I'm an avid Lightroom user who uses a NAS with 12 TB of local storage. Yet I agree with Adobe's decisions. Am I crazy?

It's an inevitable truth that Adobe, like any other company, can't please everyone. Today's news of a new, all-cloud Lightroom CC has definitely ruffled some feathers among loyal users. But it might just be time to embrace the future – consider some important points here:

  • The current version of Lightroom is not going away. It's just going from CC to Classic CC. Oh, and it got much faster.

  • The standalone version of Lightroom is entering sunset. That doesn't mean you won't be able to keep using it for new cameras in the future: you'll just have to use DNG Converter to first convert your files to DNG format.*

  • To continue to benefit from updates to Lightroom, though, you'll have to go CC (Classic or not).

  • To benefit from consistent access of your entire library from every device, as well as AI features to help you manage, search, curate and more (a la Google/Apple Photos), you'll want to go with Lightroom CC.

Whether or not you like the subscription based model, either way you pay for software updates, whether it's when you buy a new version (upgrading from 5 to 6) or continually via a subscription method. Some would even argue the latter is a better user experience, as you don't have to worry about 'versions'.

Who is Lightroom CC for?

Good question. If you're a staunch NAS user or have a hard drive for each of your shoots, it's not for you. At least not yet until cloud storage options increase beyond 10TB (or are cheaper) and ISPs offer faster uploads. But there's a reason that Director of Product Management Tom Hogarty is calling this new release a bigger deal than even the inception of Lightroom. According to TechCrunch's conversation with Hogarty, "The new reality of photography [is one] where users tend to take a lot of their photos on their phones - and take a lot more images in general. [Many of them want] a powerful tool that allows them to communicate but doesn’t require them to spend a lot of time to learn."

In other words, Adobe is trying to find a way to be Google or Apple Photos for the both the masses, and the enthusiasts/pros. Time will tell if it'll succeed, but it's an approach that is certainly future-focused. The thought of importing photos into LR CC, then viewing them on my wife's computer, my mom's computer back home, my old iPhone or my new Pixel to edit them - that gave me the same feeling I remember when I first tried Lightroom 1.0. Relief that I can finally take control of and manage my photos. Now, wherever I am.

We expect the cloud-based version will quickly improve and gain features beyond what Classic CC will offer. The AI features will help you organize, search, curate, and maybe even edit faster by learning your tastes. With storage getting progressively cheaper, internet (upload) speeds increasing, and the decreased sales of PC/laptop and the increased expectation to be able to access your files from anywhere, this is Adobe looking to the future, while still offering the present for the foreseeable future.

This is Adobe looking to the future, while still offering the present for the foreseeable future.

Inevitably, there will be some teething pains, for which Adobe is still offering Classic CC. But we expect that in the not-too-distant future, even pros will appreciate the instant access and AI features that will ease workflows. And while I'd be happy to say goodbye to my hard drives, I probably won't, since having my entire library locally on my NAS will always ensure the fastest editing experience at home.

Understandably though, many of you have questions...

We're a studio and need multiple licenses across many computers

That's what CC business is meant for. You can have 10+ licenses with the same account across all your computers (each license serves up to 2 computers, and you can dynamically switch which two computers whenever you want). And if you're installing a standalone on more than 2 computers today, you're breaking the law. Multiple licenses are simply not an issue with CC.

I need multiple libraries, though

Do you really? Back in the days of physically limited hard-drives, many would assign one drive or another to one shoot. You can still work that way with Classic CC.

But in the future, with increased cloud storage at lower prices, and hopefully increased internet service provider (ISP) bandwidths, that segmentation won't be necessary.** Everything will live on the cloud, and you can still organize by albums if you wish. Better yet, you'll have access to increasingly intelligent AI that will allow you to find the photos you're looking for simply by searching for the content in it (in text form). Segment as you wish, or just search.

In that world - you may not find multiple libraries as useful anymore. It's already a headache - I've gone to work on days where I needed the library on one drive that was, you guessed it, at home.

What if Adobe pulls the plug on Classic CC?

Certainly a valid suspicion. But one you may not have to be so worried about. First, we'll likely see CC rapidly catch up to Classic CC. That raises the concern if Classic CC is itself at risk of being pulled.

Maybe. But likely not for quite some time. More importantly, if Classic CC were to run off into the sunset, do you really think Adobe would only offer a cloud-based version of Lightroom?

I don't think so.

Much more likely - and this is just my opinion (and suggestion to Adobe) - would be CC simply offering an option to 'Disable cloud storage. I don't need access to my files on any device.' Done. Problem solved. Remember that CC already has an option to keep all files locally (as well as in the cloud), so retiring Classic CC would almost undoubtedly see CC gain an option to not work in the cloud. Until ISP limits are definitively not an issue and privacy concerns are completely addressed, I can't see Adobe offering no option to only work with files locally.

I don't see Adobe suddenly abandoning the needs of a majority of its user-base

More to the point: I don't see Adobe suddenly abandoning the needs of a majority of its user-base.

You can't always get what you want... but you might get what you need

This is Adobe modernizing and considering the future. And the current masses of Google and Apple Photos users that are surprised and delighted daily at the auto search and curation functionalities, or the auto-generation of collages, video clips, and sharing of shots of your kid with your immediate family. This all depends on cloud-storage and AI. It's the future, and it has a lot of potential benefits that you may loathe the idea of today, but might come to rely on, nigh even need, in the future. Imagine AI learning your editing tastes and doing them for you as a starting point so you have less work to do. It's not that unreasonable to imagine, and is something even pros would appreciate.

This video was auto-generated by Google Photos. Yes, it's only 720p and a bit amateurish, but if this is where we're starting today I'd say: bring on the future. This is the promise of AI: I was surprised and delighted when my phone popped up a notification saying 'I made this video from your weekend excursion!' Even photos auto-transferred to my phone from my Sony a7R II full-frame ILC were cut together - even to the beat of the music like many of the video clips if you pay close attention. Even pros could benefit from starting points like this, and then change the music, theme, or even the individual photos or sections of videos used if desired.***

And as long as privacy issues are considered, sharing - both with family or with clients or collaborators - becomes far easier in a cloud-only approach.

Accessing your library on multiple devices has been clunky up until now - with manual selection of images that are synced, and a different user experience of LR based on what device you're on. Lightroom CC's promise is a consistent experience across all devices, and the removal of the headache of selecting images you wish access to. Not to mention the issues with editing downsized 'Smart Previews'.

And you might even find the perks of AI on top of this irresistible one day. But until that day, you still have options that allow you to continue working exactly as you did yesterday. And this is something Adobe acknowledges many must do for the time being: working locally is still the ideal way of working for those shooting many photos. ISPs are still not there yet in terms of upload speeds or data caps. That's a real problem for those needing the volume many pros need. Thankfully, though, until improvements in data compression techniques and ISPs come, you can work locally in both Classic CC and the cloud-centric CC versions. In fact, there's nothing stopping you from working locally only with both these services.

But the benefit you'll gain from CC will be based on how much of your library ends up uploaded to the cloud. I hope to have everything both in the cloud and locally one day, to benefit both from access on all devices as well as AI, and the speeds of local access when I'm home. But until then, I will work mostly locally, while more entry-level users will work solely in the cloud. For now, though, Adobe gives us the option for both, and we'll eagerly await to see how well Adobe and internet providers can cater to both crowds.


Footnotes:

* That's actually probably a good thing. DNG can take a 96MB Nikon D850 NEF and make it into a 49MB Raw with no visual loss in quality (LZW and gamma curve compression done right provide visually lossless compression). DNG Converter is even scriptable if you want to automate the process. And if you need to save the original Raw (say because you want to access Dual Pixel Raw for some Canon files in the future), you can always embed, then later export, the original Raw. The only concern I see here is if future OS versions don't support the final version of LR.

** ISP bandwidths and data caps are a valid concern. My current Comcast upload speed is 1MB/s with a data cap of 1TB/month, with a two months grace period if I run over in one year (I'll pay on the third month I run over). That will likely still serve most users and even enthusiasts but may be an issue for pros shooting enormous amounts of images monthly. We'll be following up with Adobe about their views on this issue, but for now we do expect the growth of cloud-based services to force ISPs to offer solutions.

*** Or, more advanced users and pros can themselves select the exact photos and sections of videos used in an easy-to-use timeline manner right on their phones, and Google Assistant will stitch together a video for you. The auto-generated video is a great starting point to start your edits from, though, as it intelligently chooses the best photos and sections of video. Over time, AI can learn what you consider 'best', or your tastes in editing and processing.