Review – Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6 & CC

Like many photographers, we have switched 90% of our workflow to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Its cross-platform compatibility, combined with ever more robust Digital Asset Management features, coupled with state-of-the-art image editing, and an affordable price has proved a serious challenger for other image editing apps. The recent release of Lightroom 6 updates the app in areas large and small.

Like Lightroom 5, we view version 6 (or CC) as a refinement, with visible feature sets, but for many users the most important changes are under the hood. For several years now Adobe has included the ability for an app to take advantage of Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) acceleration, first with Premiere Pro, which we reported on with it's adoption of NVidia’s GPU cards native language resulting in significant increases in render speed. Finally, Lightroom 6 joins the ranks of image processing apps that can take advantage of the speed boosts offered by GPU acceleration. Want to see it in action? Well, you can't, but you can turn it on or off in Lightroom's application preferences. According to Adobe some users will see a significant increase depending upon your system's configuration, and once you launch the app for the first time, you can see if your system supports GPU acceleration.

With many catalogs growing in size, and cameras creating increasingly larger image capture file sizes, this might not be as flashy an improvement as say a new filter effect, but to us it's a vital, long overdue improvement, and we are glad to see it. Even on our older Mac Pro tower with an NVidia Quadro board showed a difference in render speeds, although we are convinced that ever since our upgrade to Yosemite (Mac OSX 10.10) that our entire system is not only slower, with finder crashes of ever increasing frequency. We point this out since Lightroom 6 requires the adoption of Mac OS X 10.8, 10.9, or 10.10, so something Snow Leopard loving Mac users will have to live with. Lightroom 6 is also Lightroom CC, with the difference being that you can buy a standalone license for LR 6, or a Creative Cloud subscription. There are advantages either way. The standalone is free from monthly licensing costs, while the subscription model means that you are always up-to-date version wise, as well as gaining mobile features that allow you to work from a mobile device far from home or office.

One hidden gem in the Develop module is the "Dehaze" feature, which in its own way is just as radical a tool as was Highlight protection. Best of all amazingly it works! We looked at images with steam and fog in them, and first we tried to use different tricks in the Develop module to cut through it with varying degrees of effectiveness. Then we used the Dehaze feature and it quickly put our previous efforts to shame. We haven't figured out how to subvert the tool's intended purpose for other creative purposes, but we are going to keep plugging on it. it was also great for shots taken into the sun or other bright lightsources. 

One feature that seems to have taken a step back is the Backup feature. In LR 6, we discovered that backing up your image files doesn't include the XMP data, so the best workaround is to use an application like Carbon Copy Cloner, or SuperDuper to set up a scheduled clone of your primary image storage, and just clone the entire set. This will guarantee that it all your work is backed up, not just the image files. We hope that Adobe will correct this with an option (preferably set as the default) to back up the entire data set.

The look and feel of Lightroom 6 is going to be very familiar to any users familiar with its predecessors, LR 4 &LR 5. The basic operation is the same, but there are tweaks to familiar tools, along with some new ones. Overall it feels speeder than LR 5, but that might be conjecture, either way, we feel the additional features make it a no brainer for Lightroom users. If you are a member of the Creative Cloud it's included as an automatic update, if not, then you have the two choices previously mentioned. Mac users are required to upgrade from our loyal friend Snow Leopard to newer OS versions (Yosemite in our case) to use either LR 5 to use LR 6, but as they say, if you don’t upgrade, don’t expect to play.

We also welcome the additional camera and lens profiles that cover more lenses, cameras, and third-party lens combinations for most users. We still would like to see profiles added for Micro and regular Four-Thirds systems from Olympus, Lumix, and Leica, as well as fixed lens professional cameras such as the Ricoh GR. Although one feature of the Four-Thirds standard was data in each lens to compensate for distortions, in our experience with Olympus glass showed us otherwise, with some fine lenses showing significant chromatic aberrations, and spherical distortions. Using Olympus glass to document the Sol Mednick Gallery and Gallery 1401 at UArts, with careful camera placement, on sturdy tripods, using the automatic "Reduce Chromatic Aberration" feature we saw an immediate improvement on all our images. Further tweaking with the Lens Calibration controls brought straight lines back to the galleries' laser aligned framed work. It would be great to see Adobe include an in-depth set of profiles for these cameras and lenses, especially given the popularity of Four-Thirds systems, and large sensor, small body fixed lens cameras.

In keeping with earlier versions you need to upgrade your catalogs to LR 6, which renders them unusable with earlier versions. Since this happened in the past it shouldn't come as a surprise, and even with a catalog approaching 200,000 images our upgrade went off smoothly. Other changes are improvements to HDR processing, panorama stitching, and the healing brush has gained additional refinements including the ability to do more than heal, you can actually remove items from images which was a major reason to use Photoshop. It also gains Facial Recognition, however when we tried to use it we found it very slow, and not as accurate as one would hope, but we assume that will be tweaked with dot releases. For small catalogs it worked well, but when we tried it on our large catalog, it pushed the system’s resources to its limit.

Lightroom 6 or CC is a solid upgrade, with a slew of new features under and above the hood. Filters are enhanced, performance is upgraded with the long overdue ability to utilize the GPU in your system, and new features like the Dehaze slider will soon be second nature for users. The CC version brings mobile access to its subscription model. Either way, we view Lightroom 6 a worthy upgrade. Highly recommended!

Harris Fogel, Posted 6/27/15

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