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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2

A photo organizer and an impressive photo editor in one, Adobe's US$299 Photoshop Lightroom 2 ($99 as an upgrade) adds new editing tools that extend the scope of Lightroom's familiar environment while keeping things simple, further reducing the need to jump over to Photoshop (now required only for truly nitty-gritty edits). Though the interface looks much the same as before, Adobe has made numerous workflow improvements that should delight professionals and enthusiasts alike; for example, searching is now quicker and more customizable.

Lightroom's strength lies as much in its ability to process images as in its ability to help users organize and keep track of their ever-growing collection of photos. The Library Filter gets a makeover in Lightroom 2, moving to the top of the screen and allowing searches not just by keyword, but also by metadata such as captions, date shot, location, and lens or camera used.

Adobe throws in a handy keyword suggester that offers keywords based on when you imported a batch of photos and their subject matter. You can add any of these suggested words to your keyword field by clicking them. Another convenience: You can now rate and sort images regardless of whether you're in Library, Print, or Slideshow mode; this speeds up the sorting process as you view and share images.

If you have dual displays, Lightroom 2 will support them, enabling you to divide your work across monitors as you would in Photoshop. And in Lightroom 2, you can also choose to show or hide on the second screen what you're doing on your primary screen-a feature that is especially handy for reviewing shots with clients.

Printing, the Slideshow, and Web output are all improved in Lightroom 2. In the Print module, you can drag and drop images onto a grid, tell Lightroom whether and by how much you want it to sharpen them, and print your customized sheets. Web output offers similar sharpening choices. Meanwhile, the Slideshow has added color chips that you can use to create a custom-tinted background.

The nondestructive editing feature from version 1 returns, as does Lightroom's easy relationship with Adobe Photoshop. When using Photoshop CS3, however, you don't have to export your images as TIFFs or PSDs anymore; Photoshop will open them regardless of their format, so you can edit shots or create a panorama, and then send your photo back to Lightroom without altering the original file.

Lightroom's new editing features permit photographers to make quick touch-ups and exposure adjustments and apply them to a single image or across multiple pictures. As a result, you can now make certain fixes that you want to apply prior to presentation-such as cropping, graduated filtration, and adjustments to selected parts of an image-part of your initial workflow before doing the final retouching in Photoshop.

Here's an especially cool example: Because so many photographers enjoyed using the lens correction feature to create vignettes, Lightroom now includes a setting designed specifically for that purpose. The program's new Post-Crop lens correction will work on a picture that you've already cropped, using its new dimensions and ignoring the edges of the original image. This way, you get an authentic, symmetrical vignetting effect. Lens correction settings can be manipulated to lighten or darken the edges of your photo, fading to white or black at its most dramatic extremes, to produce interesting effects.

An excellent graduated filter tool lets you compensate for an overexposed sky or a dim foreground in landscape photos. All you have to do is select the horizon line and manipulate sliders for exposure--even saturation if you like. Lightroom 2 adds masking to its array of editing tools as well. In much the same way as in Photoshop, you can change the size, flow, and feathering of your brush to apply a mask, and then edit only the parts of the photo that need targeting.

With its subtle and overt tweaks to version 2, Lightroom remains the program to beat for image processing and organization. The new creative editing tools included with Lightroom 2 would alone make it a must-have upgrade.