When Adobe added Bridge to Photoshop CS2 I found I could process a batch of RAW files in an hour or two where previously it had taken me all day. It was a dramatic productivity improvement that made shooting Camera RAW viable and allowed me the benefit of the format's inherent advantages.
What I've seen in the few days I've been using final release of Lightroom 1.0 promises similar revolutionary improvements in the photo productivity. It's that good.
There are three keys to this -- the caching system, non-destructive editing and the complete workflow from camera import to final destination output.
I found the Beta versions of Lightroom frustrating because performance was not well tuned, the caching system was incomplete (on Windows at least), and I kept running into incomplete and unfinished features. The final version has progressed a lot since last fall's final beta. Performance is outstanding and all the features seem well done. I think the open beta process is to thank for the latter. I've been using Lightroom on a two-year-old 3.6GHz P4 3GB XP system and a six-month-old 2GHz Core Duo laptop running Vista with 2GB.
A good example of Lightroom's caching efficiency is working with files on a server. Using images stored on a RAID 5 NAS is surprisingly usable over both Ethernet (Gb) and 802.11g. The cache system works amazingly well for both 5MP JPEGs and 6MP D70 RAW files. For example, Lightroom allows you to start working on an image in the develop module while the actual file is loading in the background. And you can even manage, but not develop files that are not even physically present such as when you are not connected to a LAN or images that are stored on a removable drive. This makes work on a laptop quite viable.
Virtual Copy is an amazingly simple mechanism that allows you to work on different versions of the same image. Just pick an image in your library and choose Create Virtual Copy. Now you have two images based on the same file. This works because Lightroom doesn't actually change the pixels in the source image.
Lightroom's keyword and metadata tagging is what I've been looking for. Fast caching (it works in the background while you work at your own speed) combined with a range of options: drag-and-drop, stamping, typing make the usually painful task easy and maybe even fun.
Lightroom's filtering is a reasonable compromise that's fast and accessible. It's far better than just a single term search since you can do some Boolean operations (disguised with terms like find "Containing All" or "Not Containing"), and you can combine those finds with date ranges and other filter options like folders, collections, picks, ratings. But, the find and filter mechanism is not infinitely flexible. For example, I've not figured out how to search for images that have no keywords.
Color management in Lightroom is transparent (finally, transparent color management in a Photoshop product!). You still are responsible to calibrate your monitor and to understand how to either turn off color management in your printer driver and have Lightroom handle color or turn off color management for printing in Lightroom and have your printer manage it.
Lightroom includes both Mac and Windows versions -- a nice touch in the age of Boot Camp. Adobe's license allows you to use your software on a second portable or home computer but not at the same time.
I'm glad I don't have to decide between Aperture and Lightroom. The programs seem very competitive, but I don't see anything in Aperture I'm pining for. The competition is a good thing for the customers since it will drive the product category even farther.
After using the release version of Lightroom I finally understand why Adobe is producing both Lightroom and Photoshop CS3 with many of the same abilities. It's because they are quite different programs that share a common Adobe Camera RAW technology. With Lightroom, Adobe was able to look at the problems of processing photographic images and create a product that works without all the constraints of Photoshop's 15 years of baggage. To some extent Bridge 1.0 did that with its Camera RAW processing abilities. But Bridge really only allows you to batch process your RAW settings. You still have to generate JPEG files or print through Photoshop (or Photoshop's image processing mode). Lightroom brings that rethink to a different level allowing you keep your images in their original format and apply your processing non-destructively all the way up to your final destination most of the time.
If you need to leave the world of Lightroom for a broader range of processing options, Photoshop (or the editor of your choice) is right there and can work with your images at the click of menu. But taking a photo into Photoshop means leaving the Lightroom workflow and in some cases making a branch off the Lightroom edits. If you are working with JPEG, TIFF or PSD files in Lightroom you have the option of editing the original image or a copy of the original pre-Lightroom adjustments or a copy with Lightroom adjustments. For RAW and DNG files you must edit a branch version of the image with all your previous Lightroom non-destructive adjustments committed. In essence we are back to something like Bridge and Photoshop with Lightroom filling in for Bridge.
I'm sure there are flaws. But I'm still on my honeymoon with this program, but I'm very happy so far.