Lightroom 5 Released: Worth the upgrade ?

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I have been a big fan of Adobe Lightroom since it was first released back in 2007. No wonder that when Adobe released the newest version of their popular software on June 10,  I immediately started thinking about upgrading. Until now it was really a no-brainer. You moved from the old revision to the new one as quickly as you could. Why ? Because each new version was a significant step forward in usability, feature-set and value. Well, I kinda knew that one day this would end and as the product became more mature we would be facing a tough decision: “Is it worth upgrading”. The only thing that I didn’t know was when would that happen. Would it be Version 5.0 ? Or 6.0 ? Maybe 7.0 ? Now that Lightroom 5 is here, I have a feeling that I need to think for a bit before I decide to upgrade. Let’s take a closer look.

As many of you know, the main new features are (See what Adobe says about those features here):

  • Improved Healing Brush & Visualization Tool
  • New Upright Tool
  • New Radial Gradient Tool
  • New Smart Previews
  • Improved Photobook Creation

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of these tools and see if it makes sense to upgrade.

Improved Healing Brush: This is a definitely much better tool than the previous version. Essentially, it allows you to remove unwanted objects by “painting” (just like in Photoshop CS5 and later) rather than using a whole bunch of small circles. Also, Adobe enhanced the math behind this tool, which is supposed to give you better results even if you use it in exactly the same way as before. With the use of very powerful “content aware” technology there is no contest here. The new tool is way better.

Then you also have a nice feature called Visualization Tool, which allows you to quickly see tiny particles of dust on your sensor. Very neat and useful if you want to remove them quickly but if you own a previous version of Lightroom then you sort of, have it already. It is not as elegant and easy to use but the functionality is there. All you have to do is to go to the Sharpening section in the Develop/Detail module, press Alt and move Mask slider to around 25. Magically, you should see the particles as long as you keep holding Alt key. You may want to tweak the slider a bit to see them better. That’s it. No, this is not as elegant as the new solution but still, I does the job of showing where the dust particles are.

New Upright Tool: Another useful tool which was designed to automatically help correct tilted horizon and converging verticals in buildings. This is one of those “nice to have” things but not necessarily a “must have”. There is no doubt that it will save you some time if you need to do some perspective correction but you can do the same thing, using the existing tools in perhaps 30 sec. longer so it is not a big gain.

Radial Gradient Tool: Just like in the case of Upright Tool this is not a “deal breaker”. You can do most of it using earlier version of Lightroom and/or Photoshop. Nice but not essential.

Smart Preview: This is probably the most significant improvement in Lightroom 5 for the folks that have a need to travel and work on their images on the road. These days laptops often have a small but very fast SSD drive on which operating system and applications reside but all high volume data is kept externally on traditional, mechanical hard drives. So now, if you want to take some of your images with you, you can simply select them and  Lightroom will create high resolution copies, which will take a lot less space than the originals. They have enough resolution for you to work on them confidently. When you are back in your office, Lightroom will quickly synchronize all changes with the original files. Neat.

You can watch well produced videos where Adobe’s Julieanne Kost explains the new features here.

So, now back to the original question: is it worth upgrading to version 5 ? Hmm. No easy answers here. If Lightroom is the only photo editing application you use then I would say: Yes. The price of upgrade is a very reasonable $80 (at least in the US and Canada; I’m not sure about the rest of the world) and just a better Healing Brush is worth the price of admission. Now, if you already have Photoshop CS5 or newer then the situation is not as obvious. The combination of Lightroom 4 and Phtoshop CS5 will get you pretty much everything that Lr5 has to offer. Except the Smart Preview feature. If you work on your images while on the road then it may be worth for you to upgrade. If not, then I would say, you can find a better way to spend your money. This is actually a fairly good illustration why Adobe pushed so hard to switch people into the subscription model for the Creative Cloud Suite. Every application at certain point reaches such a level of maturity that not all improvements and additions will be compelling enough to buy a new version. From software developer perspective this is not ideal as it limits the amount of revenue that they need to offset the development costs. But with the subscription model this problem is magically solved !!! Brilliant !!! Well sort of. It is good for them but not for the user community who have to pay every month whether they need new features or not (see one of my previous posts here).

Now, a few words on the image at the top of the post. It was taken during my trip to Arizona. We were travelling from the Monument Valley to Sedona where we decided to do a quick stop to see Painted Desert at the Petrified Forest National Park. Unfortunately, we arrived in the middle of the day so the light was a bit harsh but still, the scenery was quite spectacular.

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