Review: Light Crafts LightZone

Edit your photos from a different perspective. (July 27th, 2007)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Light Crafts

Price: $249.95 US; watch for deals

The Good

  • It can dramatically improve your photos. The interface may look daunting, but it isnít difficult to use. It is photographer friendly. It has its own management tool but works well with others to find and store your photos. There are many tools.

The Bad

  • It is expensive for home user. Prefers lots of RAM. Does not work with GIF or PNG files. Works best when no other applications are open.

LightZone is a Java-based photo editor for Mac and Windows. It is not a pixel-based image editor similar to Photoshop; LightZone is based on light values and shapes. It is a photographer's tool to improve your original photographs.

Meet a New Way to Edit Photos

LightZone brings the RAW or JPEG photos from your camera to your computer, and then it analyzes the light values and objects in your image to create tonal zones. It improves detail, contrast, sharpness, hue, and saturation, or you can add a blur, reduce noise, and work with color and white balance to name a few features. You add your photo into the LightZone photo management system or can use one of the other popular photo database programs like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto, or iViewPro, all of which integrate well with LightZone. LightZone supports RAW, JPEG, DNG, and TIFF file formats, but it will not open PNG or GIF files.

Editing with Light

With the ZoneMapper tool you increase or decrease the amount of contrast in your photo or to areas of your photo much like using it to change the light values. The ZoneMapper tool divides the image into 16 light zones. Each zone is half an F-stop from its neighbor. LightZone gives you a smaller version of your image in shades of gray that maps each zone. When you drag your cursor over the ZoneMapper, it highlights in yellow everything in the photo that is of that zone. To lighten or darken an area of a photo, just find its zone and drag the zone up or down to increase or decrease the value throughout the photo.

LightZone screen

LightZone screen showing yellow highlights from one zone.

A vector-based tool creates a region mask that makes changes within that region if warranted. For example, in your kids at the beach photo, you can find the zone for the face area. Create a region around the faces and lighten or darken that area without changing those areas of the same light zone in other parts of the photo. This is also great for to fix under and over exposed areas. You can change the degree of feathering in the region to make your changes less noticeable with a simple mouse click and further modify the regions later. A checkbox lets you view before and after versions of your photo.

The color balance tool lets you quickly change any colorcasts in your photo caused by your light source(s). In addition, creating black and white renditions of your color photos is a snap. Using the color balance tool in conjunction with the ZoneMapper helps bring out detail in over or under exposed photographs.

Styles Galore

LightZone has a number of styles that are applied to one or a group of photos. The different styles alter detail, contrast, can brighten or darken scenes, or even create an old time sepia tone photo. If you don't like the outcome, there are sliders to change the degree of the effect. The Revert button brings you back to your original photo. None of the changes are destructive, but are saved as part of the file, so that you can always revert back to the original or a previous edit. In addition, you can move layers so that edits are applied in a different order and create your own styles.

Manages and Edits

Overall, this LightZone does double-duty to improve and manage your photographs. There are no magic wand or paintbrush tools here. You don't start with nothing and create; you start with something and improve. If you still want to edit pixels, your next step may be to move your image into Photoshop or some other pixel based editor, but LightZone gives you a perfect color and light balanced picture with which to start. The videos at their website give you a good introduction on how to use the LightZone tools.

Once you become familiar with the concepts underlying how LightZone works, it, isn't difficult to learn. There are many sliders and choices which you can choose to improve your original photo. If you do not like the result, an Undo button is always available.

Works well

While LightZone recommends a at least a GIG of RAM, I had no problems working with my installed 640 MB of RAM. The larger amount of memory is required to work with the photo management tools and batch processing files using styles, plus if you have large files, like you create when scanning film or slides.

As a photographer friendly program, LightZone uses the vernacular of the pre-digital photographer, such as burn, dodge, F-stop, and high key. While it is not as inexpensive as Photoshop Elements, it is much less than Photoshop CS3 and gives you a way to edit photos that doesn't require graphic design knowledge. LightZone requires Mac OS X Tiger (10.4.3 or later), a PowerPC G4, G5, or Intel processor, Java 1.5 Release 5, and 2 GB of RAM is recommended. As of this writing, LightZone is only available as a download from the site.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Rick Curran


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