Adobe Lightroom Review: Top Image Processor

The cloud-based Adobe Lightroom is a powerful photo editing app that lets you work on all your full-resolution images on all your devices.

Our Verdict

Get it. Subscribe to Adobe Lightroom if you want to access top-quality photo editing tools from your computer, tablet or phone. But Lightroom Classic has a deeper feature set.

For

  • Excellent photo editing tools
  • Full-resolution photo library (including edited versions) on the cloud
  • Access to the app and your photos from various devices
  • Autobackup on the web
  • Autotagging of generic keywords
  • Good help system

Against

  • Not as feature rich as Lightroom Classic
  • Can't rename a photo or edited version

Adobe Lightroom is a high-powered but comparatively easy-to-use photo production and editing tool with a cloud-based workflow. What that means is that your pictures are saved to the cloud and are therefore accessible wherever you are. What's more, you can edit them using the same or similar Lightroom interface, whether you're using your phone, a tablet or a laptop. For those who take a lot of photos on the regular and need to edit them anywhere, Lightroom is worth the $9.99 monthly subscription, which is why it's one of the best photo editing software tools around.

Lightroom packages and prices

Lightroom is available only on a subscription basis.

For $9.99/month, you get Lightroom, Adobe Spark (for creating social graphics, videos and web pages), Adobe Portfolio (a website builder) and 1TB of cloud storage.

Or, you can buy the Photography Plan, which includes Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Spark and Portfolio. For $9.99/month, the plan includes 20GB of storage, or for $19.99/month, 1TB of storage.

Lightroom vs. Lightroom Classic vs. Photoshop

Adobe has created considerable confusion regarding the name Lightroom. The original Lightroom, a high-powered desktop application long popular with professional photographers and enthusiasts, is now called Lightroom Classic. The newer, cloud-based product is referred to as Lightroom. Both are currently available (for the same price: $9.99/month), and Adobe has confirmed that it plans to support and improve both. (This review focuses on Lightroom rather than Classic.)

However, you won't find functional parity between Lightroom and Classic. Classic is a far more mature product than Lightroom. What's more, Adobe thinks that some of Classic's tools that are focused on print (such as the functions on the Photo Book tab) or on preparing photos for a photographer's websites (such as Web Gallery) wouldn't be appropriate for the mobile-centric Lightroom user. I particularly missed the speed at which I can rate and sort a large number of photos quickly, enabled by Classic's side-by-side view. Lightroom's sorting view (the Square Grid) allowed me to quickly click on star ratings for each image, but I couldn't zoom in to compare fine details between two images.

MORE: Which Adobe Photo Editing Software Is Right for Me?

The other Adobe muddle is whether to choose Lightroom or one of the Photoshop products for your photo editing. Generally speaking, Lightroom is for quick processing of batches of pictures, while Photoshop is for working on individual images and doing creative work. For instance, like most of my fellow pro photographers, I use Lightroom to swiftly sort, rate and select photos, convert RAW images, correct or edit exposure and color, and handle other similar photographic or composition issues. I then take individually selected images from Lightroom into Photoshop where I do creative editing, compositing and designing, as well as preparing my images for printing and using in documents. 

For more information on what is best for your needs, here is our deeper dive into Adobe Photoshop vs. Adobe Lightroom

Device support

The biggest difference between Lightroom and Lightroom Classic is that with the former, all your photos are saved in the cloud. In other words, Lightroom gives you access to the same full-resolution files – of both your originals and edited versions – wherever you are and regardless of what device you are using: your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. What's more, as you work on them, images are saved to your cloud account and securely backed up. You can also selectively download files to your local hard drive, so you can work on them even if you're offline. However, you can't rename a photo when you save it.

In addition, when your photos are uploaded, Adobe Sensei uses artificial intelligence to automatically analyze the images and tag them with appropriate keywords, which saves a lot of time. True, the tags are generic words such as bridge, sailboat or dog. But when I tested it by searching for "dog," Lightroom quickly displayed all my uploaded dog pictures. What's more, unlike other autotagging features I've tested, it didn't confuse uploaded pictures of alpacas or cats with those of dogs. It's also very easy to manually add more specific or personal tags, such as the dog's names or to identify an event.

Adobe Lightroom app

The typical mobile Lightroom workflow starts with taking photographs on your camera phone. Then, you can use the iOS or Android mobile version of Lightroom to do some quick edits and share them via email, text message or to your social networks. 

While the mobile app has fewer tools and features than the desktop version of Lightroom, both your original and edited pictures are automatically synced to the cloud. So you can continue to edit them using Lightroom on your computer. And, of course, your entire library of photos — regardless of what device you used to create them — is available to you through the mobile app.

Streamlined interface that helps you learn 

Lightroom has the same high-quality, back-end technology for editing photos as Classic. However, Lightroom's interface is more streamlined, as is appropriate for users who tend to prefer mobile apps over desktop applications.  

When the app opens on your computer, all you see are your photos and various icons. Click a picture to open it up and begin to edit. Click an icon to open a panel of tools and options.

While the screen may be initially confusing, Lightroom has more immediately accessible guidance than Classic, such as tool tips that pop up when you hover over the name of a control. 

To make the interface easier to master, Adobe has announced that it will soon add interactive tutorials to the Home screen. These will be similar to those rolled out in a recent update to the iOS and Android mobile versions of Lightroom. Right within the Lightroom interface, you'll be guided as you work on supplied pictures to achieve the effect or edit being illustrated.

MORE: Best Photo Editing Software for PC and Mac

A rather useful learning tool that's currently available are artistic styles (called Presets), such as Warm Shadows, Soft Mist or B&W High Contrast. Presets not only apply filters that change the look of your picture but also automatically adjust the various editing sliders accordingly. That, in turn, helps you figure out what each of the editing tools actually does. As you use the tools' sliders to adjust the filters, you can create and save new Presets. 

Lightroom's slider controls — for editing a picture's exposure, color, focus, optics, geometry and to add effects — are both powerful and easy to use. These are nested neatly in a panel that's opened by clicking on the Edit icon.

Lightroom also has tools for editing precise sections of your photo. This includes Adobe's great healing brush for painting out imperfections or unwanted objects (such as electric wires) in your picture. Similarly, it includes Linear Gradient's and Spot Gradient's masks for limiting your edits to specific areas of your picture, such as making the sky bluer while not changing the color of the rest of your picture. 

Always expanding tool set

As with all Adobe Creative Cloud software, Lightroom is updated on a regular basis – at least three times a year. For instance, the May 2019 update of Lightroom included several useful and fun tools, such as the new Texture effect. I pushed the Texture slider to the right to accentuate medium-size details, such as my dog Shayna's hair, without increasing noise or affecting bokeh (depth of field softness).

Moving the Texture slider to the left (to decrease the effect) can do an "auto" skin smoothing that, in most cases, works quite nicely without affecting the clarity of smaller details such as eyes. Texture is such a useful tool that it was introduced into Classic and Camera RAW at the same time.

But periodically, Adobe will take a popular tool from Classic and add it to Lightroom. For instance, Lightroom users let it be known that they were unhappy that Lightroom didn't have Classic's HDR and Panorama features. So, HDR, Pano and HDR Pano merge were included in the February 2019 Lightroom update.

The thing to remember is that Lightroom is meant to be a more "modern" app than Classic. That means it has a strong sense of today's social photography. For instance, Lightroom's May update added a Sharing function that lets you invite friends (via email) to view and even add to an album, or you can share a link to the album. If you want to keep the album private, you can use the Invite Only setting and can block downloads of your pictures.

Bottom Line

While not as comprehensive as Lightroom Classic, the cloud-based Lightroom is a powerful photo editing app that's more accessible than Classic and lets you work on all your full-resolution images on all your devices.

Choosing between Lightroom and Lightroom Classic will involve deciding what features are important to you. Is having cloud access to your entire photo library more important than having the full slate of Classic's tools? If so, get Lightroom. If you tend to work on one computer, like to keep all your photos handy on your network and want or need Classic's more comprehensive feature set, then that's the product you should get.

If you're uncertain which application is appropriate for your needs – Lightroom or Lightroom Classic – both are available on a trial basis. Or, you can buy Adobe's Photography Plan, which will give you both Lightroom and Classic (plus Photoshop).

Whichever product you select, you'll end up working with some of the best photo editing tools anywhere, and the result will be high-quality images.

Credit: Tom's Guide

System Requirements (Windows)

OSWindows 10 (v1709 or later)
ProcessorIntel® or AMD processor with 64-bit support; 2 GHz or faster processor
Memory4GB of RAM (8 GB recommended)
Hard disk space2GB of available hard-disk space for program installation
Monitor resolution1024 x 768 display
GPU acceleration requirementsAMD: Radeon GPU with DirectX 12 or OpenGL 3.3 support.

Intel: Skylake or newer GPU with DirectX 12 support.

NVIDIA: GPU with DirectX 12 or OpenGL 3.3 support.

OpenGL 3.3 and DirectX 10-capable video adapter for GPU-related functionality.

1GB Video RAM (VRAM). 2GB of dedicated VRAM (4GB recommended) for large, high-resolution monitors, such as 4K- and 5K-resolution monitors.
Internet
Internet connection and registration are necessary for required software activation, validation of subscriptions and access to online services

System Requirements (Mac) 

OSmacOS v10.12 (Sierra), macOS v10.13 (High Sierra) or macOS v10.14 (Mojave)
ProcessorMulticore Intel processor with 64-bit support
Memory4GB of RAM (8GB recommended)
Hard disk space2GB of available hard-disk space (cannot install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system or on removable flash storage devices)
GPU acceleration requirementsAMD: macOS 10.12, macOS 10.13 or macOS 10.14 with Metal support.

Intel: macOS 10.12, macOS 10.13 or macOS 10.14 with Metal support.

NVIDIA: macOS 10.12, macOS 10.13 or macOS 10.14 with Metal support.

OpenGL 3.3-capable video adapter for GPU-related functionality.

1GB Video RAM (VRAM). 2GB of dedicated VRAM (4GB recommended) for large, high-resolution monitors, such as 4K- and 5K-resolution monitors.

OpenGL 3.3-capable video adapter for GPU-related functionality.
InternetInternet connection and registration are necessary for required software activation, validation of subscriptions and access to online services