Lightroom 5 beta brings a raft of new features including offline editing


posted Monday, April 15, 2013 at 4:02 PM EDT

A little more than a year ago, Adobe released its most recent major update to Photoshop Lightroom -- the company's flagship photography workflow application -- after a two-month open beta program. Today, the company takes the wraps off a beta release of the followup, continuing a tradition of public beta that stretches right back to Lightroom's formative days.

The latest Lightroom 5 beta brings several interesting new features, including a radial gradient tool, a more advanced healing brush and a clever automatic perspective correction tool. But for our money, the feature which stands out is support for offline image editing, or what Adobe calls Smart Previews.

One year after Lightroom 4 shipped, Lightroom 5 is here in public beta form.

Smart Previews

If you're one of the many photographers who take advantage of Adobe's license terms allowing use of a desktop and laptop on the same Lightroom license, chances are you've hit a certain dilemma. You're out in the field with the laptop, yet you want to browse your existing catalog and perhaps tweak a few photos -- but you've not brought the catalog's contents with you. The laptop drive doesn't have enough storage space for all your photos, and you didn't think you'd need to carry your bulky external drives with you. Or perhaps you're not even using external drives -- maybe your catalog is shared across the network from your desktop machine. Either way, you don't have access to the files you need.

That's the problem Smart Previews aims to solve. Lightroom 5 public beta can automatically generate reduced-resolution copies of your images on external drives and network shares, suitable for the smaller storage space available on your laptop. And it will let you edit these images just as if the files were online.

Of course, some edits won't be meaningful on reduced-res previews. For example, you'll likely want to forgo tools like noise reduction and sharpening, where information at the pixel level is key. However, for many tools such as cropping, tweaking color and so on, that reduced-resolution file will still be enough to get the job done, or at least to get you in the ballpark while an editing idea is fresh in your mind. The clever bit happens when the offline media comes back online -- go back into the images, and your edits are applied to the originals automatically.

This is very clever stuff, and something we have a feeling many photographers will welcome with open arms.

An introduction to the Advanced Healing Brush with Julianne Kost, Principal Digital Imaging Evangelist for Photoshop and Lightroom at Adobe.

Additional Features

They'll also likely embrace an updated tool: the Advanced Healing Brush. Lightroom 4's Spot Removal Tool was a great feature for making quick tweaks to remove blemishes, dust specks and the like, but it only allowed a circular selection, rather limiting its utility. The Advanced Healing Brush takes that tool and puts it on steroids, allowing irregularly-shaped selections to be made. Now, you can make more complex edits, perhaps removing an entire subject from a photo, but still within the Lightroom paradigm of non-destructive editing. And better still, you can adjust opacity of the healing brush, so that for example you can soften skin wrinkles without obliterating them entirely.

The radial gradient tool is another interesting addition in Lightroom 5 beta. This lets you guide your viewers' eyes to your chosen subject, calling attention to it by creating a circular or oval vignette around any point in the scene -- or multiple points, if you prefer. And it's not just a vignette: You can also control effects such as Clarity, Exposure, or Sharpness within the vignette area. You can even invert the vignette, having the effect applied within, rather than without the selected area.

Lightroom 5 beta also adds a new Upright tool that aims to make light work of perspective correction and horizon leveling. It's an automatic process: With one click of the tool's Auto button, Lightroom detects skewed horizontals and verticals as well as tilted horizons, even if the horizon itself is largely hidden from view. You can opt for a full correction, a leveled image or vertical correction only. And if you wish, Lightroom's adjustment can serve only as a starting point for your own correction under the Manual tab, just as you'd have done before -- except now you need only fine-tune.

Adobe evangelist Julianne Kost demonstrates the new Radial Filter in Lightroom 5 beta.

Presentations (Photo Books and Slideshows)

Adobe has also revisited its photo book creation tool with a couple of important changes. You can now add page numbers, and there's robust support for adjusting the page numbering to account for things such as title, cover and index pages, as well as control over fonts. You can also adjust layouts to your taste, tweaking variables such as padding to your heart's content.  And when you're done, you can save your new layout as a template for reuse, making it easy to replicate in the future.

Slideshows, too, have been given more capabilities. You can now include videos in a slideshow, and they'll play automatically at the relevant point. You can opt to have the audio portion of the video muted so as not to disturb the slideshow's audio track, to have the video's audio fade into that of the slideshow, or somewhere in between.

And there are numerous other changes, as well -- far too many to mention here. According to Adobe, it has implemented another 50 new features and just-do-it items. Among these are support for Windows HiDPI screens, more filtering and smart collection criteria, the ability to duplicate local adjustments and linear gradients, a technique for quickly emphasizing dust spots so you can quickly heal them before printing, and plenty more.

Julianne Kost provides an introduction to the brand-new Upright feature, which corrects perspective distortion and tilted horizons automatically.


Adobe Lightroom 5 public beta is available for download immediately from Adobe Labs. As with past betas, there is no requirement to own Lightroom to participate, so it also represents an excellent opportunity to try before you buy. The beta will be valid through June 30, 2013, giving you more than two months to come to terms with Lightroom for the first time -- or with the features of the new version -- and to provide your feedback to Adobe on the changes.

More details and the download can be found at Adobe Labs.