Lightroom 6 /Lightrooom CC. GPU Acceleration: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The title says it all really: it’s got its good points, but at this stage, from what can be seen in the Adobe forums, there are far more problems than benefits for most users who have tried it, myself included.

Firstly however, why did Adobe implement it? The main reason is the advent of 4K and 5K monitors. These monitors run at 8MP and 15MP respectively: that’s a lot of data to process. Moving sliders around without GPU acceleration would give around a choppy, unresponsive 5fps. With GPU acceleration the sliders operate at a silky smooth 60fps (on a high end graphics card).

So there are massive gains to be had and in theory a much more pleasant user interface.

So all things should be great now, right?

Unfortunately not. The develop is the only module that currently has some GPU acceleration: all the other functions and modules, such as Library, Export, and Quick Develop, do not use the GPU acceleration.

Some? Yep…that’s right, some. So far this includes the basic and tone panel, panning and zooming, crop and straighten, lens corrections, gradients, and radial filter.

All these controls, even on a 3 year old GeForce GT 620 with only 1GB of DDR3 RAM, show a massive improvement in useability. The controls are smooth and responsive, pretty much instantaneous.  That’s the good part.

The bad part is that there is small delay in getting the image into the GPU in the first instance, so there is some lag in switching between images, which isn’t great. Not that it was great in the first place either. Switching between images was my biggest bugbear with LR. It’s always been slow compared with other RAW viewers. I’m almost at a point now where I’m going to have to cull images outside of LR and then bring them in, but I really don’t want to be doing that.

So what’s the ugly part? Well for me, and a lot of others, it’s that the controls, such as local brush adjustments and spot clone/heal, don’t have GPU acceleration,  at least not yet anyway. For me this is like buying a Ferrari and not getting given the wheels. A pretty pointless exercise.

It’s ugly not because it’s not any faster, but because it’s actually slower. Suddenly performing any changes using these tools becomes a clunky, slow process. Which is absolutely ridiculous, particularly given that the gradient tool (which is now super smooth) now has a brush function that is unuseable. Cue a Captain Picard facepalm.

And the really ugly? There have been a number of cases where users have reported a blue screen with a cross through it where, in theory, a graphics card that should be compatible, isn’t. So they can’t even get to try GPU support.

At the moment my GPU is disabled and I can see it staying this way for a period of time: Adobe’s bug list for LR6 seems to be growing at an exponential rate. I can put up with some slower sliders for the sake of smooth and functional brushes.

I’m just glad I didn’t pay for a new super-duper graphics card, because apparently it’s just as bad on some high end cards……….

Lightroom 6 /CC Photomerge Panorama Review

As stated in my earlier post, one of my main reasons for upgrading to LR6 was because of the built in Photomerge functions, particularly the panoramic feature, which I use a lot. Some people question why I create panoramas rather than just use a wide angle lens. The answer to that is simple: detail. Using a short to medium prime lens, say 50-80mm, hyperfocusing and taking multiple frames allows you to capture substantially more detail than taking a single frame using a wide angle lens of say 17-24mm. The camera is able to resolve far more fine detail, such as foliage, far better than it would using a wide lens.

The final image can be well in excess of 80MP. That doesn’t sound much does it? A Nikon D800 will capture the scene at 36MP with a wide angle lens you say, so what’s the advantage? Well, to get that letterbox effect you’ll need to crop away 30-50% of your image. Suddenly 36MP becomes 24MP or less. And I’ll guarantee that even the great D800 with a high quality 17mm lens will not resolve anywhere near as much detail or be as sharp as using a medium telephoto lens and creating a panorama.

When printing having a high MP count means better enlargements. There is simply more information in the image, more data, and hence allowing you to print at a very high DPI.

Also there is no perspective distortion: the image will appear as a human would see it.

Not convinced? Watch this video and you might be.

There are disadvantages to the method however: it won’t work for fast changing scenes where the light is constantly changing, or where clouds are moving rapidly, and maybe you do want that distortion effect simply because it fits the image well and adds an extra element of interest to the image. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not adverse to using a wide angle lens. I own one and love the interesting effects and perspective it can generate.

So, cut to the chase: is the Lightroom Panorama Photomerge any good?

Well it’s fairly simple to use. Simply select the images on the filmstrip and either press Ctrl+M or right click Photomerge>Panorama. In short it’s no different to using PS or any other application such as AutoPanoPro. There is one key advantage however: you don’t have to edit the image before you merge it, with the exception of removing vignetting etc or anything that might adversely affect the panorama. The reason is the photomerge creates a DNG file (essentially a RAW file) from the original images. What this means is that you have full control over the overall resulting image in the same way you had over the individual RAW files. If you wish to change something such as white balance, exposure, well, any setting really, you can apply it to the panorama as opposed to having to rework each file and then re-stitch the panorama into a new image. Pretty amazing stuff, and currently LR6/CC is the only program that can do this.

After you have initiated the Photomerge function, LR will go off and create a preview image of the completed panorama. And this is my biggest issue with the merge feature. Unlike any other software I have tried, you cannot zoom into the preview to check everything is OK. This is what I am met with on my 23″ screen when I try to merge 11 images.

Pano problem

Adobe please take note: This is ridiculous! I’d expect the preview to at least fill to the extents of the border. That wouldn’t be quite so bad. But not being able to zoom either? Who missed that one under test?

The only way you can zoom in to check everything is OK is to complete the panorama… at least you can carry on working on other images whilst this is taking place.

After the preview has been rendered, pick the projection mode, select if you want to crop the image (leave it unchecked if you want to use content aware fill in PS if you wish to retain parts of the image that would be otherwise cropped out) and click merge. Once complete the resulting DNG is added to the LR library adjacent to the photos used to create it. And then you can edit it to your heart’s content in the Develop module or PS as you wish.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is SPEED! It is quick…. far quicker than any other program to create a panorama that I have come across so far.

LR took 22 seconds to render the image and 2minutes 10 seconds to complete the merge from selecting the images to adding it to the library. The resultant file was a 176MB DNG.

In comparison Autopano took 3 minutes 10 seconds from start to finish, but a large proportion of that was spent exporting the images to TIFF files. It also doesn’t add the image to the LR catalogue automatically. It created a 114MB TIFF file. I think the extra 60MB to give RAW editing capability is worth it.

PS on the other hand took a lengthy 4 minutes 30 seconds. It adds the resultant image to the catalogue, but it’s a whopping 1.26GB PSD file.

Overall I’d give it a thumbs up. It’s fast, it creates a very usable finished file…just fix the annoying preview where it doesn’t fill the screen or you can’t zoom please Adobe!

I really hope that’s the only niggle, but I doubt it somehow. This software has been over two years in the making, it’s been long awaited and I was hoping that was because it was being thoroughly tested and was bug free. Looking at the comments on Facebook on the Lightroom page, I don’t think it is.

Adobe really should have released this as a Beta, but then that doesn’t seem to mean much from past experience. I tested the Beta of LR5, found a load of bugs, reported them on the Facebook page as requested (and as did others) but it looks as though they never made it to the developers for the final version. The result was a highly buggy LR5 final release a few months later and disgruntled people. It appears that we should have posted them to the Adobe forum, but it seems  the Facebook and Developer people weren’t talking…..oh well….

Lightroom 6/CC Has Landed!

Well, it’s taken a while but Lightroom 6 / Lightroom CC (shudder) has finally landed! It’s nearly taken two years, and there have been rumours flying around since at least July 2014 as to when the latest and greatest version will come out. Here’s a download link to a trial if you are interested in trying it out.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the matter of whether it is LR 6 or LR CC and whether or not they are the same product. You only have to look at the forums and LR Facebook page to see that it’s perplexed many people, myself included.

The simple answer is: it is both. They (currently) are the one and the same. They have the same functionality and features. I’ve been told that they will have the same updates applied to them. Whether this will remain true, or whether LR CC will go the same way as its Photoshop bigger brother is an entirely different matter.

When the CC model came out you could buy a perpetual licence version or CC version of PS. The CC version got updated with features, and the perpetual didn’t (bar bug fixes), even though at the time they were effectively the same version of software (keep reading if you want to find out why). If you really wanted these updates and features you had to pay for them via CC subscription. This is my biggest fear: LR will go the same way and you will be forced to pay through the nose for software you don’t need.

Now, don’t get me wrong, for some people the CC model is fantastic and it makes great software easily affordable. But for others, like myself, who use PS so little (in fact I’m still using an old version of PS Elements) it is simply a waste of money. In the UK the cost of CC is nearly £9 per month. If I was running with the CC subscription, that upgrade would have cost me nearly £200 as opposed to a one off cost of £59 to upgrade. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. Add on to that the very few changes that are made through the year to PS, and bug fixes that should come as standard with LR/ ACR you have to question is it worth it? For me, no.

Anyway, enough procrastination. LR6: what’s new? And is the upgrade worth it? Over the next few days I’ll be playing with it and posting comments on the new features, but for now here are some snippets of what you can expect.

Face Recognition

Personally this is not a selling point. At first I thought of it as a bit of a gimmick, but after some careful thought, it might be of some use to professionals, particularly wedding photographers.

How does it work? It searches your photos for things that look like faces, and displays these faces as a grid, ready for you to identify the people.

As stated, personally I don’t have any interest in it, but then I’ve thought that about a few software features in the past and come around to liking them. This might be one of them. Time will tell.

Built in Photo Merge: HDR & Panorama

This was a key selling point for me: it is now possible to merge photos into HDR images and panoramas without needing to use other software such as Photoshop.

A massive advantage is that the merged images is a DNG file that has the editing flexibility of the original files. In other words you don’t need to edit your images before you merge the image.

Personally I don’t do much HDR work but the feature is there, which is nicety. I purchased the Photomatix 32-bit merge to HDR plugin for LR a while ago and have been using it to create numerous semi-HDR images by merging the RAW files into a 32-bit TIFF and manually tone mapping them in LR rather than using the full blown Photomatix Pro software. This allows a more realistic look to be created: the key is subtlety.

The HDR photomerge feature in LR6 merges the RAW files into a single 16-bit floating point DNG file, so there are pros and cons to the method. Allegedly the 16-bit files should hold enough contrast data to do the job although it will be interesting to do a comparison against 32-bit files. Tone mapping is done manually in the Develop module in LR: there are no preset starting points like there is in software such as Photomatix.

Panoramas are where it’s at for me however. Since watching Serge Ramelli’s video on creating panoramas rather than shooting wide angle, I’ve used this method a lot. Of course there are times when this method just won’t work, but there are time when it does, and it allows you to create exceptionally detailed images, so I’m really looking forward to trying this out.

Filter brush

Another wish answered, although the appearance of this tool was known a long time ago….. Developed in a previous version of ACR it never made it across to LR because of legal reasons (in short Adobe can’t make major changes to dot releases of perpetually licenced products).

You can now use the brush to locally modify filter settings. This means if you want to apply a graduated filter on a sky in an image where the horizon is interrupted by other objects, you can now use the brush to prevent the filter from affecting these objects.

GPU Acceleration

Finally, another wish answered: using the GPU capability of your graphics card to speed up editing.  This provides real-time or near-time updates to the image while making adjustments in the Develop module using sliders.

To make the most of this you will need a decent graphics card. I have a mediocre card, and whilst it shows, there is still a significant performance enhancement. I’m almost tempted to upgrade it…..

There are some cons to using GPU acceleration however:

– Slower loading times: it takes a little extra time to pass the data from the CPU to the GPU, so there’s a slight delay in initially the loading the photo.

– Slower detail adjustments: The preview for sharpening, noise reduction and grain is slightly slower to update.

– Second screen lag: If you work with the Lightroom’s secondary windows open, the lag in updating is more noticeable with the GPU enabled.

Slideshow makeover

By far the biggest  single change is to the Slideshow module. I have only ever created one slideshow in LR before and was generally unimpressed with its offerings. It had very limited features, probably far less than some freeware programs. It seems it has had quite a few new features added, so I’ll be interested in trying them out.

Well, it’s getting late, and as much as I’d like to stay up and play with my new toy I really need some sleep, so watch this space for more comments.