I know what you are asking, what exactly is Adobe Lightroom and why do I need it? You probably already have Photoshop anyway. Well you don't need it! You can continue to keep your photos organized on your hard drive in the equivalent of an electronic shoe box and when you need to find that perfect shot, you can probably find it in less time that it takes to change the oil in your car.
What I am saying is this: if you take a lot of pictures, especially in raw format, you are going to find that you really do need Adobe Lightroom. It's not a copy of some of the current digital asset management (DAM) programs such as iViewMedia or Aperture, rather Adobe has quietly thrown down the gauntlet and has said that it is going to take over the whole DAM business and has shown us how it should be done.
Of the big guns, Apple was first with Aperture and now Adobe with Lightroom. It is my opinion that Adobe holds the upper hand. This is not an attempt to catch up to Apple either; I feel that Adobe has been sitting back creating the superior product.
Within Adobe Lightroom there are five main areas: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web and they are laid out for easy navigation throughout the system. If you are familiar with Photoshop, you will feel right at home with Lightroom. One of the great features of the overall interface is the freedom you have with the workspace. You can hide things quickly all the way to "Lights Out" mode where you can, with a tap of the "L" key, change your screen to a dim view and with another tap, only the photo will show.
The library is the area that you use to import your images. This creates a record of each image. The record, as well as a preview, is stored in a database. This records where the photo is stored, the metadata that describes the photo, and the editing instructions that are performed from within the develop module. The database lets you perform tasks on the photos such as applying ratings, adding additional metadata, adding keyword tags, organizing them into collections and removing anything unwanted. You can view your images in grid, loupe, compare and survey views.
You can create multiple libraries. For example as a photographer, you may do some portraits and some events. You could have a library for each and in addition one for your own family photography. The library module has controls that allow you to search for specific types of photos; say you are a nature photographer and you want to find all of your shots of North American water fowl. Again, there is so much more to Adobe Lightroom than I could present in an overview.
In Develop mode, Adobe Lightroom has controls for adjusting the color and tonal scale of your photos. What is nice about this is the fact that all changes are recorded in the database and do not change your photo. Your instructions are stored and applied to your photo in memory, so you can experiment without affecting your actual images.
There is also a histogram panel that allows you to measure the color tones and make adjustments to the tones of your photo. You can fine-tune your colors with the Tone Curve. You can do split toning for coloring of monochrome images as well as doing special effects. You can adjust the sharpness and reduce noise with the detail panel and correct chromatic aberrations with Lens Corrections.
The Slideshow module is a method to present your photos with music and translations. You can create a template to customize how you want your slideshows to look. They can contain your identity plate on each slide. One thing that I don't like is that to distribute a slide show you have to export it to a PDF file, but then you loose the music. It would be nice if you could create a presentation and distribute it.
The Printing Photos module allows you to print photos and contact sheets. There are also settings that allow you to overlay images with text, photo information, and other options. There are pre-made templates that contain different layouts for diverse output. You can modify their settings to create customized templates. Overall, I like the print module, but it's slightly lacking: when I print a contact sheet, I like to put information on each header of the sheet so that I can quickly identify the information of the shoot. I would also like footer information such as page x of y, the date of the shoot as well as copyright information. And the ability to directly generate a PDF would also be nice; this is an Adobe product after all. I generate all of my contact sheets as PDF along with a color print, and right now it is still a manual process.
While I have not used the Web Galleries much at this point, it does appear to be rather slick. The gallery is a web site feature that allows you to build thumbnail views that are tied to larger views. From here you can choose to output to standard HTML or save it for viewing in a browser using the Adobe Flash Player. Once created, they can be uploaded to a web server using the built-in FTP capabilities in Lightroom.
From a "first product" point of view, Adobe Lightroom is a home run for Adobe. It fills in a missing piece of the Adobe landscape; digital asset management. Sure, there is Bridge, but Bridge does not have the capabilities that Adobe Lightroom gives you for cataloging, sorting, filtering and, in general, managing images. Do you need Adobe Lightroom? The simple answer is that we got along without it until now. The not so obvious answer is that, at least for me, once I owned it and started working with it regularly, it has become like the Internet itself; how could I get anything done without it!