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Should Lightroom 1.3 have been called 1.0?

I'm happy with Lightroom 1.3 speedup, but the magnitude of that and other changes shows that Lightroom is work in progress, not a finished product.

I was delighted by a surprise speed boost that Adobe Systems tucked into version 1.3 to Photoshop Lightroom released last week, but the magnitude of the improvement left me feeling that the update might better have been labeled version 1.0.

Lest you think I'm just being crabby, let me explain what I mean and why fundamentally I'm not really peeved about in effect being Adobe's guinea pig for the last several months.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is used to edit and catalog photos, chiefly the raw images that come from higher-end digital cameras. Adobe Systems

It appears to me that some Adobe programmers did a lot of optimization work to speed up the core code that one might have hoped to have seen before version 1.3. There also have been significant changes from 1.0 to 1.1 to 1.2 to 1.3 in significant areas including expanded and adjusted sharpening options, image catalog handling, digital negative file format support, and the new "clarity" adjustment. The overall message is that Lightroom is a work in progress, not a finished product.

When a product goes on sale--even a version 1.0 that one might reasonably expect to be somewhat rough around the edges--a certain level of maturity is implied. (Disclosure: Adobe sent me a review copy of Lightroom, but I also bought it myself beforehand based on my favorable experience with the beta versions.) In contrast, Adobe's Lightroom approach has felt to me more like that of Google's Gmail and Yahoo's Flickr, whose Web sites were in widespread use for years even while their sponsors left "beta" tags affixed.

Overall, however, I think Adobe's approach hasn't been bad. Its open beta process for Lightroom probably was a more effective way to coax users into trying the software and to fend off competition from Apple's Aperture. And users who have lived through the changes in the beta and 1.x versions might even get some sense of belonging to community--an emotional tie that I'd expect corporate branding executives love.

Notable improvements
I didn't conduct a full suite of tests, but I was happy with noticeable speed improvements, and I'm not alone. Tasks that were appreciably faster for me included loading a photo for editing; zooming to 100 percent view; editing a photo; synchronizing to transfer development settings from one photo to a group of others; undoing a change; and switching to another photo. In addition, one aspect of the import process, moving from selecting files to the dialog box for setting import options such as metadata, was vastly faster.

Not everybody was as satisfied. Some found 1.3 slower than 1.2. And another user points out unpleasant artifacts that crop up with resized images.

When Adobe announced the update, it focused on better Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard compatibility, support for new cameras, and a preview edition of the new Lightroom software development kit. Those are notable changes, but none are immediately relevant for me.

But three changes were relevant. First, I now can render 1:1 previews (the 100 percent views of raw files that are essential for checking focus and image noise) upon import, combining two time-consuming operations into one command for an easier go-away-and-come-back-when-it's-done approach.

Second, as a person who often prefers to control software through the keyboard rather than the mouse, I was frustrated with glitches in the behavior of the "tab" key in cycling between editing fields. Now it's fixed.

Third, when moving around through my long lists of folders, catalogs, and keywords in the Library module, my mouse scroll wheel now pages quickly rather than moving text line by line.

Time Machine support? Nope.
Unfortunately, the Leopard issues aren't fixed yet, according to a blog posting from Lightroom Product Manager Tom Hogarty. "Time Machine compatibility still remains unclear at this time," he said, and added mention of a handful of other bugs.

I wasn't affected by issues dealing with XMP "sidecar" files that contain metadata, but Adobe said in release notes that it lavished attention on performance problems with that technology, too. It also added support for Canon's sraw (small raw) and Fujifilm's compressed RAF formats.

Overall, though, I'm favorably impressed. The fact that the only change I don't like is the new drop shadows behind images indicates that Adobe did well with this release, whatever its version number.