Lightroom Process Version 2012: The Case of the Disappearing Recovery and Fill Light Sliders
No, "Process Version 2012" isn't a Mayan prediction of the end of the world hidden inside Adobe Lightroom 4, but it does spell the end of the Recovery and Fill Light sliders in the Lightroom Develop module. Here the explanation.
Edits in Adobe Lightroom are nondestructive. That means they don't actually change any underlying pixels. Instead they get saved as a list of instructions alongside those pixels. In their quest to provide us with ever better software, Adobe sometimes tweaks things, including the set of instructions that are possible in that list, and exactly what each one means.
Back in the first version of Lightroom, the raw conversion engine was inherited from what had previously been available only in Adobe Camera Raw. When Lightroom version 3 came out, it sported an updated conversion engine that complicated matters somewhat because those updates could affect the appearance of existing images. The list of instructions for each image could get interpreted differently with the new method than they did with the old. The initial beta release called these "Process Version 1" and "Process Version 2" but the names got changed to in the final code for Lightroom 3 to refer to the year each was released. Version 1 became "Process Version 2003" and Version 2 was labeled as "Process Version 2010," the year Lightroom 3 came out.
Along the way, Adobe added more controls to Camera Raw and Lightroom such as Vibrance and Clarity. As such, the possible types of conversion instructions any given image might have grew. Last year's Adobe Lightroom 4 introduced a newly revamped conversion engine known as "Process Version 2012" that rethought how all these sliders interacted. In doing so, the engineers at Adobe Labs revamped the list of available controls and decided to do away with the Recovery and Fill Light sliders. Recovery and Fill Light controls hadn't always existed of course, being introduced in Camera Raw for Photoshop CS3 about the time the initial version of Lightroom was released. With Lightroom 4, Adobe concluded that changes they were making to other controls meant these popular adjustments were no longer needed.
The explanation that Adobe gave is that, when overdone, Recovery can result in muddy looking images and that Fill Light can create halos around high-contrast edges. Both criticisms are valid, but controllable by keeping the setting for each within reason. What was probably more relevant for new users was simply that the sliders available interacted in confusing ways. There were just too many ways of making an image brighter or darker. Instead, Adobe went back to the basics and decided it was better to fix the limitations of some controls rather than continually adding new ones to modify their behavior. The improved Highlights and Shadows sliders in Process Version 2012 are inherently optimized better for high contrast images and produce smoother gradations in highlight and shadow areas with better roll-off that better avoids loss of detail.
If you open an image in the Lightroom 4 Develop module that had previously been edited in an earlier version you'll be greeted by an exclamation point icon in the lower right corner of the image preview. If you hover your mouse over it will show the tool tip "Update to Current Process (2012)." If you click on that icon you'll see a dialog to guide you through updating either that one image or all the images in your filmstrip display. The dialog warns you that if you choose to update, "moderate to significant" visual changes may occur. In my experience, this is all too true, but the results can still be worth it. Since not all the old controls can be mapped to new ones, Lightroom guesses on some and defaults others. Along with other possible changes, you will likely see increased detail in shadow areas and perhaps highlight areas. Generally, the changes will be limited to tonal shifts rather than color changes, but it may look like colors shift as brightness changes accentuate certain image areas more or less than in the old Process Version. With this in mind, it's a good idea to update images one at a time so you can see what happens to each and modify them as needed.
As I wrote recently, nature photography can benefit from having actual shadows, black areas that hide all detail in order to accentuate detail in what you want a viewer to see. Indeed, the human eye almost expects shadows in nature. But apparently Process Version 2012 doesn't expect shadows as it is almost too good at restoring detail to them. After converting an image to the new process version expect to have to make changes to restore true shadows where you want them. The defaults introduced by most of the other changes can often be improvements, but I do find that it can be too aggressive in restoring unwanted detail in shadows.
If, after converting an image to the new Process Version, you decide to change an image back to the way it was, you'll find an "Undo Update to Current Process (2012)" option under the Lightroom Edit menu. You can also change the Process Version used for any image by expanding the Camera Calibration section at the bottom of the right-hand modules panel.
If you use Photoshop via Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom, make sure you have upgraded ACR to at least version 6.7 since earlier versions of Camera Raw aren't compatible with Process Version 2012.
All this may sound like more bother than it's worth, but if you're tempted not to update your existing images I'd encourage you to at least give it a try. I'll go through the controls for the new Process Version 2012 next week.
Before and After comparison for an image comparing Process Version 2010 and 2012.
Note that the increase in shadow detail makes it look as if the image has an added blue cast when it actually doesn't.
Both images are just as blue, but one is brighter.