Adobe just announced some major photography-centric updates to its Creative Cloud programs. Alongside a new release of Lightroom Classic CC (the new name for what we all used to call "Lightroom"), Lightroom CC is a brand new application that works across all platforms: desktop, web, and mobile. The new software offers nearly all of the same editing features we're used to, but with an entirely new organizational structure reliant upon the cloud. While there's a standalone Lightroom CC plan, the current Photography Plan includes both the CC and Classic CC applications. So which should you use?
First, it's important understand the main features that Lightroom CC offers. As far as editing goes, it offers nearly all of the editing features of Lightroom Classic CC, but in a package that's a bit more modern in terms of design and the user interface. For a novice user, the design is rather welcoming and less daunting than that of Classic CC. While it looks much too simplistic and far less robust than what we might be used to, the new CC interface is actually just as powerful and surprisingly similar once you open up the tabs it offers up and expand its various settings. Just about the only thing missing is the new Classic CC feature of Color and Luminance Range selection.
One could see Lightroom Classic CC's sliders one day looking like this while the overall interface would hopefully stay the same and not hide behind buttons that make things look prettier and simplified, but that might slow down a professional workflow.
Storage and Organization
The actual main difference in the user experience comes in the organizational workflow. With Lightroom CC, there isn't any. This is both a terrible thing as well as the thing that makes it so great. Okay, so in truth, there is some organization. Anything Collections you created will be replicated as "Albums" in the new Lightroom CC. But there are no catalogs. There's no organization of your files into folders elsewhere on your computer. There's you, your photos, Lightroom, and the cloud. Lightroom CC automatically stores every photograph imported in the cloud.
This creates a huge question for storage. Adobe offers a few storage options for both Photography Plan customers and those that might be interested in the new Lightroom CC plan. These range from a standard 20 GB to 1 TB, but can go up for an undisclosed amount of money and storage. With 1 TB of storage, Lightroom CC should cover the entire image libraries most "normal" people have. Without pricing information, it is difficult to determine if it would be worth it for professional photographers to upgrade and have their entire life's work stored in the cloud (there's an option to keep everything locally as well if you don't want it to start disappearing from your computer), but the appeal of editing on any system or platform anywhere in the world and having access to all of your photos is extremely strong. Still, some (as I do, personally), find the multiple catalog system and current file organization indispensable.
The good news is, for this group of "most of us" who dabble in photography and like to edit from time to time, Lightroom CC offers the best of all worlds imaginable. It's a more robust than it seems image editor and will safely back up all of your data online. A slider lets you determine how much local storage can be used by Lightroom CC, so you can choose to completely free up local space on your computer if you wish once your upload to the cloud is complete with all of your images.
The speed with which Lightroom CC both uploads and downloads images was rather impressive in my own testing. But again, I've been one of the few dozen or hundred or, at best, several thousand who have been using it before today, so it's hard to say if the servers will hold up at volume (but it's probably safe to say Adobe wants everyone's experience to be where it was at for me and will do what it takes to keep it there).
Interface and Actual Use
The interface is pretty. And as stated before, it's certainly less daunting for the average or beginner user. While it does look modern, that modernity comes from a simplicity that I originally thought would hinder editing. But in reality, once you become accustomed to the location of all of the tools, it begins to make more sense and can be used at the same speed as traditional Lightroom editing. Compared to Classic CC, Lightroom CC is nearly just as snappy. And again, those download speeds have been great. Original images backed up to the cloud but not on my computer locally loaded in a couple seconds at most (much less usually). Editing can still occur in real time while the original file is downloading by using the Smart Preview in the meantime, so it's not like you're actually waiting for anything for even a fraction of a second until you zoom in 100 percent. Even then, the transition is virtually seamless.
Importing photos is much simpler. You just select a folder of photos, deselect any photos you don't want imported if you don't want them all, and begin the import. There are zero settings or keyword options or anything whatsoever. Keywords are handled by Adobe Sensei, but more on that later.
Everything about the experience seems rather impressive. However, if users are expected to cross between applications and use both Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC, it seems Adobe made a huge mistake by changing keyboard shortcuts.
Yes, keyboard shortcuts are not the same for everything between the two applications (note, this between for Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC, not between the old Lightroom you're used to and its direct replacement, Lightroom Classic CC, which is unchanged in this regard). The spot removal tool shortcut is traditionally Q while Lightroom CC replaces this shortcut with H. Name changes from Spot Removal to Healing Brush are far from the end of the world in and of themselves, but to also change the shortcuts leaves little incentive for professionals to jump back and forth. Perhaps the biggest upset is the shift from the traditional role assigned to P to flag a photo as a Pick being reassigned to the ever-random Z (P is now the shortcut to open the My Photos tab). It's hard to not see this as one of the only, but also one of the clearest, signs that Adobe doesn't seriously expect professionals to use Lightroom CC that much. For professionals, this type of wrench in the workflow could relegate Lightroom CC to novelty status for the occasional search features, and little more. But don't let this turn of the rest of you or any of those that never use shortcuts anyway.
It's hard to put something other than photo editing or organization as the main feature of an application such as Lightroom CC, so I didn't. But search is arguably the biggest feature of Lightroom CC. Adobe Sensei machine-learning technology identifies features of images and automatically applies keywords, making every image searchable based on its content without any user input whatsoever. Need an image of a tree? Type in "tree" and find any image you've ever taken with a tree in it sprawled out in front of you. This works of any and every platform. You can even use it when you open Photoshop CC to find a Lightroom file you want to work on directly from Photoshop's startup dialog.
There is absolutely no doubt this feature alone could easily make Lightroom CC an indispensable tool for any designer, public relations manager, advertising creative, etc.
A standalone Lightroom CC plan with 1 TB of storage is available for $9.99 per month. For those wanting Photoshop CC and/or Lightroom Classic CC as well, 1 TB of storage with all of these features will cost $19.99 per month for the Photography Plan with 1 TB. Meanwhile, existing Photography Plan customers will receive a $5 discount for one year on the aforementioned plan or can keep their plan for $9.99 per month and enjoy the additions of Lightroom CC and 20 GB of cloud storage. A mobile-only Lightroom CC subscription for $4.99 per month provides 100 GB of data. And more data will be available for undisclosed prices alongside these plans.
In spite of the fact that I won't use it much except for the admittedly novel and powerful concept of automated search, I (and most of you reading this on this site, most likely) aren't necessarily the perfect match for Lightroom CC. There's no doubt that I will recommend Lightroom CC (and little else) anyone in my family or friends circle that is ready for centralized organization and more control over their photographs. And I will be jealous of some of my friends' Lightroom CC features.
However, it's not something for me, personally. I am and will continue to be perfectly happy with Lightroom Classic CC while using Lightroom CC as a rare or occasional supplement. Where I do think it's powerful for a professional photographer is for those many cases in which we want to edit a single photo or small batch of photos with a familiar interface for a quick-use scenario, but outside of any normal work that would have us put those images into our actual catalogs. Until now, our only options have been to load up the photos in Camera Raw or to import them into Lightroom anyway, which is admittedly a cumbersome process in either respect in comparison to the type of situation to which I'm referring.
Lightroom CC, in fact, is perfect for professional photographers in these occasional and temporary use scenarios because they can make those quick edits after a seamless import process and instantly have access to the edits from any device. It's hard to imagine a more perfect solution for this type of work, as I've literally always wanted a standalone, mini-Lightroom. Considering it's a free addition along with 20 GB of storage for current Photography Plan subscribers, that actually makes it a more than useful release. For the rest of the world — the dwarfing majority — Lightroom CC is hands-down the new recommendation you can look forward to receiving from your photography friends. It's the Photos app Apple should have made.