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

Adobe Lightroom isn’t a single program anymore — 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 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.

As Adobe continues updating them, the gap between the two narrows. The latest update brought more import options for Lightroom CC, for example. Enough differences remain between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic, 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 X X (coming to iOS soon)
Smart collections X
Shared albums X
Search Manually added keywords Auto-add keywords
Organization X X
Slideshow X
Prints and photobooks X
Geotagging map X
Learn tool X X
Batch editing X 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 X
Panorama stitching X X
Import and playback video X 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

While Lightroom CC is catching up, Lightroom Classic’s import options are the most varied. The import window includes options to add to collections, adjust metadata, add keywords, change the destination, and even apply presets while importing.

Lightroom CC, on the other hand, has fewer choices, with the option to add to an album and apply presets. This creates a simplified screen that’s easier for beginners to get started with but skips out on time-saving options and some metadata features some photographers use.

Winner: Lightroom Classic

Organizing photos

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. A sorting toolbar that allows users to set parameters to see only specific photos like only flagged photos, or only flagged photos that were also edited.

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 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% accurate, but it should get better with time.

Lightroom CC also has the option to create Shared Albums, which allows photographers to collaborate on shared projects using an album that’s accessible online.

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

Lightroom CC

Pros

    Easier to learn for beginners, with simpler organization and built-in learning tools
    Intelligent Search tool
    Earlier presets are still compatible
    Automatically save original files and edits to the cloud
    Mobile or desktop

Cons

    Fewer import options
    Fewer export options
    Watermarks are text only

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 — though a new integration does allow for prints through White House Custom Color in the desktop version of 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. (Now, Lightroom Classic controls can be re-arranged).

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 Lightroom CC 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. Lightroom CC also includes built-in tutorials that walk users through a step-by-step process. Lightroom Classic will eventually be getting those same tutorials, but for now, it has more limited in-app tutorials and an online home for tutorials.

Winner: Lightroom CC

Editing photos

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, HSL (hue, saturation, luminance) panel, HDR merging, or panorama stitching, but Adobe has since added all of those features in. The HSL panel tool inside of both versions of Lightroom gives each color in the photo its own slider to lighten or darken only that shade. The tool helps reduce 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.

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.

Lightroom Classic CC

Pros

    More advanced adjustment tools
    Smart collections options to create albums by metadata
    More options for building slideshows, making prints
    More export options, including custom watermarks

Cons

    Cannot back up original RAW files to the cloud
    Larger learning curve for newbies

Both programs include sharpening options, noise removal, a dehaze tool, vignetting, chromatic aberration, lens corrections, and a new Enhance Detail option. Cropping and straightening tools are also found in both.

Both also allow for creating or uploading Lightroom presets. Lightroom CC will actually adjust the sliders in the edit panel 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. Presets inside CC will also sync across devices, so the preset you bought or created on a laptop will show up in your mobile app too. Batch editing is a similar time-saver, and both platforms also now offer the tool. For Lightroom CC, batch editing hasn’t yet made it to iOS, however.

After the edits are made, Lightroom Classic serves up much more flexible exporting options. Lightroom CC only asks for the destination, image 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 last few versions 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% 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 yet synced, and you can prioritize which are downloaded first simply by opening an image — you don’t need to wait until the entire 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 the previews.

In Lightroom CC, however, the original RAW files are saved along with their adjustments. For this reason, the 20 gigabytes offered in the standard Creative Cloud Photography Plan will simply not be enough for most photographers. 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 at the same $10 per month price.

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. Syncing RAW files through the cloud is time-consuming, but being able to access your originals from any device and having an automatic backup is a big perk for many photographers.

The rebuilt Lightroom mobile apps also work seamlessly with Lightroom CC, with similar features and interfaces. Some of the most powerful features aren’t included on the Android and iOS versions, like HDR merge and panorama stitching, but all of the basic editing tools are there. 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 shooting mode that still saves images in DNG.

Winner: Lightroom CC

Price

Choosing between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC means a $10 monthly subscription either way. The standard Photography Plan comes with Lightroom Classic CC, Lightroom CC, and Photoshop CC, while the standalone Lightroom CC plan only includes the one app, but with 1TB of storage.

Of course, Adobe created another option for photographers that want it all — a $20 monthly subscription includes all three programs and the 1 TB of storage.

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

So, which version is right for you?

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. Classic also offers more customization for import and export settings — though the ability to export TIFFs help catch CC up a bit.  While CC is the Lightroom for photographers that want to edit anywhere with an intuitive interface, Classic is the best option for photographers that need the most tools and access to Photoshop.

Adobe says that they will continue developing both applications. 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.

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