Lightroom Classic vs Lightroom CC

Following Adobe’s announcement of two new versions of Lightroom, there has been some confusion about the exact purpose of each one. Many photographers on Adobe’s subscription plan are looking forward to using the new version of Lightroom and gaining the most recent feature set. But, which one is the new version? The two new options are called “Lightroom Classic” and “Lightroom CC,” and they’re quite different from one another. In fact, I suspect that many photographers won’t even use Lightroom CC at all, and they’ll stick entirely to Lightroom Classic. Below, I’ll outline the differences between the two.

1) The Naming Headache

For more than two years, Adobe has offered both Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC on the market. At first, the only difference was that Lightroom 6 was a standalone, perpetual-license product, while Lightroom CC was part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model. Over time, Adobe started adding some features to Lightroom CC 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.

A few days ago, Adobe announced an update to continue the Lightroom line: Lightroom Classic. This is the update to both Lightroom 6 and the original Lightroom CC. The interface on Lightroom Classic is exactly the same as the interface in the older versions of Lightroom. This is the upgrade that we all expected — a very traditional continuation of Adobe’s current product line.

On the other hand, the new Lightroom CC is entirely different. It has very little to do with any product that Adobe has created in the past (although it does use Adobe’s Camera RAW tools for post-processing, just like Photoshop and Lightroom have done before). It is, essentially, a brand new piece of software meant for a totally different purpose.

If you were using Lightroom CC prior to October 18, you’re now using Lightroom Classic. You can add on an additional subscription to the new Lightroom CC, which is its own, separate thing.


2) Comparing Features Between the New Lightroom Products

FeatureLightroom ClassicLightroom CC
 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
 Smart collections Yes No
 Rename photos Yes No
 Artificial intelligence keywording No Yes
 Face recognition Yes No
 Flags and stars Yes Yes
 Color labels Yes No
 “Basic” panel adjustments Yes Yes, in a different order than usual
 Clarity and dehaze adjustments Yes Yes
 Tone curve adjustments Yes No (Update: Yes, released December 12)
 HSL panel adjustments Yes Yes
 Split toning adjustments Yes No (Update: Yes, released December 12)
 Sharpening and noise reduction adjustments Yes Yes
 Lens corrections Yes Yes
 Camera calibration panel Yes No
 Adjustment history Yes No
 Soft proofing Yes No
 Compare, survey, and reference views Yes No
 Local adjustments (brush, gradient, radial tools) Yes Yes
 Healing tool Yes Yes
 Merge HDRs Yes No
 Merge panoramas Yes No
 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
 Tethered capture Yes No
 Printing module Yes No
 Book, web, and slideshow modules Yes No
 Images must be on Adobe’s cloud server No Yes, if you want to use CC’s unique features
 Edits on one device instantly sync to others Yes, but only smart previews and Lightroom mobile Yes
 Plugin support Yes No
 Original photos backed up to the cloud No Yes
 Create snapshots Yes No
 Create virtual copies Yes No
 Create actual copies Yes No
 Sync settings 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
 Secondary screen Yes No
 Export file types JPEG, TIFF, DNG, PSD, Original JPEG
 Export color space sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto sRGB
 Export with watermark Yes No (Update: Yes for iOS version only, released December 12)
 Price $9.99 per month with Photoshop $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 CC is very streamlined and doesn’t offer as many advanced options. To me, the organizational side of things seems to mimic Apple’s “photos” app for the iPhone in many respects. 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, some of the good ones made their way to Lightroom CC as well. That includes things like local adjustments, for example, which are a must-have for advanced editing. Lightroom CC 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”:

Artificial intelligence keyword search in Lightroom CC.

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 a much wider net of features. As nice as the artificial intelligence keyword search in Lightroom CC can be, most professionals will care more about things like plugins, multiple catalogs, fully-fledged develop features, watermarks, and so on. Lightroom Classic fills the same market segment as all the prior versions of Lightroom did.

Target audience:

4) Who should use Lightroom CC?

Adobe markets a lot of the new features of Lightroom CC, 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 CC can seem overly slimmed-down. It doesn’t have many features that photographers consider valuable, or even necessary for professional work. Yet, I would argue that one of the biggest benefits of Lightroom CC is that it doesn’t offer many of these advanced features. And that’s because Lightroom CC’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.

For example, beginners don’t need the option to export photos in ProPhoto or Adobe RGB color spaces, because it’s likely to cause more harm than good. The same is true for exporting as TIFFs or PSD files — the target audience for Lightroom CC can and should only be exporting as sRGB JPEGs.

In that sense, Lightroom CC competes more with Apple Photos than it does with something like Capture One or Lightroom Classic. It 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.

The layout of Lightroom CC.

Does that mean advanced photographers would never use Lightroom CC? Actually, there are some circumstances where I see Lightroom CC 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 CC 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 CC 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 CC is built for mobile creators, in addition to more casual photographers. If you’re an advanced photographer who doesn’t use your phone as an integral part of your brand and marketing strategy, I can’t think of many cases when Lightroom CC makes as much sense.

Target audience:

5) Pricing

The pricing for Lightroom Classic is exactly the same as usual — $10/month with Adobe’s photography package, which also includes Photoshop. This package also now includes Lightroom CC, but only with 20GB of cloud storage, which won’t be nearly enough for most photographers. It’s meant to give you a taste of the product rather than act as functional software for most uses.

If you want to upgrade that 20GB of storage to 1TB, you’ll have to pay an additional $10/month, taking the total price up to $20/month. Or, if you don’t need Lightroom Classic and Photoshop, you can get just Lightroom CC 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 CC, 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.)

You can purchase any of these plans here:

6) Conclusion

A lot of professionals will look at the feature set for Lightroom CC in disbelief. No watermarks on export? No plugin support, virtual copies, history panel, or even color labels?

But the biggest target audience for Lightroom CC — 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 CC are likely to use it in tandem with Lightroom Classic rather than on its own.

Personally, in a strange sense, I think I’m more likely to get Lightroom CC in the long run than Lightroom Classic. That’s because I would never rely on a subscription catalog software for editing my main photos (as I’ve already covered), so Lightroom Classic is completely out of the cards. However, if I eventually shift toward doing a lot of social media marketing and mobile photo/video, Lightroom CC actually fills a void in the market. I’m not saying that I will buy 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.

So, although the press release caused some confusion, I can see why Adobe split Lightroom into two parts. Perhaps they should have adjusted their naming convention (something like “Lightroom CC” for the main program and “Lightroom Social” for the new one would make more sense to me), but there’s a reason why both products exist. They fill different segments in the market with less overlap than you might expect.