Friday, October 20, 2017

Lightroom CC- First Look

Adobe released the next series of upgrades this week to its venerable Lightroom photo editing software. Lightroom is one of those products that new users often have problems understanding and this weeks releases didn't do much to help clarify that.

There are now several versions with some major distinguishing features. The current edition, Lightroom 5, is the last one that will be sold as a shrink wrapped product. You buy it, you own it forever. The problem is that it's reasonable to ask how long Adobe will keep on providing updates to cover compatibility with new cameras and hardware. You may own it forever but it's a good bet that it's utility will be compromised over time.

The new version is now known as Lighroom Classic CC. It does everything the old version did but much, much faster and it throws in a few image selection enhancements as well. If you're a current LR user, you'll immediately appreciate the extra speed as you can now scroll through a library of images without the interminable wait of having each image redraw.

I'd consider this as Adobe making good on their promise to address the speed issue in this release. The catch is that it's only available on a subscription basis. You don't buy it, you rent it. Every month your credit card is charged $10 for that and a full copy of Photoshop as well. I have to admit, I hated this in the beginning but the upgrades are supplied automatically and so far each one has come with significant enhancements that help to take some of the sting out of each month's credit card statement. Like the prior versions, your photos are stored on your local computer's hard drives. You are responsible for your own backups, security and catalog integrity.

To muddy the waters a bit, this upgrade also comes with Lightroom CC. This is a downloadable app that works on your Mac, PC, iPhone and/or iPad. It's an entirely different application with a subset of features from Lightroom Classic. The biggest difference however, is that it's cloud based... all the images are stored on Adobe's servers. When you import your photos you're actually uploading them to a remote network. If your house burns down, your computer is stolen and you can't find your iPhone, the next time you log on to the service, your images will be there fully intact and with all of the edits and keyword assignments you've made. Assuming you've got an Internet connection, you can actually do a decent job of image editing on your iPhone/iPad on your train commute home. In fact you don't even need the app, the web interface to your photo library comes with image editing built in so if you decide to ditch your commute and spend the weekend in Barcelona, you could head to an Internet cafe and still work on your photos from any generic computer. Why you'd actually want to do that from Barcelona is another matter.

The early word from users is a bit of outrage that Lightroom CC doesn't have the full feature set that Classic does. I personally think they're missing the point. Significantly Adobe has designated this as Lightroom CC 1.0. The implication being that it's going to be vastly improved over time. For example, it comes with a "technology preview" check box to let you test drive and provide feedback for new features. As a hint of the kinds of enhancements to expect they've included access to Adobe's Sensei search engine. You can for example, type "car" into the search box and all of your images with a car will show up... along with a few horse drawn wagons, some baby carriages and mysteriously, a snow covered mailbox as well. Or type in baby and you'll get a decent collection of baby photos. Type in "blue" and the search returns images that are mostly dominated by that color. It's not perfect by any means but as it relies on machine learning it's reasonable to expect that it's scope and accuracy are going to improve over time. Note that this happens without any keywording whatsoever. The software recognizes the contents of each image without any help from already overworked humans.

For me, the most fascinating aspect, is it's ability to seamlessly synchronize thousands of photos across multiple devices and users. The original Lightroom had excellent organizational, tagging and keywording features but it left the images isolated on a single computer. Making them available to a group involved uploading them to a digital asset management system (DAM). If you're part of a small workgroup that needs access to a common image bank, this has the potential to put some of the lower end DAMs out of business. Even the low end products start at around $6000 annually for 250 GB. Lightroom CC's professional package gives you an entire terabyte for $20 @month. Obviously this isn't an apples to apples comparison. DAMs have features in security, permission access and accessibility that aren't really considered for inclusion in Lightroom but Adobe may have inadvertently filled a need for a new market segment. It really comes down to how well it all works. Stay tuned.

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