The Elephant in the (Light)room

Noted tax dodgers, price gougers and software developers Adobe have announced updates to Adobe Lightroom, splitting the product lineup in two with an all-new cloud-based program named Lightroom CC, and the current program we know and love as ‘Lightroom CC’, revamped and repackaged as Lightroom ‘Classic’.

The new Lightroom CC is being built from the ground up to be easy-to-use, fast, efficient and cloud-focused. Lightroom Classic is your current LR offering, but addresses many of the speed complaints that have been levelled against it since about Version 4. 

New Lightroom CC doesn’t have the in-depth functionality of Lightroom Classic, but neither does it have the bloat. Think of it like Apple Photos was to Aperture, but instead of killing off Aperture and replacing it with a children’s toy like Photos, Adobe has kept development of both programs side-by-side…at least until the children’s toy reaches adolescence. 

If this is the case, hats off to Adobe for not taking the patented ‘Apple Final Cut X/Aperture break everything and piss off your influential customers’ route of software replacement. Partially rebuilding the current Lightroom into Lightroom ‘Classic’ is a good transitional step until the new Lightroom is ready for the big time. The transition to a completely new codebase is necessary, but will take time and the last thing Adobe needed was to piss off its user base. With plenty of competition out there in the DAM and photo editing space, this should keep current users onside for the immediate future.

So where are the problems? First up is the inclusion of everything “cloud”. Yes, Adobe are at pains to point out that the new Lightroom CC isn’t entirely cloud-based, but it is undeniably cloud-focused. But photographers, in general, are bloody finicky organisers. They do not trust software to catalogue, backup and sort their assets. They demand control over it. If Lightroom CC does not offer full control over cataloguing and organisation, photographers will jump to something that does. 

Lightroom’s organisational tools were also incredibly modular. Take colour labels, for example — a feature not being carried over to the new Lightroom CC. LR didn’t care if the red label was your way of tagging a photo as the Most AWESOME Best Photo Ever Taken in the History of the World. All it cared was that you knew what it meant. Its indifference was benign, yet powerful. The loss of colour labels may not matter to many, but will force me to fundamentally alter how I organise my photos.

Lightroom’s concerted cloud push will also ring alarm bells in many photographers’ ears. Aside from the high monthly pricing for Adobe’s storage options beyond 1TB, cloud-based storage simply isn’t practical for many photographers around the world. Here in Australia, we regularly encounter upload speeds of a few kilobytes per second on fixed line connections. Downloading and uploading large files stored in the cloud isn’t a realistic proposition at this time. Now, I realise the new Lightroom CC will have options to store files locally, but it remains to be seen whether this cloud-first focus scares away photographers who are already on the fence with Lightroom.

Lastly, and most regrettably, Adobe has finally killed off standalone Lightroom. The new software — both the ‘Classic’ and CC flavours — will only be available on a subscription basis, starting at USD$9.95 per month. This, I believe, is a potentially fatal mistake and makes the company seem hellbent on pissing off customers in the myopic pursuit of subscriptions. I cannot emphasise this enough: THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO KILL LIGHTROOM. Many photographers have persisted with Lightroom not because it’s the best software, but because it has continued to be offered under a ‘perpetual licence’ (e.g. a one-off purchase). Over at DPReview, Richard Butler makes the point that, to him, this is the death of Lightroom as a archival program. The inability to purchase a one-off licence means the ongoing existence of your library is subject to your ongoing subscription. He says he will be looking elsewhere for software. I think I will too…

But this is all based on press releases and supposition. Version 1.0 of any software leaves a bit to be desired. So long as Adobe can integrate what’s best about the current Lightroom offering, while offloading the bloat, I’m certain it can become a success for Adobe. This is just the first step in what will become an inevitable decade-long transition to cloud-based imaging software. Whether they can bring the users who have been around since Lightroom Beta on that transition, I’m not so sure.

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