The constant software update dilemma

Back in the day we used to occasionally try out new chemicals and different printing papers. We used to experiment with new film stock when it hit the market and, on the whole, it was a welcome distraction from the day-to-day work. In the digital era we have to get new cameras a bit more often and we need to keep our IT current but the biggest battle and the largest dilemma is software. Because I teach a bit and because I am a complete anorak** I always have a look at new software packages as they become available.


Keeping up to date is not cheap. Upgrades are often necessary – especially when none of the software companies make their RAW converters backwards compatible when new cameras and new lenses hit the market. The move by Adobe towards the monthly or annual subscription model is very interesting and brings into very sharp focus the real cost of having the latest software. I have written before about making the business case for buying new gear and the same formula should apply to upgrading software. Every time I talk or write about these kinds of financial decisions, the same piece of music pops into my head… Bruce Springsteen’s song “Cautious Man” where there is a line that says:

“When something caught his eye he’d measure his need
And then very carefully he’d proceed”


This week, to misquote the wonderful Fast Show, “I are mostly been playing with Lightroom”. To be more precise I have been looking at the new Lightroom 5 beta that Adobe have made available. This comes against a background of having experimented with pretty much every version of Lightroom since it hit the shops back in 2007 and found that I wasn’t entirely sold on the application despite seeing why others love it so much. And that is a huge part of the software conundrum – there are lots of options that achieve pretty much the same end result but get there via very different routes. If, like me, you shoot RAW pictures you need to have a way of editing, captioning, renaming, converting, saving, delivering and archiving your work. This can be achieved using a single application or you can use three , four or five different ones – it really doesn’t matter as long as your workflow is repeatable, flexible, efficient and accurate.

I will write a lot more about Lightroom 5 when I have really used it properly but I have to say that it seems a lot quicker than the previous version and the interface for Adobe RAW Converter is even closer to to the version that I use in Photoshop CS6 than ever – making using Lightroom a lot easier for me. I have also realised that Adobe’s efforts to create a programme for photographers to edit their work in are bearing fruit. The time has definitely arrived when I could easily do without Photoshop altogether and run pretty much everything from Lightroom. Of course that doesn’t mean that I want to… yet.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Beta

Like half of the photo geeks around the world, I have downloaded and started to play with the public beta version of Adobe’s latest version of Photoshop: CS6. This is a major revision of the software in terms of the interface which looks a lot more like Lightroom than ever before and is also a lot less “freestyle” than those used to versions such as CS3 and earlier would be familiar with. We now have a fixed window rather than the floating elements of previous versions and this will take quite a bit of time for me to get used to. It isn’t that I don’t like it, it’s just that it is a change.

Screen shot of the main window


To be honest, my main use of Photoshop is Adobe Camera RAW. I use it to convert the RAW files that I shoot into whatever file format the job requires, fine tuning the colours, composition and various other elements as I go. At first sight Camera RAW 7 is very little changed from Camera RAW 6xx that I use every day in Photoshop CS5. At least that’s what I thought until I used it in anger on a proper edit.

Screen shot of Adobe Camera RAW 7


If you look closely at the main adjustments palette to the right of the window, you suddenly see what the changes are and what they will mean for every day workflow. Gone are the labels such as Recovery, Fill-light and Brightness to be replaced with a set including Highlights, Shadows and Whites. So far, they seem to perform very similar functions when used on every day files but I have only edited two sets of pictures (neither of which have been “live” jobs) and so it may well be that I have missed something. Here are the two palettes side by side:

Adobe Camera RAW adjustments palettes from CS5 (ACR6) on the left and CS6 beta (ACR7) on the right.


I will continue to play with CS6 and ACR7 as long as the beta phase continues and I’m sure that I will come up with plenty more observations. I only use Photoshop as an optimisation tool and I don’t do any serious retouching or image manipulation with it so don’t expect an in-depth assessment of layers, filters and content aware fill from me – there are plenty of other photo geeks out there who will be able to blog about that kind of stuff!