Adobe Lightroom 4 Beta’s Best New Features

Today Adobe has released the beta version of Lightroom4, the successor to their popular image management and RAW processing program. As regular readers will know, Adobe Lightroom 3 is my RAW processor of choice, so I'm very interested to see how the new beta release performs. Lightroom 3 was a massive update to the series with substantial updates to the RAW conversion engine, especially in terms of noise reduction. Will Lightroom 4 live up to the challenge and set a new, even higher bar for image quality?

New Features

Adobe boasts a number of new features in the Lightroom 4 Beta, including:

  • Highlight and shadow recovery brings out all the detail that your camera captures in dark shadows and bright highlights.
  • Photo book creation with easy-to-use elegant templates.
  • Location-based organization lets you find and group images by location, assign locations to images, and display data from GPS-enabled cameras.
  • White balance brush to refine and adjust white balance in specific areas of your images.
  • Additional local editing controls let you adjust noise reduction and remove moiré in targeted areas of your images.
  • Extended video support for organizing, viewing, and making adjustments and edits to video clips.
  • Easy video publishing lets you edit and share video clips on Facebook and Flickr®.
  • Soft proofing to preview how an image will look when printed with color-managed printers.
  • Email directly from Lightroom using the email account of your choice.

Let's take a look at some of the more interesting of these features.

Simplified Basic Editing Panel

Compared to Lightroom 3, the Lightroom 4 Beta features a simplified basic editing panel. Gone are the sliders for Recovery and Fill Light, as are the Brightness and Contrast options. Don't worry, those functions aren't gone. Instead, the editing sliders now correspond more intuitively to the image tones – Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks.

Instead of increasing Recovery to bring back highlight tones, in Lightroom 4 one adjusts the Highlights slider to a negative amount. While the effect is the same, the difference now is that one can also increase the highlights part of the histogram as well by dialing in a positive amount. This change effectively doubles the functionality from simple highlight recovery to a real and full tone adjustment – much more useful overall. Think of the new Hightlights slider as tugging on the tone curve, in a way. A Shadows slider similarly replaces the Fill Light slider of Lightroom 3.

Updated Adjustments Brush

With the Adjustments Brush panel, we see some big improvements and a much better granularity of what you can do with this tool. Specifically, we now have the ability to adjust essentially all the same variables as in the Basic editing panel, including Highlights, Shadows and White Balance. The latter is particularly a nice addition and a great improvement over the limited ability of Lightroom 3 to do color corrections via a color shift.

In addition, we have the ability to adjust noise and moiré locally, though not to the same degree as with the full Details panel.

I think that for power users, this ability for much better local adjustments may just be the best feature of Lightroom 4.

Updated Camera Calibrations

Download Adobe Lightroom 4 Beta

You can download the new Lightroom 4 Beta directly from Adobe. This is a free beta copy of the software, which will expire once the full version of the program is released.

Concluding Thoughts

At first glance, Lightroom 4 doesn't seem like so much a revolutionary leap as Lightroom 3 was from version 2, but I think that the update represents a very nice refinement to the software.

The ability to now have very precise local adjustments to WB and noise are especially interesting. I think the fact that nearly the entire Basic Editing panel can be applied locally is going to make post processing and retouching all the more complete in Lightroom, and that fewer and fewer photographers may be going into Photoshop to achieve what's now possible with Lightroom 4 Beta.

If you've been using the Lightroom 4 Beta, what do you think? Anything missing from Lightroom 3 that you would want back, or new features that you love?