Lightroom Smart previews are a LIFE SAVER for the photographer and editor workflow! So what is a smart preview?
RAW files are big, really big, and they take a long time to transfer over the internet. A smart preview is essentially an appropriately sized snapshot of the RAW image that allows you full editing capability in Lightroom, however takes up only ~3% of the size of a RAW image!
The smart preview is made from the original RAW file, and then can be transferred to an editor without the original file accompanying it. The editor can then apply edits to the smart preview and return the edited version back to the photographer. Once the smart preview returns to the location of the original file (the photographer’s Lightroom), the preview is then associated with the original file and all the changes are applied to the full image. This literally turns 18+ hours of file transfer time into less than an hour on most weddings! Awesome!
You know you are working on a smart preview if you see the words smart preview on the bottom of the histogram
The biggest concern we hear from photographers and editors is – is there any loss of quality? Folks know that RAW files are the holy grail of images and they are concerned that quality will be lost with the smart preview. This is not the case. The preview is a “lighter” version of the original file but it is still appropriately sized for monitors to make all adjustments. As it is returned and associated with the original, it adjusts the full RAW file so there is no loss in quality.
You can check out Adobe’s video tutorial at this link.