Software Review: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6/CC

September 29, 2015

By Stan Sholik

For many photographers, myself included, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom plays an essential role in their digital imaging workflow. The latest version of Lightroom—Lightroom CC for Creative Cloud (CC) members or Lightroom 6 for boxed, perpetual license software users—adds features that some photographers will welcome and others will never use, but still lacks features we need.

Available for 64-bit Mac and Windows computers, Lightroom CC is a “free” download through the CC app or available for $150 in a box, although availability of the boxed version is spotty. Adobe says there is a $79 upgrade path from the boxed version of Lightroom 5, but I have yet to find anyone offering this a month after the release of Lightroom 6. Adobe is definitely pushing users to become CC subscribers, where a Lightroom CC/Photoshop CC bundle is available for $9.99/month. There are strong hints that Lightroom 6 will be the final boxed version of the program. 

What’s New

There is no shortage of new features in Lightroom CC, but other than mobile connectivity, the features are playing catch up to those found in other programs. While some users will likely enjoy having facial recognition in Lightroom (finally), as well as the ability to merge exposure brackets into a high dynamic range (HDR) image, and hand-held images into a panorama, these features have existed for a while in other programs and even Lightroom plug-ins. Adobe has a new twist on HDR and panorama implementation by saving the output files as a DNG format file. This allows non-destructive post-processing in Adobe programs, but you must decide if this is more of an advantage than the destructive processing of a 32-bit file in competing HDR software.

After selecting photos, you access the new HDR and panorama features from the Photo > Photo Merge drop-down list.

Unfortunately for non-CC subscribers, the other big feature set is connectivity. Lightroom Mobile is now available on Android as well as iOS devices, and it works well on my Samsung Galaxy phone and Nexus tablet, including DNG file format support on devices running the Android Lollipop 5.x OS. There are welcome updates to Lightroom on iOS, such as a segmented file view by date, a reorganized editing workflow from left to right, auto-straightening and a crop tool. Bigger news is the ability for iOS users to create content with text and photos utilizing the Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice CC apps and share these with others through Lightroom Web.

User Friendliness

Users of previous Lightroom versions will feel right at home with the latest. But this can be something of a disadvantage if you are tempted to just continue using the program as you always have without stopping to explore the new features. However, I am finding that some of the keyboard shortcuts that I have used for years no longer work, or no longer work consistently. New users will find Lightroom logically organized. Tabs across the top take you to the different modules in a left to right progression, and within each module the workflow panels to the right of the interface logically progress from top to bottom. 

What We Liked

I like the new filter brush in the Graduated Filter tool that allows you to paint away areas of the graduated filter. And if you hold down the Shift key while you double-click on the words “Whites” and “Blacks” in the Basic panel, Lightroom automatically sets the white point and black point respectively. The Slideshow module has been significantly enhanced with automation features, pan and zoom, and the ability to use as many as ten soundtracks in a presentation. There are also performance improvements throughout, including the ability to use your computer’s GPU to speed processing. However, I found that with this feature activated in Preferences, the drawing of previews during Import was slower, but video performance in the Develop module improved. 

Panorama merge works best when you enable lens corrections. The DNG output allows excellent control over tones once you create the panorama.

Improvements to Lightroom tools, such as the filter brush and the ability to automatically set white and black points, are well implemented. Also welcome is the ability to use the video card GPU to speed performance in some areas. But the new HDR, panorama, and facial recognition features have something of a “first-generation” feel to them. The options in HDR merge are limited, and the output is geared to generating an image with greater dynamic range than any of its components without the ability to control micro contrast for stronger HDR effects. Panorama merge is similarly basic, with few options. It works OK, but there are times when the seams show and the final image requires further tweaking. With both merge features, the previews are frustratingly small with no ability to zoom in. And facial recognition doesn’t work any better than it does in competing programs, resulting in about a 70 percent hit rate depending on the folder.

What We Didn’t Like

I had a couple of minor frustrations, such as the need to update your existing catalog before you can use the new version, the lack of support for Windows 32-bit operating systems, and the random ability to use certain keyboard shortcuts. And don’t get me started on Creative Cloud, where you must log out of both computers running CC programs to use them on a third, or the poor performance of the CC app itself, which may or may not inform you that an update is available.

But with this release, I’m wondering about Adobe’s vision for the future of Lightroom. I use the program daily in my work and always considered it as being targeted to professionals. But rather than improving the database so that Lightroom can be used over a network by professionals with multiple computers or by making it easy to move the catalog to an upgraded computer, Adobe is adding features like facial recognition, which seem calculated to appeal more to enthusiasts. I wonder how many of the new users these features attract will stick around when using Lightroom costs $10 a month.

How it Compares

Windows users have a number of competing database and image-processing programs from which to choose, and with the lack of future support from Apple for Aperture, new program options are emerging for Mac users. However, despite my frustrations, Adobe Lightroom is the program I use on both platforms for much of my professional and personal work, and it sets the standard against which other programs are judged.

Related: App Review: Apple Photos

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