While Adobe has been introducing mobile and cloud-based applications at the furious pace of nearly one a month, its flagship products have stayed focused on their desktop experience–until now. At its annual MAX conference, Adobe is introducing a cloud-focused version of Lightroom, called Lightroom CC (Creative Cloud). While it is still a 1.0 and lacks all the features of traditional Lightroom (now called Lightroom Classic), Adobe is clearly counting on it to be the future. Also announced are some sizable updates to Photoshop and many other Adobe apps.
I’ve been using the new version of Lightroom and the updated Photoshop for a few days. There is a lot to like, but there’s also plenty of room for future growth.
Adobe Lightroom CC Re-Imagines the Interface
When I first saw the prototype of Lightroom at a focus group of pro photographers hosted by Adobe, it was a fairly straightforward application designed to help showcase images. Over the years it has grown, and grown, and become a very-complex tool that does just about everything related to photo workflows. As a result the interface has gotten more and more cluttered. Lightroom CC has given Adobe a chance to start from scratch with a new, streamlined, interface focused on the most important tasks and tools the way they are used now.
Auto-Keywording Really Works
Every year object recognition technology improves, and with Lightroom CC it has really come into its own. Without any intervention on my part, the images in my Lightroom CC albums (the name it uses for traditional Collections) were analyzed and a wide-variety of objects identified. Obvious terms like tree yielded excellent result, as did slightly more abstract terms like temple (illustrated below). Amusingly, a model of Chicago’s Wrigley Field also qualified as a temple, which I’m sure will make Cubs fans happy:
The autotagging is a bit different than conventional keywording, though. You don’t see the full taxonomy, although you can still add your own keywords to images. The system definitely isn’t perfect, as this image from a museum lobby that Lightroom labeled as a garage, demonstrates:
Lightroom CC Really is Cloud-First
The new Lightroom CC works with updated versions of the Lightroom app for Android and iOS, as well as with a web interface. Images are automatically and silently backed up to the Adobe Cloud, and then accessible on all platforms. You can optionally keep a local copy, but you can’t turn off the cloud. Interestingly, the splash screen for Lightroom CC now refers to it as a service, rather than as an application.
Along with the new version of Lightroom and its integrated storage come new subscriptions. First, Lightroom CC will be added automatically to existing CC and CC Photography plans, but may not be very useful with only the included 20GB of storage. For another $10 per month, you can upgrade your Photography plan to include 1TB of storage. Existing users can get a 50 percent discount for the first year. Additional storage can be rented (it’s not really purchased), likely for a similar price. If you’re willing to go entirely new school, there is a new Lightroom CC plan, which includes Lightroom CC and 1TB of storage for $10 per month.
Beware the Cloud
In principle the seamless, multi-platform, synchronized workflow of Lightroom CC sounds ideal. Simply log in to your Adobe CC account, and have access to all of your images, in full-resolution, across all your devices. Originals are (hopefully safely) stored in Adobe’s Cloud.
For many users, that may be the perfect solution. But for others, there are some flies in the ointment. First, you’re forced to use Adobe’s Cloud. Most photographers already have at least one photo sharing site or cloud storage service they work with. Adobe’s Cloud isn’t free (for 1TB it’s roughly $120 per year additional), so you’ll either need to switch or pay for two storage solutions. If all you want is a place for photos, Amazon Drive features unlimited photo storage (and 1TB of video and documents) for $60 per year, for example.
Second, there’s currently no option to not store all your photos in Adobe Cloud. For customers with data caps (like Comcast’s 1TB/month) or slow internet upload speeds, large image libraries could result in complications. I asked Adobe about these issues, and they said that Lightroom is a 1.0, and they’re looking to work with the photographic community going forward, the same way they did with the original Lightroom. So I expect progress over the coming years, but 1.0 won’t be for everyone.
The good news is that desktop Lightroom isn’t going away (at least not any time soon). Adobe is continuing to improve it. Today’s update features quite a number of performance improvements, for example.
Photoshop Also Gets Some Nice Updates
While there isn’t anything truly amazing that’s new for Photoshop CC, there are some nice additions. First, there’s now a wide variety of tutorials that walk you through common image editing operations. Unlike the Guided Edits in Elements, though, they don’t operate on your images. Instead, they just show you some tips using provided sample images:
Most exciting to me is editing 360-degree panoramas. Until now this has required using a separate tool with its own interface quirks. However, in the limited time I’ve had with the new version, I couldn’t figure out how to make use of it, but I’m sure there will be documentation on it soon. One feature I really need, but is still missing, is Export presets for Photoshop similar to the ones offered by Camera Raw. They would be awesome time-savers.
One cool-sounding feature is the ability to import depth maps from HEIF images, like those captured by Apple’s new iPhones. Presumably that would allow improved depth-related post-processing, like masking and manipulating the apparent focus. Adobe is also quite excited about an overhaul of Photoshop’s brush presets. It looks great, but I can’t claim to use enough different brushes to know how much of an improvement it is.
Other upgrades: Access to Adobe Stock is made easier, and there are new features in type and font management. You can also open Lightroom images right from the Photoshop File-Open command, which is pretty slick. One nice little improvement is simple support for copy and pasting layers. There are quite a few other small improvements and some performance tweaks, in keeping with Adobe’s annual feature release.
One Good Thing About Subscriptions
In a typical review, about here is where I’d stack up the pros and cons of purchasing a new product. In this case, if you’re reading this, you probably already have the right to use it. If you don’t, then $120 per year is a fair price for quite a bit of powerful technology. That leaves the decision of whether to invest in the additional storage needed for Lightroom CC, or be willing to give up on Photoshop and get the Lightroom CC only plan that includes storage instead.
Adobe itself is quick to admit that Lightroom CC is a 1.0. So if you’re serious about working on images on your desktop, I think it is too early to commit to it solely. On the other hand, it is a pretty nice way to do some cross-platform image editing. If you use your mobile devices for much of your editing, and only use your desktop or laptop as yet another editing platform, Lightroom CC might be perfect for you. It certainly has a much more streamlined interface, although it currently doesn’t include all of Lightroom Classic’s functionality.
The new versions of Photoshop and Lightroom should be available for download today, although in some cases not all of the announced features may be available right away.