Adobe’s new Lightroom leverages the cloud for cross-platform photo editing

In its biggest announcement since Creative Cloud, Adobe, on October 18, is setting a new direction for its Lightroom photo-editing software: Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic. The move effectively splits Lightroom into two different platforms, one designed for “work anywhere” workflows (Lightroom CC) and another that harnesses the power of desktop computing (Lightroom Classic CC).

The strategy seems convoluted, but here’s the gist: The Lightroom that users already know (and love) is being rebadged as Lightroom Classic CC. For the most part, it will look and feel the same as before, but Adobe is adding a new tool and upgrading the speed.

Lightroom CC is what’s new, however, it is built around the mobile-centric features Adobe has been making to Lightroom in recent years. It’s a collection of desktop, mobile, and web apps designed to work seamlessly the same across various platforms, whether it’s on MacOS, Windows, iOS, or Android. Lightroom Classic offers more tools, but Lightroom CC has a simpler interface, the option to upload full resolution photos to the cloud (including Adobe DNG RAW), and search and tagging using Adobe’s artificial intelligence, called Sensei.

“Lightroom CC answers photographers’ demand for a deeply integrated, intelligent, cloud-based photography solution,” Bryan Lamkin, executive vice president and general manager of Digital Media at Adobe, said in a statement.

Adobe said both software complement each other. Files edited in Lightroom CC at an office, for example, can be synced to Lightroom Classic for editing at home later. The company also says it will continue to develop Lightroom Classic alongside Lightroom CC, and that users can switch between the two.

As for pricing, users now have four Creative Cloud subscriptions to pick from. The price of the existing Adobe Creative Cloud photography plan remains the same: For $10 a month, you get Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic, Lightroom apps for mobile and web, Photoshop CC, Adobe Spark, Adobe Portfolio, and 20GB of cloud storage. For users who need more cloud storage, a $20 per month plan ups the space to 1TB (current plan subscribers get a discounted price of $15 for the first year).

Another $10 plan omits Lightroom Classic and Photoshop, but you get all the other mentioned software and 1TB of cloud storage. If you don’t need any of the desktop applications, a new mobile-only plan (iOS and Android) is available for $5, and it includes 100GB of cloud storage; the mobile apps themselves, however, are free to download and use.

Ready to find out more about Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC? Keep reading.

Adobe Lightroom CC

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Lightroom CC has been redesigned from the ground up as a new platform that works across mobile devices and computers, as well as in web browsers, although Adobe has been slowly making this move in recent versions of Lightroom — all based around the cloud. You could argue that Lightroom CC isn’t entirely new, but just a way to streamline Adobe’s various Lightroom software into a one-size-fits-all platform.

Editing tools are all the same, whether you’re working on a smartphone or laptop, and cloud-based storage allows for syncing large image libraries across several devices. The cloud-based system means photographers can start working on images on their laptop, then continue working with those same edits while waiting for the bus or sitting in a coffee shop.

With a revamped user interface and user experience, the tools have a new organization scheme. The import dialog is a simplified version of Lightroom Classic’s. For editing photos, a sidebar organizes all the sliders into a category by the type of edit. The change puts all the exposure controls together and all the color tools together, for example, instead of “anything goes” organization of Lightroom Classic.

The ability to work anywhere is what defines Lightroom CC’s mobile and cloud-based strategy, and Adobe says it capitalizes on several new AI features. Sensei, Adobe’s AI processing engine, is bringing auto-tagging to Lightroom CC, which uses computer vision to search for specific photos, rather than requiring users to enter tags.

When editing in Lightroom CC on the web, a new “Best Photos” option (in beta) automatically finds what Adobe Sensei thinks are the best shots — a feature we mentioned in our Adobe Max preview, where the new Lightroom CC was announced. A slider allows users to choose how many images they’d like to see in the results. For now, this feature is just a technology preview that’s only available in Lightroom CC on the web. Adobe says additional machine learning features will be coming to the program, as well, but did not expand on what those could be.

Tom Hogarty, Adobe’s director of photography programs, says that the change focuses on bringing intuitive, powerful software anywhere. “Every so often, we see a shift in the photo industry and we have to do a pretty big shift in direction,” he said. “Now with a smartphone camera in every pocket…photography is becoming a form of communication itself, which means if you want to stand out and be heard, you need great images.”

Lightroom CC mobile apps will have all of the same tools as the desktop version of the software, with the addition of a built-in camera mode. The camera mode expands on the native camera apps by allowing for RAW files in the DNG format as well as manual exposure controls, white balance options, and manual focus.

In the mobile apps’ built-in HDR mode, the app automatically shoots three shots and merges them together. While many phones offer built-in similar HDR functions, Adobe said that Lightroom CC is the only mobile app that shoots HDR images in the DNG file format, allowing users to fine-tune the exposure of the final shot. In a demonstration of the feature, the resulting merged image turned a washed-out photo of a window into a shot where both the details on the interior wall and the objects outside the window were well-exposed.

As a platform designed to bring feature parity to the desktop and mobile versions, Lightroom CC loses a few controls that are found in Lightroom Classic, including the tone curve and split toning. Manually merging HDR photos and panoramas also aren’t part of this release, but those are features Adobe is working to bring to the program in the future. In the meantime, users can take their workflow into Lightroom Classic to access those tools.

“We want to think of Lightroom CC as the beginning of the conversation,” Hogarty said. “We take all that feedback into account when we decide what to do next.”

Lightroom Classic CC

Adobe stresses that the Lightroom photographers know — now called Lightroom Classic — isn’t going anywhere and is still a focus for the development team. With Lightroom Classic, the popular photo organizing tool and RAW editor sees a much-requested performance improvement as well as a new tool.

Adobe said almost everything sees a speed increase with the update — launch speed, load speed, and switching from the Library to the Develop module included. Adobe said that they are continuing to work to improve the speed in Lightroom Classic, but the update offers a significant boost from the previous version.

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Lightroom Classic also now has a new tool for refining masks. The “range mask” tool, with color and luminance options, allows users to refine masks created from using the radial filter, graduated filter, and brush tools without time-consuming manual selections. For example, when applying a graduated filter to bring out the blue in the sky, using the color dropper lets photographers to select that blue, which removes the effect from everything that’s not blue, like the trees and surrounding landscape. Luminance selectors work similarly, but selects a range of light tones instead of color.

While Lightroom CC focuses on cloud-based editing, Lightroom Classic maintains a focus on the strengths of a desktop workflow, Adobe said. Lightroom Classic, like the previous version, can still sync smart previews to the cloud, but unlike CC it does not back up the original RAW file. Because of that sync ability, it is possible to see images in both the Lightroom Original and Lightroom CC, but it’s not a workflow that Adobe recommends.