What’s the difference between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic?

Adobe Lightroom CC iMac
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Adobe Lightroom is no longer one program — photographers can now choose between the cloud-based Lightroom CC and the original Lightroom, now called Lightroom Classic CC. But what’s the difference between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC?

Lightroom CC was redesigned to maintain consistent features across mobile and desktop platforms, and to create a seamless workflow regardless of the device you’re using by storing all of your photos, including RAW files, on a cloud server. Lightroom Classic CC maintains all of the photo-editing power meant for desktop systems — it’s the Lightroom that you know and love (or perhaps don’t love so much).

While both share common features, there are a handful of tools that don’t cross over between programs. And as Adobe continues updating the programs, the gap between the two narrows. Enough differences remain, however, that one may be better suited for your workflow. Here’s what photographers need to know about Lightroom CC vs. Lightroom Classic.

Lightroom Classic

Lightroom CC

Apply preset on import, add metadata X
Smart collections X
Search X
Organization X X
Slideshow X
Prints and photobooks X
Geotagging map X
Learn tool X
Presets X X
Exposure control X X
Color control X X
Sharpness and noise reduction X X
Local brushes X X
Gradient and radial filters X X
HDR merge X
Panorama stitching X
Backup original files to cloud X
Mobile app X
Export with watermark or custom size X X
Price $9.99/month with Photoshop (also includes Lightroom CC and 20GB of storage) $9.99/month with 1TB storage or $19.99/month with storage and Photoshop

Importing photos

lightroom cc vs classic classicimport

Lightroom Classic’s import options aren’t changing with the latest version. The import window includes options to add to collections, adjust metadata, add keywords, change the destination, and even apply presets while importing.

lightroom cc vs classic ccimport

Lightroom CC, on the other hand, has just the option for adding to an album. This creates a simplified screen that’s easier for beginners to get started with, but skips out on time-saving options like adding a preset to all photos on import.

Winner: Lightroom Classic

Organizing photos

lightroom cc vs classic classiccollections

Lightroom Classic organizes photos into collections and collection sets, and includes an option to navigate using the folders on the desktop. “Smart Collections” lets users create groups of photos instantly by setting parameters, such as selecting photos taken with a specific lens or images with a specific rating.

Lightroom CC switches to an album nomenclature, but albums work similarly to collections. Folders can be used to organize albums. Images are also automatically sorted by date and are accessible that way as well, without any extra steps to set up the dated albums.

lightroom cc vs classic ccalbums

Lightroom Classic has Smart Collections to create custom automatic collections that Lightroom CC doesn’t have. But Lightroom CC uses artificial intelligence (Adobe Sensei) to search through your photos, a feature Classic doesn’t have. Using object-recognition technology, Lightroom CC can search for objects and popular landmarks, which means even if you don’t organize your photos, you’ll probably still be able to find that photo you are looking for — at least, in theory. In our experience, Sensei wasn’t 100 percent accurate, but it should get better with time.

Both versions include the tools to rate and flag individual photos. Lightroom CC will even automatically choose your best photos, leveraging the image analysis powers of Adobe Sensei, but the feature is currently a technology preview and only available in the web-based version of Lightroom CC.

Winner: Tie

User interface

Adobe Lightroom CC surface
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Despite a new name and a few new features, Lightroom Classic is the same program photographers have been using for more than a decade. Users familiar with the previous version of Lightroom won’t have to relearn controls in Lightroom Classic.

Lightroom Classic is organized into different modules, each organizing all the options for that particular task. While the Develop and Library modules are the most used panels, Lightroom Classic also has options for building a slideshow, printing a photo book, viewing geotagged photos on a map, making prints, and creating a web gallery. You won’t find those features in Lightroom CC.

In creating Lightroom CC, Adobe asked a few questions about why the options were located where they were and couldn’t come up with a good answer as to why the exposure sliders were located in between options for white balance and saturation. In Lightroom CC, the Develop side panel is entirely redesigned and organized by the type of adjustment.

For example, adjusting exposure, contrast, and highlights and shadows are all under the Light section, while white balance, vibration, and saturation fall under the Color panel. The organization scheme will be easier for beginners to learn since everything is grouped together, but those familiar with earlier versions of Lightroom may have to do some hunting at first.

Lightroom CC also has new hover-over icons that explain each feature. If you’re not sure what temperature is in photography, leave your mouse over the name and a pop-up icon will not only explain what temperature is but animate a sample photo as the slider moves to show the effects on a photo.

Winner: Lightroom CC

Editing photos

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As the program designed for desktop computers, Lightroom Classic contains the widest assortment of tools.

At first, Lightroom CC didn’t include a tone curve tool, split toning, or HSL panel, but Adobe has since added those features in. The HSL panel tool inside of Lightroom Classic gives each color in the photo their own slider to lighten or darken only that shade. The tool is helpful for reducing the redness in skin, as well as creating custom color profiles, such as imitating a film look. The tool also makes a dramatic difference when converting images to black and white by controlling which shade of gray each color converts to. Now, users can also find HSL by tapping on the colored circle icon in Lightroom CC as well.

Both Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic can perform localized adjustments with the healing tool, adjustment brush, and radial and graduated filters, but CC is missing the red-eye removal tool.

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While previous users won’t notice any significant differences in the targeted adjustment tools, both the radial and graduated filter tools have a new option in Lightroom Classic that is not included in the CC version: Color and luminance masking. This allows users to select color or luminance ranges to include in the mask. If you are using the graduated filter to brighten up a boring sky, a color range mask can automatically select all of the sky, saving you from having to manually go in and erase the mask from the trees, buildings, or other objects that jut into the skyline.

Both programs include sharpening options, noise removal, a dehaze tool, vignetting, chromatic aberration and lens corrections. Cropping and straightening tools.

Both also allow for creating or uploading Lightroom presets. Lightroom CC will actually adjust the sliders in the edit pane when you hover over a preset, making it easy to see what each one does. Adobe says that existing preset collections can be imported into Lightroom CC.

Lightroom Classic also includes HDR merging and panorama stitching, both features that are absent in Lightroom CC.

After the edits are made, Lightroom Classic serves up much more flexible exporting options. Lightroom CC only asks for the destination, file size, and whether you want the file type to be a JPEG or original. A recent update added the option to add a watermark, but only with text. Lightroom Classic, in comparison, allows you to name and sequence images and albums on export, add custom image-based watermarks, save photos in multiple file types, control the level of JPEG compression, and create and save export settings presets.

Winner: Lightroom Classic

Speed

Speed has been a chief complaint from Lightroom users in the past, but Adobe says they are continuing to work on speed improvements. In our experience, we have noticed improved performance in the latest version of Lightroom Classic, with faster imports and a lag-free brush experience.

Note: Speed varies based on a lot of factors outside of the software, including computer specs and, when the cloud is used, internet connectivity. These results were produced using a Macbook with 16GB of memory and a 20Mbps internet connection. Import speeds will also vary based on memory card speed.

Importing 10 photos — large 45.7-megapixel RAW files from a Nikon D850 — on Lightroom Classic took less than 20 seconds. But importing those same photos on Lightroom CC took half that, giving CC the edge in import speed. (Adobe has since launched an update that can improve import speed up to 20 percent in Classic.)

Images imported through Lightroom CC are initially saved to your hard drive, but are then uploaded to the cloud. (You can choose to keep a copy on your local drive if you want.) This gives you access to your images from anywhere and creates an automatic backup that will still be there even if all of your external hard drives get stolen or your house burns down. But if you want to access cloud photos not on the local hard drive, they need to be downloaded.

On an album with just over 1,000 RAW photos previously synced but not stored on a local drive, it took more than 45 minutes to download all of the images (to be fair, this is a good excuse to catch up on your favorite Netflix show, although with Lightroom hogging your bandwidth, you may not get the best streaming quality). Fortunately, you should see previews of your photos even if the originals aren’t synced, and you can prioritize which are downloaded first simply by opening an image — you don’t need to wait until the album is downloaded to start editing.

Accessing images already downloaded is very fast, with no delay in bringing up the editing tools as there is in switching from the Library to the Develop module in Lightroom Classic. If you are commonly having to load files off of the server, however, that speed advantage goes away.

Winner: Lightroom CC

Accessibility

Adobe Lightroom CC phone
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

One of the biggest differences between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC is accessibility and cloud storage. While Lightroom has synced Smart Previews between desktop and mobile versions for years, the Creative Cloud has never doubled as a backup service because the original RAW files aren’t saved on the cloud — just smart previews.

In Lightroom CC, however, the original RAW files are saved along with their adjustments. For this reason, the 20 gigabytes that comes included in the standard Creative Cloud Photography Plan (which includes Photoshop and both versions of Lightroom) is simply not enough. We suggest upgrading to at least 1 terabyte of storage. If you don’t need Lightroom Classic or Photoshop, you can opt for the base Lightroom CC plan which exchanges those two programs for 1TB of storage.

The ability to use the Creative Cloud as a storage option without separately backing up your files is a nice expansion of Adobe Creative Cloud’s abilities and one of the biggest perks to choosing Lightroom CC over Lightroom Classic. Downloading full RAW files from the cloud is time-consuming, but syncing across mobile devices and having that backup is a big perk for many photographers.

Lightroom CC’s rebuild also includes a rebuild of the Lightroom CC Android and iOS apps. The change means that switching from the mobile apps to the desktop is even more seamless, with similar features and interfaces. The mobile versions also expand on the desktop platform with a built-in camera mode with manual control and support for RAW files in the DNG format, as well as an HDR mode that still saves images in DNG.

Winner: Lightroom CC

Price

Choosing between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic means a $10 monthly subscription either way, but there are a handful of differences between each option to keep in mind. First, the Lightroom Classic subscription includes Photoshop (and Lightroom CC) while the CC package does not. The difference? The CC package includes 1TB of storage while the Classic only includes 20GB.

Of course, Adobe created another option for photographers that want it all — a $20 subscription includes all the photo programs and the 1 TB of storage. Current photography plan subscribers can get that extra 1TB of storage for  $15 a month for the first year. Mobile-only users can also pick up the Lightroom CC smartphone and tablet apps for $5 month, without the desktop version.

Adobe continues to offer a free trial download for new users.

Winner: Lightroom Classic

So, who wins?

Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC have very different focuses, which means the best program for one photographer might not be the right choice for the next.

Lightroom CC is ideal for photographers that want to edit anywhere, with 1TB of storage to back up original files, as well as the edits. With a simplified user interface, it’s also ideal for beginners with fewer daunting controls and an interface that makes a bit more sense. And thanks to an update bringing the HSL panel, split toning, and tone curves, the gap between the two programs is shrinking. Imports are also faster using Lightroom CC, but accessing cloud-stored files can slow things down.

Lightroom Classic, however, is still the reigning champ when it comes to features. A speed increase and new controls for the radial and graduated filter tools are nice to see. Classic also offers more customization for import and export settings.

Adobe says that they will continue developing both programs. The Lightroom split creates a mobile-focused platform without alienating advanced users that need the more powerful desktop tools — and we’re eager to see what Adobe does next for both programs.