In my previous post on Digital Asset Management, I briefly outlined some of the entry level contenders for DAM software such as Google Picasa and Adobe Photoshop Elements. In the rest of this series, I will look at some of the heavy weights, the professional asset management systems. I will start with the one I use most — Adobe Lightroom. Not sure if this is a good idea as I it is the product that I am most intimate with, knowing its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s get started…
Adobe Lightroom is now the elephant in the room of DAM software. As John Nack (of Adobe) revealed a short while back, Adobe Lightroom pretty much owns the professional market, beating it’s next nearest competitor, Apple Aperture, by a considerable margin. I have been using it since the very early beta’s (and Pixmantic RawShooter before that, which Adobe bought to kick start Adobe Lightroom), and hopefully, am somewhat qualified to give you a non-professionals opinion.
Library / Catalog Tools:
This is the module of Lightroom where I spend 85%+ of my time. I am slowly working through my back catalog of images, and suffering from OCD as I do, I insist on all images being correctly located, named, tagged, etc. Lightroom is very strong here, having the ability to apply extensive keyword tag hierarchies to images. A strong file renaming engine, along with virtual collections (and collections of collections), and numerous methods of catagorizing images (by colour label, by star rating, and by Pick/Reject) are available. Apples’ Aperture was the first major DAM product to be announced in my memory, but immediately there was a lot of critism regarding it’s approach to asset management; namely migrating all managed images INTO it’s database, removing all external access. While this had it’s merits, Adobe chose to go another way, winning lots of friends in the process, allowing the Lightroom user to:
- Reference the image file from it’s existing location
- Manage the image file by copying it to a managed location, still on the file system and accessible from other tools (I will touch on this again at a later date).
- Manage the image file by moving it to a managed location.
- Manage the image file by converting it to Adobe’s open DNG RAW standard, and moving it to a managed location.
The second major module with Adobe Lightroom is the develop module, which is where the real fun starts. Here is where you apply image adjustments such as exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation, and a host of other modifications. Version 1.0 of Lightroom restricted these adjustments to the whole of the image, requiring the use of Photoshop for more targeted adjustments such as removing blemishes, or other distractions. Thankfully with version 2, Adobe introduced the adjustment brush and other specific pixel level adjustment tools. Now you can remove spots and blemishes, smooth skin, whiten eyes and teeth, apply graduated filters as well as adjust other settings relating to the entire image. You still need Adobe Photoshop in order to perform more advanced adjustments such as panoramas, collages, HDR, or other major image surgery. I would recommend Martin Evenings’ book if you want to get best value out of the Develop module though…
Exports / Sharing:
In some respects this is where Adobe Lightroom has lost ground on the competition, especially Apple Aperture. Out of the box, Lightroom can export images to disk, and to CDROM (not on 64 bit windows), as well as having modules to govern printing, creation of a web gallery, and a slideshow. Doesn’t sound to bad… but Facebook, Flickr, and other online resources are now becoming major marketing tools for photographers, and exporting directly to these locations is a capability now offered by some competitors. Another major gap was the ability to export to a Photo Book creation service. This capability may feel a little consumer orientated, but again, it is offered by Apple Aperture. Yes, export plugins are available, and I use them myself; they are very capable, but the lack of a native ability to export to the major hosting sites feels like an omission.
The X Factor:
What do I mean by the X Factor? Basically, why would I buy this over a competing product when, on paper, the competing product is more capable. And for Adobe Lightroom, the X Factor is this… community. Lightroom has a massive community around it, producing tutorials, presets, blogs, reviews, reports, etc. When you are getting started with a product as advanced as Lightroom, that really helps and can’t be overlooked.