Adobe's Lightroom is a divisive piece of software. Proponents love the consistency and close compatibility with Photoshop, while others argue it is inefficient with resources and has inferior processing compared to competitors. I want to take a look at a much simpler, fundamental issue with Lightroom.
Over the last few months, I've had the opportunity work with some other programs, including Capture One, and I found something odd. I could produce similar finished files with each of the tools and considering my limited experience, I can't say whether I could get better results with one processor over the other. What I did notice, when I returned to Lightroom for a personal project, was how the interface felt so cumbersome. Even with the unneeded sidebars closed and the panels rearranged, it felt like the software got in the way.
The Lightroom interface hasn't changed much since introduction, for better or worse. With the software having been available for over 12 years, a number of display technologies have changed. New monitor aspect ratios and higher pixel densities are both commonly available, but can't be fully taken advantage of. Notably, high-pixel densities can even degrade the effective speed of Lightroom when compared to lower density displays.
The panels are locked to the right side of the image and require scrolling regardless of screen resolution. The keyboard shortcuts are unable to be changed natively and do not lineup with defaults for Photoshop. The interface for presets is dated, requiring you to mouse over each one, while checking a small, slow loading preview. The overall interface is laggy. Even with fast machines, brush performance suffers on complex settings or images.
The single biggest fix Lightroom could receive would be the introduction of interface customization, in line with Photoshop's capabilities. Photoshop can already float panels, allowing for easy optimization of the workspace. Photoshop allows for customizable keyboard shortcuts. With Lightroom, photographers are locked into the rigid default arrangements. Second monitor support is weak, forcing users into a few predefined setups. The small boon of rearrangeable panels, courtesy of a recent update, is the only substantial improvement to the interface in recent years.
Clearly, Adobe has members capable of coding the necessary UI to support these features, as evidenced by Photoshop. Unfortunately, it seems that this issue may be intrinsic to Lightroom's fundamental code, based on the delay in implementing it. I'm not qualified to speak on the software engineering side, but as a user, it's clear Lightroom isn't the most optimized program.
Since Adobe pivoted to the subscription model for Lightroom, I've been relatively content with their updates. Small features here and there, all at a reasonable price. Given the need for Photoshop, Lightroom has just been a given, as I'm already paying for it under the umbrella of the Photography Plan. Despite that, I've grown increasingly unhappy with the performance and interface.
The most recent update offers no useful features, in my opinion. The Enhance Details tool is only a Band-Aid for their mistakes with X-Trans demosaicing, while the HDR panorama merge is just a combination of two pre-existing buttons. Given the emphasis on Lightroom CC, I'm not expecting big fixes and improvements anytime soon.
While no piece of software is perfect, I'm starting to notice more of the flaws in Lightroom. I'm not sure if I'm ready to make the jump to another processor just yet, as I've got catalogs with tens of thousands of photos and hundreds of hours experience in Lightroom. With that said, the love is fading fast. Have you jumped ship to a new raw processor? What was the final straw for you?
Lead Image courtesy of Nathan Anderson