Adobe Lightroom 6 review - still the best way to manage your photos

Ben Pitt
1 Feb 2016
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Adobe Lightroom 6
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A relatively modest update, but Lightroom still sets the standard for RAW processing



OS Support: Windows 7 (SP1)/8/8.1 (64-bit only), Mac OS X 10.8/10.9/10.10, Minimum CPU: Intel or AMD with 64-bit support, Minimum GPU: 1GB, OpenGL 3.3 and DirectX 10, Minimum RAM: 2GB (8GB recommended), Hard disk space: 2GB

Adobe Lightroom has been our favourite photo editor ever since we first clapped eyes on version 1. Adobe already had RAW processing in the bag with its Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) engine for Photoshop, and Lightroom packaged it with elegant library management, printing and sharing facilities.

Version 6 brings relatively modest changes to the image editing tools. It's now possible to modify the shape of a linear or radial graduated filter using brush strokes, which is ideal for darkening skies without inadvertently also darkening the tallest trees or building in a scene. Previously, I've created a graduated filter and then added a separate Adjustment Brush to reverse the effect for certain areas of the frame, but the new approach is much neater.

Lightroom has previously only worked on individual photos, but this update opens up the possibility to merge them. An HDR mode aligns and merges exposure-bracketed photos to produce an image with expanded dynamic range. There's minimal control over the process, with options to auto-align, auto-tone and to de-ghost to remove repetitions of moving subjects. Enabling the latter for JPEGs resulted in some peculiar colour shifts and heavily accentuated noise, but it worked fine for RAW files.

Adobe Lightroom 6 HDR

^ HDR merging blends photos taken at different exposure settings

Colour processing merged HDR images is initially an automatic process, but it's delivered non-destructively through Lightroom's filters, so it's easy to alter or undo any changes. HDR merging often veers towards surreal overblown contrast, but the automatic results look surprisingly natural. For a more dramatic effect, it's usually just a matter of turning up the Clarity and Vibrance controls. Alternatively, you can deselect Auto-tone and colour correct from scratch.

Panorama stitching also makes its debut. Alignment and stitching is entirely automatic, save for an auto-crop feature and options to build the composite image using three algorithms (Spherical, Cylindrical or Perspective) for a choice of fish-eye or rectilinear results.

Stitching 25 16-megapixel photos took 10 minutes, during which time our test PC was extremely slow to respond. Looking at Windows Task Manager, it was our 8GB RAM rather than the Core i7 870 processor that was causing a bottleneck. However, the resulting 164-megapixel DNG file was impressively responsive to manipulate.

Adobe Lightroom 6 panorama

^ Panorama stitching is simple and effective, but slow

I've previously had great success stitching hundreds of photos with the free Microsoft ICE utility. ICE took less than two minutes to stitch the same set of 25 photos, and only used 2GB of RAM. However, a major advantage of using Lightroom is its ability to stitch RAW files and process colours and details afterwards.

The underlying RAW processing engine remains unchanged, but that's fine by me. Lightroom's RAW processing is one of best available, with powerful, precise colour correction, superb detail enhancement and noise reduction and a massive database of lens profiles to tackle lens distortion and vignetting.

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