Wrestling with the future of Lightroom

This week Adobe announced their new photography plans, one of which is centered around a new version of Lightroom. This new version, “Lightroom CC,” feels like a desktop version of their mobile apps, which have been improving over the course of the last few years. The new plan, which will appeal to a great number of people, includes Lightroom CC and 1TB of online storage in which to store photos. This means, much in the same way Apple’s iCloud Photo Library works, users will have access to their entire library wherever they are. Unlike Apple’s offering, Adobe’s plan will give access on any device. The cost for this plan is $9.99 a month and for most regular photographers it’s a great deal. Power users and professionals will be disappointed with Lightroom CC, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Those who don’t want to use Lightroom CC or the 1 TB of storage will be able to remain on the current Photography Plan, which includes Photoshop and 20GB of online storage. The version of Lightroom on this plan is now known as “Lightroom Classic” and functions as Lightroom has done for years, and people on this plan will also be able to use Lightroom CC with their 20GB of storage. Adobe signaled their intention to continue development of Lightroom Classic by releasing a new version the same day Lightroom CC was unveiled. This new release is much snappier than the two year old application it replaced.

For those who don’t want to migrate Lightroom CC, but who would like to use Adobe’s 1TB cloud storage offering, there is an option for that as well. During the Adobe Max keynote users were told they would be able to gain access to the 1TB of storage for an extra $5 a month, bringing the total to $15 a month for Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, 1TB of storage, and Lightroom CC. New users, on the other hand will have to pay $19.99 a month for this bundle.

I’m assuming all these plans will continue to allow full access to all of Adobe’s excellent mobile Creative Cloud apps.

Lightroom CC’s Limitations

So why wouldn’t photographers go for the simple Lightroom CC plan and call it a day? There are a number of reasons.

No conversion to DNG

Adobe’s digital negative, known as DNG, is both an open and excellent standard for RAW files 1. DNG enjoys wide support, and files in this format are often a bit smaller than the proprietary formats used by manufacturers. I have this conversion performed whenever I import into Lightroom, it makes it easier to play with photos later.

No batch renaming or folder organization

Adobe may not always be around, which would mean my customized Lightroom catalog could feasibly become useless to me at some point in the future. Such a disaster might leave me with an endless number of photos named “IMG08562.dng” with no organization whatsoever. This would not be acceptable.

Lightroom Classic, however, allows users to work inside folders which exist on their library’s hard drive. As a bonus, imported photos are able to be renamed to a sequence set by the user. Over the last year I’ve taken to naming my folders “[year-month-day] [title]” and renaming my imported photos to match. This is more than just about a potential Adobe-less future. I find renaming my photos useful if I ever want to dig for a photo online which I’m not syncing with Lightroom Mobile. I browse through my cloud back up to search for the desired file.

No virtual copies

Virtual copies are duplicates of existing photos which exist only as part of the Lightroom library 2. They are often used to alter metadata like a copyright license or keywords, or to explore different ways to develop a photograph using Lightroom’s excellent tools. I use virtual copies most often when I’m playing with black and white photography.

No photo stacking

Photo stacking is how one creates a high dynamic range photograph (HDR) from a series of images captured with different exposure settings. Combing this data allows for an extreme amount of adjustments which can be performed on the resulting image.

No panoramas

Lightroom Classic allows users to stitch together a series of photos to create an expansive field of view. Lightroom CC doesn’t include this feature.

No presets

I don’t use presets much, but professional photographers swear by them. Presets allow users to apply a range of adjustments for images, achieving a specialized looks or consistent development for a set of photos.

Lightroom CC’s major plus

Lightroom CC does have one trick up it’s sleeve which Lightroom Classic does not enjoy. When photos are imported into a user’s Lightroom CC library through the app the actual RAW file is uploaded. When photos are imported into Lightroom Classic and then synced with the cloud, only the smart previews are transmitted.

I find this decision confusing, as it makes Lightroom Classic’s import features useless for anyone who wants to both use the tool’s unique power and make use of Adobe’s 1TB of storage for off-sight backup. Instead, photos will first have to be imported using Lightroom CC and then converted, renamed, and moved inside the Lightroom Classic library. It’s a bit of a mess, though photographers who have been using Lightroom Mobile to import photos are already used to this workflow.

My future

My funds are limited, and besides entertainment I’m already paying subscriptions for malware protection, VPN, catastrophic cloud backup, and photography. I already made the determination to not continue with SmugMug this year because the cost is just too much, and I’m not sure if I can afford to pay the extra money for Adobe’s new bells and whistles. Were I able to pay the existing user price of $14.99 a month for Lightroom Classic and 1TB of storage I could see that as an option. Since I purchased my subscription through Amazon, however, that price is not open to me. Once my Amazon-purchased subscription is up I’ll be treated a new customer. I’d love to see a $15 a month plan which has the 1 TB of storage but doesn’t include Photoshop. I have other tools I can use.

I’ve already purchased a key for my next year of Adobe’s Photography Plan so I will be staying with Lightroom Classic through 2018. After that, I don’t know. The prospect of having my library with me anywhere holds great appeal, but I would need to juggle my other subscriptions to free up my funds. As I have an off site backup, and my primary use for a catastrophic cloud backup is to preserve my photos, I could forego that in the future (though I’m leery of this). I could also opt for a lifetime subscription for a VPN and free up some money this way. My last option would be to drop YouTubeTV, but my son is enjoying watching live sports again and I do enjoy watching with him.

One thing is certain, the times they are a changin’.

  1. RAW photos are generally uncompressed, but all RAW images contain all the data captured by the sensor. 
  2. They use the same image from the hard drive.