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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Filter Test

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Just like most serious (and some semi-serious) photographers I own a few filters. Sure, it is  quite easy these days to “fix” a lot of problems in Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. but still there are things that can’t be quite simulated in software. Or they can but it is sometimes easier/faster to do everything “in camera”. So, what do I have in my bag: a bunch of neutral, graduated Singh-Ray filters (both: hard- and soft- edge), a few polarizers and a 10 stop filter. What I noticed (along with many fellow photographers) was that some of them are not exactly “neutral”. In other words, they introduce some color cast, which in most cases needs to be “fixed” in post.

With that in mind, I decided to do a simple experiment. I shot a mid-gray target (Lastolite EzyBalance 18%) using various filters in two different light environments (shade and sunlight). As a point of reference, I also included a shot of the target without any filter. All photos were taken using fixed White Temperature of 5500 K. Once the images were uploaded into Lightroom, I used White Balance Picker to correct the cast. The filters that were used in this test were: Singh-Ray Gold/Blue Polarizer, B+W 10 Stop Neutral, Heliopan SH-PMC Polarizer and B+W Slim Kassman Polarizer. The spreadsheet below summarizes the results:

Filter_Test

“Delta” that you see in the table is a straight difference between a given filter and “no filter” shot. “G/B Yellow” means that the polarizer was turned to render highlights Gold. Similarly, “G/B Blue” means that it was turned to render highlights Blue.

So, what do we see here ? First of all, as expected both Heliopan and B+W “Grey” Polarizers are indeed fairly neutral. The amount of correction is rather small. Some of the differences that you see, can be attributed to some variability in how I conducted this “quick and dirty” test. For example, I didn’t pay much attention to the exact location of my target when I was moving between shade and sunlight. I also didn’t do any validation if the degree of polarization would affect my results. The intent was to have a general idea of how these filters would compare.

Surprisingly, the 10 Stop B+W filter was not quite neutral. Both Tint and Temperature needed correction with Temperature being very different in Shade and Sunshine. This was definitely something I didn’t expect. Approximately -17 Tint correction was more in line of what I expected.

Similarly, Gold/Blue Singh-Ray Polarizer showed reasonably consistent Tint corrections between Shade and Sunlight with very different Temperature adjustments. Again, not quite what I expected. I don’t have any reasonable explanation why we are seeing such differences. If you have any suggestions please drop me a line.

So, what does it mean for us, photographers ? Well, I guess we can use “Gray” polarizers without much fear that they would introduce any color cast. On the other hand, more “exotic” filters like Gold/Blue Singh-Ray and 10 Stop B+W need to be handled with caution. The best strategy is to shoot one extra frame with Mid-gray target in the scene and use it to determine the amount of Temperature and Tint correction in post processing. Alternatively, you can try to find a spot in your image that approximates mid-gray (a grayish rock for example) and use that as a target.

About today’s image at the top: it was taken last Summer in the Jasper National Park. I got up in the morning to shoot a little bit north of Jasper town, around Pyramid Lake. That morning it was quite foggy so I decided to shoot in the forest. After an hour or so, the fog dissipated and this was when I took this photo. It was late in the Summer and you could feel that the Autumn was just around the corner.

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Adobe and Flickr May Controversies

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Due to some strange coincidence, in May we witnessed two announcements by big corporations that created quite a bit of stir in the photographic community. We are now a few days into June, few weeks removed from these events, and that gives me a little bit of much needed perspective to comment on them.

For those of you who may not know the details: Adobe announced that they would stop releasing stand-alone versions of Photoshop. They said that Photoshop CS6 would be the last release with perpetual licence. After that, if you want access to future versions you will have to buy a Creative Cloud subscription, which for many people, dramatically increases the cost of using Creative Suite including Photoshop. Depending on the option, it could cost you between $20 to $70 a month. I will share my thoughts on this  in the near future.

Then a couple weeks later, Yahoo announced a new and improved version of their popular photo site: Flickr. The new, “awesome”, site unleashed a fury of negative comments from Flickr user community. The situation was made even worse by comments that Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, made about professional photographers. She said: “There is no such thing as a Flickr Pro because with so many people taking photographs there is really no such thing as professional photographers any more”. She later apologized and explained that her remark was in relation to 1TB space offered by “new” Flickr. Fair enough but many people were fuming already and the damage was done.

So, how these events are linked together ? It is in the way how a big portion of both companies’ customers responded with outrage and fury. Flickr blog announcement of “A better, brighter Flickr” http://blog.flickr.net/en/2013/05/20/a-better-brighter-flickr/ generated, in my estimate, close to 30,000 mostly negative responses in less than a week (see here: http://www.flickr.com/help/forum/en-us/72157633547442506/). After just a few days, the feedback page was closed so no more comments could be added. Seems that this was the only way to stop negativity. Similarly, in opposition to Adobe’s announcement, there were many angry comments in the blog world and also the petition was started on Change. org (https://www.change.org/petitions/adobe-systems-incorporated-eliminate-the-mandatory-creative-cloud-subscription-model). As of June 8, 2013, a month after the announcement, it gathered almost 30,000 signatures under the letter to Adobe execs. To be fair, the response to Creative Cloud was not as uniformly negative as the one to Flickr changes. There are many people and businesses for whom the new subscription model makes a lot of sense but on the other hand, many Photoshop users are quite unhappy.

When you read comments of those disappointed you notice that a certain common thread emerges. People are pissed not by the fact that the changes were introduced but by the fact that they were forced to go with the “new and improved” model without: a) being asked whether they wanted to; and b) having an option to chose which model they preferred. Yes, I get the notion that both Yahoo and Adobe are private enterprises in the market to make money and they can do what they want but it is quite astonishing to see big, global corporations managing to piss off thousands of their paying customers in such a short period of time. They are not alone though. You could add Microsoft to this group for the way they introduced the new user interface in Windows 8, Apple for switching from matte pro monitors to a glossy finish or for failing to upgrade Mac Pro in timely fashion. The list could get quite lengthy here. It will be fascinating to watch what both Adobe and Yahoo are going to do in the near future in reaction to the feedback. I’m sure the story does not end here.

About the image at the top of the post: it was taken from the top of Mount Nemo, which is actually part of  the magnificent Niagara Escarpment that stretches for over 500 km from Niagara Peninsula to the top of Bruce Peninsula in Tobermory. It is located within the borders of Burlington and offers some interesting vistas of southern Ontario landscape. On a bright, clear day you can see the tallest buildings in Toronto, some 45 km away to the East. The only problem is that there are only a few places where the view is not obstructed by the trees and bushes but still it is a very nice place to visit and photograph.

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Start or “Square One”

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What’s with the title of this blog: “Photocrossroads: at the intersection of photography and technology” ? Well, I guess it is my attempt to give a reader an idea what he/she/it may find here. So, it is about the crossroads that we, photographers, constantly encounter in pursuit of our passion. Whether we like it or not, at every step we are facing: choices, decision points or simply crossroads, with regards to photography. Those may be technical choices or artistic ones but there is no hiding. We have to face them. As I’ll be going through my own decisions/intersections/crossroads (hopefully not on red lights), I will try to cover some topics that in my opinion you may find interesting and/or educating and/or amusing. “Hopefully” is the key word here.

So, what can you expect here ? Judging by how I consume magazines at my local Chapters Store (the largest bookstore in Canada), it will probably be: 75%-80% photography and 20%-25% photo-related technology subjects: computer stuff and broader technology issues, industry trends, etc. We’ll see how it goes. I reserve the right to change my mind at any moment. Perhaps the next post may be about knitting. Kidding … , just kidding …

So now a few words about the principal contributor to this blog. My name is Ralph (a.k.a. Rafal) Lisak. I was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. I moved to Canada in 1990 where I live to this day in Missisauga, Ont. My background is in electrical engineering, microelectronics to be more specific. I’ve been working in the area of semiconductor Integrated Circuits (you know, those little, tiny chips that power your cameras, iPhones, laptops and such) for my entire professional life and I guess, this explains my interests in technology. In other words, this is something I know quite well. Interest in photography came later in my life but this is a story for another post. Perhaps I will get to write it during those long, Canadian winter evenings. There will be plenty of them around February; you know those days: -35C, gale force winds, snow, etc. The things that bring smile to faces of all true Canadians.

Just a few words of the image in this post. It was taken back in December 2011 in Virginia Beach. My wife and I were spending Christmas in Williamsburg, VA and I decided to rent Canon 24mm Tilt-and-Shift lens for the trip to play with. I liked the options that this lens brings to photography but was a bit reluctant to part with quite a significant chunk of money without knowing if it delivered on the promise. I’m happy to report that I liked it a lot and bought this lens a few months later. Now, I’m saving money for the 90mm Tilt-and-Shift which should open even more creative options than the 24mm one does and can’t wait for Canon to release an updated version.

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