Lightroom 4 Review: What’s New, What’s Difficult To Get Used To, And What Can Be Improved

Upload from April 12, 2012

Last month Adobe released Lightroom 4, a new version of their popular image editing software. This update brings some interesting changes to the program and new features that will certainly be helpful to photographers.

I’ve spent a ton of hours in Lightroom 4, checking it out and seeing how it changes the way you’ll edit your photos. There are a ton of new features, and also some updates that are kind of surprising. We’ll start off with what’s new, and then I’ll share my initial thoughts, and areas that still could use some improvement.

Ok, let’s dive in and see what’s in store for you!

What is Lightroom 4?

Lightroom 4 is a program available for both Mac and PC that provides a suite of tools photographers can use to work with their photos. The main purpose of Lightroom is to make image adjustments like exposure, contrast, white balance, cropping, dodging and burning, sharpening and noise reduction (to name just a few). But Lightroom can also be used to organize your images (keywords and collections), create self published books (through Blurb), as well as produce web galleries and slideshows.

We currently use Lightroom for about 95% of our image editing (saving retouching for Photoshop, where it’s easier and faster to do). It’s a powerful program that we’re really happy to have in our workflow.

What’s new in Lightroom 4

Major Changes to Adjustment Sliders under the Basic Panel

The most significant change can be found under the Basic panel in the Develop module:

Upload from April 12, 2012

Here’s a quick rundown of the changes in Lightroom 4.

• The Exposure and Brightness sliders have essentially been combined. The Exposure slider now more or less controls the mid tones of an image.

• What used to be the brighter end of the Exposure slider in Lightroom 3 has become a whole new slider known as Highlights.

Shadows is another new slider and adjusts a range of tone formerly covered mainly by Fill Light in Lightroom 3.

Whites is yet another new slider that covers the very brightest tones in an image.

• The sliders have also been repositioned, suggesting a new order to making image adjustments.

• When making adjustments each slider moves from darker on the left hand side to brighter on the right hand side. This should make performing adjustments more intuitive compared to Lightroom 3.

• The Clarity slider, while having the same name and position, has been redeveloped and now produces far less halo artefacts.

• The changes to the basic adjustment sliders go much deeper than just renaming and repositioning. Adobe has redeveloped and improved the algorithms that make the adjustments.

With all these changes, if you’re used to Lightroom 3, it may take a bit of practice to get comfortable with how the sliders are rearranged and how they affect the image.

RGB Point Curve – Make Awesome Color Adjustments

You can now make curves adjustments to the individual RGB channels under the Tone Curve panel (point tone curve area). This is an especially useful improvement allowing you to make powerful adjustments to the color in an image. If you’ve used the tone curve in Photoshop you’ll be right at home here. If you’re new to curves Lightroom is a friendly place to learn!

Upload from April 12, 2012

You can produce creative (and corrective) color toning effects by adjusting the individual RGB channels. The image below shows before (left) and after (right) using only tone curve adjustments. 

Upload from April 12, 2012

Improved Adjustment Brush

Under the Adjustment Brush tool Lightroom 4 adds control for Temperature and Tint, additional tone sliders, and also Noise and Moiré reduction. Good improvements!

Upload from April 12, 2012

Snazzy New Books Module

This is an impressive new development that allows you to create customized self published books! The new book creation module is fairly intuitive to use and comes with plenty of page layout templates. You can submit the books you create directly to Blurb for printing. You can also easily export the albums to pdf for online sharing.

Albums are an awesome way to share multiple photos and tell a story, and I’m excited to see a tool that makes it easier for more people to create them.

Upload from April 12, 2012

Nifty New Maps Module

More cameras are coming equipped with integrated GPS. This allows images to be embedded with data about the exact location a photo is taken. The new maps module leverages this information to show your images overlaid on a map (powered by Google Maps). You can also apply location data to images that don’t have location data.

The maps module also allows you to create location collections. This makes it easy to re-visit specific areas you’ve photographed. I think this is more of an anticipatory feature. Right now the only camera I have that records location data into photos is my iPhone, but I’m sure integrated GPS will become a standard feature of all cameras in the next 3-5 years.

Browsing by location is awesome and something I look forward to doing more in the future, as we begin to shoot more images with location data. That said, at the moment I can’t see myself going through the trouble of adding location data to our current collection!

Upload from April 12, 2012

A few other notable improvements

Process version – The process version has changed from 2010 to 2012. This is basically the underlying engine that develops your images. You’ll notice that even without making any adjustments to your image, you’ll see better detail in both the bright highlights and the dark shadows of an image – formerly areas that may have been clipped or blown with Lightroom&nbs

Soft proofing – This allows you to preview on your monitor how your image will look when either printed to different types of paper or different color spaces. That’s a seriously awesome feature! You’ll be able to make adjustments to your image to improve the look of your prints. You’ll find this option in the toolbar of the Develop module.

Email photos – Under the file menu you can now email photos directly from Lightroom. Totally useful.

Expanded support for video clips – You can now play back and trim videos directly in Lightroom. You can also make basic adjustments to videos. You don’t have full access to the develop module but you can apply additional settings (things like tone curve and split toning) by creating presets. You can also grab single frame captures from video clips which are then saved as JPEG files. Lightroom definitely isn’t replacing a video editing program, but these expanded features are fantastic for the current generation of video capable HDSLRs.

Decrease in price – The price for the full version of Lightroom has dropped by 50% to US$150. It’s just $70 to upgrade from Lightroom 3. It’s definitely a much more accessible price for hobbyist photographers looking to improve the look of their images.

Initial Thoughts

Getting used to the changes made under the basic panel has been a bit more difficult than I anticipated. After editing thousands of photos using the original sliders, the new arrangement of sliders and improved algorithms have been difficult to adjust to (especially the lack of a brightness slider).

On the one hand it seems easier to produce better results in less steps, but at the same time it feels a bit bewildering that the sliders don’t respond the way I have come to expect. Hopefully this is something that goes away with more practice. I’m sure those new to Lightroom 4 won’t notice this problem.

As for the other new features found in Lightroom 4, I think this new version hints at overall philosophical change by Adobe. The huge price cut to Lightroom 4 shows that Adobe is aggressively pursuing the consumer market (who may currently use Aperture or iPhoto). The addition of the Book module, reorganization of the Basic panel, and enhanced support for video files further supports this.

At the same time there are also improvements that professional photographers will find useful (like soft proofing, RGB curves, improved process version, and more functions in the adjustment brush).

I hope that Adobe is able to strike a balance between consumer and professional markets as it continues development on Lightroom.

How It Could Be Improved


Lightroom 4 feels slower than Lightroom 3. I originally tested Lightroom 4 on our older Mac Pros (purchased in 2006, quad core 2.66 GHz, 9Gb of RAM). I know these are older machines but they still far exceed the minimum system requirements of Lightroom (multicore Intel processor, 2GB of RAM). Using our old Mac Pros Lightroom 4 took much longer than Lightroom 3 to use the crop tool (open, close and adjust crop), to move between photos in the Develop module, and to make adjustments to sliders (and see the changes updated in the photo).

All of those issues seem less noticeable when using our 2011 Mac Book Pro (quadcore 2.0 GHz, 8GB RAM). I think most people will probably be using newer computers than our old 2006 Mac Pros so I don’t think this will be a huge issue.

Keyboard Shortcuts

I have personally emailed Adobe multiple times and posted on their forum (as early as the Lightroom 3 beta) regarding the lack of keyboard shortcuts for the adjustment sliders under the Basic panel. You can adjust the sliders, increasing or decreasing their values, using keyboard shortcuts but it’s not possible to actually select Exposure, Contrast or any of the other sliders using a keyboard shortcut. Instead you have to either first click on the adjustment slider to select it, or cycle through all the sliders by pressing “,” or “.“.

Adobe needs to make this improvement to allow professional photographers to work through their images more efficiently in Lightroom. When you don’t have to take your eyes off the photo to select and adjust a slider you’re able to make adjustments faster and more precisely. It baffles me why Adobe hasn’t made this very basic improvement.

In the meantime I have taken to tediously programming mouse movements using 3rd party software and an X-keys keyboard to create these essential shortcuts myself. This vastly reduces our time spent editing. I’ll be releasing an updated shortcut file, along with shortcuts for a new device soon! ;)

Spot Removal Tool

It would be nice if the clone and heal features of Lightroom 4 were more functional, similar to Photoshop. Right now they’re limited to spot corrections. When you’re able to click and drag to make adjustments, Lightroom will be a complete editing solution. As it stands right now, it’s easier to make retouching adjustments involving cloning or healing using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

A New Tutorial!

With the release of Lightroom 4 I have begun developing a new version of our popular Super Photo Editing Skills tutorial. My goal is to produce a tutorial that is the fastest and easiest way to learn how to edit your images using Lightroom 4. I’ll be focusing on how you can make quality improvements, correct common photo problems, and work through your images as efficiently as possible.

We’re aiming to release this new tutorial within the next couple months. We’ll be offering a free upgrade for anyone who purchased Super Photo Editing Skills after March 5th, 2012 (the release date of Lightroom 4). If you purchased Super Photo Editing Skills before March 5th, 2012 we’ll be offering a big discount on upgrade pricing when the new tutorial is released.


Despite my suggestions for improvement, I think Lightroom (specifically Lightroom 4) is the best image editing program available for photographers. It’s possible that updates to LR4 (i.e. LR4.1) will see speed improvements. It does take a few updates to work all the bugs out of a new version.

Have you tried Lightroom 4? What do you think of the changes?

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

Super Photo Editing Skills

Super Photo Editing Skills

Bring out the best in your photos with this step by step video guide to using Adobe Lightroom. Become an editing guru in just a few hours, or do it at your own pace.

Learn more →


11 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Jennifer King says

    I have recently started using Lightroom 4, and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to put my watermark on my pictures. Can you help me please?

  2. Hey Jennifer!

    When you export your images there is an option in the export dialog (near the bottom) to water mark your images. You can use simple text or overlay a jpg or png file of your choice.

  3. I switched to LR4 from Ap3 and found it to be quite refreshing. So while I can't compare LR3 to 4, I can say that LR4 seems much more "image" centric than Ap3 which was photo centric.

    The only thing I miss in LR4 is the ability to heal and clone with brushes.

  4. Thanks for the overview! I do agree with you, it is a bit of a learning curve to get use to. Hoping to upgrade by the end of the year!

  5. So basically they're turning it into Aperture then?

  6. I tested LR4 during the beta period and now I'm still playing with it for the 30 day trial. I agree it took a bit to get used to not having the fill light option. I did watch a video on Adobe introducing some of the changes. I've gotten used to fixing back light without the button and actually don't mind it now. I don't do nearly as many edits since I'm a hobbyist, but I actually found LR4 noticeably faster than LR3 on my computer. The loading time for each photo was significantly faster. Great post about the updates and I look forward to reading more from you guys!

  7. Yayyy! for the free upgrade on SPES tutorial. You guys rock!

  8. Robert Broglia says

    I used LR when it first came out but dropped it. I went back to it recently and purchased LR4 and your awesome training pack. That's great to hear that you are offering the new training for free. To be honest, the work you do is so great, I'd be happy to pay either way. Keep up the good work.

  9. Hi! Great post! I am not sure if I understand what you were saying about clicking and dragging with the clone tool, but I accidentally discovered yesterday that you can click the spot to be healed and drag to the spot to be cloned, and it will show you inside the little circle what it will look like depending on the spot you choose, then when you release the mouse button it clones it…. Is that what you were saying? I do like the Ps keyboard shortcuts so much, and agree that I can work faster with those…. But I really like Lr, and 4 is the first version I have used…

  10. Thanks for commenting everyone!

    *@Erin:* The clone and heal functions of Lightroom are quite limited compared to Photoshop. With Lightroom you can select the spot to sample from like you mentioned in your comment but the functionality is limited to making spot adjustments. With Photoshop and Photoshop Elements you can clone and heal with brush strokes instead of circular spots. This makes cloning and healing faster and more precise. I'm sure we'll eventually see that kind of functionality in Lightroom, but not yet!

  11. As always, Rob & Lauren… when I have a question, you’ve already answered it! Fantastic… you guys rock! xox

Speak Your Mind