Lightroom 3 Review

June 15, 2010 | Jon Canfield | Software Reviews | |


Close on the heels of Adobe's release of Photoshop CS5, Lightroom 3.0 is now available. Lightroom, unlike Photoshop, is built from the ground up for photography and the unique workflow that we have as digital photographers. Rather than dealing with 3D, vector graphics, and other general graphics tasks that aren't of interest to most of us, Lightroom distills the features down to what is important - image management and optimization. While Lightroom 2 is a popular option for many, the latest release adds some new features that improve the overall workflow and quality of output.


At it's heart, Lightroom is part digital asset manager - you need to import your images into the Lightroom database, either by copying them, or referencing them at a location on your drive, before you can use the tools or output your images. Importing in Lightroom 2 was a straight forward process, but it did have room for improvement. Performance wasn't that impressive, and if you had different groups of images on a card, you needed to perform multiple imports to put these files in different locations.

With version 3, Importing has received a complete face-lift and gained some nice new features (Figure 1)

Lightroom 3 Figure 1

Import now fills your screen by default (you can collapse this to a smaller window if you like).  Thumbnail size of images in the preview area is adjustable so you can take a closer look if you want to filter the images out prior to import. On the right side of the import window is a Destination panel that lets you select where your images are placed. You can drag the selection bar up or down to choose the location (or double click on the destination folder). Lightroom will display the subfolders that will be created as well as the number of images each folder will contrain.

On feature I've found very useful is the Presets option. Once I've selected the settings I want to use, clicking on Save Current Settings as a New Preset will give me the options to save these settings for future use.

Tethered Capture

Related to importing, Lightroom 3 now includes a Tethered Capture option that lets you shoot directly into Lightroom. Currently the app supports cameras from Canon and Nikon, and Adobe says they expect this list to grow as testing is completed on other camera models.

To shoot tethered, select File > Tethered Capture > Start Tethered Capture. A settings dialog box will be displayed (Figure 2) where you can enter session information, what type of metadata is written with the images, file naming, and where the files will be saved.

Lightroom 3 Figure 2

Once your settings are done, you'll see the Tethered Capture Controller. If you have multiple cameras connected, you can select which camera to control, the current settings of the camera, whether to apply develop presets as the images are captured, and a capture button (Figure 3).

Lightroom 3 Figure 3

Finally, Lightroom 3 will now import your video files into the library. Support for video is minimal - unlike Apple's Aperture, you'll need an external player/editor to do anything with your videos, but being able to manage them is a good start. Hopefully, Adobe will add more in this area as more dSLR's include a video capability.

Image Processing

At the heart of Lightroom is the image processing component - the Develop module. Lightroom 3 uses the same new processing engine as Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS5. The new processing version is not backward compatible, so you won't be able to go back to a previous version of Lightroom or ACR if you use the new process, but there is really no reason to want to. The results from the new version are superior in every respect to the previous version, especially when it comes to lens correction and noise handling. Lightroom will not update your images automatically, so to help with finding what version your images are using, you can select Library > Find Previous Process Photos. This will filter your library to show only those images with the old process.  You can review what changes will be made to the image when updating, and like other editing tasks in Lightroom this is non-destructive so you can always go back if you want (Figure 4).

Lightroom 3 Figure 4

By default, the new process is sharper with better color fidelity and lower noise. In looking at several hundred images, I didn't find a single image that didn't benefit from updating the process.

Noise reduction has been improved, with more control over the edge detail when using luminance and color noise adjustments. Typically, luminance noise reduction reduces the sharpness in your image. With the Detail and Contrast controls here, you can recover much of that sharpness (Figure 5).

Lightroom 3 Figure 5

Sharpening is also improved with less likelihood to generate halos or distortion on edges. The preview controls in the sharpening module are still available and can make your choices easier to refine.

Film Grain is a new feature. It's ironic that as digital photographers we work so hard to eliminate noise in our images, and then we'll go to a utility to add grain back in. If you've always assumed that noise and grain are the same thing, you'll be surprised at the difference between the two. Film grain varies in size and shape while noise is uniform. With the new film grain feature (Figure 6), you can adjust the amount, size, and roughness to simulate different film types. This effect works best with black and white images.

Lightroom 3 Figure 6

Vignetting has also been updated to be more darkroom like (Figure 7). In the previous version of Lightroom, vignettes were applied as dark or light painting with an equal value in the selected areas. In Lightroom 3, there is a Style option with Highlight or Color priority, or you can select the previous Paint style. Highlights is a new adjustment, available with the two new styles and controls how the vignette interacts with the highlights in your image.

Lightroom 3 Figure 7a

Lightroom 3 Figure 7b

Entry Tags

review, software, lightroom, adobe, image editing, management, lightroom 3, Lightroom 3 Review

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19 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Mark

It’s better than 2, for sure.
But as a Nikon user, I prefer Capture NX 2.

3:15 pm - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#2 Andriy

I was avid NX user too until LR3 was released. just workflow in LR is so much better

3:24 pm - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#3 R4 SDHC

This is most certainly a good improvement from Lightroom 2 - but the question is if people will throw down their existing software like the NX 2 mentioned above, in favour of Adobe’s new offering. I suspect price will have a lot to do with it.

4:04 pm - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#4 Rob

Just downloaded the trial beta and liking it so far. I think a switch from NX may be in order…

5:15 pm - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#5 Cyberwlf

I see potential for combining the two.

NX’s control points are not featured in LR3, but LR3 looks like a way more superior workflow system in every way now and for most other aspects of image management/tweaks, but NX will be likely to retain the best abilities for handling NEF files. Plus NX2 really could do with some optimisation, you listening Nikon??

1:18 am - Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#6 Daveed V.

I upgrade from LR2 a few days ago: The new noise reduction capabilities look like they’ll be good enough to make Noise Ninja and the like fairly marginal (I think those tools are still a little better, but not enough so to justify the disruption in workflow for most people).

Lately, Lightroom has been the only Adobe product that I’ve been generally happy with. (Photoshop, Acrobat, and Flash are the other products I use: While new versions have some nice features, the experience has a whole seems significantly worse.  Crashes, weird UI glitches, bothersome installation/update procedures,... A bit of competition would be welcome.)

4:22 pm - Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#7 Glenn Rogers

I love the control Lightroom gives me in processing images, but I find interface very hard to look at.  I’m squinting all the time and get a headache after a while.  Does anyone else find the same thing or is there a way to change those dark colors and small fonts of the interface?

Developer of DBGallery: Photo DATAbase System

7:27 pm - Tuesday, July 6, 2010

#8 Birdie Mason

I purchased LR3 within days of its release. 

Now, I’m in the market for a laptop that will support the software along with other programs.  There seems to be several thoughts on how much memory one should get along with type and size of processor.  Along with this, I’m reading other programs/software may not work properly if go with x instead of y. 

No secret here I have little understanding of what to purchase, why, pro’s and con’s.  If anyone has a moment, I would really appreciate your input. 

Additional note: No offense to Mac users as I’m typing on a MacBook Pro but I’m not looking at another Mac at this time.  I’ve been looking at HP’s but am open to others. 

Thanks a lot.


4:37 pm - Saturday, July 10, 2010

#9 David Mac

I recently bought a Nikon D700 and have been testing several types of photo software as I really couldn’t decide which one to use.

I have a Macbook Pro and had Aperture 3 already.  It’s OK but memory hungry and slow.  Also it way of rendering versions of files is just inefficient and I don’t like it.

NX2 I find to be unbelievably bad.  It’s like a piece of software from the 1980s with a clunky old interface that feels like its running under LINUX or something.
Once you do get around it you find that the actual photo rendering is not especially goo.  I’m really surprised at that.
Nikon have a long way to go in the software department (and bear in mind I’m a Nikon fan - I’ve just spent over ¬£4000 on their hardware after all!

I have just ditched Aperture and bought Lightroom after a 4 week trial.  It really is the best of all software suites out there for ease of use, quality of final production and work flow.
The most important thing to me is the ability of the software to present my pictures at their best and to allow me the ability to bring that out. 

One other thing though, Lightroom just “feels” really good to use I actually enjoy learning with it and I know that the people who designed it were photographers - unlike Apple.

6:41 pm - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

#10 Karl V

I’m very happy with the raw processing capabilities of Lightroom 2.  Under the hood it’s really good but it’s interface is profoundly annoying and as a way of organizing images it is a joke. (I use the elegant and inexpensive Breeze Browser for that. I just organize my photos in folders and the program shows thumbnails of whatever folder you point it to.  There’s no need to “import” anything.  You can just process whichever images you need right away.  And it has a really good and highly customizable way of making web galleries that has been way ahead of Adobe’s functionality for years.) I makes me crazy that Lightroom doesn’t take full advantage of, or effectively navigate, the simple, logical, and universally understood folder system common to Mac and Windows.  Their catalog system reminds me of the utterly brain-dead iPhoto on the Mac. 

The main thing I HATE about Lightroom is that I haven’t been able to figure out a way to import images in such a way that the program applies to each image the same processing parameters that the camera used when I shot the photos.  I know how to get very good results with my cameras using their many settings. Lightroom throws all the controls you have of images with the camera out the window and makes you start from scratch - and apply the SAME settings to every photo in a group upon import.  Again, I’m probably missing something-if you can enlighten me I’d be very very grateful! The previews in Breeze reflect the camera settings.
I also agree with Glenn Rogers that the interface is not geared toward usability but rather toward looking cool, which seems to be the worst part of the Apple orientation.  I’m not interested in getting high and staring at an awesome-looking screen, I just want to work with my photos in an efficient way and be able to take advantage of the capabilites of my cameras, which can usually give me exactly the results I want.

It’s too bad somebody at Adobe didn’t understand how much more work they were making for photographers by making the interface so needlessly different from Photoshop’s.

7:34 am - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

#11 Southampton Event Photography

Lightroom changed my life! Well, almost… It certainly saves me a LOT of time, and it’s one of those things you wonder how you lived without. Highly recommended. I have even started to use it for event photography, and it stands up well under that sort of pressure.

9:15 am - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#12 paul

i love this software, it would be nice to see a few more photoshop features in future edition. LR3 covers 95% of things i need to do in editing a photo. it’s a very handy bit of software to have in your bag of tricks as a photographer.

3:41 am - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#13 Wedding Photographer West Yorkshire

I really couldn’t imagine life without LR3 now.  Apart from occasionally popping into CS5 it’s all I need to get through 1600 wedding pics.

8:54 am - Thursday, September 15, 2011

#14 David Preston

I have Literoom 3 and am using it on a MacBook Pro 2.53 GHz INtel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB 1067 MHz DDR3.  This program has bogged down so badly that it is effectively useless for editing images due to the drag in times to execute directions.  Has anyone else had this problem and could the history that is kept have anything to do with it?  thanks for your help

6:36 am - Monday, October 17, 2011


No Upoint is a deal breaker for me but fortunately I can use with NX2, (still the best nikon raw programme editor by miles).

3:22 pm - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

#16 Philip Aucott

Light room is one of the best ways to speed up production and editing time, I use it for my web gallery, event photography presentation, wedding cataloguing.

11:53 am - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

#17 Nick & Billie

Lightroom is the one key tool for any photographer looking to streamline their processing. We use it for 90% of our editing (only occasionally exporting to Ps CS6) and would be absolutely lost without it!

10:23 am - Sunday, September 9, 2012

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8:36 am - Sunday, September 25, 2016