Fstoppers Reviews: The Lightroom 4 Preset System By SLR Lounge

The internet has become a gold mine of resources for photographers of all different genres, experience levels and styles. It's so easy to find inexpensive Lightroom or Photoshop presets to help create interesting post-processing colors and effects without spending hours trying to create them yourself. The only problem is: which ones do you use? SLR Lounge has released an all-comprehensive Lightroom 4 Preset System that is user-friendly and takes the headache out of using presets. 

Let me start off by saying that I have dabbled with Lightroom presets before, and while I was easily amused by the effects that each would create I would quickly become frustrated with how they would clutter up my Lightroom preset sidebar. It got so cluttered at one point that I deleted the hundreds of presets that I had just to clear up my sidebar. I reverted back to just doing basic level adjustments in Lightroom and exporting them to Photoshop to do the majority of my retouching.

I was intrigued by SLR Lounge's new comprehensive system of presets that were all user friendly and actually quite useful in my post-processing workflow. So much so that within just one week of working with this system I found myself using the presets as a precursor to my Photoshop adjustments. It shaved off so much time from my post-processing that I was able to enjoy other pursuits like spending time with the family in lieu of sitting in front of my monitor and tediously adding the effects manually.

slr lounge preset demo fstoppers review

 Getting Started

After downloading the files off of their server (7.41 gigabytes) and opening the .zip file, each folder comes with its own specific instructions on how to use the files and how to install the presets into Lightroom. The installation is very easy and even comes with a video explaining more in depth on how to install the new presets. In another video Pye takes you through a rather long demonstration (13 minutes) on how to use the system and what exactly it entails. While the demo video was exciting to watch I do feel that this was perhaps a mistake adding this into the tutorial videos. The demonstration was so engaging that I had stopped the tutorial and started messing around with the presets myself without watching the other videos. This was a huge mistake on my part. It took me several days to concentrate and come back to the videos and watched each one. I really recommend that you hold off on messing around with the presets until you've watched the majority of the video tutorials that accompany the system.

The Lightroom 4 Preset System comes with over 189 develop presets, 27 brush presets, 28 mixologies and 44 high definition tutorials that teach you how to use the presets to their potential. Also, what's great is that SLR Lounge is always updating the system and adding more mixologies and tutorials on their website for users. I will be going over everything that's included in the system at the time of this review.

 Mixologies, Base Adjustments, Color Curves and Special Effects

Let's start off with the mixologies. The mixology is a clever way to take your photo from the plain RAW to fully edited (not including heavy skin retouching) within 3 to 6 clicks of the mouse. The system is created to easily build your own go-to mixologies. It all starts with the standard import settings. You can do this one of two ways. You can automatically apply the settings in the import dialog box or you can apply it to each photo manually. I like having as much control over my photos as possible so I always choose to apply this basic setting manually (The standard import is best used with RAW files. Jpegs may need a bit more basic adjusting).

standard-import-reset-slr-lounge-presets © Rebecca Britt Photography

As you can see just the standard import preset is powerful on its own. It brightens, sharpens and boosts up the contrast on your images and is a nice starting point for the other base adjustments. There are two versions of this standard import, one with a 'profile correction' (PC) that fixes any distortion from your lens and one without. These can be changed to fit your own style, but I for one think that the default is pretty perfect for the type of post that I like to do on my images.

Now here is what I really love about this preset system: The way that the preset system is grouped and named is pretty intuitive. Long gone are the days of going through your library of presets and clicking through each of your presets to find which one that you were wanting to apply. Usually presets have some pretty odd names, like 'Sunny Wonderment', 'Xanadu' or 'Willow Dream' (all real preset names) which seem like a nifty idea when purchasing, but after collecting a few of these presets you forget exactly what they do. The way that SLR Lounge has named their presets is straight-forward, easy to understand and is so user-friendly that you won't be able to use other presets due to the frustration that their naming cause.

Next up are the base adjustments, color curves, color toning and special effects. The possibilities really are endless with the amount of adjustments that you can apply to your images. What I like is that the system basically groups the color curve presets in 5 categories: bright washes, neutral washes, neutral punches, vintage punches and dark washes, making it extremely easy and time-saving when finding the exact preset that you want to apply. The special effect group comes with some vignette, border and grain presets and the color toning comes with some color combination presets that help put that finishing touches on the coloring of your images.

© Rebecca Britt Photography © Rebecca Britt Photography

*Image using the Lightroom 4 Preset System By SLR Lounge (after basic skin retouching using: Heavy Soften (Skin) and Azure Neutral Punch)

 

 

Brushes

The system comes with 27 brush presets to tweak your images even further. This is pretty new to me since I am used to using the default brushes that Lightroom 4 provides. I found that there were certain brushes that I leaned more towards than others. I especially liked the sky/cloud, lip enhance, and clothing/texture brushes while I wasn't really fond of the skin softener brush. In their defense though, I like to retouch skin in Photoshop, usually retouching there first and re-importing it back into Lightroom. The brushes are very versatile and are easily adjustable using the sliders that you have come to know in Lightroom.

©Rebecca Britt Photography ©Rebecca Britt Photography

Before and After image using Standard Import preset and brushes: Dodge (Brighten), Clothing/Texture, Warming, Nature/Color and Hair/Lashes

Tutorials

As I said earlier I made the huge mistake of skipping over the step-by-step tutorials provided in the system and started playing with the presets on my own. Don't make the same mistake as I did. Take the time to sit down and watch the tutorials one by one. Take your time and don't rush it. You probably won't be able to sit down and watch them all in one day. Using images that are provided to you by SLR Lounge, Pye takes each image and explains step-by-step the exact formulas he uses (using the system) to create each effect. The images are all pretty diverse ranging from wedding to portraits and landscapes. My only gripe is that there isn't any exercise photos that are shot in studio, and as a commercial photographer I would have really liked to see what can be done to my studio portraits using this system. I had to figure it out on my own. This is such a minor detail though that it shouldn't dissuade you from the system as a whole.

SLR Lounge's Pye Jirsa SLR Lounge's Pye Jirsa

Pye explains not only the creative side of the presets, but also the technical side of the presets (how they change the image). I find this invaluable because as a commercial photographer I tend to over-analyze the technical side of photography. He takes the time to explain what he's clicking on and why he's choosing those particular presets or adjustments. Each tutorial starts with the RAW image and goes through the entire process to the ending result; unlike a lot of tutorials that usually start halfway cutting out the content that isn't necessary to that particular tutorial.

Each tutorial video ranges from 5 to 10 minutes long. If you're a regular to SLR Lounge and the videos that they produce you probably know by now how articulate Pye is in his tutorials. He rarely stammers and doesn't pause very often which is great for clarity, but can also be a downside because he tends to speak so fast that I find myself going back and rewinding the tutorial to hear what I may have missed. Again, another very minute complaint (as if being too articulate can be a legitimate complaint *sarcasm*).

In Closing

I find myself having a hard time writing down the pros and cons to this system. Mostly because the cons are so minor that I feel they don't deserve any attention. This system is so comprehensive there is no way that I would be able to cover all of the features. For example, they also have a pretty nifty faux HDR preset that is awesome all on its own. With an intuitive naming system, which I find to be the most invaluable attribute that this system has, I don't see why anyone would go back to the silly names of presets before.

If all of this information isn't enough to convince you to buy this system, let me state that I have used countless of other presets. I have deleted them all. The only presets that I have in Lightroom are the crappy presets that Lightroom 4 provides you with (only because I can't delete those) and SLR Lounge's preset system. It's so good that I can't bring myself to ruin the organized workflow that is now my preset sidebar by adding other presets other than my own user-made mixologies that Pye teaches you to create in the tutorials.

If that still isn't enough then this should help tip your decision: The price. For the price of a set of presets (that include about 10-20 presets) from some of the leading preset websites on the market you can own SLR Lounge's Preset System. At the time of this review the system is being sold for $99. That's truly a bargain. Especially so if you're a wedding photographer and need to edit hundreds of images on the fly. This system saves you money and precious time that could be spent elsewhere.

You can buy the Lightroom 4 Preset System By SLR Lounge: HERE

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38 Comments

Stephen Reasonover's picture

Thanks so much for the review. I've been on the fence to buy their presets or not because I have the exact same 'editing' structure as yours. Looks like I know what I'm doing :) 

That "mixology"-example was pretty bad, oversoftened - prefer the original, sharper.

Rebecca Britt's picture

Which photo are you talking about?

The one of the girl with the glasses. 

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. 

Oh definitely. It's the only example I had anything to criticise though, the rest of the package seems fine.

Rebecca Britt's picture

I don't understand. Are you saying the the Original Imported image is sharper than the standard import reset (photo in the review), or are you talking about the featured image on the main page with three version of this photo (photo inserted in this comment)? 

I'm thinking you may have gotten them mixed up. The image on the left is the original while the one on the right is has the preset applied to it on import. The one on the right is clearly sharper than the left image. Or perhaps you were referring to something else?

That's really odd, I could swear the images were reversed when I wrote that. o.0 ... and yes, now that I look at my old cache, they were. Corrected now though. Thank you fstoppers! :)

Just one opinion among many but when either SLR Lounge or Fstoppers review's each others products it feels a little disingenuous. I have a hard time trusting the opinions of either cross-site review because you seem to work so closely together on other things. It's entirely possible that the opinions are unbiased but viewing from the outside it makes me inherently distrust both sites for product reviews. Especially since there are no disclaimers in the "reviews" of each others products stating that the sites have a working relationship. I realize this isn't the New York Times but journalistic integrity is still important, especially in product reviews. 

Totally valid point, and there is nothing we can do except say that these are indeed genuine from our side. If we did not like a product produced by an industry partner, we wouldn't review it. 

Thanks Sysop, it is a very valid opinion. When we provide each other products to review, it is always done with a disclaimer that the opinions must be genuine and the lead reviewers must be impartial. So we have staff writers write the reviews. While I am friends with Lee and Patrick, I don't know Rebecca who wrote the review. She actually had some very valid critique too that helps us in knowing how to improve the product. Either way, we all agree that the product will be critiqued just as any other product review, and if the product isn't good, we don't support it (no matter who created it). 

Gotta say I agree. The problem is that SLR lounge presets have been a major advertisement on Fstoppers for a fair while, and both stand to make money from a good review so impartiality can't be achieved. Throw in a marketing video at the front end and you have a real credibility problem, regardless of who was paid to do the review.

I am dying to know how to accomplish that very first image in the video of the couple with all of the dynamic geometric lovliness. 

Sudakaran's picture

Hi! 

I'm using Chrome and when I click on the buy-link it pops up with an message which says that the website contains malware and I can't access the site. Can anyone confirm this or is it just me?

Regards
Sudakaran

Lance Shuey's picture

 I'm getting it too and I'm on the latest version of Firefox for Mac.

SLR Lounge is having a hack attack, so please bear with them. They have been particularly malicious as of late (we've had problems too).

I tried going tot he link for SLRs presets in the article and Norton kicked me over to a warning that it was an "attack page"... anyone else having this problem?  Is there a problem with the link?

I don't think it's a mistake for SLR Lounge to add the demo video. It actually adds extra value to your purchase which is fantastic. I believe it is better to educate the buyers in writing or at the beginning of the demo video to make sure to watch at least the core tutorials in order to fully benefit from the presets. Cheers!

Rebecca Britt's picture

Yeah, that's actually a very good suggestion. 

Jens Marklund's picture

Looks at headline "Well this is gonna be a impartial review....."

Scrolls to summary "Yupp.."
I'm not saying their presets are bad, cause I've never used them, but Fstoppers and DSLR Lounge goes hand in hand.

Rebecca Britt's picture

You have to remember that while Lee and Patrick may know the guys over at SLR Lounge, I don't. I meant every thing that I said. I did delete all of those other presets, but alas I can see where you can only take it at face value. 

It really is the best preset system out there. In fact, I'm not even sure if there is anything else out there even remotely like it.  I stopped using presets because I thought they were so annoying, but this is actually manageable.  *shrugs*

Vikram Vetrivel's picture

With a 30GB monthly allowance, downloading 7gigs worth of data will eat into my internet balance. I wish SLR lounge can allow a download with only the presets and host the videos on Vimeo.

Wow, who do you use for your Internet service? I blow through 30 gigs in a couple days. And thats because I don't pirate. Mainly Netflix.

Vikram Vetrivel's picture

Not in the US. I am in India.

Hi Vikram:  Thanks for your input.  We are exploring the option of streaming our videos and we will take your thoughts into consideration.  In your situation, you can simply purchase the physical DVD option, which is not much more than the digital download option.  We usually ship within 2 business days (often the same day the order is placed) and it should arrive within 3-4 Weeks to India.

This is going to sound very snobby, but I just have to say, I don't really understand why there's a demand for buying other people's presets. LR4 has made it unbelievably easy to save your own in an organized, useful way, and it isn't as if Lightroom's controls are particularly mysterious. I think it's way more important for a photographer to have a thorough understanding of their tools (admittedly still learning) than it is to be able to just buy a set of "looks." 

I'm no pro, but if I need a "look" and I dont have time to fiddle with it for an hour, i'll gladly fork over the hundred bucks to save me time and frustration. I do think its good to learn LR4 thoroughly, but no one will care where it came from in the end (at least not the target audience/client). 

While most preset "packs" are easily recreated. The LR4 Preset System mimics a layered developing approach where each step and preset stacks on the previous. This system took years of experience and months to develop with hundreds of users involved in the process. The 200+ preset collection isn't just a collection of "pretty looks" it is a system that will allow you to create any look/effect of your own within a few clicks. We call it a "preset system" because it is a system of creating your own personalized presets and effects. Hope that helps =) 

Ok, but I'd still find that counterintuitive to my own workflow. There isn't a single control in LR that isn't just a matter of a few clicks, aside from the asinine Curves tool which is way too small and clunky. The beauty of LR is the tools are remarkably predictable to the point that it doesn't take very long to know how each one is going to perform. The issue I have with LR is simply that I don't think it's an end-all tool for post processing, I still want the full precision of Photoshop in a lot of cases, as I think the local adjustments in LR are really sloppy. Presets are totally useful, but I find them mostly useful in repeatable scenarios on a broad scale and I don't understand why anyone shouldn't just make their own. Buying a large set would take me too long to get comfortable knowing how each one relates to the others compared to just knowing what I want to do with the tools at hand. Understanding exactly what you did to arrive at a specific result is totally crucial to learning this trade and makes you more skilled and efficient as you go along. I don't think that can be overstated. 

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