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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Andy Barnham's picture

I'm very close to jumping ship to Capture One. For me LR's tethering abilities are the final straw; slow, glitchy, non- existent, they're costing me time.

Tim Gallo's picture

You wont regret it I am sure. There is a slight learning curve - but it was made with pros in mind - so everything makes sense in the end. And its blazingly fast when working with just raw files (even older version of Capture One) compared to... well anything...
Bridge is close to it, but sometimes big raw files make it read thumbnails too long. Capture One crashes rarely but it does.. but it happens with any software it seems.
and when it comes to tethering - capture one was always on top in terms of speed.

This has been an almost constant argument with myself for years. Not because of the subscription model - I don't care about that. I think a pro shooter is going to pay about the same to buy and update most software. Topaz being the lone exception.

It's the lack of meaningful development, the bugs, crashing and lagging, and the inability to get any meaningful support. The problem is, as others have said, is I have 50k images in my library, I know how to use the software and have a high comfort level with it. Add to that the 3rd party support and add-ins, and I keep not leaving.

Over the last couple of years, I have spent multiple times with trials of all the contenders and I'm pretty sure I could make any of them work. The rushed releases of Luminar 3 and ON1 2019, put a bit of a kink in the process, but there are things I really liked about all of them and face it, a slider is a slider.

I even went so far a few months ago as uninstalling LR and deleting my catalogs and all related data. I don't remember which platform I moved to at the time, either Capture One, ON1, or ACDSee, but got frustrated and came crawling back.

I'll be watching this thread with interest.

Thanks again for the great article.

Tim Gallo's picture

If you know how to use LR - it means you know how to use Camera Raw and it also means you will be at ease with capture one or any other software. when it comes to really big libraries (my back ups goes for many years, i dont know if i have 50k though) - in my experience it is always better have just proper folders on a hard drives and than just use bridge to browse them (capture one also work nice just for its ability to blazingly fast read raw files), or any other software you find useful at that times. thus you wont be depending on any other software and its state at that time. bridge is basicaly finder - but photo oriented. remembers tags, favorites, thumbnails... now they added an icloud feature (but i still cant figure out how to use it though).

For now, I've gone back to ON1 since I bought a license last year. There are some small things I don't like, but for the most part, it is working good. I'll wait until updates come out to make my final decision. I trialed Capture One twice and liked it a lot. My biggest problem with it was poor support for metadata which is crucial to me. Their support team acknowledged the weakness, but until that is fixed, I can't shell out $300 for it.

Baldur Tryggvason's picture

The author is right on. LR drives me nuts! I like the results, but the journey is torture.

Jose Jimenez's picture

ALIEN SKIN X4 is the way to go. At least for me. Give it a shot.

Marcus Joyce's picture

Does anybody print? For me that rules out a lot of others. It's simple to setup, pick your paper profile and edit the output turn on clipping.

Everyone else isn't as straight forward...

Luke Adams's picture

Everything that was once great will eventually suck (according to bloggers). Apple sucks, Adobe sucks, blah, blah. I guess it can only mean good things for those who like those products though, as it will only force them to improve!

That said, I went on a binge trying out different editors this last month. I like Lightroom just fine, but have two problems with it. The clone/heal tool is not very pleasant compared to PS (and you can only use a few instances before LR gets laggy), and there’s no attempt at dedicated skin toning tools.

Since C1 seems to be the darling of the day, I actually just jumped on the big sale they just had, sight unseen. Try as I might though, I couldn’t make it stick. The program is definitely snappy and smooth feeling. I will give it that. The skin coloring section is great for a quick toning and evening when you don’t want to do freq sep in PS. The overall quality of the RAW file is very high too. But, the layer based system (while flexible) is slow to use, the clone/heal system is horrendous, and I just don’t find the program intuitive or quick to work with. For instance, before/after previews are overly complicated. The biggest kicker though was that I just couldn’t get the end result as nice as I could in LR or even in Luminar (read below for that). Maybe someone else could, but for the wedding film look, C1 just couldn’t seem to take me
there the way LR can. My other reservation is price (and subsequent update prices) and speed of new features. It’s already much more pricey than LR IMO, and do you know they just freaking released a radial and gradient mask - something LR has had for many years? Scary.

ON1, I found slow and laggy, so I won’t talk about that, but I gave Luminar a good run through, and was generally impressed, but just couldn’t pull the trigger. I love their DAM as you simply just setup a folder and update on your computer as you usually would, and Luminar instantly updates with it. I like the interface and find it very intuitive, and I like a lot of the different effects/filters that the other RAW editors don’t really have. Their clone/heal brush is PS quality, but with one major caveat - using it actually creates a JPEG layer of your image, and that will be what you edit from there on out. So, you really need to save the healing tool for the final step or else you will be working on a pretty limited file for things like dynamic range. Lastly, I love that you can add overlays and textures, etc as image layers. Luminar almost elimainates much of the need for using PS. All that said, the Achilles heel of the program is speed. Once you get a couple layers or local adjustments, things start getting laggy, and switching images can take several seconds for them to fully load. It would ultimately slow down my workflow even with some of its time saving tools.

So, I’m back to LR. Nope, I can’t do much spot healing before things slow down, and no, there’s no dedicated skin controls (although I do have a brush preset I made that does a nice toning job), but for what it was made for - coloring and lighting an image - it’s fast, has a good DAM, a good interface, a good preset and LUT browsing and preview system, and improvements happen fairly regularly and often. It may get beat out in some areas, but I still think LR is probably the best all rounder, and honestly if you’re one of the people who complain about spending $10 a month for continuous updates of LR and PS, I think you need to pull out a calculator and do some math and figure out what you are spending on C1, etc.

Hope some of you found this helpful who are looking into alternatives to LR out there. If you would like to donate to me, just go to . . . just kidding.