Looks like Adobe is on track for the release of Lightroom 3, the popular photo editing software, in early 2010. The next version of Lightroom will include significant performance upgrades and many new features. There is a public Beta for Lightroom 3 and lots of information available here.

I’ve been getting questions from people about whether to start using the Beta. My answer: it depends.

If you’ve been using Lightroom versions 1 and/or 2, you should consider the forthcoming upgrade to Lightroom 3 as a necessity at some point in the near future. And digital photographers who haven’t yet tried Lightroom should do so with version 3.

But whether or not to play with the Beta is up to you; there’s nothing wrong with waiting till the official release. The Beta surely contains bugs and missing features that will be added for the final release. Still, Lightroom 3 Beta is well on its way to being feature-complete, and using it will give you a good idea of what the final release will be like. Not to mention a head start on learning all the new features. Overall, I’ve found the Beta release to be stable and useable.

If you decide to try out Lightroom 3 Beta, there are a few things you need to know:

First, you can run your current version of Lightroom on the same computer as the new Beta. Don’t do anything with your current version of Lightroom or your image files (ie uninstall etc.) while you’re playing with the Beta. Your current “real” version of Lightroom and the Lightroom 3 Beta are two totally separate programs.

You should use a dummy set of files when working with the Beta. No need to risk any of your real work with Beta software. Copy some image files into a temporary folder to use with the Beta.

One way to do this is using the Export Catalog command; save out a handful of photos from your current library plus a catalog to use with the Beta. (You can also just use the new, empty catalog that the Beta installer sets up.)

Lightroom 3 requires a database update to work with older catalogs. When you launch Lightroom 3 Beta for the first time, it might prompt you to do a catalog update. If so, STOP! This is where a lot of people get really in over their heads.

You need to always know for certain which catalog(s) and which version of Lightroom you’re working in.

The Catalog Upgrade screen will only come up if you’re trying to load an older catalog (eg 2.6) into a newer Lightroom (the Beta).

***Don’t convert your original, master working catalog to use with Lightroom 3 Beta! Use a temporary dummy catalog.

When you launch the Lightroom 3 Beta program, if you get a screen asking about Converting catalogs, or Open catalog; look carefully at the controls on the Catalog screen. You are able to choose a catalog from here; choose wisely. Convert a dummy catalog, or use the empty, Beta Default Catalog instead.

(As needed, you can also make new Beta 3 catalogs from within the app. Just remember that when the Beta version expires, these catalogs will be useless.)

Spend some time getting to know Lightroom 3 Beta and I’m sure you’ll agree that Lightroom just keeps getting better. (For many folks, the improved Import process alone is worth the price of the upgrade!) I’ll write more about the new features and functionality in a future installment.

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