Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
The fact that Adobe makes a DAM software overshadows all other contenders. Of all the software publishers here, Adobe has the most resources and the most legacy to build on. It is no surprise that this makes Photoshop Lightroom the most polished and capable software among its peers. This does not mean the competition cannot hold its own, just that it is more difficult for them to compete and they will not success through imitation either.
Photoshop Lightroom 3 is designed to be the photography workflow. As such it does everything from importing to processing to printing and web gallery generating. The user interface is extremely polished with a modern and efficient feel. This software is available for a suggested retail price of $299 USD in Windows or Mac versions. It is available for less from Amazon.
Lightroom was one of first to adopt the neutral panel-based interface and non-destructive editing used in movie studios. The grey interface provides a neutral surrounding that does not affect our perception of colors. Having panels rather than floating panels makes the interface more efficient to use as elements do not need to be moved around. Non-destructive refers to the fact that Photoshop Lightroom does not modify original image files. Instead, every edit is done virtually and new images are produced by the export module. This means that everything can be undone.
The user interface is organized in panels around the image display area which shows one or more images, either as a grid of thumbnails or as one or more images, depending on the viewing mode. Everything else belongs to a collapsible panel. The top panel serves little purpose other than to show the current module and identify its sequence in the workflow. It saves precious vertical space to collapse this panel, using the menu bar or keyboard shortcuts to change modules.
The DAM part of Lightroom is the Library module. Note that the side panel assignments are different across modules. For the purpose of this article, the Library module is the one that counts, unless otherwise noted.
The left panel is used for navigation. It consists of a navigator that is used to navigate within an image (aka pan and zoom), a catalog view, a hierarchical folder view, a collection view and a publish services view. The tree-view for file folders and one for collections are the main navigation tools. Selecting a folder or collection shows all the images in that folder and in subfolders, making it easy to apply changes to a branch.
The right panel mostly holds modifiable information such as metadata and keywords. The views there show the current state of the selected image or images and allow adding and removing of keywords and some metadata. These is also a quick develop view which lets the user perform preset image processing directly from the library module.
The bottom panel is a virtual bin to keep track of the current selection across modules. It supports basic filtering of its contents.
Importing is performed using a powerful dialog which can be used to apply metadata and image processing on import. It also previews imported files with the option to select which images make it into the catalog. This is perfect for skipping over images to be deleted or ones that will not be part of the catalog. Since Photoshop Lightroom can perform other parts of the workflow, the import function can copy, move, convert to DNG or reference image files in their original location.
Import and batch capabilities are crucial to the efficiency of DAM applications because the time spent repeating tasks is better spent otherwise. Every software can easily add data to a single file. Most of the time, a good deal of initial metadata is repeated. For example, the author and copyright notice is normally identical for a batch import. Location data may also be the same.
Photoshop Lightroom allows to define presets which are groups of metadata or processing tasks. These tasks can be applied in batch on import or after. A set of keywords can also be added to all images during the import process.
Keywording is done using a simple interface where one can add new keywords instantly, choose from recently used ones and see which keyword is already applied or partially applied to images in the current selection.
Frequently adding related keywords is a breeze because the application creates buttons for the most recently used ones in order to efficiently apply them and avoid the horror of typos in keywords. Accessing keyword-lists is done by selecting a set of keywords to display in an array of buttons. Lightroom provides some predefined sets but one is free to define his own.
Searching is done by selecting filters to apply to the currently selected folder branch. This makes it easy to narrow down to a set of matching images. There are up to 4 metadata filters which can be applied, each one chosen from a list of 22. The search by date is cleverly done so that years, months or days can be filtered. EXIF filtering options are rather limited though which is a shame. In theory, Lightroom lets you search data within any field but since it does not support filtering on the field's name, this is of limited use. The aspect ratio filter lets you select portrait, landscape or square images. It is useful, but not what was expected. Selecting by actual aspect ratio such as 3:2 or 4:3 is not supported and there is no support for searching by image resolution either.
Lightroom took just under 12 hours to import 18000 images, setting the bar in our performance benchmarks. Search time is very variable, for sets with small results it can be 1s but for larger results 5 seconds or more are common. Switching between images usually takes 1 to 3 seconds, which is slow enough to feel sluggish. This displays a preview image, then it takes another few seconds to get the real image displayed.
Overall, Lightroom lives up to expectations. This is a highly polished product with a refined user interface and a rather large feature set. The interface is kept simple by being split into modules. The basics are intuitive but a great number of features do require explanations. Thanks the popularity of Lightroom's, there are quite a number of book and courses for that.
The perception of software speed is a matter of expectations. At times Lightroom feels slow because a fast image viewer can display and switch between images much faster. At the same time though, Lightroom does a lot more and so there is a noticeable performance cost for the added functionality. Certain features are positively sluggish while others like the speed of most queries is impressive.
In terms of DAM functionality, Photoshop Lightroom has a more than the basics but lacks features for some common queries, notably ones based on EXIF data.
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