Adobe announced yesterday the availability of Lightroom 4 public beta which anyone can download and use free of charge (download link at the bottom). It is exactly what it says, a preview version of the product. It will install along side of your existing Lightroom if any and will not import any existing Lightroom catalogs. This is to ensure the integrity of your live catalogs and to reinforce the idea that it is not yet ready for being your production software. Below are my quick observations to give you a head-start in your exploration.
After the installation, you can choose a folder to import to get a good taste of what is in the planned release of the software. Some features may not be visible and may emerge in the final version and others may actually disappear. I did a quick review to see what the changes are, I am happy to say that some features remained stable, some have been improved, and a few new features are added. Those of you who have read my two-part post on my site on Lightroom exposure and Brightness sliders might remember how confusing these sliders were. In a very good move, Adobe software engineers restructured the adjustment tools that appear to be more intuitive and easier to understand. A snapshot of the Basic panel is on the left.
Although it may take some getting used to the new paradigm my initial reaction is positive, they make sense and work as I expect. There are other changes here and there, some new features in the Adjustment Brush panel which may come in handy once we fully understand what they actually do.
There are a couple of new modules, Map, and Book are the new additions. Map will help in geotagging photographs on a world map and the Book module allows creating books on Blurb. Additionally, the book module can export the created collection as a PDF file. The Print, Web, and Slideshow modules seem to be about the same, although I have not fully explored every nook and cranny.
If you import a bunch of photographs that have some adjustments applied in an earlier version of Lightroom the applied adjustments may appear in LR4 as if you are working in the old version. The adjustment sliders will look like that of LR3. If this happens, look for an exclamation mark on the lower right corner of the image display portion of the interface and click on it. That will update the adjustments to the new standards and you will see the new adjustment sliders.