Sigma apparently collaborated with Adobe and profiles are provided for over 50 of their lenses, but unfortunately not the one I most often use. Neither Nikon or Canon appear to have given any help to Adobe, and there are only a little over a dozen Nikon lenses and roughly twice that number of Canon lenses included, along with one or two from other manufacturers.

I think only two of the lenses currently in my active kit have profiles supplied, the Sigma 24-70 f2.8 and the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye.  It also has a profile for a Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6 DC HSM EX lens, but for some reason doesn’t automatically apply this – perhaps my lens is a different version, although it does seem to more or less work.

Adobe do supply a free download with targets to photograph and software to produce profiles for any lens, and when I’ve some spare days I’ll give it a try – but it looks like a fairly long job – with 72 sets of 9 carefully made images needed for a complete lens calibration of a wide-angle zoom. They encourage people to upload the profiles they’ve made and say they intend to make them available. But not so far for LR3 users.

There may actually be profiles available on the Adobe web site, but unless you have a copy of the latest version of Photoshop you cannot access them. I suppose  I  could install a trial copy to check for them and download if present, or find someone who has a copy and ask them to look for me, but I really think I should not have to do so.

Apparently they ran out of time to incorporate the button which would connect and download these additional profiles into LR3 – and so perhaps it will arrive in LR3.1 or soon after, but in the meantime they could avoid an awful lot of illwill from the buyers (or prospective buyers) of Lightroom simply by making them available for manual download. It would only take a minute or two of someone at Adobe’s time to make a zip file available of the whole set and update it every month or so.

But I frankly think we deserve rather better from Adobe. A make your own profile approach is acceptable for almost free software – such as PTLens – we deserve rather more given the cost of Lightroom, and we should be at least provided with profiles for the full current range of lenses from the major manufacturers. Neither the 18-105mm DX Nikkor nor the 16-35mm FX lens have a profile provided as yet.

File Export problems

This isn’t by any means a perfect release, and parts of the file export system have never worked too well. I export jpegs for my web site at 600×600 pixels, and although it’s convenient to do this from Lightroom, I’ve always been able to get both smaller files and higher quality by starting with full size output files from LR and batch processing them down to 600×600 in other software – including an old copy of ACDSee Pro which I mainly use as a file viewer.

Things may even have deteriorated in LR3. One of the files in the batch I tried it out on came out at 455KB, and several others were between 150 and 200KB. Back in the old days when we all connected dial-up I used to think 60KB was a large web file. Nowadays it isn’t quite so important, but 455KB is still over the top.

So I noticed that instead of specifying a percentage for size in the output dialogue you could chose a maximum size. I selected just the one image with the big output file and set the maximum size to 200KB and clicked. This time it came out as 565KB!

Fortunately there is a work around and I’ll have to get used to it – simply by outputting the files via the web module to a temporary web directory, then finding the image files and copying them to the folder in my web site and deleting the rest of the generated junk. That way the problem image came down to just 102KB and actually looks better – and it was no longer the largest file in the set. It looks to me as if files that needed a lot of local adjustment are not being properly handled in the export module. It’s a bit of a paing to have to do the extra steps.


LR3 does however enable you to very easily set up watermark presets, and I’ve decided from now on to include a relatively unobtrusive copyright message at the bottom left of each picture I put on the web. More about this in another post.

Should You Upgrade?

I think for most people the answer is clearly yes, it’s already worthwhile, and like previous Lightroom versions many of the annoyances will in time be removed by free fractional updates. Some which were present in previous versions will probably continue.  It’s perhaps surprising given the long time LR3 was in public beta that there still seems to be quite a lot to do.

But most of the problems are relatively minor, and overall it’s a very impressive program that does everything you need for almost all of your digital images from the point of exposure to the final output with a minimum of fuss and very little duplication of effort or files. Unless you have peculiar needs (and perhaps if speed is the only consideration and you don’t need the features this software offers) then Lightroom will simplify your work and get you better organised.

Like all such Swiss Army knives, other software can do some of the individual tasks it performs slightly better, but mostly the differences are pretty marginal. I’ll still use Photoshop occasionally (though mostly when working with scans rather than digital files) and some other software, but rely on Lightroom for the bulk of my work with images.

Some more detailed posts about LR3, with some image examples will I hope follow when I have time.

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