The slow death of Adobe Lightroom.

Aberystwyth rainbow (finished version)

I made a very hesitant transition from film to digital during the period 2006/7. Photoshop was THE digital processing software in those days so I coughed up my £400 and dived in. It was HORRIBLE. Photoshop was designed for graphics professionals, not photographers, and it really showed. 90% of the programme’s features were of no use whatsoever to me and basic digital adjustments were buried deep in incomprehensible menus. Then I heard about its new “sister” product – Lightroom – which WAS designed for photographers. This sounded much more promising and so it was –  far more intuitive and user-friendly. So I’ve been a Lightroom user ever since and as the software developed so have my abilities to use it. That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally find useful new features, but my processing is pretty streamlined by now, and I’m still learning.

Take the above image, for example. It was taken at Aberystwyth on a recent afternoon, with the aim of producing a new postcard over the winter for next year. Rainbows don’t come along that often so I took over fifty shots over the period of about twenty minutes that it was intermittently visible. Back home it took me maybe an hour to do a preliminary sort of the images,  select the best and process them to a rough and ready standard. Then there was maybe another hour the following morning to delete the dross and duplicates, and put the finishing touches to the above and a few others. To get from the unprocessed file (below) to the finished product (above) involved a total of 65 small or tiny adjustments. That might sound like a lot but each one takes only a second or two. It is said that the RAW file is the equivalent to the film negative and the fully processed image the resulting print. As long as the latter bears more than a passing resemblance to the former, I’m happy.

Aberystwyth rainbow (unprocessed)

What more could the digital photographer want? I have no desire to do major manipulations like swapping skies or removing large features from images, so have absolutely no need for Photoshop.  There were complaints that Lightroom had become bloated and/or slow but it wasn’t a problem I had had to face. Everything seemed hunky-dory. The trouble was the software designers – Adobe – had other ideas,  despite ever-increasing profits. “Stellar year-on-year growth” of 26% (latest figures) is not enough for them, nor is record revenue of $1.84 billion in the third quarter of 2017.

The rot set in with the introduction of Lightroom 5 in 2013. As well as being a standalone product available either on a DVD or a download from Adobe, it was also made available, along with Photoshop, as part of Adobe’s ‘Creative Cloud ‘, a subscription software service. At that time Adobe promised that future “versions” (note the plural) of Lightroom would be available “indefinitely” as standalone products. Lightroom 6 was introduced in 2015, available both as a standalone product and on subscription. It was difficult to find it on Adobe’s website, however, which was a sure sign of things to come. Furthermore, new features would only be added between ‘versions’ to those who enrolled in the subscription model, and so the arm-twisting began. As it happened even those who were on the subscription model felt cheesed off, because very few new features appeared during the 2 year plus lifetime of Lightroom 6.

Last month, after a long wait, Lightroom 7 arrived – or rather it didn’t, because it was now only available with Photoshop as part of the £9.98 per month Photography Plan.  If you use Photoshop  as well, this is a great deal, but if not, Lightoom alone would now cost just less than £240 over a typical two-year product cycle. Updating from LR6 to LR 7 , if it were possible, would cost about £65, if history is anything to go by. But that is not all, and this is so confusing that I’m not sure that I have got my head around it yet. Lightroom is now called Lightroom Classic, and appears to be an afterthought on the Adobe website. A new programme, a development of Lightroom Mobile, designed, it appears, for those taking photographs with tablets and mobile phones  and with many major features missing, is now called Lightroom CC. The “Classic” name-tag Adobe have given the original programme has suggested to many people that it is on its way out, despite reassurances from Adobe that this is not the case. After the “indefinitely” promise of 2013, repeated (more or less) in 2015, who can believe a word that Adobe says?

And then there’s The Cloud, as in Lightroom CC – the Creative Cloud. Adobe’s latest big “thing” seems to be making your images accessible from any device, anywhere, but that relies on being able to upload them to the Cloud on a fast and reliable internet connection. Mine is neither. If you do, Adobe can then, of course, charge you (handsomely, no doubt) for storing them on their servers. Cloud storage is included in one or more of their new subscription plans, but it is already more expensive, apparently, than is available elsewhere. But Hell, think of the shareholders!

As I mentioned above, a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom “Classic” together at £9.98 per month seems like a good deal, bearing in mind that before it became subscription-only Photoshop cost £600+. For Lightroom only, though, it is a non -starter. If it were £5 p.m., I’d be thinking about it. But once you sign up, Adobe have you by the short-and-curlies. If you stop your payments, for whatever reason (price increase, anyone?), the develop module becomes inoperable. You can revert back to Lightroom 6, if you have it, but you lose access to all the edits you have made in “Classic”, because its catalogue is not compatible with Lightroom 6.

What might one conclude from all of this? Firstly, that Lightroom is a brilliant product which many people entirely rely on for their photographic processing.  Adobe now realises that only a  limited number of new features can be added to it and that users will not necessarily upgrade to each new version as it appears.  They foresee that it may be difficult to maintain (and increase) their profits and have moved to the subscription model to enable this.  And they are using various “enticements” to keep users paying good money for what is, largely,  old rope. There is, apparently, already a very viable and affordable Photoshop alternative called  Affinity Photo. Other software designers will, I am sure, be aware of the sense of dissatisfaction that Lightroom users are feeling. They can now be sure that there will be a ready market for an alternative to Lightroom and we can but hope that this will spur them on to produce it. .

So what is the way forward for users such as myself? I have upgraded to the final update of the standalone software – v6.13. It is missing a few features that are now available in “Classic” but I can live without them. They have said that it will continue to be available until the end of 2017. I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future and if I upgrade my camera (I do like the look of the Nikon D850………!) its compatibility with Lightroom 6 will be a major factor. In the meantime I will keep my ear to the ground for new software and hope that in the next year or two a solution will become available.

Edit: It now appears there will be a LR6.14 update before the end of the year.

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About Jeremy Moore

Recently described as "Wales' leading environmental photographer"; based near Aberystwyth, and specialising in Welsh landscape and wildlife. He has published the Wild Wales / Cymru Wyllt range of postcards since 1987. His most recent book was "Wales at Waters Edge" (with Jon Gower) published in May 2012. The National Library of Wales has a large number of his prints in its Collection. His exhibition "Bird/land" was shown at Aberystwyth Arts Centre from June until August 2016. It originally received support from the Arts Council of Wales. He is also working on a new book about Wales with the author Jon Gower, due for publication in autumn 2018.
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8 Responses to The slow death of Adobe Lightroom.

  1. i have related thoughts from a different angle: I’m a user of Apple’s Aperture (yes, still!), which is obviously doomed though still working. The most obvious path away from Aperture was towards Lightroom. It’s a path I was never happy with, as I don’t like Adobe’s products in general and LR in particular (after Aperture). So, what to do? My response so far has been to freeze my OS at Yosemite and keep using Aperture, but I’m going to have to upgrade some time. I’ve bought Affinity Photo, which is great but has no DAM and really operates in the Photoshop space, which I seldom need. I like non-destructive edits, and my brain goes mushy when anyone mentions layers. I’ve half an eye on Capture 1 Pro, which is expensive but supposedly good, if a major learning curve. Not so good at learning new stuff these days… 😦

    Luckily I’m an amateur film photographer, not a pro making a living from it. Anyway, please do let us know more about your experiments. I always enjoy your posts, so thanks for them.

    • Jeremy Moore says:

      Thanks Chris.

      Layers = mushy brain…… I know what you mean.

      Like you, I’m a bit worried about the learning curve that new software would involve. That’s why Adobe’s actions with regard to Lightroom are SO disappointing.

  2. Simon E says:

    65 adjustments? I’m obviously not doing it right!

    As someone still dabbling with LR 2 I have been advised to secure a copy of LR 6 while it is still available, to ensure that my software will be modern enough that it will be compatible with any camera I may buy in the near future. I am reluctant to use ‘the cloud’ for document and image storage for several reasons and I do not like the subscription software model.

    Discussions have mentioned possible alternatives to Lightroom. It will be interesting to see which are adequately reliable, effective and user-friendly to draw disaffected users away from Lightroom.

    @Chris – we have old Macs happily running Lion & Mountain Lion, so staying on Yosemite should be fine for some time – as long as you can put up with the lack of security and browser updates – probably until the point when you need a new computer.

    • Jeremy Moore says:

      Simon,

      I wouldn’t say you’re doing anything wrong at all. It’s quite possible that 55 of the 65 adjustments were unnecessary. I suppose with processing you don’t know where you’re going until you get there, if you know what I mean.

      i think you’re taking the best course of action with regard to Lightroom, although I’m not sure if you can move from 2 as far 6 in one go. I’ve read that LR6 will be available until the end of tyhe year and no longer, but that may change. Adobe are taking a huge amount of flack about this. When you get to LR6, you’ll find it is much better software than LR2, you can do far more with it, although there will be a learning curve.

      Jerry.

  3. Peter says:

    I switched from Lightroom to Capture One Pro when Adobe introduced Creative Cloud. I’ve spent several thousand pounds with Adobe over many years buying software licences and updates for Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator and InDesign to use professionally and paying for it all again to use CC was just too much.
    I downloaded the 30 day free trial of CS1 (Version 6) and was astonished at how much better my RAW files looked on import when compared with the Lightroom equivalents.

    I’ve been using C1 for several years now and would never go back. There is an extensive range of C1 tutorials on youtube which will give you a very thorough introduction to how the software works and Capture One run regular online seminars covering specific aspects of the software to keep you up to date with new enhancements.

    C1 (Version 10) now has an integrated DAM system which is simplicity itself and C1 can import Lightroom catalogues directly. One of the most interesting tools in C1 is the advanced Colour Editor which gives very fine controls to precisely select a specific colour range in an image, check the selection accuracy, edit that, and then export that selection as a layer mask. Its faster, more accurate and intuitive than Photoshop and allows for very subtle localised adjustments to an image quickly. I strongly recommend Capture One – as I’m sure you can tell.

    I’ve been using Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo for a couple of years. Both are true 64bit and are therefore noticeably faster than CS versions of Photoshop and Illustrator. Affinity does not as yet have all of the functionality of Photoshop but once you understand the very different interface it does all the jobs that a photographer needs accurately and very quickly. Some of the editing features are uncannily accurate with very little human input.

    I have been using Photoshop since version 3. I know it well and I trust it for all jobs that Capture One isn’t designed to do but I am not signing up to Creative Cloud just to keep it running in High Sierra, so when my Mid 2011 iMac finally dies and I replace it with a new model with a new OS version I will also be switching permanently to Affinity Photo and using it in conjunction with Capture One.

    A quick thought on costs: Capture One is £248 (plus any update costs) and Affinity Photo is just £48.99 with free updates. You can also subscribe to Capture One for £18 per month. Currently Adobes’ Photography Plan: CC Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC, is £11 per month which is £132 per year – every year. The latest versions of Capture One and Affinity Photo cost in total £269.99. Divide that by the Adobe monthly subscription of £11 and you would be clear in just over two years. You might want to buy subsequent C1 updates, but to be honest the current version is so comprehensive I think that it would have to be a game changing upgrade to warrant the effort.

    Hope this helps a little.

    Regards

    Peter

    • Jeremy Moore says:

      Peter,

      That’s very useful, so thanks very much for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. I know a lot of people speak very highly of Capture One and if its catalogue is compatible with Lightroom that would be a major advantage. Personally I’m planning to let the fuss die down and see what the other software companies come up with over the next year or so. I’m in no rush to move away from LR6. I certainly won’t be adapting to new software for the fun of it! I’ve invested ten years of my time in learning and refining a processing workflow and I’m very reluctant to throw all that away.

      I am, however, thinking of dipping my foot into the water with Affinity Photo in the near future, purely because it is said to be a realistic alternative to Photoshop. I may not use it very often but I envisage CMYK conversions and content-aware fill being quite handy as things stand. There is absolutely no point in me getting into Photoshop.

      I see that Amateur Photographer is planning an “Alternatives to Lightroom” feature in its December 16th edition. Things are obviously moving very fast in this area. I wonder if Adobe are having second thoughts about their recent decisions.

      • Hopefully Adobe will rethink their policy, but I suspect it all comes down to profit and shareholders in the end and if Lightroom isn’t delivering the targets they expect then it will not be developed any further. I stopped trusting Adobe to do the right thing when it bought Freehand (a far superior drawing and design package to Illustrator) from Macromedia and pretty much killed it stone dead. It is still an awkward process drawing in illustrator can you believe? When Affinity Designer came out a few years ago even the early iterations felt more like Freehand and now it is a powerful and fluid drawing tool with much better integration with the OS and consequently much more stable. Affinity Photo came later and is growing into an interesting alternative to Photoshop; and much, much cheaper of course.

        If you move to the D850, which I agree is very tempting, you will at least have camera support in 6.13.

  4. Jeremy Moore says:

    I suspect one of the problems for Adobe is that it will be quite difficult to develop Lightroom any further. Full Stop. How much more could they add that people would be willing to pay for? There has to be a limit to what a photo editor can do. So the subscription model is a way that they can maintain (and increase) their profits.

    jerry

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