LightZone – it took a while, but the light went on eventually!

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It is fair to say that I didn’t ‘get’ LightZone at my first, or even second, attempt to use it. I put this down to my own lack of editing experience initially, then I thought it was because I was going mad, and then I realized that I just wasn’t in the ‘zone’.

Before we go there though, what is LightZone?

“LightZone makes it simple and easy to bring out the true tone, color and contrast often hidden in digital images. Designed by photographers for photographers, LightZone offers a rich set of powerful, yet easy to use digital editing tools. LightZone’s editing tools help reduce the noise often found in high-ISO digital images, correct color shifts and white balance errors, selectively sharpen or blur images or parts of images, remove dust spots and boost overall color to create beautiful, breath-taking images, letting the true talent of the photographer shine though.” I would go as far as to say that it is a very unique digital image editor. There are two versions of this program: Basic and Pro. What sets these two apart is that the Pro version includes an image browser and support for batch-processing of digital images. Both versions integrate perfectly into existing software like Apple Aperture, or Adobe Lightroom.

At one stage I was so bemused by LightZone in terms of it’s interface, features and where it would fit in my workflow that I asked Mac, who I knew had looked at the application what he thought.

Being a total amateur in photography and digital image processing, I cannot be very technical in this review. One thing I can tell you is that Lightzone was a surprise. When I first ran the program, I was a little confused. The interface is very spartan, and the toolbar icons are, to say the least, ugly. For example, the zoom-in zoom-out function is represented by a large and small figure resembling a MSN icon. What happened to the plus and minus signs inside a loupe? The icons representing photo editing functions are also a mystery. A collection of colored circles, triangles, targets, it is really confusing for a beginner. There is no way of changing the look of the tool bar to show text with icons, but moving your mouse over an icon brings a little popup description of that particular icon. At first I was not impressed with this configuration, but being a diligent person I started to play around with different functions. This wasn’t impressing me either. It did what Adobe Lightroom did, but in an ugly way. This could not be it. So I visited the developers website in search for answers. I found how Lightzone is supposed to be used. It opened my eyes. Adobe Lightroom cannot touch the power of selective, layer based editing. This type of editing can be done in Photoshop, but Lightzone makes it easier. Every editing function, be it, color or white balance, hue, blur or sharpness, can be applied to a whole image or to a particular zone. You can create these zones using three different drawing tools, polygon, spline or bezier. All the adjustments are done in a particular zone, with out affecting the overall image. This functionality gives you unprecedented control over image editing. Lightzone is a very powerful image editor that will fit into any workflow with ease. Highly recommended.

I was also very keen to get the views of someone with much more experience than I have, so I asked Andie our resident professional over at 4frames. This is what she had to say:

“When I first got the opportunity to sit down with LightZone, a photo editing program based on Ansel Adams and Frank Meyers (in)famous Zone System, I was game. I do love the end product with the bright whites and dark blacks, and everything in the middle.

I wanted to love LightZone. Reading about it on the company’s website had me dreaming in beautiful black and white. For the last 5 years I have been using the industry standard, Adobe Photoshop and recently Adobe Lightroom, and my mind thinks in Adobe terms. LightZone uses a layers process, just a bit bulkier than what I am used to. A nice thing is that the editing isn’t destructive to the photos. With a bit of playing around I did get some great black and whites.

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But with that said, I think I will be sticking in Photoshop and Lightroom. I had great hopes for LightZone. But I would have to use it between Lightroom and Photoshop, and I don’t really want the extra step in my workflow.”

So there you have it, two amateurs are tempted to keep using LightZone not least because integration of Lightzone into Adobe Lightroom is done very well. You can specify Lightzone as an external editor in Adobe Lightroom, and Lightzone will edit and save the file into Lightroom with all of it’s updates and changes. If more editing is required after the file is saved into Lightroom, all you have to do is open it again in Lightzone. All of your zones, and setting will be preserved and brought back into Lightzone. On the other hand the professional wants to keep things simple, and stay with what she knows works. And this may be the real crux of the matter! Maybe that is one thing that us amateurs need to learn – find what works for you and stick with it! Spend more time on the photography than on the ‘stuff’ that surrounds the photography. So in the end I think that may be the downfall of LightZone, it is just one extra step in the process that although it does a great job, doesn’t do enough of a job to justify itself. It may be that it is just too late with Bridge, Aperture, Lightroom, Photoshop, GIMP around already.

BUT – just when you thought you had everything sorted out up pops the odd surprise. In closing I asked Mac that if he could only have one application out of Lightroom, LightZone or Photoshop which would it be. His answer? “If only 1, then with grinding of teeth at the interface I would take Lightzone. It does a lot of Lightroom and a bit of Photoshop. It would be a good combo of the two.”. That really got me thinking! And you know what? I can see his point totally, especially as I haven’t mastered any of the applications fully yet. I think that if I had to live with just one, as a good all rounder that introduced me to the concept of workflows and allowed me to tidy up my pictures a reasonable amount LightZone would be a really good choice, but my choice would have to be Lightroom as I feel that eventually you would outgrow LightZone and in the short term you could always use GIMP which is free to do some more detailed editing. Again I asked Andie the same question and she said Lightroom as well.

Without doubt LightZone is a great application once you get used to it. For the serious amateur or professional I suspect it has enough additional features over and above Lightroom and Photoshop to make it a really worthwhile addition to your photographic tool kit. It is well worth a look, if only for the ‘zone’ concept which is really amazing!

Finally. Trust me. If you only do one thing with this review watch the tutorials! Don’t trust me? Then trust Mac: “Personally I would visit their learning center and watch the videos posted there. It will make your use of Lightzone much more enjoyable.”

3 thoughts on “LightZone – it took a while, but the light went on eventually!

  1. Wayne LeFevre

    Good show, Mac. I’ve watched some of their tutorials and was absolutely AMAZED! Especially that one with the bride and getting rid of the shadows under her chin and just making her glow! I would say it’s a must have for wedding photographers!

  2. Pingback: LightZone 3.2 | Chris Marshall

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