BitDepth 507 - January 17

Adobe introduces Lightroom, software for Photographers working with RAW files...
Photographers get digital help

New to the photographer's desktop, Adobe's Lightroom, a workflow tool designed for the digital shooter.

It's a great time to be a digital photographer. Unlike the bad old days (which would have been about twelve months ago) software companies are falling over themselves to figure out what professional photographers expect from the tools they use to manage and produce their images. On Google's website, for instance, you can find Picasa, free software for the PC that makes short work of handling folders full of images.

The Kong of digital image software remains Adobe's Photoshop, a powerful but costly pixel editing tool that's matured well through nine major revisions into an almost unassailable standard for working with digital image files.
But until recently, Photoshop was still torn in its focus, with more than half the software's power focused on computing professionals who didn't share the concerns of photographers.
Photoshop 7, for instance, introduced a wonderful brush engine that made it possible for digital painters to do more with the software. It wasn't until the introduction of the first Creative Suite version of the tool that Adobe began to take serious notice of the needs of pro shooters with a RAW plug-in you didn't have to pay extra for and a file browser that gave a nod to the needs of photographers struggling with an unwieldy mass of files.

The newest version of Photoshop, CS2, works even harder at pleasing the pixel corps with a whole new application, Bridge, that's designed even more specifically to simplify file management and handling.
Adobe isn't the only company looking at the trend from film to digital images as an opportunity. Apple Computer, flush with its experience with Final Cut Pro, a digital video editing programme that came out of nowhere to successfully challenge long time market leader Avid, weighed in with its own digital imaging software, Aperture.

But Aperture has had a tough time of it since its launch two months ago. While it has remarkable innovations that ease the workflow of professional photographers using large RAW files, several hiccups have slowed its adoption.
For starters, Aperture requires cutting edge hardware to work at its best. The well-hyped demos that introduced the product ran on Apple's top of the line quad-core towers which can marshal four processors behind the task of moving big image files around.

For my cousin William, on whose Mac tower I sampled Aperture, the deal-breaker was the lack of support for the RAW files from his Fuji pro digital camera.
For me, it was Aperture's insistence on creating a single package file into which it must copy any images you want to work with, reported sluggish performance on Apple's laptops and the spotty RAW conversion quality.
Now Adobe has struck back, offering its own photographer friendly front-end to Photoshop, Lightroom, a project it yanked from its backroom skunkworks and has now released in public beta (free for use until mid-2006) for comment and testing.

On photographer Jeff Schewe's website there's an intriguing story about the four-year evolution of Lightroom and its sudden surge of prominence after Apple's release of Aperture.
There are some useful ideas in Lightroom, though its interface falls far short of the GUI slickness of Aperture and its stability doesn't approach Bridge's handling of large file folders. Lightroom kept quitting when I pointed it at the massive folder of images that I hold on file for BitDepth and drew previews at a languid pace.

I won't be abandoning my critical workflow in Adobe's Bridge and Photoshop to this beta yet, but there are a couple of side projects that its collection and organisation features will simplify and I'll be testing it there.
Unlike Aperture, Lightroom will eventually be available for the PC although the first public beta is Mac only for now.
The indicators of film's decline over the years have tended to be negative but this vigorous interest in working photographers sounds a welcome positive note.

No matter who wins in this new battle for marketshare between Adobe and Apple, the folks cheering loudest will be pro photographers, who now have very smart programmers listening to their needs.

Useful links...
The Shadowland/Lightroom story
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