I am warming to Lightroom CC. It is undeniably useful to be able to see, organise and edit your images anywhere, on any device, and the editing tools are now almost the same as those in Lightroom Classic. But you do have to pay for the necessary cloud storage for your photo catalog, and while the Sensei AI image search feature is great, the rest of the organising tools are pretty simplistic – and there are no smart albums. Lightroom CC is unique and effective in some ways, expensive and limiting in others.
- 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 and Lightroom Classic share the same name and many of the same tools, but really they are completely different products heading in completely different directions.
• Lightroom CC vs Lightroom Classic: the key differences explained
• See also: Best image editing software – what to look for, how to choose
Lightroom Classic is the ‘old’ Lightroom, using conventional desktop storage and limited synchronisation with Lightroom web and the Lightroom mobile apps on a collection by collection basis using lower resolution Smart Previews, a kind of editable RAW ‘proxy’ file.
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 a proportion of your images cached locally for convenience, 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.
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- Lightroom Classic review
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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, and you will need to choose a plan which includes 1TB storage. 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.
You can also upgrade a regular Photography Plan to include the extra storage, and Adobe does sometimes run special offers. I added 1TB storage to my account at a reduced rate of £4.99 per month (UK currency) for a year.
The other price is in feature limitations. Lightroom CC does not do everything that Lightroom Classic (the ‘old’ desktop-first Lightroom) does. Each update brings Lightroom CC closer, but there’s still quite a gulf between these two programs. The editing tools are now very similar, but Lightroom CC’s organising tools are pretty simplistic.
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.
The June 2020 Lightroom CC update adds the ability to choose default processing for imported RAW files – you can opt to use the camera settings, or apply a preset.
Once imported, your images are organised in a much simpler and more streamlined way than they are in Lightroom Classic. 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.
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 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 also lacks any kind of ‘container’ or definitive location for your images. Photos are not stored in Folders, only Albums. A photo can be in lots of different Albums or none of them. It won’t suit photographers who like their images to be found definitively in one place.
Lightroom CC’s image display options are different to Lightroom Classic CC’s too. Lightroom Classic 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’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). You can switch to a rectangular ‘framed’ view, where Lightroom CC does display a file type badge, if not not the actual filename. You can also expand the info panel on the right side of the screen, but this only shows information for an image you’ve clicked on.
Lightroom CC editing tools
Lightroom CC has almost all of the editing tools you get in the regular Lightroom Classic. 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, the features gap between them in terms of editing tools has closed considerably. As of the June 2020 update, you can now apply local hue adjustments, too.
In one key respect, though Lightroom CC’s editing options are very limited.
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 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 obvious 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.
And there’s another 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.
You can duplicate images, but they really are duplicate files, and as of the June 2020 update you can create and save ‘Versions’ within an image. These are like saved snapshots, however, not virtual copies, and Lightroom will only display a single image thumbnail – you have to choose the one you want it to show.
Lightroom CC does have an 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 doesn’t necessarily bring Adobe’s RAW conversions up to the standard of others anyway.
Is Lightroom CC 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 a good compromise between noise and detail – with the default settings, Lightroom’s default 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 in Lightroom CC, 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 plenty of 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 cloud storage provider, another source of cost. Third, there are the operational limitations of Lightroom CC compared to Lightroom Classic, 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 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. Lightroom CC has strong appeal for mobile photographers and those who can’t tolerate being tied to a single desktop computer or laptop and are looking instead for integration with a broader community, but there’s both a financial cost and a series of operational limitations which continue to be frustrating.
Read more: Best image cataloguing software
Adobe Photography Plans
• Adobe Photography Plan: $9.99/month
• Adobe Photography Plan (1TB): $19.99/month
Lightroom Plan (1TB): $9.99/month
A trial version lasting just a few days is available