As a nature photographer and photo safari leader, I shoot tens of thousands of digital images each year. When an editor needs images for publication, I can often submit the images “as shot.” When a commercial client needs an image or print, however, I rely heavily on image processing tools to create the output.
Like you, I’ve used Adobe Photoshop for much of that work, and teach it on my safaris. I won’t be giving it up anytime soon. But LightZone from Light Crafts provides an amazingly powerful way to do the basic photo editing tasks I need quickly and with much less impact on my disk space.
How Does It Work?
LightZone has a very simple model for image editing. Don’t worry about pixels, just open the original image—RAW, TIFF, or JPEG—and apply editing commands as “filters,” similar to Adobe’s Layers. You can turn filters on or off at any time, and create masks for them using a powerful selection tool that makes creating masks fairly simple.
The heart of LightZone is its tone correction, using its ZoneFinder and ZoneMapper. Other built-in filters include Noise Reduction, Cropping, Rotation, Hue/Saturation, a Channel Mixer for B&W conversion, Sharpen, and Blur.
Levels and Curves are a big piece of Photoshop’s arsenal for photo editing, but they are definitely not intuitive or easy to learn. LightZone replaced those functions with the highly graphical and interactive patented ZoneFinder and ZoneMapper. The ZoneFinder highlights areas of an image at each tonal level (Zone). The ZoneMapper lets you easily move the zones around, much like you could, with considerable work, in a wet darkroom. My students grasp the concepts right away and quickly put the new tools to good use.
Rather than a myriad of confusing menus and toolbars we’ve had to wrestle with in Photoshop, LightZone features a simple toolbar of commands. All the filters work the same way and feature the same options—turn on/off, set blending mode, set opacity, and restrict to a region or regions. I’d actually like larger buttons or images + text as an option for the toolbar to help users become productive even more quickly, but that’s only a nit.
One of the biggest problems with any print-oriented workflow is the variation in output sizes, aspect ratios, and the final color correction steps required for different output devices. With traditional pixel-based editors, such as Photoshop, you have to save a full copy of each image—perhaps flattened to save space—for each size or aspect ratio you need to print.
With LightZone, all edits are non-destructive and reversible, so cropping and rotation are simply filters on the image. Turn them on and off as needed, so a single source file can be used for all your output of a particular image.
Beyond that, LightZone allows you to save sets of these filters as “renderings,” so you can have multiple renderings of a single image without saving multiple copies. It’s incredibly powerful to be able to open an original image, then choose the rendering you want when you need to print.
This capability greatly simplifies your workflow and saves dramatically on disk space. For large-format output, TIFF, or PSD files can each run to the hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes. LightZone, by contrast, only requires your original—usually either a 10MB or 20MB RAW file or even smaller JPEG—and a tiny rendering file (.lzn), which keeps a list of the needed edits and a thumbnail for faster image browsing.
RAW file editing is completely integrated into LightZone, so there’s no need for a separate RAW file processor or a RAW file processing module. Each filter can be masked and masks can be linked together, so when you change the mask on one filter it changes the mask on others, or they can remain separate.
LightZone is Mac- and Windows-compatible, with a Linux version planned. So using it doesn’t limit your platform choices. At $249, it’s also quite a bit less expensive than Aperture, Apple’s entry in the non-destructive editor marketplace.
The biggest down side to LightZone? It’s a new product from a new company. As a result, it doesn’t have all the editing features of Photoshop. In particular, it doesn’t allow you to overlay text on your images or have nearly the variety of built-in filters that Photoshop does.
It also doesn’t support LAB or CMYK color spaces or an open plug-in architecture. Light Crafts is currently working on expanding its native capabilities.
But what a beginning...
For more on LightZone, visit www.LightCrafts.com.