Software

Lightroom CC review: is Adobe taking photographers hostage?

Lightroom CC review
Fresh image: Adobe wants your photos in its cloud

Most of the photographers I know swear by Adobe Lightroom. Soon they might start swearing at it.

Lightroom is the software most choose to organise the vast photo libraries on their hard disks, but Adobe has different ideas. It’s just launched Adobe Lightroom CC for PC/Mac – a lightweight version of Lightroom (Lighter Room?) in which photographers have no option but to store their photos in Adobe’s cloud. And though Adobe protests it has no plans to switch off the trusted desktop software, I struggle to believe it.

There are several reasons to suspect old-school Lightroom’s days are numbered. First, it’s been rebranded as Adobe Lightroom Classic CC – not a sobriquet often applied to a product that’s got decades ahead of it. They might as well have called it Death Row Lightroom and be done with it.

Second, the software’s been left to drift for years, with a modest performance upgrade being the only feature of note in the new version of Classic. And, third, no company wants to support two versions of the same application. At some point, Adobe’s going to pick its favourite child and chuck the other one out of the nest.

Indeed, photographers are already being encouraged to jettison Classic. While Adobe’s £10 per month Photography plan does bundle Lightroom CC with Classic and full-blown Photoshop, there’s a new £10-a-month option that includes only Lightroom CC and a hefty 1TB of cloud storage. Should photographers be tempted?

Adobe Lightroom CC review: what’s (not) in it?

If you’ve already used the Lightroom apps for iOS or Android (also now rebranded Lightroom CC), you’ll have a good idea of what you’re getting into here. It’s Lightroom, but only the edited highlights.

The familiar Lightroom workflow is abandoned. There aren’t separate panes for Import, Library, Develop etc. Everything is contained within the same window, making it less intimidating for newcomers, but too basic for those of us who’ve been using Lightroom for years.

Lightroom CC review
The editing tools are a stripped back version of Lightroom Classic’s Develop panel

You can forget about browsing through folders of photos stored on your local PC, too. Locally held photos and your old Classic catalog can be imported into Lightroom CC, but they’ll be automatically sucked into Adobe’s cloud, so that the files can be accessed from any device. Some might regard that as a good thing, but if you’re importing 500 RAW photos from a shoot, waiting for them all to sync to Adobe’s cloud is no five-minute job, even on a decent fibre connection.

Oh, and the keyboard shortcuts have been monkeyed with too. Pressing P in Classic marks a decent photo as a ‘pick’, but in Lightroom CC you have to press the letter Z. Go figure.

The editing tools have also been dealt a downgrade. The histogram revealing where highlights and shadows have been clipped is gone. Advanced controls such as split toning have been chucked overboard. Adjustment brush presets such as defringe, sharpness or skin smoothing have been jettisoned – you must adjust the various sliders manually.

The presets library is a skeleton version of the one that comes with Classic. There are a mere 30 presets, and some of those are entirely different to those found in Classic, making it hard to maintain consistency. Worse still, all those presets you’ve lovingly curated in Lightroom over the years aren’t automatically imported. You have to manually locate the presets folder for Classic and copy them over. Thanks, Adobe.

Adobe Lightroom CC review: is there any good news?

There is one standout feature in Lightroom CC – image search. Type in a search term such as “yellow”, “woman” or “car” and Adobe will automatically scour your library, returning reasonably accurate results – and without you having to manually tag the photos with the specific terms first. If you were looking to quickly find a photo in a massive collection, this could be a gem of a feature.

Lightroom CC review
Search is one of Lightroom CC’s few great features

Lightroom CC could also be a boon for those on laptops with small SSDs, such as the entry-level MacBook Air or the many 128GB Windows machines still being sold. If the full-res versions are stored in the cloud, you don’t need to clog up your laptop with 30MB photos to make a quick edit on the road. As long as you’re within range of decent Wi-Fi that is.

Adobe Lightroom CC review: the verdict

Right now, most photographers can treat Lightroom CC as a harmless extra, something that can be quietly ignored or installed on a secondary device for quick, on-the-road edits.

It’s the long-term future that worries me. Adobe would love to migrate customers to Lightroom CC, because capturing their photo collections in the cloud locks them in as subscribers, allowing Adobe to turn the screw on the monthly fees. It’s a hostage situation in which most people would pay the ransom.

Alas, Lightroom CC just isn’t good enough. The editing and management tools are weak, importing hundreds of files takes way too long, and the export options are appallingly basic, unless all you want to do is share a photo on Facebook. Lightroom CC might improve with time. Right now, it warrants no more than a gentle prod with a barge pole.

Read next: Loupedeck review – a must-have for photographers?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day.

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