Raw images provide greater quality than the standard JPEGs most cameras produce, but they must be converted--typically by hand--out of proprietary camera formats into widely used standard formats. Lightroom, which competes with software such as Apple Computer's Aperture, is designed to make that raw image processing easier.
Raw image processing involves a complex combination of image adjustments including tone curves, white balance, light temperature, tint and luminance smoothing. But Adobe has set an ambitious goal with its software.
"The maturity of the tools to work with raw files hasn't been there for the consumer-level photographers. Lightroom is the solution to making raw files as easy to deal with as any other format they're used to working with," said Dave Story, Adobe's vice president of digital imaging product development.
To improve Lightroom, Adobe in June acquired a small company, Pixmantec, whose Rawshooter software was devoted solely to raw-image processing. One prominent element of Rawshooter is the "vibrance" adjustment to increase or reduce color strength, said Tom Hogarty, Lightroom digital imaging product manager.
Pixmantec's Michael Jonsson, an engineer who also worked on Phase One's Capture One raw processing engine, now is working with Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll to improve Adobe's raw image processing, Story said.
Lightroom overlaps somewhat with the much fuller featured Photoshop software, which has a raw image processing engine as well, but Lightroom is devoted to a much narrower job of organizing, labeling, processing and printing photos. Photoshop, in contrast, also can be used to combine images, retouch photos, and add text or special effects.
Adobe probably will release Lightroom 1.0 around the end of 2006 or early 2007, depending on beta feedback, Hogarty said. It will cost more than the consumer-oriented Photoshop Elements, which costs about $100, and less than Photoshop, which typically costs more than $600.
One big change in the new Lightroom beta is better performance, particularly for Windows users. "When you grab the develop sliders, things will be noticeably faster with beta 4," Story said.
Other changes include a new user interface for processing raw photos; new options for how files are organized on the hard drive; and the ability to move photos from one computer to another without losing the record of how the images were processed.
Another major change--letting a person extract details hidden in murky, dark areas--comes in the "curves" control, which governs the distribution of light and dark tones in an image. The new control lets users directly manipulate the histogram that describes the distribution of light and dark pixels to brighten or dim the image, and doing so simultaneously affects sliders that also can be used to control tones.
"Why not grab the histogram and move it around?" Story asked, adding that the Lightroom curves advance caused indigestion elsewhere at Adobe. "The Photoshop team down the hall is kicking themselves: 'Why didn't we come up with this first?'"