The current release of Lightroom is version 4. Adobe’s approach to new releases is to make them available to users so we can play with them; and then fix the bugs and tweak the product based on feedback. Hence the release of Lightroom 5 Beta yesterday.

It sits separately from LR4 on your computer and conversion of existing catalogues is currently disabled, so there is no chance of screwing up your existing set-up. Just import some photos and have a fiddle. So I did, and here are some of the upgrades I particularly like:

Non-circular healing
Previous versions of LR have a healing brush which was designed to remove spots. This was fine for spots on the sensor and other circular objects you wanted to remove, but useless for other shapes. You either had to make multiple circular adjustments or head off to Photoshop to use the Clone Stamp or similar.

In LR5, all you have to do is paint over the area you want to “heal”; ideal for telephone lines! In this example I want to remove the greenery top left.

So I just use the healing tool and paint over the area to be replaced. LR5 shows me the area that will be used as a basis for the healing, which I can move around and change if I wish.

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 1.19.07 PM

Done:

Radial Filter
In LR4 you can create a vignette on the edges of the photo, but what if you want an off-centre vignette?

This photo is OK as it stands, but as an example I will set a vignette around the main subject.

Define the vignette using a mask:

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 12.56.49 PM

Done:

Not a great example, but it illustrates the idea.

You can alter the shape of the surround by dragging on the control points, and although I have changed exposure to create the vignette in this example, you can change a wide range of settings (sharpness, contrast, brightness etc). You can change the amount of feathering, invert the mask, and have multiple masks on a single photo.

Upright perspective correction
When you use a wide angle lens, perspective can become a little screwed. You can play with lens correction in LR to try and correct that; but now there are some automatic tools available.

A slightly droopy column thanks to a wide angle shot:

Choose vertical correction and press Auto:
Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 1.04.46 PM

Done:

Just crop off the space to have a perfect erection:

Cropping
Define your favourite cropping ratios, and have the crop box give you a preview of what various crops will produce:
Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 1.53.03 PM

Smart previews
In LR4, if your images sit on an external drive which is offline, you can’t work on them in the Develop module. With LR5, create Smart Previews and you can develop images even if they are not available to you.

Performance
They say that the final release will be faster than previous versions; we will see.

Some very welcome improvements, although not sure this is enough to warrant a new version (and therefore we have to pay for the product again). Maybe they will be kind and offer an upgrade price for existing users.

For a full list of the new enhancements, go here. To download the beta go here. If you have never used Lightroom before, downloading the free beta, which is not restricted to a 30 day trial period, is a good way to try out the product.