Switching to the New Cloud Version Adobe Lightroom CC (2017)


As a long time user of the desktop version of Adobe Lightroom CC, I was excited about the release of a cloud-based version of their popular photo editing and organization software. I was hopeful it would finally solve a long-standing problem for me, namely, how to securely store, edit and share my high-resolution RAW images files, taken on my DSLR camera, while traveling or on-the-go.

The question for me was, would the new cloud-based Lightroom CC solve this problem without compromising too many of the core features of Lightroom Classic.  Should I make the switch?

Why the need for a cloud version of Lightroom?

I use Lightroom Classic to organize, store and edit my source images.  I do a lot of my shooting while traveling or away from home, using a DSLR camera, and working with RAW images. These relatively large image files are stored on memory cards until I can get them uploaded to my home PC.

On my PC I use the desktop version of Lightroom to upload the images,  sort them by date into folders, and - when I am being organized - tag them up with some basic information about location and content.   When I am ready to export or share selected images, I output them from the package to the various formats I need.

There are downsides to this workflow.    I am not a fan of carrying a number of easily losable/stealable memory cards around with me while away and hate having to wait until I get home to start selecting and organizing my pictures in Lightroom.  I could back them up on my laptop and put them into Dropbox or something similar, but that introduces issues later when trying to sync these back to Lightroom on the PC.  There are a number of workarounds for this but personally, I have found them all a bit clunky.  I need something clean, straightforward and cloud-based at its core.

In comes the new Lightroom CC

The new cloud version of Lightroom CC aims to solve this by storing original files (including RAW) source files in a cloud service.  The images can be edited remotely from any device and any edits made propagate throughout the whole ecosystem, so the files can be viewed, edited and adjusted even from a mobile phone.  Further, the process is 'non-destructive', meaning that the original images are always kept intact, and any changes or edits are kept in a database so they can be undone later.

The new Lightroom CC also aims to provide a cleaner, more streamlined user experience.  Past versions of Lightroom have been criticized for being confusing and a little bloated with features for the average user.

Brand new software, with an old name.

Before going into detail on my experience of making the switch, it would be helpful to clear up a bit of possible confusion, particularly for existing Lightroom users:

  1. The previous, desktop version of Lightroom CC has now had a rebrand. It still exists but is now called Lightroom Classic.

  2. What is now known as Lightroom CC is, in fact, an all-new piece of software, not an update. Its a ground up re-design.

Adobe is adamant it is going to keep supporting Lightroom Classic in its original form, with new features being added moving forwards.  Still, given the takeover of the brand name by the newcomer software, I am going guess this represents the direction Adobe sees things moving forward, and I believe with good reason. 

Why I believe the New Lightroom represents a better workflow.

The fundamental difference between Lightroom Classic and the new Lightroom CC has to do with where the actual master copies of the original images reside.

In Lightroom Classic, you view preview images which reference the original master files which in turn are hopefully stored on your computer's local hard drive.  It is, however, possible, to delete or move the originals from outside of the Lightroom Classic's interface.  This could lead to broken references and all kinds of issues.  I have, on a few occasions thought I had copies of files because I saw them in Lightroom Classic, only to find I had accidentally removed, moved or renamed the actual files in another package. Ouch.

In the new cloud-based Lightroom CC, you view preview images which reference the original master files which are stored on Adobe's cloud servers.  You also have the option to store copies of the originals on your local hard drive (but you don't have to).  This means that what you see in Lightroom always references an actual file on the servers.  You only move or delete the files within the Lightroom interface.

For me, this is an intrinsically more foolproof pipeline, in theory, for working with large numbers of files. It provides the universal access and stability of the cloud, while also allowing me to store and back up local copies of the originals on my hard drive for peace of mind.  Of course, all this comes at a price, which I will go into more detail about later.

So, that is why I think the new workflow is better in theory. But does it work practically? Here is my experience so far:

Getting ready to make the switch

For users of Lightroom Classic who want to make the switch to Lightroom CC, Adobe provides some migration tools and detailed instructions.  I went to the help page first and followed the guidelines found here.

This involved essentially:

  • Updating my existing Lightroom Classic to ensure I had the most up-to-date version.

  • Cleaning up and optimizing my catalog; cleaning up missing links (there were quite a few)

  • Copying over presets.

Purchasing cloud storage space.

Users with the Lightroom CC plan will have 1TB of cloud storage included.  However, others, like myself, who have the full Creative Cloud Creative Suite will have to purchase additional cloud storage space for anything over 20GB.

I was caught slightly off guard by having to upgrade my plan given I am already on one of the highest tier packages.  The full Adobe Creative Cloud Suite subscription costs a lot more than any of the stand-alone photography plans, so I was a little disappointed to learn I have to fork out an additional £9.00 per month for 1 TB of cloud storage on top of what I already pay.  This is a niggle, but I do feel if you are paying for the full Creative Suite, Adobe could include the storage.

There are a number of subscription plans to chose from, see below for more info:

Installing and launching Lightroom CC

Installing the new Lightroom CC was easy.  As mentioned, I have a full Creative Cloud subscription, so I simply downloaded it on both my laptop and PC from the CC control panel and, being already logged into the Adobe, everything was ready to start.

So far, so good.  After launching the program I was greeted with a nice clean interface and some help screens to guide me through my next step, which was to migrate my existing Lightroom Classic catalog over to the new Lightroom CC.

Migration tool

Ok here is where things got a bit tricky.  I wanted to bring over my existing Lightroom Classic images and catalog, which are not small. There are a good 450 gigs of files, stored on a 1 TB drive.

I ran the tool, and it located my existing Lightroom Classic database file, which I selected.  It ran through a process of analyzing the database.   Then I hit my first big snag:

Did I mention I had nearly 500 gigs of images?  The problem is that Lightroom CC copies over all those files to a fresh location while doing the migration.  While the logic behind this it makes sense - its effectively completely taking over the file management - its problematic as even with 350 gigs free on my drive there wasn't enough room to copy the images.

Adding another external drive

Fortunately, I happened to have a spare external 1 TB SSD drive kicking around, so I was able to forge on.

If you have a lot of RAW images as I do, consider getting another fresh internal or external hard drive before making the switch. 

After the additional drive was attached, it was necessary to point Lightroom to the new location for local storage.

Once that was done I needed to restart Lightroom, and again began the migration process.

Still not enough storage!

After loading up Lightroom and running the migration tool again, I was surprised to find that even with a fresh external hard drive attached I was still hitting space issues.  What was going on?

After a little reading online, it became clear that Lightroom CC seems to store its preview and catalog data in the primary volume where (where Lightroom and the Creative Suite are installed).  In my case, I have only a small 256 gig SSD primary drive for my system and apps, with files being stored on other drives.  It's not an option (nor would I consider it desirable if it was) to fill up my primary drive with 62 gigs of preview files.

... and there would be a potential show-stopper. 

In fact, I suspect for a lot of Lightroom Classic users that would be enough to put the whole idea of switching over to bed, at least until Adobe adds a feature to allow you to point the preview and catalog files to another location.

I'm not sure why this isn't the case currently, but I would hope this is very high on Adobe's list for feature fixes as I can definitely see this being an issue for some.

I am undeterred.

Still, not one to give up easily, I decided to try moving my actual Lightroom and Creative Cloud file location via the Creative Cloud preferences.

After doing that I restarted everything, and re-ran the migration tool.

Still not enough room.

Ok, so at this point, I had to admit a degree of defeat.  I dug around and found that Lightroom was storing its preview files deep down the AppData folder on my PC - not an area you usually want to go squirreling about in.

It seemed I was not going to be able to easily migrate my existing Lightroom catalog, at least not without the kind of pain and hackiness that I was trying avoid in the first place.

I was ready at that point to give up on the whole endeavor and go back to Lightroom Classic, which was disappointing as I really wanted the cloud functionality.   But it occurred to me that there was nothing stopping me manually adding folders and images.  Hey, I needed to tidy up my catalog anyway, so this was a chance to try starting fresh - if nothing else it would give me a chance to test drive the software a bit and see if it was the way forward.

First Impressions of using Lightroom CC

Ok, having at least, for the time being, given up the prospect of migrating my existing catalog,  I decided to tackle the new software afresh and to get my impressions of it with a clean install and starting to build a new library.

Fire Eaters - © Mike Best

My initial reaction to the interface of the software was very positive.  It is clean, organized and well thought out.  It is easy to find where everything is, and there are plenty of pop-ups and onscreen helpers to assist new users in getting started.  Compared to the relatively bloated interface of Lightroom Classic, this feels more modern and streamlined.  The software is also lighter weight and loads much faster.

Adding photos to the package was dead easy.  The general layout and interface of things are extremely simple and clear.  I clicked on the plus icon, added some folders and watched them import and also start uploading to the cloud.  All good.   I could see my images nicely organizing themselves on the left panel by date.  Nice!

One thing I did notice when adding folders was that there wasn't any obvious option for excluding subfolders, so beware if you chose a folder it's going to add any images in subfolders as well.  

There is also really good consistency between the experience of using the mobile, tablet and PC versions of the package, which I will go into further detail later.

Some of the features I really liked.

This is version 1.0 of the new Lightroom CC, and clearly, Adobe has prioritized which of the core features in Lightroom Classic to bring over to the new software.  They have also added some really great new features only available in the cloud version.  Here were some of the highlights for me:

Sensei intelligent search

What if I needed to dig up a picture of an elephant?  I don't know which shooters out there have the time or inclination to go through their catalogs and tag up every image they have taken describing what is in it.  I don't.  And fortunately, I don't need to in the new Lightroom.  Some photographers have described this as a gimmick, but for me - particularly given I am blogging about this stuff - its a game changer.  Just type in 'elephant' or whatever it is you want to search for in your image library and voila, here they are:

Cloud storage of Images

An obvious one to mention, given the new Lightroom CC's whole raison d'être is working in the cloud, as I discussed previously.

Easy cross-device usage and sharing

With cloud storage, comes the ability to use Lightroom CC relatively seamlessly across devices.  A surprising number of the features found on the PC version show up on the mobile version.  This means I can load up images from my camera's memory card while on the go, and then make edits and share images from my mobile phone.

In fact, the experience across all devices - from PC to tablet and mobile is remarkably consistent and clean.  As mentioned previously, the big win here is that when you make edits to an image on the phone, these changes will immediately appear on all versions of the software.  Editing, as in Lightroom Classic, is non-destructive, meaning you can always go back to previous versions.

Sharing images up on Facebook, Instagram or other platforms is straightforward and consistent with other photo sharing services - just hit the share button and post to any number of social media platforms.

I did notice one quirk when sharing my images. After I had shared a couple images up on Instagram, Lightroom placed these copies into my library but set to the date they were shared not captured.  Hmm, not sure I like that.  A bug perhaps? Surely it should keep them organized by their original image date? 

Nice Photoshop integration

It is already possible to jump into Photoshop from Lightroom Classic and make edits to your images, but I found the way that Lightroom CC handles this is really nice comparatively.

In Lightroom CC, when you right-click and open an image in Photoshop, as long as you leave Lightroom open, the changes will automatically propagate back down to copy that is placed in a 'stack' with the original.

It shows the most current edit by default, but you can easily drill down into the 'history' of the image if you want to get back to the original.  It's not miles away from what Lightroom Classic does, but this just felt to be more thought through, and, like a lot of things in the new Lightroom, less confusing and tidier.

Some of the features I would miss from Lightroom Classic

Its still early days for the new Lightroom CC, and I'm sure that some of the features missing in the software will soon find their way over into subsequent versions (automatically included with the subscription).

There were a few glaring omissions I did notice.  Whether they would be enough to dissuade existing Lightroom Classic users very much depends on the way they work.

Metadata limitations

When you load up images in the software it helpfully organizes everything by date for you, which is really great if the meta-data dates are set correctly.  However very often this is not the case - if say for example the image is from a scan. You really want to be able to change this date to the date the original image was taken, or else the timeline view becomes pretty useless.  It's currently not possible to change the date from within Lightroom CC.

The only workaround I found for this was to delete the image, set the original meta-data correctly in Windows (or whatever) and re-import it back into Lightroom CC.  Blech. 

EDIT Dec 15, 2017 - Well I guess they have been listening because this has now also been fixed so you can adjust the capture date.

It is possible to make some other meta-data adjustments such as location and notes, but it's limited.   Given, for me, Lightroom CC's main use is for previewing and organizing my images, this is something I would want to see in the software sooner rather than later.

No facial recognition

This feels like a huge omission, and I hope this really useful feature from Lightroom Classic will find its way over soon.  Being able to quickly find faces in your a catalog and then tag them up is such a cool and useful feature, especially for people who do a lot of portrait work.  It also feels like a natural fit for Lightroom CC.

No Curves and limited histogram.

Some users will be disappointed the omission of curve editing.  Interestingly, there is a curve editor in the mobile version under the lighting settings, but I couldn't find it in the PC version.  Perhaps this is because they figure most users on their laptop will jump into Photoshop to make these more detailed edits, but this isn't going to be the case when on the mobile.

Edit: Dec 13, 2017

Tone curves and split toning have now arrived in the latest version of Lightroom CC

No layers or masking.

Ok, I mention this one because I am aware some users may complain about this being missing from the cloud version.  I actually agree with omission myself though - I always thought that if you are getting into the level of editing where you are using layers and masks, you really ought to be jumping into Photoshop anyway.  I think for Lightroom these sorts of advanced features are bloat, but that is just me.

Comparatively limited printing and output options.

Lightroom CC includes almost no options for preparing and printing your images.  There are also very limited options for the types of files you can export.  Again, users who do a lot of this work from Lightroom Classic will miss these features.  Personally, I don't tend to work that way with Lightroom.  I will either set up a print in Photoshop or a proper publishing package where I can ensure my color spaces are correct or use an online book publishing service, so this was less of a concern for me.

There are a number of other differences which I won't go into too much detail on here because its well covered elsewhere on the net.  The Lightroom Queen has done a nice graph and feature comparison chart if you are interested in getting more details on the specific features of each package.

The big question moving forwards, of course, will be which features make their way into each package and what the continued support will be.  I can't help but speculate that, even though Adobe is committed to supporting both, a lot of energy is going to go into pushing new features into the cloud version first. But that remains to be seen.

Will I make the switch?

I am still very excited about the cloud-based direction for Lightroom CC, and I am planning on continuing to work with it, albeit with a degree of caution.  I do think the new Lightroom CC has the potential to really improve my current workflows, but I am concerned it might not be yet up to the task of handling large volumes are large files.

Some of the missing features from Lightroom Classic are not showstoppers for me but maybe for some users, particularly if they do a lot of studio work, which I think why Adobe is still stating they will support Classic indefinitely.

Users with large existing Lightroom Classic catalogs will want to invest in some serious hard-drive space before attempting to migrate and may run into some of the same issues I faced.

In the end, the ability to work to work exclusively from the cloud may outweigh some of its present drawbacks.

For now, I need to get on with importing some more images! Thank you for reading,  I hope you found this article helpful.