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Modest upgrade but with some powerful Develop Mode improvements
on 27 June 2013
This version of Lightroom is for both Windows and Apple, but the Windows version only works with W7 and W8, support for Vista has been dropped (XP support having already gone). It's a useful but pricey upgrade, so I'll describe the main differences I've found in use. These all relate to the retail boxed issue.
Installation was more hassle than I expected. As others have noted, there is no printed guide at all and the Serial number was (unexpectedly) in the back corner of the middle of the three boxes. 3 nested boxes and a sleeve for one DVD and no quick start guide! My first task was to transfer my pictures from the Lightroom 4 catalogue to the new Lightroom 5 catalogue - it is not necessary to re-import them, thank goodness. Searching the web turned up a video by Laura Shoe called "How to Upgrade to Lightroom 5" and I advise watching that before you get started. I understand this works with all previous versions of Lightroom.
I've been using the new version quite a lot and there is no great difference between 4 and 5 in appearance or functionality, although there a few great new tools. It does run noticeably faster and I've experienced no incompatibility issues (others have, reporting losing user presets etc.). PNG output is now supported.
The library/indexing system is pretty much identical - which is a pity as it could use an alternative Windows-Explorer-style view for managing bulk files, renaming etc etc. The improvements are all to the Develop functions so I'll relate my experience with these in some detail.
A favourite new feature of mine automatically straightens tilted images, including perspective distortion, in one click! This is surprisingly good where the tilt/perspective is reasonably clear and usually worth trying before using before the manual tools. Sometimes you will need to tweak the image afterwards, and sometimes it completely gets things wrong - in which case hit Ctrl/z (in Windows) to undo it. Even if you need to make minor manual adjustments, it's still a big time-saver. It lives in Lens Correction > Basic tag > Enable Profile Corrections > upright > auto. This places it near to the Manual tag perspective and rotate correction settings.
The other great new feature is the enhanced spot removal tool. This has two new aspects: one is great at removing multiple spots from dusty subjects, e.g. scanned negatives, while the other greatly extends the (previously meagre) ability to remove unwanted parts of the image. I'll go through these in a little detail as there are difficulties which are not (IMHO) always clearly explained in the manual or online.
I have to say that the spot removal tools are more fiddly and rather less precise than the many equivalent tools in Photoshop, but I suspect this is necessary because the fundamental nature of Lightroom's non-destructive editing is that each editing step needs to be recorded in text format. This would doubtless be very difficult with arbitrary selections, edge feathering, mixing modes etc. So the Lightroom tools appear to be based on the centre point of the selections, a radius and a tracking path - a sort of itinerary/road map really.
As in Lightroom 4, the spot removal tool is next to the crop overlay rectangle near the top of the Develop menu. With individual small spots it remains effective - but fiddly because the source and object circles are hard to differentiate and seem to have a life of their own! As always. Ctrl/z to step back, if it goes wrong. But also use the h key when you have removed the spot (and at other times) otherwise the selections will keep getting in your way when you are trying to do other edits!
Multiple spots and other blemishes can be made much easier to see by using the Visualize Spots tool. This as a tick-box item in the Toolbar under your selected picture (If not, your toolbar has got hidden - press the t key to get it back). This highlights spots and edges in white on black and you can adjust the slider adjoining the tick box until it suits your image. Again press h after each edit or things will get confusing.
The ability to remove intrusive parts of the image (unwanted people, road cones, pylons etc.) has been improved and this seems to be the most popular new feature and is well documented online. Occasionally this works really well, as with the isolated person on a moor and tent in the night examples that Adobe use. With items needing a more complicated selection you may need to use multiple stages (press h after each one!) but, as with previous versions , you can go into Photoshop (CSx and/or Elements) at any stage to use its extra editing tools. I'd advise doing this at a late stage in editing. With CS5, I re-save the edited copy image as an 8-bit TIFF with LZW compression before returning to Lightroom to save on memory as the default 16 bit uncompressed TIFs are huge (you should of course keep the original shot as your master "negative", whether it's a RAW file, TIF or jpg.). Personally, I still go into Photoshop for most detailed editing.
Overall, a worthwhile upgrade if you use Lightroom as your main photo tool and do detailed editing on only a relatively few pictures. I always use Lightroom's tools for whole image adjustments of tone, clarity, sharpness, tagging and cataloging. But I still do not see it as a substitute for Photoshop for detailed editing and adjustments of parts of the image, panoramas etc. On the other hand, Lightroom does have one big advantage over Photoshop with RAW images: you don't need to mess about with Bridge and a separate Camera RAW program . Lightroom does offer much the same functionality with jpg images as with uncompressed RAW and TIF images so if you prefer to work with jpgs, don't be put off by the frequent references to it as "a RAW image editor".