Adobe’s approach to AI has been carefully calibrated to improve the experience for existing Lightroom users while plugging the gaps that have encouraged some to decamp to other brands such as DxO. The newly released Adobe Lightroom AI updates bring powerful changes to the tooling that are conveniently placed to enhance existing workflows. This is not so much revolution as evolution and coming so soon after HDR Output, make Lightroom a formidable processing tool for photographers.
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Up until now, DxO have been able to out perform Adobe in two crucial areas of the workflow. three if we include DxO Wide Gamut Color Space, though that is by no means as clear a differentiator as RAW conversion and DeNoise. DxO’s strength has always been in the guts of the RAW conversion process so it’s no surprise that their denoising technology, Deep Prime has led the pack ever since it was released a couple of years ago. This year’s update was significant and pushed DxO further ahead.
So as a seasoned techie, I’ve been expecting Adobe to fight back and honestly, they’ve surprised me with the rapidity and quality of their response. There are two fronts here that needed to be taken care of. Output for modern screens and De-Noise (an are in which Adobe have been weak). Let’s take a look at the detail.
HDR Output addresses the requirements for modern screens. Until very recently, the default output format for screens has been sRGB. We’re now looking at screens that can represent more colours than sRGB can handle. The triangle labelled P3 (Recent Apple Monitors) shows that the true value for tomato red lies outside of the sRGB spectrum). Red has always been problematic for photographer and this is one of the reasons why.
HDR Color Spaces
Adobe Camera Raw currently supports three color spaces when editing, opening, or saving a photo in HDR mode:
- HDR sRGB (Rec. 709)
- HDR P3
- HDR Rec. 2020
HDR sRGB extends the existing sRGB color space. HDR P3 matches the new Apple Monitors and HDR monitors from other manufacturers. HDR Rec. 2020 represents the largest colour space.
This is potentially superior to the DxO solution, but is nowhere close to being as usable. In order to correctly display HDR content in Photoshop for example, you have to, navigate to the Technology Previews section of the Photoshop Preferences dialog and select Precise color management for HDR display option.
Opening an HDR photo from Camera Raw into Photoshop automatically sets the Photoshop document to 32-bit depth with HDR color space. You can then use Photoshop to composite the photo with other HDR content. Camera Raw Filter within Photoshop also supports editing HDR photos.Adobe.com
Note that at the time of writing, this particular update has not been made available in Lightroom. The reason I’m writing about it is that although it is early days for the technology, it will most certainly be on the Lightroom roadmap.
Adobe Lightroom AI Updates 2023
By far the most important update (in that it addresses an area that Adobe was notoriously behind in) is Denoising technology.
This photograph is a great candidate for testing Lightroom’s new DeNoise functionality. Here is the section including the chair legs, with 2.75 stops of extra exposure.
I think most people would agree that the image is noisy! Let’s run it through Lightroom and see what we can do.
Firstly, we need to find the DeNoise – it’s in the Detail section about 2/3 of the way down, just above Lens Corrections. When you click on the Denoise button, a window pops up in which you can preview the result of the operation on any part of your image. Move the Amount slider until you are satisfied wit the preview and then press ‘Enhance’. In a few minutes, a new DNG file will be created.
The chances are you can’t really see the detail if you’re viewing this on a mobile phone, but I’ll show a detail from the enhanced image in a minute or so. To my eyes, the difference between this and the old manual Denoise is remarkable. There is no ‘plasticisation’ of the objects in frame at all and the noise is all but eradicated.
This image on my 2021 mac mini takes around 7 minutes to process. Slightly faster than Deep Prime. It is not realistic to expect instant results since this is a complex operation.
This is the result of the operation with the same additional exposure applied as the shot above. What you can’t see here is that if I lift the shadows, instead of the blanket of noise in the detail further up the page, I can see the outline of objects in the background.
This is a remarkable turnaround for Adobe. I’m not going to get rid of Pure RAW, because if I need the extra enhancements it offers (lens corrections) and I want to do multiple images in a batch, then it’s easier to use that tool than this one, but so far as noise reduction capability is concerned, based on this particular image, I can’t easily tell the difference between them.
Here is the finished image.
Masking was introduced to Lightroom comparatively recently, to great acclaim. Wrongly or rightly, for many photographers it has meant that moving to Photoshop to finish an image is no longer necessary for a greater percentage of images. Or in other words it has brought photoshop functionality to more people.
Essentially, the ‘old’ mask functionality enabled the use of the tooling from the basic panel on selected areas of the image defined by various types of mask. Subject, Sky, Background, Color, Luminosity, Brush, Gradient.
Adobe have added Curves to the mix in the latest update, enabling much more subtle amendments to the tones of selected parts of the image. Curves are widely held to be complicated and many beginners stay clear of them, but they are a very powerful part of the color grading process so this is an introduction to be welcomed.
The Select People Mask is dependent on at least 2Gb VRAM and enables AI powered selection of people in your images.
The adaptive presets are designed for portrait photographers and essentially extend the library of presets already available.
Black and White Conversion for Video
Does exactly what it suggests. Adobe introduced basic video support for editing clips last year and while this is nowhere near as comprehensive as Premiere or Final Cut Pro it will be interesting to see where it goes.
The significant update here is the DeNoise update. Apart from being excellent, it addresses the competition and reassures (me at least) that Adobe is not taking its eye off the ball so far as the competition goes.
It’s clear that there is a lot more to come, but what this update does is shore up the editing capability of Adobe Lightroom compared to DxO PhotoLab and increases the perceived value for money of the Adobe Photography Bundle.
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