Adobe Camera Raw 4.0 (ACR) inherits many of its new features from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom while still retaining the basic UI of previous versions. So, if you’re moving from Photoshop CS2 to CS3, you’ll be familiar with the location of most of the tools and settings. But after you start to explore, you’ll find there are plenty of new goodies waiting for you behind the various tabs and buttons.
New Look and Feel
One of the biggest additions to ACR 4.0 isn’t to be found anywhere in the converter. You now have the option of working with JPEG and TIFF images as well as RAW files, all with the nondestructive editing that makes RAW so appealing to many photographers. To work with a JPEG or TIFF file, select File Open in Photoshop CS3 and then change the Format to Camera Raw. Instead of opening directly into Photoshop, the image opens in Camera Raw with all adjustments available.
To begin, let’s start with the adjustment sliders. In the prior version of ACR, there were five tabs with various adjustments: Adjust, Detail, Lens, Curve, and Calibrate. The new version moves from text labels to buttons and adds in a couple of new panels: HSL, Split Toning, and Presets. Let’s take a look at each of these panels.
This panel looks very familiar because it contains all the controls from the Adjust panel of earlier releases. White Balance, Temperature, and Tint all remain and work as they did before. What’s new, though, are the Recovery and Fill Light controls, which give you much more control over how shadows and highlights are handled in your conversions. Recovery helps to restore highlight details, while Fill Light opens shadows—essentially a midtone control to fine-tune your image with much greater control than the previous Shadows and Brightness adjustments alone could provide.
The Tone Curve panel gives you much more control over how the image is adjusted than the previous version of ACR did. A new tab, Parametric, enables you to make adjustments by using sliders for Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows. One addition that is a big help for me is the live updating of the histogram as you make your adjustments. In version 3.0 of ACR, the histogram was updated only after making an adjustment. Now I can watch the histogram as I move the sliders to see what the effect is on my image. The Point tab works just like the previous release, with presets for different tone curves and the ability to add and drag control points directly.
The Detail panel hasn’t changed from version 3.0, still giving you the same Sharpening and Noise Reduction controls as before. As with earlier releases, I recommend setting Sharpening to apply to only the preview you see in ACR, saving the actual sharpening for the end of your workflow in either Photoshop or Lightroom.
Now we get to the first of the all new panels in ACR 4.0, and it’s a good one! HSL gives you complete control over color adjustments at a level that was possible only in Photoshop. The problem with waiting until Photoshop to make your adjustments is that you are now working with a converted file and don’t have the flexibility to make nondestructive edits as you do prior to conversion from RAW. By adjusting Hue, Saturation, and Luminance on the RAW image, your conversion retains all the image information contained in the RAW file, and it lets you easily make adjustments when converting for other purposes.
In my RAW book, and in classes, I show how to do black-and-white conversions in ACR. With version 3.0, these conversions aren’t at the same level as those that can be done with Photoshop using the Channel Mixer. But they’re easier to do and have the benefit of being nondestructive. In ACR 4.0, though, I now have total control over grayscale conversions in the new HSL/Grayscale panel. By checking the Convert to Grayscale box, I have more control over color channels that Channel Mixer gave me, enabling me to get exactly the image I want for black and white work.
The Auto setting does a surprisingly good job of getting me close on many of my conversions, so I typically start with selecting Auto and then fine-tuning. As with the other Auto settings in ACR, you can quickly revert back by selecting Default to restore all adjustments to zero.
I admit it—I’m a toned junkie. I love the look of a sepia-, platinum-, or selenium-toned black and white image. ACR 4.0 adds a brand new Split Toning panel that enables you to do exactly this. With controls for the Hue and Saturation of both Highlights and Shadows, I can now do my toned conversions right in ACR. The Balance control enables me to fine-tune where each of these adjustments will take effect.
Split toning isn’t just for monochrome images, however; you can come up with some creative effects using the adjustments on a color image, too.
Nothing new on this panel; you have the same Chromatic Aberration and Lens Vignetting controls as before, and they work in the same way.
Again, there are no changes to the adjustments or the way they work on this panel, but the layout is easier to work with now that the labeling and grouping is more logical. Although it’s not on this panel, you can now save these settings as specific to a camera or even an ISO setting, making it possible to fine-tune your calibration for all instances. ACR will read the serial number and ISO from the EXIF data and automatically make the adjustments to calibration if you enable this feature. If we could get that added to Lens Corrections, I’d be thrilled.
The last panel in ACR, Presets, is also brand new to version 4.0. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much, but once you’ve created some settings that you find yourself reusing, you’ll quickly appreciate how useful this panel is in your workflow.
Working with presets enables you to quickly change the look of your RAW image in one location. As you select one of the presets, the Preview area updates to show the image with the selected settings.