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Yesterday I was going through the session evaluations from my Photoshop World “Photoshop Seven-Point System” class (I take these evaluations very seriously, and I read every single evaluation from every class I teach).

I was really gratified to see that the class really struck a chord with attendees (so much so, that I’ll be teaching it again in Las Vegas at Photoshop World this September), but I saw an evaluation that really stood out to me, which read:

“One says Bridge; One says Camera Raw; One says Lightroom—I’m confused!”

With 80 sessions at Photoshop World, and 41 instructors, as you might imagine there are a lot of classes that include, or are based on, either Camera Raw, The Bridge, Lightroom, or all three, which is what I think is behind this attendee’s comment. After reading it, I realized that he probably isn’t alone, so I thought I’d try and unconfusify him (and anybody else) here with a quick Q&A:

Q. So, which one should I use?
A. Camera Raw in Photoshop CS3, Camera Raw in The Adobe Bridge, and the Develop Module of Lightroom 1.4 are all the same. All three have the same sliders, in the exact same order, they have the same tools, etc..

Q. So what’s the difference?
A. Camera Raw has a light gray background, and Lightroom’s Develop Module has a dark gray background.

Q. That’s it?
A. That’s it.

Q. Oh come on!
A. Well, if you want to split hairs, technically Lightroom has one extra tool (The Targeted Adjustment Tool), buried down in two of the panels, but other than that, they’re exactly the same.

Q. So why would anyone want to use the Camera Raw in Bridge rather than the one in Photoshop CS3?
A. You’d want to use it to process a bunch of raw photos in the background, which frees up Photoshop CS3 for other tasks.

Q. So, the Bridge can be processing photos, and then I can do something completely different in Photoshop?
A. Yup.

Q. That’s pretty cool.
A. I know.

Q. So why would I want to use Lightroom?
A. It’s way better than the Bridge.

Q. Really?
A. There’s a reason why the Bridge is free.

Q. Oh. So Lightroom is better than the Bridge?
A. For photographers, Lightroom replaces the Bridge, Camera Raw, and does a whole lot more, because it’s a whole workflow tool (which is its strength—it’s for managing ALL your photos; thousands of them, and processing new photos in the quickest, most efficient manner yet), using five separate modules (The Library, The Develop Module, The Slideshow Module, The Web Module, and the Print Module).

Q. How do these stack up against the same features in Photoshop?
A. It’s just my opinion (as is this entire Q&A), but here’s how I feel they stack up:

  1. The Library Module in Lightroom, absolutely blows away the Bridge. To me, there’s no comparison, and the features, workflow, and whole process of organizing, sorting, and managing your photos is much easier, more efficient, and fun in Lightroom.
  2. The Develop Module is actually just Camera Raw on a darker gray background, but in Lightroom there are some features (including the Targeted Adjustment Tool) that just aren’t in Camera Raw in Photoshop CS3 or the Bridge. Plus, in Lightroom there are all sorts of other advantages (like White Balance previews for one) that just aren’t available in Camera Raw. (Note: In the Public Beta of Lightroom 2.0, the Develop Module leap frogs Camera Raw even more, but that’s a different topic. Kinda).
  3. Lightroom’s Slideshow Module, while not perfect, creates slideshows way beyond what the Bridge can do. For one, you can add Music (and that’s just the start).
  4. The Web Module in Lightroom goes far, far beyond any Web gallery you could create in Photoshop or the Bridge. It’s not even close.
  5. Lightroom’s Print Module alone is worth switching to Lightroom. Once you print out of Lightroom 1.4.1, you’ll never want to print out of Photoshop CS3 again. Sorry, but it’s true. What it does to the printing process is just amazing, and in the Lightroom 2.0 Public Beta, Adobe took the print features up a big notch.

So basically, all the things that Lightroom and Photoshop have in common, Lightroom does much, much better. That’s why I spend about 70% of my time in Lightroom. I only use Camera Raw when I need to edit an image that I didn’t import into Lightroom for some reason (maybe someone sent me the file, or I just needed to quickly edit one photo).

Now, to sum it all up, I’ll answer the original question:

Q. One says Bridge; One says Camera Raw; One says Lighroom—I’m confused!
A. They’re all the same; Once you learn one, you’ve learned them all because Camera Raw in the Bridge is the same as the Camera Raw in Photoshop CS3, and is the same as the Develop Module in Lightroom 1.4.

My advice: If you’re a photographer, I would focus on learning the Develop Module in Lightroom, because Lightroom has been designed from the ground up as a tool for photographers, and it’s the future for pro photographers, but if at some point you wind up needing to use Camera Raw—you’ll already know how to use it.

I hope that helps the person with the question (who didn’t sign their evaluation form), but name or not—I read ‘em all, and when I do the session in Vegas, I’ll be sure to address this in the class.