My Love for Lightroom Is Fading Quickly

My Love for Lightroom Is Fading Quickly

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

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Grant Beachy's picture

This is coming from a guy with 234K images in my LR catalog, so I'd say I'm a medium-volume user. The speed is more than acceptable on a 2017 iMac and a 2015 MacBook Pro.

I've tried Capture One, and it's a LOT slower on my 2017 iMac with i7 and 40GB of RAM. It's basically very "laggy." LR seems pretty quick and responsive in comparison, and I'll be sticking with it.

Przemek Lodej's picture

I ditched LR completely a few years ago. Garbage. Bloated, slow and I absolutely hate the organization part inside LR. The UI sucks donkey balls, as does PS, but PS is less bloated. My workflow is 50% PS, 25% Affinity Photo and 25% Exposure X4. Don't need anything else. I may ditch PS entirely soon too. Adobe has really been sitting on their asses for a very long time.

This. There is no good reason why Adobe doesn't completely own the market. They've had a lock for decades and they sat on their laurels and ignored users. Now, it may be too late.

I really like Lr for my iPad to cull photos and make quick edits, but I still use Lr Classic (worst name ever) because Lr CC isn't there yet. Adobe should wonder why users are switching to CapOne and make Lr CC more friendly. Lr Classic seems like it's on life support at this point. I use it because I already pay for it and it's 'good enough' for my needs.

I used Capture One, Luminar, After Shot, Aperture and Apple Photos as alternatives, but dumped them all and kept coming back to Lr and Ps.

A big reason is that none of those have the organizational chops of Lr, the metadata and publishing features, the plugins, and the support. Just not close.

But that being said, Lr is kind of like Word or Excel in that any change is likely to send existing users into a frenzy—yes, the interface element might be clunky, but when time is money many don't want to learn a new way. Look what happened when they changed the import module (although I grant it wasn't that improved).

The key is options. The suggestions above could be done but still allow users to have Classic the classic way. Some movable and customizable panels. Shortcut modification (BTW, in macOS you can add keyboard shortcuts, like for plugins). A sliding comparison tool (where you move the line back and forth). Better text search.

Adobe has a feedback forum, and they visit it. Add your requests.

Ed Sanford's picture

"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."
I actually hate this about Photoshop and love the way its done in Lightroom. I lose the panels in Photoshop and struggle with getting them back. Also, LR's static interface provides consistency that I like. So, one man's art is another man's frustration.

Alex Coleman's picture

Sounds like we're looking for different things out of the UI. I've made use of PS's movable panels, while never running into that issue. I see how that could be frustrating.

Oz Photo's picture

Yes left Lightroom to C1 and Affinity Photo, great combination never looked back.

My love for Lightroom has fallen into the crapper, in part because of Adobe's godawful customer support.

The fact that I can sync the edits I make to photos when I work on my iPad and on my Mac (using Lightroom Classic there because a) I have a shit-ton of photos and b) I need the plug-ins that are only available for Classic to get my photos to my website, so don't tell me to use CC) is great, but the fact that I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT sync keywords back and forth is ASININE in the EXTREME. Every customer service rep tells me a fix is on the way, but it cannot get here fast enough.

Venson Stein's picture

I'm still on Lightroom v6.5. I see no reason to upgrade and get into some paid subscription scam.

Timothy Gasper's picture

I wonder how much time is spent on the computer doing PP? Has anyone ever done research on this?

Alex Coleman's picture

For me, it really depends on what I'm shooting. Anywhere from 20% of the time I spent in the field, for something like a landscape shoot, to over 100% for something like product photography.

Timothy Gasper's picture

20% is good for landscape as it's not TOO difficult to get it how you want just from the camera, but my God! 100% for things like product? How do you do it? I mean...that's a really long time to be spending. But I guess I can see it as you really want to nail it good for whomever you're shooting for. My professional work is (well...was) done with film. But when shooting for Historic Ducumentary I did use digital. Good luck to you sir and keep it up.

Too much time, in my experience.

I switched to Skylum Luminar. It is a great piece of software with 1 time payment, you get almost all the features you need such as Libraries, photo editing and processing quite similar to LR. The learning curve is relatively easy if you switch from Lightroom.

But recently there are some major upgrade to this software which makes it a bit buggy. I believe the software team are working hard to make it better.

Is there an alternative to LR that can share a workflow across both MacOS and iOS?

Jason Lorette's picture

Bridge > ACR > Photoshop
LR is just too muddied for me, catalogues and library's are all too confusing. Unless I'm forced to change I use LR very, very little, mainly for setting up proof galleries.

Robert Olding's picture

I was an early user of Apple's Aperture, one of the few that paid the original price of $500 when it was released in late November 2005. At the time, it was like a breath of fresh air. Someone had figured out a way to provide professional photographers with an easy way to catalog our work. It also had a beautiful UI that was easy to use and understand. When Adobe released Lightroom in early 2007, I jumped on board, then immediately jumped ship. The main reason ... it had the worst UI imaginable. I literally couldn't stand to look at the thing. I kept hoping that Adobe would eventually pull it together. I eventually moved on to Capture One.

Rayann Elzein's picture

Yeah LR is such a pain to use. Brushes slow down everything even on the simplest setting, despite having a powerful CPU, tonnes of RAM and a very decent GPU... I have tried ON1 but was extremely unhappy with noise reduction (I shoot a lot of high ISO night time photos). Next step try Capture 1.

Lightroom is like a familiar old friend, but there are new blokes on the block. I have licenses for C1, Luminar, PhotoLab, Afinity. Only enough time to use one or two. It is worthwhile comparing. I am very impressed with PhotoLab.

Zach Ashcraft's picture

I don't at all understand the disdain for Lightroom in all of these articles and comments. The UI is about as simple as it gets, and its blazing fast on my 2014 MacBook Pro.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I rely on PhotoLab for RAW processing. I use Lightroom mainly 1) as a DAM, 2) because PhotoLab integrates well with it, 3) for stripping backgrounds and doing skin smoothing in portraits, and 4) for HDR and Pano merging. I hate the UI, though. It looks like it was designed by the Windows XP team. The modal approach is awful. It takes far more clicks in my workflow than Aperture did. And, the lack of customizable keyboard shortcuts is simply unforgivable, especially given that the defaults change depending on which mode you're in. (What were they thinking?!)
I'd gladly switch away from Lightroom if I could find one good substitute. At present, I'd have to adopt separate apps for DAM, pixel editing and HDR/Pano. Might have to try Luminar + Aurora.

Joe Healey's picture

Not feeling the love anymore. I am part of the club that has crashing and freezing issues whenever I try to use an adjustment brush or zoom at 1:1. I was only able to reach Tech Support once. All other times I gave up after over an hour on hold. I would jump ship if there was another program that offered the equivalent of LR Mobile where I have 20,000 smart previews at my disposal and can cull new shoots from anywhere.

Corey Weberling's picture

biggest issue is speed and performance and UI.

Tom Fuldner's picture

I am also a Capture One/Affinity Photo user. I miss the iPad capabilities of Lightroom, but not enough to pay ransom every month for the rest of my life,

S P's picture

Tried three and got stuck with affinity at the end. sorted out exposure x4 and luminar. both had big performance issues. even on the biggest dell xps 9570. exporting with luminar was a pain in the butt. took almost 40 sec to a minute to save a processed image, during that time you can't go on with the next image, you have to wait until the file is saved. exposure x4 i disliked from the start on. the layout/surface and all the rest wans't really my cup of tea

Chris Denny's picture

I see articles like this describing how someone likes or dislikes a piece of software, or a phone, or some other device. It makes me wish sometimes that I could write an opposing article agreeing or disagreeing with whatever the author stated in the original article.
Your article is nothing but your dissatisfaction with Lightroom which won't make Adobe change what they are going to do any faster than you putting up the same post on Adobe's forums. It's not really an opinion piece either, it's just you griping. Maybe I should apply to Fstoppers to write a column as well?

I'm not posting this to be some troll, what I'd like to see is something constructive that will serve the readership, articles like these don't do anything except getting other people to agree or disagree or your dissatisfaction.

Thanks for allowing me to post my dissatisfaction. A regular reader of Fstoppers.

While these "LR sucks I switched to C1" seem to appear every 26 days on fstoppers I disagree that they shouldn't be presented on fstoppers. People who are unhappy with a product should vote with their $$$ etc. I jumped off the LR treadmill because of lame Nikon camera profiles, lack of customization, and slow speed.

C1 12 processesing 36 megapixel files does not kill one of my 2015 macbooks with 8gb ra and flies with desktop and 13 mbp.

They should pin these "LR sucks so i switched to c1" to top of fstoppers site as more people should be aware there are way better options out there.

Tim Gallo's picture

Never used it professionally - too slow, Bridge with Camera Raw/Photoshop was perfect for for everything for years, and Capture One is my friend in studio and basically for everything else.

I use lightroom with ipad pro for some film-scans - and absolutely frustrated with its workflow on mac, but find it very useful on ipad.

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