Us photographers always love epic battles between two sides and tend to support one of the two with fierce devotion. Think about film versus digital, color versus b&w, DSLRs versus mirrorless and probably the most well known of all, Canon versus Nikon, the epic battle that still rages on! Thinking about it the other day, unlike hardware, we never had anything similar on the software front.
Although camera manufacturers started delivering software in the first years of digital cameras – some admittedly quite sophisticated and highly effective – Adobe managed to quietly turn Photoshop in a photographic powerhouse by listening to the photographic community and integrating ever more photo related features with every new version. But in my opinion Lightroom has now replaced Photoshop as the most critical software a photographer needs. And here is why:
- Image management: As we all have zillions of images in memory cards and hard discs, this is an area where Photoshop always left a huge gap filled by competitors. Lightroom is not a new idea but it has addressed the image organization issue in such a structured way that I would have it even without its development module! It is evident that the library module is where Adobe put most of its efforts and it has paid off so well that it now is the least touched module whenever new versions are brought out.
- RAW engine: The RAW conversion module is what sealed Photoshop’s victory over every other photo manipulation package, in fact it is the same module that lives and breathes in Lightroom. Although Photoshop takes an early development approach and Lightroom leaves modifications after organizational chores take place, it is the same engine beating inside and it does the same wonderful job. And let’s not forget RAW engine revisions that ensure handling of every new camera on the planet only a few weeks after the official market release.
- Non-destructive editing: Sure we have seen this before but nowhere else is it possible to completely avoid the “save as” menu and concentrate on real work. Check the appropriate box for sidecar file creation in the settings menu and this is it, job done!
- Relatively fast learning curve: Lightroom is not the simplest software on earth but it will allow you to import, and do basic adjustments in a manner of minutes. It requires a certain way of thinking but its menus are sleek and intuitive.
- Seamless Photoshop integration: To be fair, Photoshop can do (a whole lot of) things that Lightroom can’t. And since I still find Photoshop to be a graphic editing monster, I love hoping in directly from within Lightroom, doing my thing and then popping out to find the modified file version readily available in the right place in the original Lightroom catalog. In fact the effectiveness of the Adobe CC Photographic Package is based exclusively on this fluent interrelationship.
- onOne, Photomatix, DxO: This is the real test won by Lightroom. These software vendors are Adobe competitors but actually advertise their software as plugins that will actually make Lightroom better! How much more official confirmation does one need? Lightroom has become the undisputed launch center for all the photographic software one can handle, and that without counting special purpose plugins and thousands of available presets.
- Job advertisements: Surely a non technical argument, but yes you can now use Lightroom at pro level. Photoshop is still prominent but no serious hobbyist or professional would oppose you using Lightroom exclusively if the job can be done properly. Furthermore, some jobs can only be done with Lightroom thanks to its cataloging prowess. Not bad for software that officially launched as recently as 2007!
Lightroom has not only put my photographic life in order but has also sparked a desire to go through my old forgotten catalogs and be excited by memories once again. I actually spend more time on Lightroom than taking photos or manipulating images in Photoshop, the later always done after I have imported and tagged everything in Lightroom. It will be interesting to see what future versions will bring. A couple of key features like adjustment layers and comprehensive selection tools could even threaten Photoshop as we know it today!