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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93 Comments

David Moore's picture

Does anyone use Lightroom CC?

Rob Mitchell's picture

Had it mistakenly switched on once and wondered why the world slowed down even more. Quickly turned it off again.

Steve Ridges's picture

I'm using it exclusively. I find what functionality it has works well. It's just not as full featured as Classic is. My biggest beef is that I want to use the adobe cloud as the archive for my photos and syncing is crap with Lightroom Classic.

Han Seoul-Oh's picture

this. times 10. except the "exclusively" part.

having 2 half-assed versions of lightroom is getting intolerable now that it's been years since CC was released. why CC still doesnt have feature parity is mind-boggling; it's like an "elements" or mobile version of lightroom for the desktop/laptop. the most infuriating part is that i cant migrate to it full-time because it lacks some crucial features i rely on, but it's great at managing assets both local and in creative cloud and it's fast.

i'm fortunate to get 1TB of cloud space for the same subscription price as the standard photography plan but there are so many barriers to using all of the space.

i'd ditch it all for Capture One, but they have no true iPad Pro support, and that device is a huge part of my workflow. i'm not about to switch to a Surface Pro just yet since i cant replace my macbook pro with one. if only they made a version with a 15" display and 32GB of RAM.

Thomas H's picture

LR CC: Not me. The subscription model was a no-no-no for me, the final insult and the final get rid of Adobe. I want to have a stable permanent ownership, as it always was. And PaintShop Pro does to me the same things which Photoshop can.

I pay for it but I don't ever use it.

Edward Hudgeons's picture

Now that is an admission not heard very often. Not sure why you would do that, but it might be like my adventures with a couple of subscribed sites I didn't use and thought I wasn't paying for them. One of those was a greeting card outfit. Those are not much. But I never liked the idea of a subscription for something I use as heavy as PS or LR. My connection is down far more than would warrant having the subscription.

Not really sure what your point is. My point is that I am paying for a bundle of things I never use, Lightroom CC being one of them. Why do I do it? Good question. I am slowly trying to extricate myself from the Adobe world, but it's not easy.

user-225853's picture

Use it exclusively. no complaints/

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I moved to Capture One over the summer after several years of trying to move to the On1 photo editor. I'd grown disenchanted with Lightroom and the switch to the subscription model was the end for me. I was on whatever 5.x LR preceded the subscription model up until about six months ago when I switched to Capture One.

I really like Capture One. There are a couple of things that I like better in LR (cropping, spot healing, virtual copies), but the benefits far surpass the drawbacks. I use Affinity Photo to handle what Capture One can't. I'm very happy with this combination.

There is a learning curve with switching, but it's not as bad as you might think. What I learned through my experience is that the steepest learning curve is already behind you. Learning how to post-process, regardless of what software you learned on, is the big mountain.

Once you know how to post-process, moving to another app is a matter of learning the new name for your favorite tools and where they're located. It takes time, but it's nowhere near the challenge that learning the fundamentals of editing is.

Also, Capture One lets you turn the interface into whatever you want it to look like, as well as customize your shortcuts as you see fit. That helps a lot with the learning curve.

Bart Hovis's picture

Capture One with Affinity Photo here, too. I still have Lightroom but have opened it once since I got C1 about a month ago (my sub expires in June and I’m not planning to renew). After 11 years of using LR, the first day with C1 was disorienting, but after 3 days I was feeling pretty good. A month on, (and I did put a lot of effort into learning it) C1 feels intuitive and has a “flow” that I don’t experience with Lightroom. Affinity Photo fills in nicely where C1 leaves off, if needed.

thomas Palmer's picture

is affinity effective for removing something from a picture (you know the thing where you paint on someone and he is replaced by the background) ?

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

Yes it is. It's not problem at all. Affinity replaced PS for me. I can do all the stuff I did in PS. Try it out, there is a trial version of it.

thomas Palmer's picture

Content aware fill was the feature on my tongue. Almost only using that in PS

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

There is the same feature in Affinity. It's called "Inpainting". It does the same as Content Aware Fill

Bart Hovis's picture

Affinity can do nearly everything (photography related) that PS can do, but in some situations it does things differently. As Gion-Andri pointed out there is a free trial and many good videos on Youtube to help you get up to speed with Affinity.

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

You're right Ben. But I can work mostly the same, as I did in PS. You only have to learn what Affinity is calling those features. ;)

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

It's my combination too (C1, Affinity). I left LR for good. It's awful how bad the performance is.

Alex Coleman's picture

I'd probably look at C1, Photoshop, if I were to switch. I don't have personal experience with Affinity, but I'm not sure I'd like to upend both aspects of workflow at once.

Bart Hovis's picture

C1 and Photoshop do work very well together. But that requires keeping an Adobe subscription, where Affinity is a very reasonable $50 (one time). If you are really invested in PS, I can understand that the the subscription is justified. In my case, I've found that I prefer C1 to Lightroom (and I'm not a Lightroom hater), and don't use Photoshop that much, so as I already have Affinity Photo, I don't think keeping an Adobe subscription is justified.

Edward Hudgeons's picture

I have been playing around with other photo apps for over a year now. I have decided that it will not be one app such as LR or PS. The main thing I like about LR is the database (DAM, Library, whatever) or filing system. It has major quirks to it also, but the main drawback to my dumping LR is re-indexing all the stuff that is in there! That is plumb scary.
I like Photo Lab by DXO and Luminar 3 by Skylum. Both of those companies are truly vying for your dollars. I don't like either companies' rendition of a Library, but I could live with it I guess. I think, and I probably speak for many, that part of getting away from a program you have learned to use well enough to run it while you sleep so to speak, is breaking the habits you have grown into. Like any other habit, you just have to stop and think, and for me, to think is a major undertaking. Cheers!

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

I'm still working through the library transfer. I had one big LR catalog with everything logically organized at the filesystem level. The way C1 works, I can just browse the filesystem from within C1 and just access all the old images where they are. The "browse the filesystem" approach that C1 offers is something I really like.

Of course, none of the edits are available in C1. I don't have the kind of business where I can make money off of past images, so this isn't the problem for me that it would be for others.

I care about my archive, but being stuck on pre-subscription LR meant no support for raw Fuji files and not being able to upgrade my Mac OS...in addition to LR being slow. So I didn't really have any choice but to move forward and deal with the archive later.

I'm realizing that this whole library transfer thing is a problem no matter which vendor you leave for another. I've been giving thought to how I can better insulate myself if in five or ten years, it's necessary to switch vendors again. I don't have any answers (aside from no more DNG conversion), but it is something I'm working to figure out. Perhaps a TIFF export of every edited project.

Stephen Lee's picture

I, too, am terrified of re-indexing and importing everything I have into something else. I feel stuck with LR. I was a long hold out against the subscription model, but I finally acquiesced. I used LR classic. I fiddled with LR CC, but I dislike the very expensive cloud model and really don’t have the bandwidth (or desire) to upload 1,000 shots from a shoot to the cloud. I did look into other software products, but the learning curve (like the author, I’ve hundreds and hundreds of hours using LR and it is integral to my workflow) and perceived difficulty in moving 4TB of images to another program scared me off. Maybe I’m wrong of course, and I wonder if the problem is just growing worse as I accumulate more and more LR data from my shots. I will simply reiterate that I feel stuck with LR.

Rob Davis's picture

Rather than jump ship from Adobe because I use more than just it and Photoshop in the Creative Cloud Suite, just use Camera Raw. It's fast, doesn't create giant catalogs, doesn't require the lengthy import process, etc... I realize this isn't for people who need to process hundreds or thousands of images, but that's really not most photographers. Many of us are shooting hundreds of images to get five good ones. I cull in Bridge, then edit in Camera Raw/Photoshop. Much less bloat. I'm happy.

Camera Raw is the same as LR..

Rob Davis's picture

The same engine, same controls, different file management and much less bloat.

the engine is still so bad..

Rob Davis's picture

I’ve heard that for X-Trans, but I’ve seen comparisons for conventional CMOS sensors between all of the alternatives and while Capture One does seem to be best, it’s not amazingly better. Certainly nothing the average person or Instagram viewer would notice.

Capture One is better overall..

Same here, I have never liked the idea of Lightroom cataloging. Bridge --> CameraRaw --> Photoshop are my working process and yes, the processing in CameraRaw can be slow on complex editing. I want to jump ship to something else but I still need Photoshop at the end.

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