Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Enters Public Beta

Adobe announced today that Photoshop Lightroom, its photo management and editing application, is now available as a public beta of version 3. This is the next major upgrade for this application and all three versions have been preceded by a public beta. I was able to attend a demo of the version 3 beta by Tom Hogarty (Lightroom Senior Product Manager) and also gained some insight in their approach to this public beta process.

Image quality, performance—and one improvement I love

I saw lots of nice improvements in the Lightroom 3 public beta demo. The two main improvements will be found in general performance and a redesign of image quality algorithms. This second improvement was most apparent in the new Settings > Process Version menu item, which lets you switch between the old algorithms and the new. I believe you can specify which algorithm version you want for all your photos, but Tom spent his time demonstrating the menu item, which can toggle back and forth. The image improvement was noticeable but I want to test it on my own images and see how they respond.

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The integration with photo sharing websites like Flickr is very impressive. Flickr and other photo sharing sites are now listed in a Publish Services panel below Collections and Library. One can drag and drop photos right to the panel and Lightroom 3 public beta will do the publishing. Online comments are visible in the Lightroom 3 interface and changes can be made and updated automatically. In the case of Flickr, these nifty features are only available to paying Flickr Pro users—the free Flickr service still works in some ways, but dynamic updating and commenting doesn’t work.

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The one improvement I love the most is the redesign Import window. Of all the interfaces I use in Lightroom 2, I use Import the most and it’s never been up to par with the rest of the well-designed application. Now it has matched it and then some. It’s still its own window but it has the same user interface design as the rest of the application, with photo sources on the left and destinations on the right. It looks very slick and easy to use. Even better, the whole window can collapse into a small interface where you can quickly select a source, destination, metadata and file handling presets. I can’t wait to use it.

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Editing and presenting improvements

There are also several new features for editing and presenting photography:

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  • Sharpening and Noise Reduction have both been improved. This feature set will change a lot during the public beta: Tom mentioned the noise reduction feature will be released with color reduction only and with luminance reduction to follow.
  • Collections are now available in the Develop module.
  • lr3-vignettepriority

  • Post-Crop Vignetting has been expanded and a Grain effect is available to recreate film grain. Post-Crop Vignetting will have a color priority and highlight priority mode in the initial public beta, but user feedback will eventually eliminate one of these.
  • lr3-playback

  • Slideshows can now be published with music and set to sync with the song duration.
  • lr3-video

  • Slideshows can also be exported as a video file. Lightroom 3 public beta offers a few common preset sizes.
  • lr3-watermarkedit

  • Watermarks can now be edited with much greater control in the Watermark Editor. I remember being wowed by the watermark feature in Lightroom 1, but this is even more exciting. At first glance it looks like it could be developed further, but I’ll know more after I start using it.
  • lr3-custompackage

  • Print output has been improved: Custom Packages have much more flexibility and look more like a page layout application than ever before. Contact sheets can have colored backgrounds and more metadata options displayed.
  • lr3-contactsheetpage

I couldn’t really complain at anything I saw during the demo—everything operated very well, and it should be a fun public beta experience.

A “medium rare” public beta

Tom used some vivid metaphors to describe how the Lighroom team is approaching this public beta differently than the one for version 2. The first public beta program was “medium rare”: lengthy and full of development. This made sense since it was for a brand new application. For version 2, the Lightroom team adopted more of a “medium well” public beta program, allowing less time to digest feedback and improve features. It seemed the reason was because Lightroom had already established a strong feature set and the team didn’t expect version 2 to require as much time in beta development.

For the version 3 public beta, Tom and his team are going back to the “medium rare” public beta program and will devote more time to it. It’s unclear how long it will last, but Tom says Lightroom 3 will ship “in 2010″ so at the most we can expect the public beta to last a year.

Changes in system requirements

There will be a few bumps in the system requirements that may exclude some Lightroom 2 users. Windows users will require 2GB of RAM to operate Lightroom 3; on the other hand, it will work with Windows 7. Mac users will have more hurdles to clear: not only is 2GB of RAM also required, but Lightroom 3 will not work with Mac OS X 10.4 (“Tiger”) or with PowerPC processors. It’s been a few years since PowerPC Macs were being sold, but I know there’s still plenty of them out in the field. The Lightroom 3 public beta may convince some of these users to buy an upgrade.

How to sign up

The Lightroom 3 public beta just went live at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom3/. Participation is easy—just download the software and use it—but be sure to give your feedback when you can. I know the Adobe engineers take the feedback seriously, though they also have their own ideas of what Lightroom 3 should have. Lightroom 2 users should note that catalogs from that application cannot be imported into Lightroom 3 public beta—you’ll need to import your own images into that application.