Once upon a time, there was just Lightroom. But ever since Adobe moved to cloud- and subscription-based services, Lightroom has had two currently-maintained incarnations: Lightroom Classic and Lightroom (formerly known as Lightroom CC, where CC stands for ‘creative cloud’). Lightroom Classic is the desktop-only Lightroom that most photographers use, whereas Lightroom is a cross platform editing solution that stores your original Raws in Adobe’s cloud.
Yet, these programs are quite different from one another. Below, I’ll outline the differences between the two.
Table of Contents
1) The Naming Headache
For more years now, Adobe has offered both Lightroom Classic and Lightroom on the market. At first, the only difference was that Lightroom Classic was a standalone, perpetual-license product, while Lightroom was part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model. Over time, Adobe started adding some features to Lightroom that didn’t (and still don’t) exist in Lightroom 6 — things like the dehaze tool and local adjustments to the “whites” and “blacks” sliders.
Eventually, Adobe ceased offering a perpetual license. Now, whether you want to use the desktop-only Lightroom Classic or Lightroom, you need to subscribe to their monthly plan.
The interface on Lightroom Classic is exactly the same as the interface in the older, perpetual-license versions of Lightroom. On the other hand, the new Lightroom is a bit different. Although it has many of the editing tools of Lightroom Classic, its interface is simplified and less powerful. On the other hand, the cross-platform nature of Lightroom means that you can edit your photos on your desktop and then switch to your phone or tablet to continue your work.
- Lightroom Classic: An upgrade everyone expected, with the same interface as prior versions of Lightroom, and some new features
- The new Lightroom: An cross-platform, cloud-based editor that has some, but not all of the features of Lightroom Classic
2) Comparing Features Between the New Lightroom Products
|Options upon import||Same as in prior Lightroom releases||Limited; only “Add to album”|
|Organize with folders||Yes||No|
|Organize with collections||Yes||Yes, but called albums|
|Artificial intelligence keywording||No||Yes|
|Flags and stars||Yes||Yes|
|“Basic” panel adjustments||Yes||Yes, in a different order than usual|
|Clarity and dehaze adjustments||Yes||Yes|
|Tone curve adjustments||Yes||Yes|
|HSL panel adjustments||Yes||Yes|
|Split toning adjustments||Yes||Yes|
|Sharpening and noise reduction adjustments||Yes||Yes|
|Camera calibration panel||Yes||No|
|Compare, survey, and reference views||Yes||No|
|Local adjustments (brush, gradient, radial tools)||Yes||Yes|
|Merge HDRs||Yes||Only in desktop|
|Merge panoramas||Yes||Only in desktop|
|Edit full-resolution images on mobile devices||No||Yes|
|Edit on mobile devices at all||Yes, but only as smart previews; Lightroom mobile||Yes|
|Map module and geotagging||Yes||No|
|Book, web, and slideshow modules||Yes||No|
|Images must be on Adobe’s cloud server||No||Yes, if you want to use Lightroom’s unique features|
|Edits on one device instantly sync to others||Yes, but only smart previews and Lightroom mobile||Yes|
|Original photos backed up to the cloud||No||Yes|
|Create virtual copies||Yes||No|
|Create actual copies||Yes||No|
|Color and tonal adjustments on video||No||Yes|
|Original files can be stored locally||Yes||Yes — click “Store a copy of all photos locally”|
|Can be split into multiple catalogs||Yes||No|
|Edit unlimited photos without extra cost||Yes||No — 1TB storage limit before price increase|
|Greatest magnification to view photos||11:1||2:1|
|Export file types||JPEG, TIFF, DNG, PSD, Original||JPEG, TIFF, DNG, PSD, Original|
|Export color space||sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto||sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto|
|Export with watermark||Yes||Yes|
|Price||$19.99 per month with Photoshop and 1TB cloud storage||$9.99 per month with 1TB cloud storage|
Basically, Lightroom Classic really is “classic.” If there’s something you’ve been able to do in prior versions of Lightroom, you can do it in Lightroom Classic as well.
Lightroom is very streamlined and doesn’t offer as many advanced options. It lets you add photos to different albums, search via artificial intelligence keywords, and edit full-resolution photos on your phone. It also doesn’t have a huge learning curve; it should be pretty easy for most people to figure out what’s going on.
Even though Lightroom Classic has more advanced editing features, most of the good ones made their way to Lightroom as well. That includes things like local adjustments, for example, which are a must-have for advanced editing. Lightroom also has an artificial intelligence keyword search tool, which is an useful way to find a set of photos with the same subject. For example, consider this image, with a search for “cactus”:
3) Who should use Lightroom Classic?
Are you an advanced photographer? Have you used Lightroom before in the past? If so, Lightroom Classic is the obvious path for your work.
It simply has more features that an advanced photographer would need like printing and tethering. As nice as the artificial intelligence keyword search in Lightroom can be, most professionals will care more about things like plugins, multiple catalogs, fully-fledged develop features, and so on. Lightroom Classic fills the same market segment as all the prior versions of Lightroom did.
- Advanced or professional photographers who have used Lightroom in the past and appreciate its in-depth feature set.
- Photographers who edit a large number of photos, which would be too expensive to store in the cloud or too inconvenient with a slower internet connection
- Photographers who use third-party plugins
4) Who should use Lightroom?
Adobe markets a lot of the new features of Lightroom, but they don’t really say who the target audience is. However, I think that there is a clear target audience, and it’s not who you might expect.
In many ways, Lightroom can seem a bit slimmed-down. It doesn’t have as many features that photographers consider valuable, or even necessary for professional work. Yet, I would argue that one of the biggest benefits of Lightroom is that it doesn’t offer many of these advanced features. And that’s because Lightroom’s biggest target audience isn’t advanced photographers — it’s photographers who aren’t paid to take pictures, and value ease of use more than overall technical capability or features.
Lightroom has a very consumer-oriented design and feature set to make the learning curve as easy as possible, while still containing fairly advanced editing and organizational features.
Does that mean advanced photographers would never use Lightroom? Actually, there are some circumstances where I see Lightroom as holding a distinct advantage even for professionals.
For example, if you do a lot of social media marketing, you’ll want the ability to edit videos on the go (i.e., behind-the-scenes smartphone videos). Lightroom can do that, and Lightroom Classic can’t.
I can see YouTube creators and iPhoneographers relying on the relatively advanced post-processing abilities of Lightroom to post quick content in the field. That’s also true for editing your social-media-targeted photos on a desktop, then seeing the finalized edits immediately on your phone (and ready for instant export on the go).
In short, Lightroom is built for mobile creators, in addition to more casual photographers. If you’re an advanced photographer who doesn’t use your phone or tablet as an integral part of your brand and marketing strategy, I can’t think of many cases when Lightroom makes sense over Lightroom Classic.
- Casual, hobbyist photographers who want an easy-to-learn, yet surprisingly powerful, post-processing app for multiple-platform editing.
- Professionals with an active social media or YouTube presence who consistently create/share content on the go, especially with smartphones.
- Photographers who want to edit across multiple devices without worrying about file management
The pricing for Lightroom Classic is $19.99/month with Adobe’s photography package, which also includes Photoshop. This package also now includes Lightroom.
If you don’t need Lightroom Classic and Photoshop, you can get just Lightroom and 1TB of cloud storage for $10/month. And, 1TB might not be enough for your uses, either. (Although I will emphasize that I don’t expect most professional photographers to host their entire library on Lightroom, even if they find it to be a valuable product — instead, my impression is that it’s meant for hosting content that you specifically plan to take, edit, or export on your phone.)
A lot of professionals will find Lightroom lacking in a few areas. No plugin support, virtual copies, history panel, or even color labels? On the other hand, since its inception, Lightroom has gotten more features that were once only in Lightroom Classic.
Still, the biggest target audience for Lightroom — casual photographers — neither needs nor wants most of those things. Photographers who do want them will prefer Lightroom Classic, instead. Even professional social media photographers who do use Lightroom are likely to use it in tandem with Lightroom Classic rather than on its own.
If I eventually shift toward doing a lot of social media marketing and mobile photo/video, Lightroom actually fills a void in the market. I’m not saying that I will subscribe to it — at least for now, I’m not planning to — but that it’s an entirely separate entity from what we’ve seen before, and photographers are only beginning to come up with creative ways to use it.
I can see why Adobe split Lightroom into two parts. Perhaps they should have adjusted their naming convention, but there’s a reason why both products exist. Although they still fill in different market segments, its possible that Lightroom will reach feature parity with Lightroom Classic, at which point Adobe could start offering a single product again.