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Analysis: Lightroom 1.1

While there are no major structural changes to Lightroom, most of the new features simplify the functionality of the current modules. Although I’m still reviewing the product, here are the main changes I’ve found since the update was released.

Catalogs

To reduce the confusion between the “library”, understood as the photographic database, and the Library module, the database is now called Catalog. As we already indicated in a previous comparison between Aperture and Lightroom, one of the areas in which Lightroom was weakest for some users was regarding the organization options, which were not as complete or flexible as the project-based philosophy made by Aperture. Changing the name of the database does not change this perception, but what will have some impact will be some of the features that Adobe has implemented as part of the change in the name.

A new Export as Catalog command allows you to create custom Lightroom databases, being able to switch quite easily between multiple catalogs. As with version 1.0, it is necessary to restart the application to use a new catalog, although it will do so automatically as part of the process. Fortunately, Lightroom restarts very fast on most Intel-based G5s and Macs. (You can also double-click a catalog file in the Finder to use it directly in Lightroom without going through the process of restarting the application.)

Lightroom 1.1’s Import from Catalog command is very flexible, especially if you’ve been working on images on another computer and want to re-import them into your main database. For example, you can now import only images that have been edited or updated in some way. In this image, the images that appear darkened have not been modified since they were exported. Virtual copies of such images can also be created so that the original editions are not lost.

The main advantage of the new catalog structure is that you can use a catalog to work in subgroups of images, for a client or project for example, and take it from one computer to another without having to move the entire Lightroom database. To make this even easier, Lightroom 1.1 also includes the Import from Catalog feature, allowing you to import photos from another catalog. What is noteworthy about this feature is that you can tell Lightroom to import only images that have been edited, without importing images that exist in both catalogs and that have the same metadata and editing information.

In general, Lightroom’s organizational structure is still not as elegant when compared to Aperture projects, although the Import Catalog feature is better than any of the options available in Aperture for updating projects. I still think that the two programs represent different ways of managing images, both solid and valid. The ability to export a Lightroom collection from your desktop, take it on your MacBook to work with on the go, and re-import it again with minimal effort is a nice feature.

Clarity and focus

Recently, Adobe released Camera Raw 4.1, and Lightroom 1.1 incorporates the new RAW image converter as well as the other tools.

The two main new features are the Clarity features and the Camera Raw sharpening enhancements. Adobe’s John Nack describes the Clarity feature as ‚Äúadding depth to an image by increasing local contrast,‚ÄĚ and it is a powerful tool. The two images show the Clarity feature in action. In each of them, the image on the left panel represents a view with a 1: 1 scale of the original, and the one on the right shows the image with the Clarity feature applied to 100 percent, in order to exaggerate the results of the effect (the tool would generally not be used at that level).

As you can see from these examples, “depth” is a good word to describe the effect of the Clarity feature.

Lightroom’s sharpening tools have also been updated in version 1.1. The Sharpening section of the Detail panel changes from offering a single control to providing four scrolling controls: Amount, Radius, Detail, and Masking. Definitely improved focus tools are a very good measure in the new version.

In addition to these features, Lightroom 1.1 reinforces noise reduction and lens correction thanks to Camera Raw 4.1, as well as adding support for the latest batch of digital cameras from Canon (EOS-1D Mark III), Nikon (D40x), Fuji , Olympus and other manufacturers.

Other improvements

Updating and modifying the metadata is more direct compared to the previous version, and the search for images is also easier. Overall, Lightroom 1.1 seems like a more comfortable application compared to version 1.0.