If you’re a photographer, then you’ve probably heard of Lightroom. It’s one of the market’s most popular photo editing software programs. What might be confusing is that there are currently two versions of Lightroom: Lightroom Mobile (aka Lightroom CC) and Lightroom Classic. So, what’s the difference? In this blog post, let’s look at the features of both programs and help you decide which one is right for you.
Another factor that makes having multiple versions of Lightroom on the market is that Adobe keeps changing the names of the products. With the most recent name change of Lightroom CC to just Lightroom, Adobe has shown that it seems to favor the cloud-based version over Classic. Though Adobe says it has no plans to stop developing Lightroom Classic, you have to wonder. However, for now, with Classic’s capabilities still ahead of Lightroom (CC)’s, they both have a strong future.
Let’s dive into where each one shines. Since the two programs share most of the editing features, I’ll focus on their differences and how they will affect your work.
Overview of Lightroom Classic Features
Lightroom Classic is a traditional desktop-based application. When you use Classic, your images are stored on your computer’s hard drives or local storage devices. Accessing your images is very fast, and the storage space is only limited by the capacity of the drives attached to your computer.
All images imported into Lightroom Classic stay on your computer. No data is uploaded to the internet unless you specify that the images should be synced to your Creative Cloud account. This means that even if your computer is not connected to the internet, you will be able to browse, edit, and save your images.
Classic supports tethering capture with certain camera bodies. Tethering connects your camera directly to a computer. It allows you to see a live view from the camera, control the camera settings, and capture and import images directly from the camera during a photo session. This is a high-end feature but very handy when doing portrait sittings, macro, or still-life projects.
Another advantage to Lightroom Classic is that it supports plugin architecture. Plugins allow developers to create connections between Lightroom and external applications and publishing services. Without plugins, Lightroom would be limited to external tools that Adobe supports.
Lightroom Classic is highly extensible. Its plug-in architecture allows third-party developers to create a huge variety of plug-ins that let you add new features and capabilities to the already rich Lightroom Classic toolset.Adobe
One more thing… Lightroom Classic supports multiple Virtual Copies of images. Virtual Copies are used to develop and save different ‘looks’ for the same image. What this means is that you can edit the same image multiple times to create the best look or come back at a later time and start over without losing the original edits.
Overview of Lightroom (CC) Features
Adobe Lightroom (CC) is a cloud-based application. Its features and catalog are accessed using a desktop, mobile, or web-based interface. When you use Lightroom (CC), your images are stored in a cloud-based storage area attached to your Creative Cloud account. Syncing your images and updates is done automatically, and all your activities are stored in the cloud.
This keeps your work safe from data loss caused by the loss, failure, or damage to your computing device. It also means that your images are available to any Lightroom (CC) installation on your account.
Lightroom (CC)’s tool layout has a modern feel. The adjustment tools have been rearranged and organized by type of adjustment. This will help users learn how to use Lightroom and develop long-term editing workflows.
Additionally, Lightroom (CC) has added hover-over help icons that explain each tool and how it’s used. This great new feature will help users quickly learn the best way to use the application.
The catalog search in Lightroom (CC)’s is powered by Adobe Sensei, a cloud-based, machine-learning technology in many Adobe products. Sensei allows you to search for terms like “cat”, “boat”, “beach”, or “Mount Rushmore”. Image recognition will locate images in the catalog that match those terms, even if the images are not tagged. Sensei is not 100% perfect, but it will get better over time.
Lightroom Versions Comparison
From what you’ve seen in the previous sections, the main difference between the applications is where the data and code “live” and how they interact with services.
Lightroom (CC) is a cloud-based application with all its storage and functionality based on internet-connected services. On the other hand, Lightroom Classic performs all of its work on your local hardware.
Lightroom Classic will be limited by the power and capacity of your computer and Lightroom (CC) will be limited by your connectivity and connection speed to the internet.
An important aspect of local vs. cloud computing is to take into account the size of your image files. If you are working with 5 MB jpg files, the delay in working with the cloud-based system is not much of a factor.
However, as you work with the larger image files created by better camera sensors, you will see a huge delay in importing, accessing, and saving your files. The files created by my camera run 43MB each, and newer cameras will easily double that. Even with a good internet connection, you could be spending a lot of time waiting for the Develop module to startup.
So Which Lightroom Version Should I Use?
If you’re using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera and have a laptop or desktop computer, I recommend using Lightroom Classic. Also, if you are most comfortable using a traditional computer, keyboard, and mouse (or tablet) to interact with your art, start with Lightroom Classic. It’s the most straightforward version to use, and it has the most features.
If your photography is more smartphone (iPhone or Android) based, I’d suggest going with Lightroom (CC). I would also suggest Lightroom (CC) if you want to be able to edit your images anywhere (I’ve edited a landscape shoot from my iPad on a plane).
Finally, it depends on what you want to do with your finished images. Lightroom CC’s features are a great fit if you are strictly social media-based. However, if you want to print your images or want to be able to use third-party editors or filters, then you will want to start with Lightroom Classic.
The editing capabilities for all of the versions are practically identical. There are still a few of Classic’s features absent from the Lightroom (CC) versions:
- no plugin support
- no support for external hardware (e.g., camera tethering, Wacom tablets, etc.)
- no modules for generating slideshows, books, or web galleries
- no smart collections
And remember, just because you start in one version of Lightroom does not stop you from installing and using the other. You can have both Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic installed on one computer. You can also use Classic on your computer and sync some images to the cloud to edit in CC. It really is one big happy Lightroom Family, after all.
In my case, I’m used to using my desktop computer so my preference is to use Lightroom Classic with sync enabled. I have Creative Cloud sync enabled, so I can easily transfer and edit photos in Lightroom Mobile on my iPad using the Apple Pencil.
Overall, there are some key differences between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC. The most important thing to consider when deciding which version to use is what you need the application to do for you.
- If your style needs an edit anywhere anytime application, where all the storage and functionality is based on internet-connected services, then go with Lightroom CC.
- If you use a DSLR or Mirrorless camera and have a laptop or desktop computer, I recommend using Lightroom Classic. It has the most features and is the most straightforward version to use.
- If your photography is more smartphone (iPhone or Android) based, Lightroom CC will be the better choice.
I hope this helped clear up the confusion around which Lightroom version you should use. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
If you are a new photographer and are looking to learn about using Lightroom for post-processing, then take a look at my Lightroom Tutorial for New Photographers
For more information on photography and techniques, head to the Guides Section.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments below.
How Much Does Lightroom Cost?
Lightroom is not available as a standalone application for your computer. Adobe’s subscription model starts at $9.99 monthly or roughly $120 yearly. I know this seems like a lot. But I think it’s a deal based on what you get and how expensive the standalone licenses used to cost.
Adobe offers three different subscription plans for photographers:
1) Photography Plan with 20GB cloud storage – $9.99 per month
This plan includes Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom. It is perfect if you intend to use Lightroom and Photoshop. You can activate and remain signed in to the app(s) on up to two computers. The limitation is that you can only be active on one computer at a time.
2) Photography Plan with 1TB cloud storage – $19.98
Same as the base Photography Plan with both Lightroom versions and Photoshop, but with 1TB cloud storage included. You’ll need this plan if you intend to use Lightroom CC heavily and will be storing all your images in the cloud. Tip – You can start with the 20GB version and upgrade to this one when you need extra storage.
3) Lightroom only with 1TB cloud storage – $9.99
This is a good plan if you only want to use Lightroom CC. It costs the same as the basic Photography Plan and includes 1TB of cloud storage. The drawback is that you do not get access to Lightroom Classic or Photoshop.
Tip – You can get a 70% discount if you’re a student or a teacher. See Adobe for details.
Is There a Free Version of Lightroom?
Yes, there is. You can download and use Lightroom Mobile (aka Lightroom for mobile – Adobe has to get these naming changes ironed out) for free on your Apple or Android phone or tablet. It can be used as a stand-alone editor on your mobile device and does not require a license. The application’s capture, organization, and sharing capabilities and many editing tools are free to use.
If used with a Creative Cloud Photography subscription, Lightroom Mobile also lets you sync your images to all of your other Creative Cloud applications. It also enables Sensei search, the healing brush, selective adjustments, and several other advanced tools.
The History of Adobe Lightroom
Lightroom was created in 2007 by Adobe Systems. It was designed as a digital workflow application for photographers, allowing them to edit, organize, and share photos from a single program. The first version of Lightroom, also known as Lightroom 1, was released as a public beta on Mac OS and Windows.
Lightroom quickly grew in popularity among photographers owing to its numerous features, such as non-destructive editing, tonal editing, local filter adjustments, and a user-customizable interface. Because of its popularity, Lightroom soon became one of Adobe’s flagship products.
In 2015, Adobe released Lightroom version 6, the last version of Lightroom that supported a perpetual (one-time purchase) license model. Switching to a subscription model caused some concerns at the time. These concerns were met with continuous feature improvements that kept Lightroom as a premiere photographic application.
In 2017, Adobe released Lightroom CC, a cloud-based version of Lightroom. This version of Lightroom was designed for users who wanted to access their photos from anywhere and share them with others.
At first Lightroom CC’s feature set was limited but as newer versions were released, its capabilities are more in line with Lightroom Classic.
For a complete list of each version and when major features were introduced, Wikipedia has an up-to-date Lightroom reference page.
In 2009, Adobe released Lightroom version 3, which added support for video files, tethered shooting, and new camera Raw formats. This version was the first to contain built-in lens correction and perspective control.
The next major release was Lightroom version 4 in 2012, which added support for photo book creation and the map (GPS) module. It also introduced highlight and shadow recovery sliders to bring out the details in an image’s darkest and lightest areas.
In 2015, Adobe released Lightroom version 6, which was the last version of Lightroom that supported a perpetual (one-time purchase) license model. This version included tools for merging multiple images into HDR or Panoramic pictures