Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 review

Ben Pitt
16 Mar 2012
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

Seriously powerful, extremely responsive and a steal at its new low price


Things have been hotting up for photo-management software in recent months, with the mighty Lightroom coming under sustained attack from highly capable, much cheaper rivals from ACDSee, Corel, Apple and Cyberlink.

Adobe's response has been decisive. When version 4 was in public beta, version 3's price halved, coming in at under £100 at online stores. We weren't sure if this was just a temporary measure, but we're delighted to report that Lightroom 4 has arrived at the same low price (£104 directly from Adobe – we expect it'll be a few pounds less in the shops).

Lightroom white balance

Local white balance adjustments let us remove the green tint of this glass cabinet without making the background appear pink

As such, Adobe has a guaranteed hit on its hands. In our reviews of rival packages, nothing else has matched up to Lightroom's processing of raw images. It preserves more details when applying heavy noise reduction. It handles aggressive colour correction – particularly highlight recovery – with less colour banding. Lens corrections are more elegant than with its rivals, too, with a comprehensive lens database and automatic corrections for chromatic aberrations as well as distortion. It’s also arguably the most responsive photo-management and raw-processing software – we rarely had to wait for it to catch up while navigating our library of 38,000 images, or to preview large raw files with complex effects applied in real time.

Image processing has received some useful improvements in this update. Local edits allow limited areas of an image to be processed, and the list of available processes now includes highlight and shadow recovery, noise and moiré reduction and white balance adjustments. Local white balance adjustments are particularly useful for mixed light sources, while local noise reduction is handy for stubborn areas such as darker blocks of colour.

The Tone controls have been updated, too, with the ability to boost or reduce Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks – these replace the Recovery, Blacks and Fill Light controls, where the latter could only boost mid-tones and the former two could only reduce highlights and shadows. It’s an obvious improvement, but it’s less obvious why the Brightness control has disappeared. This has been assimilated with the Exposure control, but Exposure and Brightness performed slightly differently in Version 3.

Lightroom highlights

Lightroom already excelled for raw conversion, but the new processing (right) engine handles highlight recovery even better than the old one (left)

Because of these changes, it’s not always possible to match the output of the new Tone controls with that of the old. Adobe gets around this by sticking with the old controls for any images that were added to the library before upgrading to version 4. There’s an option to switch to the new set of controls, but a warning message makes it clear that colours won’t necessarily match and advises to do so one image at a time. We’d second this advice – in our tests, there were some big changes to heavily processed images, although further tweaking got us back to where we started. Elsewhere, though, the new engine brought immediate improvements, with even smoother highlight recovery than before.

This switch to the new processing engine forms part of the edit history so it’s easy to go back. It’s a little frustrating that the new local edit functions can’t be used on images until they’ve been switched, but we sympathise with Adobe’s decision to keep the two engines clear cut.

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