Where is Adobe actually going with Lightroom CC? Its cloud-based storage is convenient, but locks you into Adobe’s expensive storage subscription, and it does a lot less than Lightroom Classic with little sign it’s going to catch up any time soon. It looked good at the start but hasn’t really gone anywhere.
- All your images available everywhere
- Stripped down streamlined interface
- Seamless integration with mobile apps
- No virtual copies
- No support for plug-ins
- Expensive Adobe storage
Lightroom CC is actually one of two current Lightroom products, the other being Lightroom Classic or, as many people would see it, the ‘old’ Lightroom.
Lightroom CC, reviewed here, is the ‘web first’ version. It takes the bold step of moving all your image storage online, using Adobe’s own Creative Cloud servers. You can also choose to have your image stored locally, but the whole point of Lightroom CC is that all your images should be available everywhere, at their full resolution and whatever format you choose to use, whether it’s RAW, JPEG, TIFF or whatever.
This means you can view and edit all your images on any mobile device using the free Lightroom Mobile app, or even on any computer using a web browser and Adobe’s online editing and organising tools.
There are differences between the mobile, web and desktop versions of Lightroom CC, so you can’t necessarily access every single program feature everywhere, but the Lightroom CC setup does broadly live up to its promise of making your whole image library accessible in the cloud, and not locked to a single desktop computer.
Of course, there is a price to pay. The most obvious is that Adobe’s online storage costs money. On the basic Lightroom CC plan you get 1TB of storage for £9.98/$9.99 per month (paid annually) and further storage costs about £10/$10 per terabyte.
The other price is in feature limitations. Lightroom CC does not do everything that Lightroom Classic CC (the ‘old’ desktop-first Lightroom) does. Each update brings Lightroom CC closer, but there’s still quite a gulf between these two programs.
Lightroom CC import and organisation
When you import images to Lightroom CC, they’re uploaded to Adobe’s Creative Cloud servers by default and that’s the primary storage location. You can choose how much of your image library is stored locally on your own computer, and by default this is 25% of the space remaining on your hard disk.
You can increase this if you have space available and want to improve image loading/caching performance, but this is not designed as a way to get back to regular desktop storage – your Lightroom CC images live in the cloud.
Once imported, your images are organised in a much simpler and more streamlined way than they are in Lightroom Classic CC. They’re all thrown into one big ‘pot’ (‘All Photos’) and from there you can organise them into Albums. You can also create folders for Albums and create a more organised hierarchical structure for your image library.
HOWEVER, Lightroom CC does not support smart albums. You can’t create automatically populated albums for certain keywords, camera models or other search terms like you can in Lightroom Classic CC.
But Lightroom CC does have something Lightroom Classic doesn’t. Because your images are stored online on Adobe’s cloud servers, they can be analysed and searched by Adobe Sensei, Adobe’s artificial intelligence based search tool. Sensei can detect and identify objects in pictures and find all (well, most) of your shots of ‘boats’, or ‘mountains’ for example, and without you having to enter a single keyword.
Sensei’s guesses aren’t always good, but they can often resurface images you’d forgotten and you’re rather pleased to be reminded about.
This is a big organisational difference. Where Lightroom Classic CC will suit organised, methodical photographers who want their image cataloguing to be a precise science, Lightroom CC’s simpler freeform approach will suit those who have no time for keywords and are happy with a process that’s part science, part discovery.
Lightroom CC’s image display options are different to Lightroom Classic CC’s too. Lightroom Classic CC adds rather inefficient and oppressive frames around each image thumbnail, but Lightroom CC offers a much more modern, gapless, ‘tiled’ display – though you can also switch to a regular ‘framed’ display if you like.
Lightroom CC also drops Lightroom Classic CC’s rather ponderous multi-module workflow. Everything happens within the same window, so that if you double-click an image to edit it, it opens in the same window with the album or search results you were browsing shown in a horizontal filmstrip at the bottom.
This stripped-back approach is not all good, however. Lightroom CC does not display any metadata with its image thumbnails in the tiled view. You don’t even know if you’re looking at a RAW file or a JPEG (bad news if you like to shoot and store both). The only way to find out is to expand the info panel on the right side of the screen, but this only shows information for an image you’ve clicked on. To get round this you have to switch to the regular rectangular ‘framed’ view, where Lightroom CC does display a file type badge, if not not the actual filename.
Lightroom CC editing tools
Lightroom CC has most of the editing tools you get in the regular Lightroom Classic CC. The are accessed via fly-out panels on the right side of the screen and they’re arranged in a much more efficient and modern-looking way than in the Classic version.
They include all the panels Classic users will be familiar with. There’s an Edit panel with Profile, Light, Color, Effects, Detail, Optics and Geometry sections that handles most basic editing, and underneath that there is the Crop and Rotate tool and the Healing Brush tool, and below this there are tools for Lightroom’s three local adjustment options; the Brush tool, Linear Gradient and Radial Gradient.
Now that Lightroom CC also supports the HDR merge and panorama merge options in Lightroom Classic CC, the features gap between them in terms of editing tools has closed considerably. With one exception…
Lightroom CC does not support any external editor or plug-in other than Photoshop. There seems no obvious reason why it should lock you in this way, when Lightroom Classic CC supports both non-Adobe external editors and a large number of after-market plug-ins. This only increases Lightroom CC’s ’locked-in’ feeling.
The easy workaround is to open images in Photoshop and launch plug-ins from there, but this means you’ll need an Adobe plan that includes Photoshop, which – if you want the 1TB storage that seems a necessary starting point for Lightroom CC – means stepping up to the next tier of Photography Plan subscriptions, which is the £19.98/$19.99 per month Photography Plan with 1TB.
One more thing. Lightroom CC does not support virtual copies. One of the big plus points of non-destructive editing tools is that you can try out different processing options on an image without having to create new files. But not here. This omission is both bizarre and frustrating. Again, this is a personal opinion, but for me, virtual copies are a crucial part of any non-destructive editing/cataloguing tool – they are part of the whole process of photographic experimentation.
What’s new in Lightroom 2019?
Lightroom CC does get regular updates, and the latest took place in February 2019, when Adobe added HDR, Pano and HDR Pano merge tools, plus a new Target Adjustment Tool that lets you drag up and down on specific colours and tones in the image to adjust them in the Tone Curve, Color Mixer and B&W Mixer panels.
There’s also a new Enhance Details option powered by Adobe Sensei which apparently takes a new and powerful approach to raw file demosaicing to produce better fine detail and improved results with Adobe X-Trans files.
In my tests, the differences were occasionally visible but not exactly worth changing my workflow to achieve – because the issue with this tool is that it generates a whole new DNG version of your raw image. This immediately demands its own chunk of storage, and while you could in theory then delete the original, past experience of Adobe’s various DNG versions and generations suggests other software applications may or may not be able to open these new ‘enhanced’ DNGs. I don’t want to ditch my RAWs in favour of DNG files and I don’t want to be saddled with twice as many files as I had before, just to get an improvement that’s not always easy to see and which only brings Adobe’s RAW conversions up to the standard of others anyway.
Hmm. I hadn’t realised I was so cross about this.
Is Lightroom CC 2019 any good?
Lightroom’s RAW processing is all right, but you might need to spend a little time optimising the noise reduction and sharpening settings to get the right compromise between noise and detail – with the default settings, Lightroom’s RAW processing is certainly noisier than Capture One’s and DxO PhotoLab’s and often not quite as sharp.
The local adjustment tools work well, though you only get a sub-set of Lightroom’s full adjustment tools when using the Brush, Linear and Radial Gradient tools – unlike Capture One, which uses layers-based adjustments where all the tools are available for each layer.
Lightroom does support presets, and there’s a booming market in commercial preset packs. In principle it’s now possible to synchronise your desktop presets with the mobile app, too. This flexibility, though, is badly undermined by the lack of support for virtual copies, so you can’t easily create multiple ‘looks’ for a single image.
Lightroom CC does offer a very effective all-your-images everywhere cloud-based storage, organising and editing workflow, but there are too many strings attached.
First is the one that’s likely to prove most unpopular – having to subscribe to software rather than paying for a one-off licence. Second is the idea of being locked into a storage provider, another source of cost, and something no rival publisher requires. Third, the operational limitations of Lightroom CC compared to Lightroom Classic CC, i.e. no virtual copies, no external editors and plug-ins (other than Photoshop), no smart albums or search tools other than Adobe Sensei.
I was enthusiastic about Lightroom CC when it was first launched in 2017. I thought its stripped-down interface and web-based storage had real potential, and that before long Adobe would bring feature parity with Lightroom Classic CC so the the two programs could be merged into one ‘perfect’ cloud-based cataloguing program.
That hasn’t happened. Instead, Adobe has continued to develop two competing Lightroom versions following two different trajectories to who knows where.
Price: From £9.98/$9.99 per month (pain annually)
More information: Adobe Photography Plans