Before you get frantic, the latest iteration of Lightroom—version 6—will be available as a standalone, perpetual license version. You won't get the new syncing features of Lightroom CC, but if you're set on owning version 6 forever, then you probably won't mind foregoing the ability to sync your images between your desktop and iOS/Android smart devices via the Creative Cloud.
But if you do want to go mobile, then you'll be happy with the ability to edit, organize and share images with clients and colleagues via the CC version of Lightroom 6. Mobile apps have been updated and Lightroom CC includes DNG support for Android Lollipop 5.0.
If you're more interested in the core features available on both the CC and perpetual license versions, you'll find a few updates, although nothing that's really earth-shattering. Perhaps the most notable is improved performance. While performance boosts will vary according to your system, I found that LR 6 sped along nicely on a relatively new MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM. I'm anxious to try it on an older Macbook Pro to see if it is, indeed, as fast as promised. And, more importantly, how well it handles processing images in the background while we work on another image.
One of the new core features revolves around HDR, but don't turn your nose up on this one. While you can create psychedelic colors by merging images, you can also use HDR as it was intended—to increase dynamic range. With this Photo Merge feature, Lightroom creates HDR files in RAW (DNG) so none of your changes are baked into the file. And, they claim that because you're working in RAW, you can get great results with as few as two bracketed images.
Also under Photo Merge you'll find an option to create panoramas, offering three projection modes (spherical and cylindrical, which work best for landscapes and perspective for architecture and interiors). Lightroom does a pretty good job of automatically choosing the best projection mode based on the software's analyses, but you can select one manually and a fast preview will show you how well it worked. Auto crop is available and, like the HDR merge, Lightoom creates a DNG file so whatever changes you make are non-destructive.
Wedding and portrait photographers will especially like Lightroom's new facial recognition functionality. It's not perfect (none of them are), but once you identify key people, it makes it easier to find the subjects you're looking for.
Complementing the Graduated and Radial Filters, Adobe has added a new brush, which you can use to tweak gradients and add or erase effects within selected areas. It's one of the more useful—and practical—additions to this version by giving you more control.
Creating slideshows has never been a real strong point for Lightroom and the new slideshow features are only available in the CC version of LR 6. With the new version you can now add up to 10 songs per slideshow and Lightroom, upon your command, will automatically sync slides to the music according to rhythm and pacing. There's a pan and zoom feature, too, but there's little control over the movement other than high or low. And, you won't be able to see how Lightroom decided to apply the pan and zoom until you see the slideshow in preview mode.
None of the new features are exactly groundbreaking but, don't get me wrong, Lightroom—whether as a standalone or part of CC—as always, is one of our favorite and most dependable software applications. And if you want access to your images across devices, you might want to switch over to Creative Cloud.
It's still $9.99 a month for Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as mobile apps. Otherwise, you can stick with the perpetual version for $149.