Lightroom 6 & CC 2015: What’s New And Is An Upgrade Worth It?

I’ve been using Lightroom since the first version and have loved the additions Adobe has made to the program over the years. Each time an upgrade hits the market I parse through the hype to find if shelling out more money will bring me big gains in my photo processing workflow. Let’s take a look at what is new in Lightroom CC 2015 and if it is worth the cash.

More Power, Scotty!

Did you know your computer has something of a secondary central processing unit (CPU)? It’s the ‘brains’ of your machine that does the main computing and these days the graphics card in your computer that runs your screen has its own unit called a graphics processing unit (GPU).

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The cool thing about the new Lightroom is it has a nice checkbox under Preferences -> Performance that allows use of the GPU to help speed up processing actions. That GPU can be beefy and intended for great video rendering, but as Lightroom is light on the fast moving video action, you GPU sits idle. Use it (especially for HDR and Panorama feature below)!

Make sure this box is checked to take advantage of the dormant processing power in your machine.

Panoramas, Simple But Useable

I’ve been shooting and editing panoramas for a while and like that I can now do some simple edits in Lightroom. This feature is found by selecting an array of images that were shot as a panorama and then right clicking and selecting Photo Merge -> Panorama.

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The results are generally good and there is little chance to make edits, such as fixing out of place images. So it’s basic but for most hobbyists and pros shooting an occasional panorama, it will work great and adds some useful functionality.

HDR, Simple But Usable

The same goes for Lightroom’s new High Dynamic Range (HDR) function. It works well and produces perfectly fine results in most uses in my tests. It can make an HDR image (which is thankfully rendered in the open DNG format) with as little as two images. The options are slim but it works okay.

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I’m excited to see what Adobe can do with these two functions in the future. Both are basic but help many photographers. Adobe has a habit of introducing a function and then listening to feedback to improve (see “Masking Gradient Filter” below) and the next version should be a great tool. For now, these are both good tools.

Headless Processes

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Along with these two new features is the option to run them headlessly. All you have to do to start an HDR or Panorama in headless mode is to hold Shift while clicking on the item from the menu and the process will run in the background.

This is helpful to me as I currently use a plugin for my HDR processing and it hogs all of Lightroom while it finishes. The same goes for the HDR and Panorama processes in Lightroom. It’s a treat to select an array of images to process and let them spin in the background while performing other needed function.

Masking For Gradient Filter

Using the gradient filter allows for darkening of skies or lightening of foregrounds. But it becomes not so useful when the horizon was anything other than a flat line. Like something with mountains in it.

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Enter the gradient filter mask! (also available for the Radial Filter tool.) Now when I place a gradient on a bright sky, I can mask out the mountains so they aren’t unnaturally darkened as well. Brilliant! I’ll be using this often and it will thankfully keep me away from using Photoshop.

Face Detection

Want to find that photo of your brother you shot five years ago? Face Detection to the rescue!

Sure, it’s not perfect, but it is useful and will only get better with time.

Slideshows Get Some Updates

I’ve never been one to use the Slideshow module in Lightroom but the improvements in Lightroom 6 are worth noting. For instance, the slide transitions can be timed to the music and video clips can be added and the balance between overlaid music and video audio can be adjusted. Mind you, this is for all videos for the slideshow, so individual clips can’t be singled out (such as if you want one video to have no audio and on the second one you want to hear people speaking).

You can also use up to 10 songs for those longer slideshows when you have 1000 images from the beach in Hawaii to share.

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Web Galleries in HTML5

This one is less important for most of us but has me intrigued. Lightroom used to use Flash for web galleries but switched to the widely accepted HTML5 format so the galleries will work on mobile devices (which tended to shun or ignore Flash). This is good for those who want to add pizazz to their personal blog or make a quick portfolio with ease and know their audience will be able to view it.

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Conclusion

The big question: Is the new Lightroom worth the cost? If you’re hooked into the Adobe CC world, then you get the update anyway and it is worth your time to download the new version. As always, perform a database backup before updating.

If you are looking at Lightroom 6, I would say this version is worth your money. The updates haven’t been as “Wow!” as they have in the past, but the speed increase from using the GPU will save time (mind you, this savings is only useful in the Develop module) and the ability to make a simple mash of your HDR shots would be worth it to me.

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