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HUGE Lightroom Updates! AI Denoise, Curves in Masks, & More

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Learn about all the major changes that came to Lightroom 6.3 and Lightroom Classic 12.3


The spring updates to Lightroom (and Adobe Camera Raw) usually only add or change a few things, and this release is no different... except that two of the new features are HUGE this year.


As always, if you're not clear on the differences between Lightroom (technically Lightroom Desktop but often referred to as Lightroom Cloud or Lightroom CC) and Lightroom Classic, you can read my blog post where I provide an in-depth look into both versions, their individual pros and cons, and my recommendation for which is the best version of Lightroom.



Table of Contents


To see the new curves adjustments in masking and AI denoise in action, check out my walkthrough video! I show a demo of how using curves in Lightroom masks can help you precisely control contrast in different regions of a photo, and also take a look at the results of the new AI noise reduction in Lightroom on a couple different photos.




Last but not least, if you want to really nerd out with all the technical details of how Adobe developed the new AI denoise feature, they have a great blog post that covers all that here. It's not a how to guide as it's all about the technical side, but it is interesting!


Odds and Ends


The April 2023 updates take us to Lightroom 6.3, Lightroom Classic 12.3, and Adobe Camera Raw 15.3. Each version has received the usual generic "performance improvements and bug fixes." I don't expect most users will notice anything dramatic in day-to-day use, however, one significant bug with Lightroom Classic has been fixed.


With the release of Lightroom Classic 12.2, some users - myself included - ran into issues with the application not responding on Windows. The only workaround was to hunt through your Lightroom Classic folder in File Explorer and delete a specific file, or I also found that launching Task Manager after getting the Not Responding error with Lightroom Classic would get me past that initial hang up.


Happily, this should be fully resolved with Lightroom Classic 12.3.


Otherwise, this round of updates also includes support for 10 new cameras (mostly on Google Pixel devices) and 8 new lenses (for the Sigma L mount and Sony FE mount):

  • Sigma L mount: Sigma 17mm f/4 DN, Sigma 23mm f/1.4 DN, Sigma 50mm f/2 DN

  • Sony FE mount: The same Sigma lenses as Sigma L, plus the Sony FE 20-70mm f/4 G and Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 GM


Updates Across Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, & Adobe Camera Raw


This is where we get into the two huge updates I referenced in the introduction. With these spring updates to both Lightroom desktop apps and ACR, Adobe has added AI-powered noise reduction (offering a direct, but also simplified, alternative to tools like Topaz Labs' DeNoise AI) and also brought the extremely useful addition of the tone curve panel in masking for Lightroom and Lightroom Classic (ACR already received curves in masking earlier in the year).


Additionally, in a nice update for portrait photographers, we now have automatic mask selections for facial hair and clothing under people masking (and corresponding additions to adaptive presets that take advantage of both new selections).


A Quick Look at AI Denoise in Lightroom


A couple years ago Adobe took a first swing at challenging Topaz Labs and other third-party software tools that offer upscaling - or enlarging - of files. This is especially useful if you need to make extra-large prints, or just want to upscale a heavily cropped photo back to a reasonable usable size (or have images from older cameras with low megapixel counts). Unfortunately, the Adobe Super Resolution implementation left a lot to be desired and has been totally ignored since release with zero updates.


Now we're seeing the release of AI Denoise in Lightroom and ACR. As with Super Resolution, it is a very simplified tool compared to something like Topaz DeNoise AI (or even their all-in-one app Photo AI). Whereas Topaz allows you to tweak several parameters and even mask areas of the image in or out to limit where their AI noise reduction is applied, Adobe provides a single Amount slider for their new denoise feature.


Simplified or not, I have been very impressed with the results so far (aside from using it on some high ISO astrophotography shots, where it falls apart trying to clean up the sky). I've tried it on everything from black and white edits that have gotten noisy with strong adjustments to high ISO images at 12,800 ISO.


As noted with regards to night sky images, it's not perfect on every image I've tried, but in many ways it surpasses Topaz Labs DeNoise AI and Photo AI results... at no added cost. Perhaps the greatest improvement over those options is Adobe's AI denoise results don't add artificial sharpening and seem to do a better job of handling fine details.


To access the new Denoise tool, you can either right-click anywhere on the image and go the Enhance menu option:


Enhance menu options in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw
Launch the Enhance toolset by right-clicking on the image

Or open the Detail panel where you find the normal noise reduction sliders (now renamed to Manual Noise Reduction) and you'll see a new Denoise button:


Button for the new AI Denoise in Lightroom
Find the new Denoise button within the Details panel

However you launch it, the Enhance window will open and you can choose which enhancement you want to make (Denoise is selected by default):


Using AI denoise in Lightroom Classic
Set your AI denoise value in the Enhance Preview window

In this Enhance Preview window you can set the Amount value (it varies from image to image but I have found, for most cases, somewhere in the 60-70 range seems to be best). As you move the slider, you'll see a real-time update to the zoomed preview. An estimated time is also provided (SEE NOTE).


Once you click Enhance, the process runs in the background and, once complete, a new DNG file is generated and added to your Lightroom library.


IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING PERFORMANCE


Yes, the above screenshot shows an estimated time of 26 minutes (ouch!). This screenshot is from my Surface Book 2, which I purchased back in 2018 and is starting to show its age (I'm also running into a GPU error with Lightroom Classic at the moment).


On my far more powerful desktop PC the average time to generate a denoise DNG output file is in the 10-20 second range. Far more acceptable!


Needless to say, your experience may vary significantly depending on your hardware. As is the nature of technology, if your hardware is underpowered or outdated, you may not be able to take advantage of the new AI denoise tool in Lightroom and ACR.


It's also worth noting a few other limitations/concerns at the moment, which will hopefully be resolved over time:

  • Denoise only works with Bayer and xTrans files: you cannot use it on JPEGs or other files types, although Adobe has indicated they will add support for more formats in a future update.

  • The default zoom value of the preview window is 200%, which I find nearly useless compared to the 100% view I usually use when applying sharpening and manual noise reduction; hopefully, Adobe will add a zoom slider or additional preset values (they've not yet indicated one way or the other).

  • You cannot currently use Denoise and Super Resolution together, but Adobe has said support for using both on the same image is likely coming in a future update.

  • It remains to be seen if Denoise will be treated like Super Resolution: launched to tick a marketing box and then abandoned. The fact that the ACR team - Lightroom and Lightroom Classic run on the ACR engine - is already talking about future updates is a good sign, but Adobe doesn't have a great track record with such things... time will tell. I hope competitive pressure will keep them motivated in investing in improvements in this tool going forward.


 
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A Quick Look at Tone Curves in Masking


This is pretty straightforward, but it's worth showing you a screenshot and a couple examples, at least. If you're already familiar with how tone cures work in Photoshop and/or Lightroom, then it's likely you understand how incredibly powerful this update can be.


If you're less confident in using tone curves, I do hope to have a tone curve tutorial posted in the coming days/weeks... so stay tuned! This tool is definitely worth understanding and using in your editing workflow.


At a very high level, tone curves allow you to precisely control contrast and colors. Up until now, we could only do so on a global level, meaning any tone curve adjustment impacted the entire image. Now, with the addition of tone curves to masking, you can use it just like any other tool to effect only specific parts of your photo.


Using a curves adjustment mask in Lightroom
A curves adjustment in a Sky mask to add separation in the tones of the clouds and reduce a strong blue color cast

Think along the lines of creating one tone curve for the sky and another for the landscape to add or remove contrast: each area of such an image likely has different tones from the other, so a universal tone curve applied to both often doesn't work very well. Now, simply create a mask for the applicable area and adjust the tone curve as needed!


Tone curves can also be used to adjust the colors in an image. They are extremely useful for adding or removing a color cast in particular.


In the first curves adjustment screenshot above, I added contrast specifically between the lighter and darker parts of the sky, creating separation in the highlights and shadows of the clouds. With the same adjustment mask, I also removed some of the blue tint from the sky - which got worse as I added contrast - by shifting the blue channel tone curve towards yellow.


If you're familiar with using curves adjustment layers in Photoshop, it's fair to say that a curves adjustment mask in Lightroom works very similarly.


Using a curves adjustment mask in Lightroom
I used an inverted Sky mask to create a curves adjustment mask for the foreground, using the main curve to adjust contrast and also adjusting the color balance using the RGB channel curves

In this second curves adjustment mask example I inverted a sky mask so that the adjustment would only be applied to the foreground. I then added some contrast while also using the red and blue color channels to modify the color balance (a bit like using the global color grading tool, but in a mask), creating better harmony between the foreground and the sky.


Comparing the two masked tone curve adjustments side-by-side, you can see that I added contrast to different tonal ranges by using these masks. You may also note that the histogram shown in the background of the tone curve graph is automatically updated based on the area you've selected for each individual mask.


A comparison of two tone curve adjustment masks in Lightroom
A comparison of the tone curves I applied to the sky and the foreground: unlike the contrast slider, tone curves allow you to control where in the histogram you add or remove contrast

The only difference between the global tone curve tool and using adjustment curves in Lightroom masking is that the Parametric Curve option is not available in masks.



Updates Specific to Lightroom Classic


Now that we've covered those two major updates, let's take a quick look at some enhancements that were added to Lightroom Classic, specifically.


Panel switches have been changed over to eyeball icons, aligning them with the icons we've become familiar with in the masking panel (this also aligns Lightroom Classic's user interface with Lightroom Desktop and Adobe Camera Raw).


Previously, if you wanted to temporarily turn a panel off to gauge how your global adjustments - say, for instance, color grading or HSL changes - impacted the image, you had to toggle the panel switch off and on. This was "fine," but also created a bunch of unnecessary history steps.


Now, you simply click and hold on any of the eyeball icons to temporarily hide the changes made within any individual panel.


Eyeball panel icons in Lightroom
New eyeball panel icons in Lightroom Classic

If, for some reason, you still want to turn a panel and its adjustments off for a longer period (or permanently), you can hold down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key and the eyeball icons will be swapped for the legacy switches. In the above screenshot, I turned off the HSL and Color Grading panels via their switches: this is indicated by the greyed out and strikethrough slash on the eyeball.


New eyeball icons in Lightroom Classic
Here, Color Grading has active adjustments applied and the HSL panel is turned off via the Alt/Option switch

In addition to the new eyeball icons, you may have noticed that the Edit and Masking icons above the panels window have white dots underneath. These are new indicators to let you know which toolsets have had adjustments applied (as a further example, if I had made some healing adjustments on the image, the Healing icon would also have a white dot beneath it).


As an added bonus, for any of those toolsets that may have AI-based tools in-use, the white dot will turn red if an AI-based adjustment needs to be updated. There are a few very specific cases where this may happen (you can view one example and explanation here). Previously, there was no visual clue that there may be an issue unless you had the applicable panel open. Now, you can see at a glance if there's something you need to go look at.


The last two significant updates to Lightroom Classic that are worth mentioning have to do with using the Edit In... feature with Photoshop. If you have multiple versions of Photoshop installed on your computer, you can now tell Lightroom Classic which version you want it to use for Edit In... functions.


Additionally, and more significantly, you can now select multiple images in Lightroom Classic and open them as Smart Object layers in Photoshop. Previously, you could only open one image as a Smart Object.



Updates Specific to Lightroom Desktop


Last but not least, there are two updates exclusive to Lightroom Desktop that are worth calling out.


First, the video editing tools have seen some tweaks and updates: automatic adjustments, black and white tools, extract frames, export frames, and trimming improvements.


Of greater interest is the beta release of Content Authenticity support. The Content Authenticity Initiative is "a community of media and tech companies, NGOs, academics, and others working to promote adoption of an open industry standard for content authenticity and provenance."


What does that mean, exactly? You can learn more here, and it's pretty interesting. Essentially, it's all about providing tools to help determine the authenticity of images and photos, and to track what modifications have been made to them over time.


This is topic that is becoming more and more critical to society as altered and fake images circulate the internet. You can see some actual examples of it in action at the organization's Verify page.



 

What do you think of these updates? Will you be using the new AI denoise or curves adjustment masks in your workflow going forward?


Let me know in the comments below, or feel free to ask any questions. I'm here to help!

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