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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Review

Ben Andrews reviews Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5, designed to be the perfect photo editing software for multiple images.

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Lightroom 5

Lightroom is a relatively recent addition to Adobe’s range of multimedia applications, but it’s already reached its fifth incarnation and is packed with features to help organise and enhance your photographs. You won’t need to sign up for a monthly subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud to get your hands on all this either, as unlike many of Adobe’s creative products, Lightroom can be had for a very reasonable £102.57/$149 one-off cost.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Features

Lightroom 5 contains several new and compelling features, but before we check those out, let’s clarify some of Lightroom’s basics. Some see it in essence as a poor man’s Photoshop, but though significantly cheaper, it is actually a match for many of Photoshop’s most popular and effective image editing tricks. What’s more, where many tools used to achieve such effects in Photoshop are hidden away in traditional dropdown menus under techy, intimidating descriptions; Lightroom groups them together in large, easily accessible pallets under photographer-friendly labels.

Whilst Lightroom packs plenty of photo editing punch, that’s not the limit to its talents. It also functions as a complete database for your shots where you can catalogue and organise them independently of your Windows or Mac file browsers. If regular folders are a little too twentieth century for you, then Lightroom can also detect embedded GPS data in photos captured on GPS-equipped cameras and automatically geolocate them on an interactive map.

Fancy making a photo book to show off your best shots, creating a slick slideshow or even compiling images into a funky interactive web gallery? Lightroom can help you do all this as well.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Ease of Use

Lightroom is certainly easier to get the hang of than Photoshop, but it’s also quick to master in its own right as all its essential tools are arranged in a clearly ordered workflow. When you first load the program you’ll be asked to import photos, whereupon they’ll be accessible from the Library module that’s selectable at the top of the screen. JPEG, TIFF, PNG, DNG and PSD image formats are all supported, in addition to most RAW file types and even some video formats.

To edit a particular shot, just select it in the Library and switch to the Develop module. Now most of your editing options appear in pallets either side of your chosen image, with quick effect presets and an editing history on the left, and more comprehensive manual tweaks arranged to the right. Beneath all this is the Filmstrip displaying thumbnails of the other shots contained in the folder you’re working from, making it easy to reference similar images or copy any edits to multiple shots. The remaining modules control how you’d like to display or export your photos.

It’s also important to remember that all the edits you make to an image in Lightroom are non-destructive, so you’re not actually changing or degrading the original file. Only once you export the image are your changes saved.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Performance

Lightroom Performance Screenshot1 Lightroom Performance Screenshot2
Lightroom Adjustments Before Lightroom Adjustments After

Despite its fancy frills, Lightroom is all about making your photos stand out, and here it’s better than ever. Choose from 46 presets that’ll instantly give a bland shot some impact with retro vibes or colour and contrast boosts. These presets automatically arrange the various manual editing options laid out to the right of your image, so if you’d rather add some more grain or ease back on the colour saturation, just tweak the appropriate slider. Likewise if all your shot needs is a little highlight recovery or some extra vibrancy, go straight to that control and dial in the appropriate tweaks. Up top is a comprehensive histogram so you can monitor what these changes are doing on a graphical level. Once you’ve nailed the right settings for your image, save them to your own custom preset. Alternatively, select several shots in the Filmstrip, click the Sync button beneath the editing pallets and you can apply the same corrections to multiple shots simultaneously.

Lightroom Upright Tool Screenshot1 Lightroom Upright Tool Screenshot2
Lightroom Upright Tool Before Lightroom Upright Tool After

So now we’ve covered the basics of Lightroom, here are a few of the niftiest new tricks exclusive to version 5, starting with the Upright tool. Unless you’re blessed with clever tilt-shift lenses, shooting buildings or geometric subjects is almost always going to result in some degree of perspective distortion. In Photoshop you can usually straighten things out with its Lens Correction tool, but this can be quite a faff. Lightroom on the other hand does the same thing with just a click of a button. Sometimes the results can look unnaturally uniform, but Lightroom has that covered too with an automatic option that leaves some distortion to fool your noggin that everything’s still realistic.

Lightroom Advanced Healing Brush Screenshot1 Lightroom Advanced Healing Brush Screenshot2
Lightroom Advanced Healing Brush Before Lightroom Advanced Healing Brush After

The Upright tool is certainly something Photoshop - and indeed many of Adobe’s rivals - could learn from, but traditionally Lightroom hasn’t been as handy when it comes to removing blemishes from your shots. Sure, it had the spot removal tool which would remove, well, the odd spot. However, concealing larger and more complex objects would have it stumped. The Advanced Healing Brush is much smarter though. Simply brush over an unsightly element and Lightroom will automatically clone a similar background area over it. If you’re a Photoshop fan then this effect is reminiscent of Content Aware Fill. It’s certainly clever stuff and gets you 95% of the way to a perfect result, although the manual control of Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool can trump it if you’ve got the time to pursue perfection.

Lightroom Smart Previews Screenshot
Lightroom Smart Previews 

The third fresh feature in Lightroom 5 we think is worth a mention are Smart Previews. These are a more subtle new addition, but are potentially a huge time saver. Say you’d like to edit a shoot on the go, but the images in question are stuck on an external hard drive and you don’t have the time or space to copy them to your laptop. Select the Smart previews option and Lightroom will automatically create copies of these images on your laptop hard drive for you to work with. These are compressed and resized to 2540 pixels along their longest side in order to save storage space and are grouped within a single container file. Once you reconnect the drive containing the original images, they’ll be automatically updated with any edits you’ve made to their Smart Previews whilst on the move.

Lightroom Performance Screenshot3 Lightroom Performance Screenshot4
Lightroom Adjustments Before Lightroom Adjustments After

Value for Money
At £100 for the full version of Lightroom 5, it’s certainly great value and compares well to the competition. onOne Perfect Photo Suite 8 would set you back around the same amount, as would the Elite edition of DxO Optics Pro 9. The standalone version of Tiffen DFX comes in somewhat cheaper at £78/$130, and you can pay even less for Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, however neither can match Lightroom 5’s versatility and ease of use.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Verdict

Lightroom has been a firm favourite with novice and professional photographers for years and it’s easy to see why. Although it can’t compete with Photoshop’s layered workflow or its ability to turn photos into conceptual works of art, Lightroom does a great job of helping you develop a bland shot into something that jumps off the screen or paper.

It isn’t perfect though. So long as Adobe still makes Photoshop, there’s only so much the company can do to Lightroom before it starts encroaching on their flagship product’s territory. Consequently there are rival packages that do offer layered editing, as well as more pixel-specific control.

Likewise if you’re after a product that’ll give your images instant visual flare courtesy of numerous effects filters and presets, Lightroom isn’t really the tool for a job. Sure, it can do this, but it’s no match for the range of styles packed into products like onOne Perfect Photo Suite, DxO FilmPack or Tiffen DFX.

However, Lightroom 5 is a well-judged balance between the instant simplicity of these packages and the more advanced control available in Photoshop. Add in the various export and publishing options, an ability to select and apply changes to multiple images simultaneously, plus fresh features like Smart Previews, and it’s hard to do better for the money. If you’ve got around £100 to invest in photographic software, you can’t go wrong with Lightroom 5.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 is a comprehensive editing tool with excellent support for editing multiple images.  

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Pros

Comprehensive editing control
Excellent support for editing multiple images
Range of export options
Smart previews

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Cons

Fewer and less impressive preset effects than in some rival packages
No layered workflow
Limited pixel-level editing


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andybebbs 14 640 1 England
28 Apr 2014 2:25PM
purchased this and wish i hadn`t.
30 Apr 2014 12:58PM
great programme - does pretty well all you should want to do in polishing up (rather than seriously altering) an image - my big gripe is that you can't run it on Vista, though the beta version did run on Vista, so it's commercial not technological decision, and although I'd love to buy it, I can't afford to upgrade my OS as well Sad
2 May 2014 9:27PM
I bought Lightroom 3 to use with PS Elements (for layers etc). After a long and steep learning curve, I am now happy with what I can (and am able) to do in Lightroom! However, I am considering upgrading to Lightroom 5, (a) to access the improved healing and cloning brushes and (b) because my images and backups are stored on 2TB external hard drives, to use the Smart Previews facility.

Thanks for your review which confirmed my thinking.

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