Lightroom (the web version) delivers on every photographer’s dream, making all their images available and editable everywhere, on any device. It does this at a price – the 1TB cloud storage you will need will cost you around $10 per month.
But the cost isn’t the issue here. It’s the closed nature of Lightroom’s editing tools. Although the built-in tools are pretty good, it’s likely that sooner or later you’ll want to use other software for particular effects, styles or capabilities that Lightroom doesn’t provide.
But Lightroom does not support plug-ins. It does not even support external editors – except for Photoshop.
It’s hard to imagine any technical reason why this should be the case, so it’s natural to suppose is that it’s a strategic decision, which could easily look like a very cynical ploy by Adobe to lock users in.
You could open Lightroom images in Photoshop and then launch plug-ins from there, but you’ll need a better Adobe Photography Plan with both Photoshop and the 1TB storage Lightroom needs, plus the time and motivation to do it, and the RAM to run three programs not two.
Alternatively, you could use Lightroom Classic. You lose out on the all-your-images-everywhere appeal of Lightroom, but it’s a much more traditional solution that most photographers will prefer, where their images are stored locally and not in the cloud.
If you make any changes externally, your Lightroom catalog will go out of sync with what’s on your computer and you will have to Synchronize your folders or manually track down moved or missing images.
Lightroom Classic does support plug-ins, and it does support external editors. Well, one additional editor besides Photoshop, but you can change this whenever you need to.
- Read more: Lightroom vs Lightroom Classic
So what’s the problem with Lightroom?
Well, Lightroom Classic locks you in in a different way. To browse, organize or edit your images you have to import them into Lightroom first. That’s no great hardship in itself, but it does mean that from there on, you really need to do all your file and folder organizing within Lightroom. If you make any changes externally, your Lightroom catalog will go out of sync with what’s on your computer and you will have to Synchronize your folders or manually track down moved or missing images.
This is such a nuisance that you may well resolve never to do any work of this kind outside of Lightroom again, and make it your default digital hub, not because it’s what you wanted, but because it’s the only way to use it.
But aren’t other image cataloguing programs just as bad?
Actually, no. Capture One, Lightroom’s closest rival, does offer a similarly ‘locked in’ catalog workflow to Lightroom’s – but it also offers a ‘Sessions’ workflow based around live folder contents. Capture One Sessions do not offer the same powerful organizing and searching tools as a Capture One Catalog, but you can still create albums and search for images. It’s a half-way house that may have all the tools you need.
Exposure X7 works in a similar way. It offers powerful cataloguing tools while offering a ‘live’ view of your folders. You bookmark the folders you want it to include, but there is no import process.
ON1 Photo RAW 2022 is the same. You can browse folders live and not add them to the catalog at all, or you can add them to the catalog to get more advanced organizing and searching tools, but they are still followed ‘live’. Again, there’s no import process.
So why can’t Lightroom Classic do the same? What if Lightroom Classic could read folders ‘live’ just like its rivals? That would save users from having to import images into a catalog and then having to use that catalog as the center of all their image file management.
As it is, Lightroom Classic users still become ‘locked into’ their catalogs, even it’s nowhere near as restrictive as Lightroom (the web version).