REVIEW: Lightroom 2 Continues To Improve And Adapt

Lightroom 2 box

After announcing the Lightroom 2 public beta at Photoshop World last April, the application has been downloaded 130,000 times (the first 100,000 in its first five weeks) and over 1,300 photographers and users have commented on it in its forums. I’ve tried out all its features and was going to publish my review, but then I got the word that the final version of Lightroom 2 would be available today, July 29, 2008. The price remains the same as before, US$299 or US$99 for the upgrade. For comparison, Apple’s Aperture retails for US$199. The Lightroom 2 public beta will function until Sunday, August 31 so you can continue to use it for another month or so. Here’s the link to download it.

As I mentioned, I had written my review of the public beta’s features when I learned the shipping product was ready. Adobe rushed out a review copy of Lightroom 2 so this review is based on a few months’ experience with the beta and only a few days with Lightroom 2. A few weeks from now I will publish an article that follows up on my experiences.

Let’s look at all of Lightroom 2’s new features.

Revised Library layout

Lightroom 2 interface

The Lightroom 2 interface. Click the image for a larger view.

Lightroom Sr. Product Manager Tom Hogarty told me the Lightroom team worked hard in this version to “simplify the management tasks” of digital asset management. With that in mind, the left side of the Library module, which in Lightroom 1 has six sections plus the navigator, has been reorganized in Lightroom 2. The Metadata Browser, Keyword Tags and Find panes have all been removed. “Library” has also been renamed “Catalog,” perhaps to avoid any confusion between the Library pane and the Library module name in the upper-right. I noticed with Lightroom 1 that I was doing a lot of minimizing and maximizing panes due to a lack of space, so simplifying these pane areas helps me save time and effort. The Folders pane is much improved: it now lists the external and internal volumes so you can tell where your photos reside. Lightroom 2 also keeps tabs of your total and free disk space and color-codes the volumes so you can tell at a glance which volumes may need to be cleaned up.There are also new icons in the Folders and Collections panes that improve the interface.

Collections and Smart Collections

Lightroom 2 gallery

In this image of the Slideshow module, you can see Smart Collections in the corner. Click the image for a larger view.

Two major changes were made to collections, one I really love and another that I think has potential but isn’t quite there yet. The new Smart Collections feature allows you to set up dynamic collections based on selected criteria. Very similar to smart folders in Mac OS X, you can now sort photos on the fly. This feature is a great addition, one of my favorites.

The other new feature with Collections is the ability to create collections while in the Slideshow, Print and/or Web modules. These collections show up with module-specific icons and titles and retain the module settings you applied. Imagine having a set of photos you regularly output as a slideshow—now you can set these photos up as a slideshow collection with their own output settings. My experience with this feature in the public beta was that it was a solid concept but I got confused since I had to go to a module first before creating a collection for that module. Not only that, but Lightroom already has presets and it seemed like two similar tools to solve one problem. Lightroom 2 has helped clear things up with a revised New Collection button that shows a pop-up menu when clicked. Now you can see if you’re creating a Collection, Smart Collection, Collection Set or (when in an output module) Slideshow, Print or Web Gallery. You can also quickly sort the Collections pane with this menu. I wish there was a method to link a module collection with a preset—this would allow very easy swapping of settings for collected slideshows, prints and galleries. Lightroom has always automatically stored the current slideshow, web and print settings with a collection or folder, but as far as I know you can’t drag a preset onto a collection and change it on the fly.