Upgrade CS2 … to Lightroom?

I’ve been working with Photoshop CS2 for a few years now. At first I was struggling with all the options, settings, tools, palettes, etc., but having read Bruce Fraser’s “Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2” and “Real World Adobe Photoshop CS2” I felt much more confident, and since then sorting, rating, searching, adjusting a RAW image, editing a PSD file or producing JPGs or various sizes have become second nature to me.

But when Lightroom and then CS3 came along, and many people upgraded. I didn’t want to spend any more money on software, so I’ve been waiting patiently. But I’ve read and watched enough tutorials to know that ACR 4.x offers some very welcome new features.

Now that I am finished with looking through my past images and want to start editing the winners, I would like to have access the new “recovery”, “vibrance” and “clarity” sliders, the new B/W capabilities and split-toning in ACR, the loupe in Bridge/Lightroom, the spot editing in Lightroom, editing JPGs in ACR and so on…

So I’ve been thinking of purchasing either Lightroom or the CS3 upgrade. But Adobe is being ridiculous with their European pricing. In the USA Lightroom costs $299 and the CS3 upgrade is only $199. In Germany each one costs a whooping 296€, the equivalent of $430!!! I know, I can get a slightly better price be Amazon.de, but that’s not the point — CS3 is still double the US price!!!

Anyhow, I decided I’ll try Lightroom anyway. I’ve had it for about 5 days now, and I am impressed. It’s a very slick and functional piece of software, much more user-friendly than Bridge 1.x and ACR 3.x. If one doesn’t already have Photoshop, it’s easily worth its (US) price.

But I do have CS2, so for me the question was, what does Lightroom get me? I thought, I’d use Lightroom as the front end (Bridge and ACR) and CS2 as the image editor (layers, masks, actions, soft-proofing, etc.). This setup works well, but it’s not optimal. You have to turn on “Maximize compatibility” in CS2 so that Lightroom is able to import and preview your PSD files, and before opening a RAW file in CS2, Lightroom creates a PSD file (which you might not want to keep).

About 6 months ago Adobe quietly released ACR 3.7 and the release notes said that the new version is able to read Lightroom’s XMP-files. I wanted to try that, so I edited a few RAW-files in Lightroom, opened them in Bridge and ACR 3.7, and sure thing, all the edits, including spotting, were there — cool! But JPG edits didn’t survive… 😦 For whatever reason, Lightroom does not write XMP files for JPGs, so CS2 has no way to know about your edits.

The “Slideshow”, “Print” and “Web” modules are also very good, but I can print better from CS2 (soft-proof) and make my own Web galleries. I won’t be as fast, but definitely more flexible. Lightroom’s slideshow functions is surely better than the slow and inflexible one CS2, but CS3 will surely be an improvement.

So now I’m simply confused. If I didn’t already have CS2, I’d probably get Lightroom immediately. But since the combination of Lightroom and CS2 does not offer any significant advantages over CS3, I guess the real question is … “When will CS4 be available?” If soon, I’ll wait and go for CS4 directly, but since I guess that’s at least two years away, I’ll probably have to bite the bullet and upgrade to CS3 soon.