Friday, November 30, 2007

Lightroom and Lightzone

I finally broke down and purchased Light Crafts LightZone photo editor. I've tried several previous demos but didn't buy for various reasons. In the past, I thought it was too expensive and too slow, and I had trouble really "getting" what LightZone is all about. Well, they had a sale this month (November 2007) that brought the price down. And I saw some video clips that demonstrate a couple of the key tools in LightZone and that helped me grasp the program's approach. It's still too slow, but I can live with that in return for its other benefits.

LightZone, oversimplified

What are those benefits? The main one is that LightZone is nothing but a photo editor, and it's a darned good one. As everybody knows, Photoshop is so powerful you can dispense with the camera altogether and just paint fairies and unicorns if you like. It was never intended to be just for editing images, and is still used for logo design and creative art work, as well as photo editing. That's why Adobe created Lightroom, which, unlike Photoshop, is designed specifically and exclusively to meet the needs of photographers. Even so, Adobe Lightroom remains a multi-faceted app that does a bit of everything, including photo editing, creating web sites, print managment. Lightroom's greatest strength is really photo processing and management, that is, with Adobe Lightroom, I can review, evaluate, tag, and process (edit) a lot of photos very efficiently. But Lightroom has its weakesses, especially as an editor, and that's where LightZone comes in. Well, for many users of Adobe Lightroom, that's where Photoshop comes in, but I hate Photoshop.

LightZone, like Photoshop, allows selective editing, meaning that I can select a region of a photo (say, the sky) and change the contrast in that region without affecting other parts of the photo. This is not possible in Lightroom, which has no selection tool.

But LightZone isn't just about selective editing. What has always fascinated me about LightZone is its key tool, something called the zone mapper. This bears a very rough resemblance to the tone curves in Adobe Lightroom. Here is the Lightroom tone curve:

And here is the LightZone zone mapper, for comparison:

I'm not even going to try to compare the two tools in detail. Suffice it to say that the the LightZone zone mapper tools is more flexible both at first glance and upon closer acquaintance. With the zone mapper you control sixteen different levels of luminance in your photo, with the Adobe Lightroom tone curve, you control only four. Now the tone curve in Lightroom, which is pretty similar to the tone curve in Photoshop, is a terrific tool. And you can adjust not only the four parts of the curve (highlights, lights, darks and shadows) but also, to some extent, the definition of these four parts, by moving the dividers. Still, you can target your adjustments more precisely and I think more easily with a single zone mapper tool than you can with the tone curve.

And there's more to it than that. In Adobe Lightroom, you get one tone curve and it affects the entire photo, willy-nilly. In LightZone on the other hand, you can have as many zone mapper tools as you like. And you can target their effects by using regions (masks). I've used the zone mapper, for example, to lighten shadows in subjects' eyes without lightening the rest of their faces, or to increase contrast in the background without affecting the foreground in a photo. The zone mapper stumped me briefly when I first tried LightZone, but if you watch their online tutorial, which takes just a few minutes, you'll grasp the zone mapper's use very quickly, and when you work with it, it is incredibly intuitive. As a user-interface device for editing photos, it's a stroke of genius. If I had to live with only one program, I very well might select Adobe Lightroom, because I need to manage my photos as well as edit them. But for editing, if I could have only one tool, I'd take the LightZone zone mapper.

Eat your cake and have it, too

Fortunately, I don't have to make these drastic choices. I am in fact presently using three programs to manage and post-process my photos: Adobe Lightroom, LightZone, and Google's Picasa. Picasa is used just to handle the JPEGs that I export from Lightroom or LightZone. Most of these get deleted from my hard disk after I upload them to the Web, so Picasas is really more of an uploader for me now than anything else. My main photo management program is Adobe Lightroom. I use it to review, select, and tag my photos, because these are things Lightroom does splendidly. If the photo is well exposed and needs little editing, I can quickly tweak the contrast and sharpen the image a bit in Lightroom. But when the dynamic range of the photo presents problems, and especially when selective editing is called for, I'm switching to LightZone to edit.

I'm happy to report that LightZone works well with Lightroom. It is possible to identify LightZone as the external editor for Lightroom. Adobe of course expects Photoshop to play this role, but you can specify any program you like. THat allows you to right-click a photo in Lightroom and select the "Edit in Whatever..." command. Unfortunately, there's a huge downside to working this way. When I issue this command in Adobe Lightroom, Lightroom does not simply open the raw image file (in my case, a DNG file) in LightZone, which is what I wish it did. Rather, LightRoom makes a copy of the raw file as a TIFF and hands the TIFF to LightZone. What's wrong with this? Well, these TIFFs are huge -- as much as ten times the size of the raw originals, which were themselves already rather large. So I'm using a different approach. I simply ask Lightroom to show me the file in Explorer (I'm working on a PC laptop), then I right-click that file and select Open in LightZone. This allows LightZone to work from the raw file directly and non-destructively. I don't get to use both Lightroom and LightZone to edit the file this way, but that's not a big drawback; there's nothing much that Lightroom can do that LightZone can't do as well or better.

Well, that's mostly true, but there is one exception. I've gotten rather fond of creating grayscale images in Lightroom not by clicking its Grayscale button but instead by desaturating all the colors. This gets rid of the colors without eliminating the color channels, in other words, Lightroom still knows that my daughter's jeans are blue -- even though they don't appear blue in the photo any more. This in turn makes it possible for me to lighten the blues and darken the yellows, iin other words, it gives me more control over a black and white conversion. I hesitate to say flat-out that LightZone cannot do something similar. It has a lot of options that I do not yet understand. But at the moment, I'm doing my grayscale conversions in Lightroom, and editing color photos in LightZone.

Tentative conclusions

What's the bottom line? Well, I haven't reached the bottom line, as I am hardly a Lightroom master, and as for LightZone, I'm still a novice. So I'm a good ways from making up my mind for good. But with that caveat, I'd say there are actually two bottom lines to consider.

The first question is, does one program produce better images than the others? The answer to this question is mostly no, but sometimes yes.

Mostly no, because for a typical well-exposed raw original that doesn't need a ton of post-processing -- in other words, the kinds of photos I always strive to take -- LightZone and Lightroom are both perfectly capable of getting the job done.

But sometimes yes, because LightZone can do lots of things that Lightroom simply can't. That's an objective fact. Now, whether you need those things is a question you have to answer for yourself. For the better part of a year, I was persuaded that I could get by with Adobe Lightroom alone. I think now that I was wrong, but I wasn't crazy wrong. Lightroom really can do most of the stuff most photographers want to do most of the time. But LightZone isn't really competing with Lightroom at all as a general purpose photo management and all-purpose processing app. LightZone instead competes with Photoshop, as a more powerful tool for editing individual images.

Here's a photo I edited in LightZone:

It's nothing special, but that's why I picked it. I also edited it in Adobe Lightroom. You can compare the results here.

The second bottom-line question is, which program do I personally find easier to use, or more efficient, or more fun? This is subjective, but not entirely subjective. Management tasks are Lightroom's forte and LightZone's browser isn't in Lightroom's league if you need to tear through 800 image files, rate them, and modify metadata. Conversely, if you want to make some quick, precise changes to the dynamic range and contrast of a file, LightZone's zone mapper is a better tool than anything available in Adobe Lightroom. I am pretty sure these two claims can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of most users.

But there are a lot of other factors that affect how an individual user feels about a program. It is my understanding that LightZone is written in Java. This accounts for some of the program's sluggishness. (Helps to give it plenty of ram.) It also accounts for some of the idiosyncratic look of the program's dialogs and certain other UI widgets. I think Lightroom is beautiful, LightZone, not so much. But I try not to make a fetish of prettiness. It might be fair to say that I like Adobe Lightroom's user interface better, but I prefer LightZone's tools. In addition to the crazy cool zone mapper, I like the way I can pile LightZone's other tools on top of one another. There's a lot of control there.

And what about Photoshop? As I said, I have decided I was wrong to think I could get by with Adobe Lightroom only. But is LightZone really a satisfactory surrogate for Photoshop? I dare say most Photoshop users (most of whom know nothing about LightZone) will say no, absolutely not. And it's true that Photoshop does many things that LightZone does not do. If I want to paste a pair of open eyes from one photo into a generally better photo in which so-and-so's eyes happen to be closed, well, that's not what LightZone does. LightZone is not going to be used by the front-page artists for National Enquirer, who routinely need to put chimpanzee heads on the torsos of infants. In this respect, LightZone is closer to Adobe Lightroom than to Photoshop, because LightZone, while more powerful than Lightroom, is still designed exclusively to process and adjust existing photos, not to create entirely new images. I can live with that limitation very happily.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My brother-in-law Tom and I were talking about depth of field yesterday. We disagreed - but it turns out we were both right. Tom said that the generally greater depth of field in compact cameras is a function of the smaller sensor size. I said that I thought that it wasn't the sensor size, but the smaller focal lengths of the lenses that matters.

Well, I've browsed around on the web this evening a bit and I have a clearer understanding now. Turns out these two things are pretty much heads and tails of the same coin. Wikipedia's article on depth of field puts it fairly succinctly:

To maintain the same field of view, the lens focal lengths must be in proportion to the format sizes. Assuming, for purposes of comparison, that the 4×5 format is four times the size of 35 mm format, if a 4×5 camera used a 300 mm lens, a 35 mm camera would need a 75 mm lens for the same field of view. For the same f-number, the image made with the 35 mm camera would have four times the DOF of the image made with the 4×5 camera.

If I get a few minutes, I'll borrow my daughter's compact Nikon and take a couple of test photos with it and my Pentax K10D. But the principle now seems fairly straightforward. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the focal length required to achieve the same field of view. This accounts for the so-called "crop factor" as a result of which the birds I photograph with my Pentax K10D and, say, a 300mm lens seem to be "bigger" (take up more of the photo's area) than they would if I use the same lens with a normal 35mm film camera, which has a larger image-capture area. But as we all know or at least think we know (see next paragraph), the shorter the focal length, the greater the depth of field, other things being equal. That's why portrait photographers use 100mm lenses and stand so far from their subjects: they're trying to reduce the depth of field. So as the sensor gets smaller, you need to use a shorter focal length to maintain the same field of view and thus the same depth of field. One of the reasons that the cheap compact cameras today so seldom take a "bad" (out of focus) photo is that their small sensors and short focal lengths give them extraordinary depth of field. I read an interesting note here observing that Ansel Adams and landscape photographers of his generation using large format cameras had to stop all the way down to f/64 (!) in order to achieve satisfactory depth of field - and even so, you can get greater depth of field today using a compact camera wide open. Looking it from the other direction, I would point out that it was the desire to be able to limit depth of field for creative purposes that was one of the main reasons why I switched to a DSLR.

Now I said above that the sensor-size explanation and the focal-length explanation are saying the same thing. Sorry, I lied. It turns out that Tom's explanation - that depth of field has to do with sensor size rather than focal length - is technically more correct. You don't have to read far into this article by Ben Long at to find out why. He provides examples of the same object photographed at two focal lengths. There is a city skyline in the background. In the picture taken at the shorter focal length, the city skyline appears to be sharper. In the picture taken with the longer focal length, there is a smaller field of view so you see less of the city skyline, and what you do see seems to be both closer and blurrier. But appearances are deceiving! If you ignore the foreground subject and examine one of the details in the background at the same size instead, you will be amazed - well, I was amazed - to discover that they are in fact equally fuzzy. The skyscraper in the background of the first photo (the one taken with the short focal length) appears to be in better focus only because it's relatively smaller as displayed on screen. So changing the focal length isn't really changing the depth of field. It's changing the field of view, and that in turn gives the appearance of changing the depth of field. Differences in depth of field really do derive from the size of the sensor.

On the other hand, as Ben Long quickly admits, as a practical matter, the focal-length explanation is more useful to working photographers, who after all, aren't going to change sensors in their cameras the way they change apertures or focal lengths.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


We watched fireworks last night. That the fireworks display actually happened is remarkable in itself, given the unending rain we've had here in Dallas for weeks and weeks. Our neighborhood's Independence Day parade - an ancient tradition - was canceled due to weather. But late in the evening, the rain let up and the skies cleared for a while, so decided to go. On the way out the door, I grabbed my Pentax K10D, as usual, and my tripod, which is not so usual, but which I knew would be necessary for this shoot.

We drove to the area near the Lakewood Country Club, which is not too far from where we live on the east side of Dallas. We found a good place to sit right across the street from the country club's driving range. Telephone lines are just barely visible in some shots but otherwise I had a clear view. I placed the K10D on the tripod, and in the Fn menus configured the camera's shooting mode so I could trigger the shutter with the infrared remote. The camera settings were simple: M mode, ISO 100, aperture f/11, shutter 2 seconds (sometimes just 1.5). I used my standard outdoors lens, a Tamron AF (IF) 18-250 f/3.5-6.3 LD Di. Because I couldn't be sure where in the sky the fireworks would explode I experimented a bit with the focal length. In the end 30mm or thereabouts seemed to work pretty well. I set the camera to manual focus and used the distance markings on the lens barrel to set it manually to just a bit less than infinity. I did have the camera's LCD display the photos for 1 second. After the first few fireworks went off, the instant review helped me quickly identify and resolve a couple problems: that the camera wasn't aimed quite right, focus wasn't right, initial shutter setting of 1 second was too slow, field of vision wasn't wide enough. After getting everything set up and resolving these initial problems, the biggest challenge was making a good guess about when to trigger the shutter. I'd watch the rocket go up and try to click just a split second before the burst.

Post-processing was remarkably easy. I cropped a few photos. Most of the photos got a slight adjustment on the clarity slider in Lightroom 1.1 and in the tone curves, I narrowed the dark tones to just 15% of the range and then made the extreme blacks very dark black, to provide a nice sharp background sky. But I did very little else.

Is it possible for a photo to be really good if it contains nothing but the burst of the rocket? I doubt it. Abstract colored patterns are interesting, and I suppose it's true that every burst is unique. But to be really compelling, I think a photo of fireworks would need to have something else in it, perhaps a compelling landmark like the Statue of Liberty (not handy here in Dallas) or at least the silhouetted head of a child. I had no landmarks available, not even a tree, and I'd have had to push my daughter into the street to get her into the shoots, and my wife would have objected. Still, it was a pleasant exercise. And since I was using the remote to trigger the photos, I got to enjoy the show personally as well and without the usual tunnel vision that I experience, say, when shooting sports.

You can view the entire gallery here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Look sharp, be sharp

I frequently find myself wishing my photos were sharper. Now, I don't mean to make too much of sharpness. I know that focus and sharpness are not quite the same thing. I know that composition and exposure (and an interesting subject) are more important for the kind of photography I do than sharpness. Still, I've been wondering lately if I could get my shots to be sharper.

The answer seems to be yes, I can.

Not sure whether you can tell, given the way that Picasa Web Albums displays the photos, but this portrait of one of Catherine's team mates seems to be pretty sharp. Zoom in on it. Unfortunately, in Picasa Web Albums, you can't really zoom to 100% as far as I can tell. At 100% in Lightroom or Picasa, it looks as sharp as it does when its shrunk to show the whole picture in a small window. Looks pretty good even zoomed to 200%. At 100% every freckle on her face seems perfectly distinct. Noteworthy points: This photo was taken outdoors in pretty decent light, ISO 100. I used my Pentax FA 50mm (prime) f/1.4 lens, but at f/2.8, not the max aperture, in other words. The max aperture in many lenses is said to have a tendency to be soft. I was using a tripod, too, but I think that is likely to have had the least impact on the photo. With a shutter speed of 1/250 sec, I think this picture would have looked just the same if I'd shot it handheld - except that perhaps I would not have cut off the bottoms of her toes.

flowers on the porch
This photo of flowers on our porch also seems acceptably sharp. Noteworthy points: It was taken with my Tamron 28-75 lens at 38mm, in other words, not at the extreme end of the zoom, which the experts say usually tends to be soft. The shot was taken at ISO 100, which is as low as my Pentax K10D goes. Finally, the aperture here is f/11, allowing for reasonably decent depth of focus, even though the camera was only about two feet away from the flowers. I think these three facts (focal length in the "sweet spot" of the lens, the low ISO, and the moderately small aperture) are the key factors here in the photo's sharpness. Those three, and the K10D's built-in shake reduction. I was after all shooting at 1/30 second, handheld.

Now the preceding two photos were taken at ISO 100, which I'm beginning to think has something to do with sharpness, and not just with noise reduction. But this group shot was taken at ISO 400, and it too is reasonably sharp. But this one is interesting. At f/2.2, it has pretty shallow depth of field, and you can see that the focus is NOT so sharp in the face of the girl who is on the top of the pile. She is a little further BACK from the face of the coach that I was focusing on. Here again, I was using the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 lens. This is the lens I have been using lately for volleyball action, because of the big aperture. I did think to position the group here so that we were getting the benefit of the little bit of daylight coming in through the clerestory high up near the top of the north wall of the gym.

I should add that all of these photos were sharpened a little in Lightroom, but that seems to be absolutely necessary for all photos when you shoot Raw, as there is no in-camera sharpening whatever. But I didn't sharpen them very much, and in my opinion, Lightroom's sharpening never converts a soft-focus photo into one that is tack sharp.

Now, the trick is to take photos this sharp more often. Be nice to be able to shoot outdoors in good light all the time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Prime vs zoom

In a recent thread at, there was a bit of back and forth discussion about the merits of prime (fixed-focal length) lenses versus zoom lenses. The old view - from decades ago - was that primes were superior and zooms were not so good. That's simply not true any more.

Here are just a couple comparison shots taken by my K10D using (a) the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4, and (b) the Tamron 28-75 XR Di f/2.8.

20070425 lens tests

I actually took a couple dozen shots, indoors, outdoors, at different focal lengths and with different apertures. I used same aperture in comparative shots. I shot Raw+JPEG; the shots I've put up for review are the unprocessed JPEGs. Both seem to qualify as "prosumer" lenses. While the Tamron is more expensive, the Pentax 50 f/1.4 has an excellent reputation. So I think the comparison is fair enough.

I am aware that my tests were not "scientific". I didn't use a tripod. I didn't use completely controlled lighting. I was not photographing a test chart. This wasn't just because doing more careful tests involves more work - it's also because I do not believe that one or two shots prove very much. What matters most isn't how the camera performs in some carefully controlled test, but how it performs over and over and over again in something like "real life conditions." After reviewing the couple dozen photos that I took, I think these four shots are fairly representative. I've taken a hundreds of photos with both of these lenses, and the tests I did today are more or less in line with what I've been seeing in real shoots.

My conclusion?

At the pixel-peeping level - and of course at 50mm - the Tamron zoom lens is not as sharp as the Pentax prime. In the picture that has my checkbook sitting on some magazines, the grain in the checkbook is slightly sharper in the Pentax shot - viewed at 100% - than in the Tamron. In some photos of flowers taken outdoors, I THINK that the Tamron may be slightly oversaturating the colors, as compared to the Pentax lens. But I don't usually view my photos with a magnifying glass. The differences from one lens to another are so subtle that I had to study the photos carefully to find them.

And I'm not even sure that it would be right to say that the Pentax is simply superior at 50mm. I prefer the Tamron result in some photos - in these examples, I think the Tamron picture of the Pellegrino bottle is slightly "better." I also suspect that the lenses may have slightly different sensitivities. It occurs to me now that perhaps a better test would have involved bracketing the exposure on all the shots and picking the best result for each lens; but I don't have time now to go back and do that. The picture of the checkbook and magazines was taken at f/2.8. That's pretty clearly a good aperture for the Pentax 50mm f/1.4 - and equally clearly not the best aperture for the Tamron - so this might be a case of the Tamron being asked to play tennis with its weaker hand.

And that gets to the nub of the issue: how DO you compare lenses, really, I mean, when the results are worth comparing? I acknowledge that sometimes lens A clearly isn't as good as lens B. But I don't think the superiority of the Pentax prime here is overwhelmingly obvious. And if the prime does prove superior when the image is viewed under a microscope - the zoom lens can come back and say, "Okay, now lets shoot at 35mm, or 65mm!" In other words, the real issue is, is the superiority of the prime in its limited area of competence great enough to outweigh the fact that the zoom lens is so much more versatile? I wouldn't say that zoom lens's versatility should matter if the results of the zoom were lousy. But they aren't.

There are no doubt times when the advantages of the prime are worth the loss of the zoom. The Pentax 50mm can't shoot at 35mm or 65mm; but the Tamron 28-75 can't shoot at f/1.7. If I was shooting portraits, I'd use the Pentax lens, no second thoughts. But I don't shoot portraits very often.

Friday, February 09, 2007

David and Goliath: Lightzone vs Lightroom

Two things happen in ten days and the combination of the two is making me very nervous. First, Adobe Lightroom version 1 will finally be released. Second, my 30-day trial version of Lightcrafts' Lightzone will expire. I should perhaps add that only a week after that, the beta of Lightroom that I've been using for a couple of months also expires. So I can make it to the end of the month. But by then, I have to make a decision. Commit to Lightroom, or commit to Lightzone?

The safe choice is unquestionably Adobe Lightroom - or to call it by its official name, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Lightroom does almost everything and does almost everything pretty well. Adobe's developers have thought about what photographers need from the moment they click the shutter to the moment their images appear in print or on the Web and Lightroom provides photographers with a tool for every task. Lightroom's Library module is ideal for organizing, tagging, reviewing, and selecting hundreds of images at a time. In Lightroom's Develop module, you can edit your images using a rich set of features similar to Photoshops in many respects, but focused exclusively on the task of processing photos. Keyboard shortcuts abound. It's possible to make the user interface practically disappear so you can really focus on your photograph. It doesn't seem to require a huge amount of memory. It's nice to look at. And it's fast. I might add that there's a lot of buzz about Lightroom. The day it appears it will become the de facto standard for all professional photographers who are not already irretrievably committed to something else like Apple Aperture, Phase One's Capture One, or Adobe's own Photoshop-centric Creative Suite. There are more than half a dozen books waiting to be released on Lightroom this minute. A magazine. Multiple online training sites - even a Lightroom News site.

The thing that's making the choice of Lightroom difficult for me personally is a program called Lightzone, from a small Silicon Valley company named Lightcrafts. Lightzone looks like it has many fewer features than Lightroom and I guess, if you just counted total "features," it does. Lightzone lacks Adobe Lightroom's printing and web-gallery modes, for starters; but I don't care about those modes - I do my print and web work in Picasa - so it's not a problem for me that Lightzone lacks them. A bigger problem for me is that Lightzone's file browser is no match for Adobe Lightroom's Library module. But the big problem with Lightzone is performance. It's a memory hog. On the Lightzone forums, someone recommended giving Lightzone about two thirds of the memory you've got on your computer. I have a core duo Dell laptop (Latitude D820) with 2 GB of RAM. I have assigned Lightzone well over 1 GB of memory in its app preferences dialog. And I try to exit out of as many other programs as I can before using Lightzone. I generally do not open really large files - just Pentax Raw (PEF) files that are about 10 MB in size to start with. In spite of these steps, Lightzone is still a bit slow - certainly slower than either Adobe Lightroom or Picasa (the other program that I use for browsing and organing my post-conversion JPEG files). Every time I double-click a thumbnail to open it for editing, I have to wait five or six seconds.

Given those technical issues, why bother talking about Lightzone? Because the one thing that it does well, it does breathtakingly well, and because that one thing happens to be the most important thing of all: editing a photo. In this department, working on a single image, Lightzone can do everything that Adobe Lightroom can do and more. Unlike Adobe Lightroom, Lightzone has area selection tools; so you can select, say, just a person's face and boost the exposure there without affecting the rest of the image. And Lightzone's edits are applied in a fashion that amounts to layers. They're not Photoshop layers, to be sure, but they have a similar effect.

But neither selection tools nor layers would cause me to look more than twice at Lightzone were it not for Lightzone's most original feature, it's stroke of genius and reason for being: a feature called the zone mapper. The zone mapper is superficially so simple and at the same time so profoundly effective that it's rather difficult to describe. Lightzone divides your image's tones into sixteen grayscale levels, with white at one end (well, at the top) and black at the other, and fourteen shades of gray in between. These levels are tied to "zones" in your photo, and as you mouse over a zone, you can see areas of the image light up in a grayscale copy of your image called the zone finder. By moving the lines that separate the zones in the zone mapper, you can change the exposure and the contrast of the photo all at once. It's equally important to understand that you don't have to fiddle with all sixteen zones - not at all. In most photos, I can quickly figure out which zones correspond to the areas of a photo that I want to adjust, and I can make effective corrections very quickly. Here is a photo that I edited first in Adobe Lightroom. Note that the bird's head is still a bit dark. Now here is the same photo, edited in Lightzone. (The two photos are right next to one another in the gallery, so you can use the left and right arrows to jump from one to another if you like.) When I edited the photo in Lightzone, I was able to find the precise zone that affected the right side of the bird's head and boost the exposure slightly just there. Note also that in the Lightzone version, the cedar waxwing's characteristic yellow is a little clearer. Now let me very quickly concede that I am not an expert or even an intermediate level user of Adobe Lightroom and I do not mean to suggest that this photo could not have been corrected by a Lightroom expert just as well as I corrected it in Lightzone. I'm not knocking Lightroom! The point is that I am not an expert in Lightzone, either. In fact, I spent three or four times longer tweaking this image in Adobe Lightroom than I did in Lightzone. If you like playing with luminance, saturation, contrast, curves, vibrance, fill light, highlights, hues, exposure, tones, tints, temps, degrees, percentages, angles, hemoglobin counts and amortized rates of return, well, Lightzone appears to have just about as many of those dials and sliders as Adobe Lightroom does. But in Lightzone, they're a bit hidden away, and you might find that you very seldom need them.

I will warn you that, if you're used to Photoshop's tools or tools like them, you may be baffled by the zone mapper at first. That's your fault, not the zone mapper's. It took me about two weeks to "get it." Now I can't get it out of my head.

The advantages of Adobe's product are compelling and the disadvantages of Lightzone are undeniable. When I'm working in Lightzone, especially in the browser, I miss a number of Lightroom's nifty touches. But when I'm trying to edit a photo in Adobe Lightroom, I find myself not just missing but yearning for Lightzone's zone mapper and somewhat less often wishing that I could select an area and adjust the exposure there and there only.

So what am I going to do at the end of February? I don't know. Two weeks ago, I would have said without hesitation that I was buying Adobe Lightroom. But Lightzone has been growing on me. I'm afraid that the price of the products doesn't make my decision any easier. Adobe Lightroom and Lightcrafts' Lightzone cost about the same. Lightroom's official MSRP is going to be $300, but between the end of February 2007 and sometime in April, you'll be able to buy it for an introductory price of $200. The full version of Lightzone, on the other hand, costs $250 right now on Lightcrafts' web site. There's a "basic" version of Lightzone that has all the editing tools but no browser that costs $100 less than the full version (i.e. $150 rather than $250). Perhaps I'll go with that. Lightzone may be overpriced, in some absolute sense. It's clearly not as polished a product as Adobe Lightroom. Bibble Pro is another alternative to Lightroom that's very powerful, well respected, and widely used. Its full version retails for a fraction of the cost of Lightzone. My wild guess is that Lightcrafts might do better if they lowered their price a bit - say, to $150 for the full version of Lightzone. I'd be really grateful if they'd do it before the end of February.

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.