Lightroom Classic CC Review
Lightroom Classic is essentially Lightroom 7 in Adobe’s weird new naming scheme. If you look in the about box, you will see the version number is listed as a 7.0 release. While a numbered upgrade like this is normally a major feature release, Lightroom Classic seems to offer relatively little in terms of new features since the previous version. The main areas are the new masking tools, improved importing and overall performance improvements.
Given that the last version of Lightroom ran as updates to the 2015 release, it is perhaps unfortunate that we did not see more new features or many of the requested updates that users have made over the years. Instead, we saw the software develop a split personality and divide into two versions, each a little different, but neither offering much new over the previous versions.
When writing this review I really wanted to be positive. I decided to use the software as much as possible before putting electrons to silicon, but every time I tried to make notes or write segments of this, I just found myself being cynical and disappointed. This release of Lightroom has been somewhat controversial. The main reasons for that controversy are the switch to a subscription-only model, the split into two versions, and the somewhat odd choice of name, Lightroom Classic.
I have mixed feelings about the switch to a subscription-only model. On the one hand, as I need the full Adobe creative suite for my motion graphics work, I’m already paying for it, so the change is not a big deal to me, but on the other hand, I can see why people are pissed off. Adobe has also not done itself any favours in the consumer trust department either with this move, having previously indicated, perhaps a little too vaguely, that a perpetual licence version would continue. That statement lasted only one major release cycle. Now they’re asking us to trust their word again, that the new old classic” version isn’t going anywhere. It’s a “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…” or “boy who cried wolf” kind of thing.
If you give the company the benefit of the doubt and decide to accept that they have the best of intentions with the move, then you have to go with the premise behind it, which many hardcore Lightroom fans will happily point out to you: The reason is so that they can update the software more often. Yet, despite that being the official line, there’s little evidence that that is the case in reality. Lightroom Classic isn’t significantly different to the previous version. People have been asking for the import improvements for forever, and even at that, in my opinion, they’re not properly implemented. The only real new feature is the masking tools. The performance improvements are nice, but they’re not significant enough, again, in my opinion, and many of the long-running bugs in Lightroom are still there, plus a few new ones for good measure.
Throughout the 2015 CC release, there were only a few new features too, despite this being the reason for subscriptions. The biggest of which was the Dehaze functionality, which was released shortly after version 6 was announced, and being cynical again, seemed to be timed just to create a difference to the standalone version. The reason I say that is because there’s no way it was developed, programmed and implemented in the time between when version 6 came out and dehire was added. It seemed like an arbitrary decision to create a distinction between the standalone version and the subscription version. So in a way, it’s good that the standalone licence is gone, because anyone who bought that version, especially in the last 6 months or so, really got a raw deal (pardon the pun).
Moving on, and in an attempt for this not to be a total rant, I wanted to try and evaluate the new features, all two of them, and the improved performance. After all, the improvements to importing and performance were widely requested. Even in these areas, I have to admit, I’m underwhelmed. I could lie about it and just report on some positives so as not to offend anyone, but I’m sorry, I just can’t do that.
Overall the software does feel faster, but the improvements, for the most part, don’t seem dramatic to me. I guess a lot of it will depend on your system configuration, the size of your library and so on. Startup time is improved, but it can still take a long time if you have a large catalogue spread across multiple drives. Upon launching the software, there is still a wait of several minutes before it becomes usable for me. Not everyone will have this issue. I have a large catalogue with images spread across several hard drives, so mine is probably the worst case scenario for testing. In fact, my performance actually decreased so badly after I upgraded that I ended up having to create a new library and start from scratch. Now, it's faster, but it still takes a while to load up before I can use it, probably longer than any other photo software that I regularly use.
Browsing in the library module definitely is faster though. Especially now that I have a free catalogue, although that could be partly to do with it. But it’s not nearly as sluggish as it used to be.
The develop module also feels a little faster, and the graphics card option is no longer detrimental to performance on my system. Previously, I had to turn it off, as it would actually slow the software down, as has been widely reported on Adobe’s own forums and elsewhere. It’s still not massively fast, but there is a noticeable, albeit subtle speed improvement. Having said that, the issue that I previously reported with Sony files still occurs. This seems to happen if you apply a preset to ARW files and then go to make some edits, but it only seems to affect certain setups. I had hoped this would be resolved with the new update but I suspect that it won’t ever be at this stage. (I did previously report this, and they sort of acknowledged this bug when I reported it to them, for what its worth)
As mentioned in my “First Thoughts” piece on the new versions, I can’t see any difference visually in the rendering of Fuji files. If you liked them before, you’ll like them now. If you didn’t like the rendering before, there’s no change.
As I said in the previous article, I think we can safely say, at this stage, that Adobe is never going to improve their Fuji support. If they were going to do it, now would have been the time. Enough of the user base find it acceptable, so they’re not going to change it. It’s a shame when “good enough” is the standard you aim for rather than “the best” but anyway. I’m not going to talk about this too much, as it gets me into trouble with the Lightroom police. (As I’m sure this entire article will)
One of the new features and one that has been much requested is the addition of using sidecar files as the preview when importing in order to speed up the import process. People have been asking for this for a long time, as it allows you to start seeing your images straight away. This is especially useful for sports photographers or other such professions that need to turn images around super quickly.
Unfortunately, there are a few issues with the way this works. For a start, on my system when importing a large card with several hundred images, the speedy import of the previews slowed down and stopped halfway through the import process, leaving me with pixelated results until it had caught up.
Secondly, when you set it to "sidecar and embedded", it imports the sidecar or embedded previews and then that's it. Other software that uses this technique, does so for the initial previews and then will begin generating proper ones in the background. This is important because the image will look different when the RAW engine renders it, compared to the Jpeg preview. Lightroom doesn’t do this though. You have to do it manually. The software still doesn’t update previews after you change an image either, so you still have to manually update them.
The new masking tools are pretty useful, and work as you would expect. When you create a mask, either brushed or gradient, you can refine that mask based on colour or luminance. This allows you to be quite selective with the area that you want to adjust. It’s pretty straightforward to use, and it seems to work as advertised. It’s a nice addition to the toolbox, and it's worth playing around with.
The only issue with this that I have is that there’s no indication of what colour you selected as the masking option. If you use the colour picker to select a colour, there’s no way to see what that colour is. If you go back to editing this file later, you have no way to know what the colour was that you based the mask on.
In terms of bugs fixed, it's hard to say if anything has been fully fixed. The Sony RAW issue is still there (to be fair, this only affects a few people). I haven’t seen the thumbnail getting stuck in the develop module bug yet, so hopefully, that’s been fixed too. I did notice a few new issues, however.
I discovered a problem when creating HDR files. I got an error saying metadata can’t be written. And I kept getting error messages after creating a merged HDR file. Another weird bug is that “Shift G” no longer sets the second monitor to grid view when in the develop module. It still works fine in the Library module, but it no longer seems to work when in the develop module.
Trying to sync with Lightroom CC seemed to go nowhere and caused my whole computer to slow down, but I may need to reset the cloud library of Lightroom CC (mobile) and start again, to see if that solves the issue. I’m still not clear if Lightroom Classic now syncs full res images to Lightroom CC or just There’s also a problem with plug-ins crashing, but this isn’t really a bug. Apparently part of the spec has changed and developers may need to update their plug-ins.
What’s in a name?
I said at the start that one of the issues people had with this update was partly to do with the name. The change to Lightroom Classic, in my opinion, is a dumb move, but not the end of the world. However, “Classic” has connotations of being old, so people are understandably worried. The bigger issue, in my opinion, with the name changes is just the general sense of confusion. Lightroom CC was the old name for the subscription version, but that’s now the name of the new app. It’s also the name of the cloud service and library, so it's doubly confusing. When talking about Lightroom CC, are you talking about the new application, the mobile application or the cloud library?
In my opinion, what they should have done was call the desktop software (i.e the normal version of Lightroom) Lightroom Pro, the new Lightroom CC should have been called Lightroom Elements (to keep with there naming scheme of the cut-down versions of Photoshop and premiere) and the Cloud Library should have been called something else altogether. As it is, apart from everything being a mouthful, it’s also really confusing.
I started out planning to write a proper review of Lightroom Classic, but as there wasn’t exactly a raft of new features this kind of turned into a rant. This really isn’t two years worth of updates in my opinion, and barely qualifies as a point release, let alone a while primary digit version upgrade 6.x to 7.x).
Lightroom classic may be a new name and a new version, but it’s not a big upgrade. It addresses some performance issues, but it has a long way to go. The future of this version is uncertain in my opinion. Adobe and its supporters are going to great pains to say that this version will continue to be developed, but they did the same when the last version was released and they added a subscription version. It’s a trust issue of Adobe’s own making, and I certainly wouldn’t take their word for it anymore. I’m sure the “classic” version will continue for a while, but I suspect that at some point in the future, having two distinct version of the software will be no longer viable for the company.
I think the writing is really going to be on the wall for Adobe soon when it comes to Lightroom and they will be forced to invest in it more or risk losing significant market share. There are already developers vying to be the “Adobe replacement” with companies like On1 trying to create their own competing version of a Lightroom-like software. But there is a lot of new stuff coming too, and some of it is moving away from trying to mimic the Lightroom editing interface and creating new and exciting ways of working that are going to shake up the industry. Lightroom itself hasn’t seen major changes to the way it works since the beginning really, and as newer software starts to present different and better ways of working, Adobe will be left with not one but two applications trying to catch up. Next year is going to be very interesting. I still like and use Lightroom, despite my negativity here, but Adobe needs to get its act together fast, or it's going to be seriously left behind.
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