The other day I upgraded to Lightroom 4.
What a sad product. What a sad company. What a sad way of launching a product.
What? No cheers, no standing ovations for this release? How comes?
Well, before I get into the darker sides of Lightroom 4, let’s have a brief look at the positives. The product itself is certainly not bad. In fact, it is pretty cool. In theory, it does have all the nice features that you would expect from a leading photo editing tool in its fourth generation, and it is truly amazing how far the product actually has evolved. Then again, the software is in its fifth year of development now (LR 1.0 was launched in 2007), so I would expect nothing less than rock-solid software. More on that later.
The most important new feature (for me) is the integrated map. You can now place photos on your map, and automatically assign a reverse geocode to your images and write the information to the meta data. The photos are shown on a Google Map, so it’s not a stand-alone feature that quickly gets old but a future-proof feature that always has the latest maps available. Also, you can now create photo albums directly from Lightroom. Nice. (However, this seems only to be for the Blurb service for now, so it’s not much use outside the U.S.)
And that’s about it. Feature-wise I did not see many other cool additions or fixes.
But -now we are stepping into the problems- Adobe has again proven that they are unable to keep course, especially as version 3.6 was pretty good without all the problems of versions 1.x and 2.x.
:: Basic development sliders – changed
The most annoying thing about this “upgrade” is the fact that the development tab now has changed the way you can process (“develop”) an image. In the “Basic” section, they messed around a lot: Gone is the “brightness” slider, but they kept “contrast” and moved it up. Gone are the “recovery” and “fill” sliders. Instead you now have sliders for “Highlights”, “Shadows”, “Whites”, and “Blacks” which are very similar to the descriptions in the “Tone Curve”, but they are not linked to each other.
Later I realized that the previous development sliders can be revived by selecting the “Process 2010″ instead of “Process 2012 (current)” in the “Camera Calibration” panel. Be cautious to update to the current process as some users report problems when reverting back to “Process 2010″.
:: Manual Chromatic Aberration controls – gone
In the “Lens Corrections” section, gone is the cool way to manually adjust the Chromatic Aberrations according to your needs. All it offers now is a checkbox for “Remove Chromatic Aberrations”, which seems to do some sort of automatic adjustment, that gives zero control to the user. (I understand that for version 4.1 Adobe plans an improved automatic adjustment with some stunning results, but I always prefer to have the ability to manually contol the processing of my images.)
“Community Champ” Rikk Flohr, one of the Adobe advocates, writes:
Chromatic Aberration [removal controls - ed.] isn’t gone. It is now Automatic and while a mild debate rages, many of us believe that the automatic and its eventual fine-tuning by the engineers will/have render the old manual method obsolete. (posted 2nd April, 2012 in the Adobe Community Support Forum)
This view makes my angry, really. I think that it is incredibly arrogant to remove a feature that has worked for many photographers (including myself) and replace it with a feature that does not work or that does not work as well as the proven manual method. What’s the point?
:: New bugs
Adobe is not a small company. As I write this, the company has a market capitalization of US$16,500,000,000. Yet these people simply can not launch a new, bug-free version. There are so few new features, that I am really amazed that even those few features do not work properly. Don’t they test the stuff anymore? Don’t they interact with their wide customer base, looking for feedback?
Map. For example, the map feature has one very annoying bug, at least on my system. I discovered this bug within 10 minutes of toying around with the new feature: Open the “Map” tab, then select an image, then zoom into the map. While you zoom in, the selected image will be de-selected. (You do not notice this at first, because you focus on the map that is displayed, not on the thumbnail image in the filmstrip.) This has two consequences: First, the image disappears from your secondary monitor, so you can not view the large image while zooming in. At this time you realize that something weird happended. Second, when you switch back to development mode, Lightroom thinks that no image is selected and will select and show the first image of the filmstrip instead of the image that you have been working on originally that you wanted to place on the map. On large photosets this means that you will have to scroll all the way back to the original position in the filmstrip to continue working on that image. This slows down your workflow significantly. How on Earth can it be that noone at Adobe discovered this bug? How? I am speechless.
Secondary Display. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the secodary display just disappears. To get it back again, I need to press [F11]. Annoying.
Task Manager. Another annoying bug I experience. In Windows, when you run a program, you can show or hide it by clicking the respective icon in the task bar. You can also pull a dormant program “to the front” by just clicking the icon (e.g. when I want to switch to Firefox, I just click the Firefox icon, and it is in the foreground). For some strange reason, Lightroom 4 does not allow this for me. When I click another application, it briefly shows and then Lightroom is pulled to the front again, blocking the other program window. The only reliable way to switch to another program is (for me) to use the “minimize” button (top right corner), and THEN to click the icon of the program I want to use. Hello?
ACR7. Funnily enough, Lightroom 4 requires Adobe Camera Raw 7 to work seamlessly with Photoshop, and you get an error message that says so. Yet, ACR 7 has not yet been released. Hmmmmm.
Speed. Many users report that LR4 is slow. I have noticed that the sliders react slowly at times, but I attributed this to the fact that I was editing the test photos on a network drive (which is OK for smaller JPEGs, but not for RAWs). Also, my machine is quite fast (Vista 64, i7 920 @ 2.67 GHz, 12 GB of RAM) so I may not notice the sluggishness as much as other users.
Export fails. For some images, the batch export process just does not work. A couple of images remains unprocessed. When I start the export process for these images again (without having done anything else), they export fine. Sad, sad, sad.
Even more bugs. To see what other users report on LR4 and the supposed bug-fix version 4.1 release candidates, check the official Adobe Bug Tracker for Lightroom and Photoshop. OK, Adobe does not call this a “bug tracker”, for them it’s a “Community-powered support for Photoshop Family”. But in the end it’s really a pool for gathering bugs found by customers and users. Looking at all those issues and complaints is not for the faint hearted.
All this makes me feel that Lightroom 4 is an incomplete release that was thrown onto the market under severe time-pressure and without much testing. Why can’t Adobe test thoroughly and wait another six months (or a year) to release the next major version? Ah, I know the answer: This would significantly affect their revenue streams. And revenue means profit for software-makers. And reducing the profit means the share price takes a hit. And this, quite frankly, makes me sick. I am happy to pay a higher price for a high-end product, but then I do expect high-end quality to be delivered. (By the way, looking at the feedback for LR 4.1 RC2 does not really restore Adobe’s credibility.)
So, all-in-all, I think Lightroom 4 is a very mixed bag. If you absolutely need the map feature, I’d suggest to do the upgrade. But if you do not need it now, you will want to wait for the 4.1 version that will fix some (not all) of the bugs. On the other hand, if you have a solid Lightroom 3.x installation and are not convinced that you do not need the upgrade, just do not buy it. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. It’s really as simple as that.