Why Lightroom Grain Sucks

It's probably no secret to anyone that's read a few posts here that I'm not a fan of Adobe Lightroom at all. Sure there are a few things that are done well but on the whole it really sucks. I could write volumes on why and really pick it apart with a mile long list of things that suck so bad there's almost nobody that could argue the other side. I wouldn't even have to go into things that are a matter of taste. Maybe some other day. Today I want to clearly demonstrate one particular thing that sucks so bad it's worse than useless.

TLDR; Warning Giant Rant


If you didn't read the title I'm talking about Lightroom's worse than awful, worse than abysmal, embarrassment of a film grain emulator. Let's take a look at the screen shot above. To really see what I'm talking about open that screen shot in a new window or download it and make sure you are looking at it at full resolution. Phone surfers, you may not be able to tell. I take that back, if you can't tell from the above you've got to be blind.

That's a comparison of Lightroom's grain emulation with settings somewhere in the same neighborhood of what Kodak TMAX 3200P might look like on the left and what Nik Silver EFEX Pro 2's TMZ looks like on the right. I didn't try to match them, there's no need in this comparison. I used a very grainy film so that the point isn't somehow lost in something that takes a keen eye to pick out. Even the most casual observer can probably point out the massive WTF, epic fail of LR.

Yep, do you see how blurry and soft the Lightroom version is? Not just the grain but the entire image now looks hopelessly out of focus??? WTF? Who the hell thinks film grain somehow applies like some sort of gaussian blur? Why would this person be tasked with emulating film grain? WTF?

Maybe getting somewhere remotely close is some sort of accidental fluke, does only Nik have some reasonable black magic of grain emulation? Let us see…


How about compared to say AlienSkin Exposure 7's TMAX 3200P? Yep, seems that backwater company can get this really right and even scales the grain based on input file size (something that seems like it should be obvious to do). Can you believe Adobe? What kind of idiot did they put on that "feature"? Let's pretend he/she's never actually used film. Why would this person not be fired? I'd fire him/her. This person would be like "but boss…"; Me = "and why wouldn't you take a look at someone else's pictures shot on film. You are FIRED. Actually, all of you are fired, you all suck, this thing is like bridge with ACR hung off the side and we wrote that shit in 1987. You are all fired.

Okay, you're thinking that these specialized apps cost a ton of money. Let's take a look at an app that cost's about $4 on-sale in the MAC app-store. MacPhun's Tonality not-pro, aka Tonality amateur I guess?


Hmm, seems a company that can't even spell phun correctly can get this right. Hell they can't even figure out how to call the Core Image API correctly to enable the built-in lens corrections like every single one of the other two-bit app people that use it can. Even they can get this right first time out of the gate. How many iterations and updates of Lightroom have we been thru? It still sucks this fucking bad?

As I said; worse than useless. Infuriating. Pile this onto the crappy RAW decode of X-TRANS and it's a real mess isn't it? If any of you are thinking that somehow this doesn't happen with smaller grain sizes or less amounts — WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, PLAIN OLD WRONG. It does, it's just not so obvious but it happens to some degree no matter what the setting it ust makes it harder and harder with "less" to get a handle on what is going on to make the image look so bad.

For those of you that don't know what real film grain looks like or how it behaves, it certainly doesn't make the image blurry. Never ever, ever have I seen grain make an image blurry. Never. In most cases it makes sub-standard, slightly out of focus images look much sharper then they actually are. WTF, WTF, WTF?

For Those About To Tell Me I Should XYZ

XYZ being a placeholder for whatever you are going to tell me to do to counteract this. One word answer = No.

Explaining that a bit further = You are wrong.

Okay, okay, I'll bother elaborating just a hair. Sure you can make it less blurry by upping the roughness. No, you cannot. If you do that you get the added bonus of seeing much more clearly how not like film the entire algorithm looks. See…


End Notes

Why oh why do I use it? Well, in the end I won't. For prints and images I end up actually caring about I will absolutely not process them in LR CC. For images on-line that I couldn't give a hoot about it's convenient.

Who to blame? Well, I look at it like politics. I have to blame the constituency that puts up with the morons, liars, and self-interested candidates we get rather than the candidates themselves. Do I blame Apple for getting rid of Aperture? Nope, have to blame the userbase. Yes, yes... I know Aperture didn't have grain emulation but it certainly would have. Hell even Photos.app does.


I don't blame Apple. If I were Steve J. or any of those guys watching people complain about Aperture 3 and glom onto LR I would be like. Fuck them, they're morons. Here you go have photos.app you lemmings.

Hmmm, come to think about it photos does do a pretty decent job with XTRANS. At least as good as LR. It's grain emulator certainly doesn't have much range to it but it's not nearly the goat-fuck LR's "pro" app is in that category. Guess it's lack of range is part of the idiot-proofing treatment that the rest of Photos got. Too bad for us. Now we're all sort of stuck with only one big player.