When Adobe split Lightroom into two separate products, it created two separate ecosystems too.
Lightroom Classic is the traditional ‘desktop’ Lightroom, where your images are stored locally on your own computer and you have the full range of Lightroom tools and adjustments to work with.
Lightroom CC is the new, ‘web first’ version of Lightroom, where your images are stored in the cloud (but are cached on your computer for speed) and are available to view, edit and organise on your mobile device via the Lightroom app, or indeed in any web browser (‘Lightroom web’).
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These are two very different ways of working. You can find out more in this Lightroom Classic vs Lightroom CC article. You can use Lightroom Classic to synchronise with Lightroom web and Lightroom mobile, but it’s not really what it was designed for and you don’t get the full ‘cloud’ experience and benefit.
This article is about Lightroom CC, Lightroom mobile and Lightroom web, and how they all work together to offer that perfect outcome for any photographer: all your images viewable, editable and organisable (is that even a word?) – everywhere.
This is not an advertorial or a sponsored post. There are lots of limitations, costs and drawbacks to the Lightroom cloud experience and we’ll soon see what they are. Nevertheless, it’s the closest thing we have yet to a cloud-based photography ecosystem.
So let’s get straight in with the individual components of this system, why you need them and how they work.
This is the ‘new’ version of Lightroom that’s offered alongside the regular Lightroom Classic in the Adobe Photography Plan. Imagine Lightroom Classic streamlined, simplified and modernised and you’ve got Lightroom CC.
Unfortunately, the streamlining has taken out some things that Lightroom Classic owners might have come to rely on, including Smart Collections and Virtual Copies, but otherwise the editing tools are nearly all there and Lightroom CC has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve.
One of these is Adobe Sensei search technology. Because all your images are stored on Adobe’s servers, it can use Sensei AI to identify subjects in your photos. You can type ‘sunset’ into the search box, for example, and it will find sunset shots in your catalog without the need for manual keywords (though you can use those too).
Lightroom CC also makes all your images available everywhere, at their full resolution and in their original format. You can synchronise Collections from Lightroom Classic, but you have to manually select each Collection and even then it only syncs Smart Previews, not full-resolution files.
Just to spell this out, Lightroom CC stores your entire image library, and its organisational structure, in the cloud. Lightroom Classic can only sync manually curated Collections and at a lower resolution.
1TB cloud storage
There is a penalty to Lightroom CC’s cloud-based approach. Even if you are economical with your images, the 20GB cloud storage you get with the regular Photography Plan will not be enough, and you will need the 1TB storage offered with the Lightroom Plan (only Lightroom CC, not Photoshop) or the 1TB add-on for the Photography Plan. Either way, this 1TB storage will cost you around $10/£10 per month.
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$10/£10 per month is well above the market rate for 1TB cloud storage, but Adobe would justify the extra cost by pointing out that its servers do more than just store data. Apart from the AI Sensei technology they provide, they also handle the synchronisation of images and adjustments between devices and the Lightroom web tools. These are easily overlooked but exceptionally useful. More on this shortly.
This is the mobile version of the desktop Lightroom app that runs on iOS and Android devices. This app is free to download, so it’s not surprising that so many people on the Internet ask, is Lightroom free?
The app is free, and many of its features are free, but if you want to fully exploit all the tools and all the potential of the Adobe cloud storage, you need to subscribe to one of the Photography Plans.
It all depends on the direction you are approaching this from.
If you are an influencer or a content creator using a smartphone or a tablet as your primary capture and editing device, the Lightroom Plan might be perfect. You only get Lightroom CC and 1TB storage, but that might be all you need. Lightroom can do a lot of the things you once needed Photoshop for.
If you are a desktop user who now wants to be able to view, edit and organise images on a phone or tablet, you’re probably going to need the regular Photography Plan with the 1TB storage added on. You may have a Photography Plan subscription already, so that’s a small step to take. Not small in cost, obviously – though Adobe does offer deals periodically. (I added 1TB storage to my Photography Plan for £5 per month for the first year via a special offer.)
This is easily overlooked but a huge advantage. You can view and organise your Lightroom catalog on your desktop computer, on your mobile device AND in any web browser. You don’t get the full range of tools of the desktop and mobile apps, but it’s not far off. What it does mean is that you can be in another office, on another computer and STILL access your complete Lightroom catalog, organise and search for images, edit images and download full resolution versions.
Not to labor the point, this is like having your own Lightroom catalog on any computer without Lightroom even being installed.
Lightroom mobile: is it worth it?
I can understand the objections – on principle – that some people have to subscription software and subscription services. It’s also true that Lightroom CC is not as powerful as Lightroom Classic (though personally I much prefer it as a place to work).
What I would say is that the attractions of the stripped-down Lightroom CC interface are growing on me, as is the idea that I can view, edit and organise my images anywhere, even on someone else’s computer if I need to.
I don’t much like the cloud storage cost, but then any cloud service comes with a regular subscription cost, so if I want the benefits of cloud storage then all I can complain about is the amount, not the principle.
Lightroom CC also offers a thing I really value – fully-managed catalogs – just like Aperture used to and Capture One still does.
The two things I like least are the lack of virtual copies – and Lightroom Versions are a pretty weak substitute – and the lack of support for any external editor except Photoshop.
I’m sure coding a cloud-based application like Lightroom CC must come with lots of caveats and restrictions, but I can’t see any logic to those two.