Are you trying to decide between Adobe Camera Raw vs Lightroom but you keep getting confused? This used to happen to me, too – because to understand ACR and what it offers, you have to understand the program that hosts it (either Photoshop or Bridge).
That’s also why some people haven’t even heard of Adobe Camera Raw even though they’re using it; it’s the program designed by Adobe to develop RAW files, so it’s integrated into all Adobe photo-editing programs, including Lightroom.
As you read through this article, you’ll notice that ACR and Lightroom look very similar. Both of them allow you to process your photos and make adjustments to color and exposure. You can also correct perspective, fix lens distortions, and apply effects such as a vignette or split toning.
So what’s the difference? Keep reading to find out!
Whether you know Adobe Camera Raw or not and whether you shoot in RAW format or not (I hope you do!), this article can help you choose which editing program works best for you.
Adobe Camera Raw vs Lightroom: overview
Adobe Camera Raw was first launched in 2003 to develop RAW files. It can be supported by Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Bridge, and After Effects.
Lightroom was based on Adobe Camera Raw and was initially released in 2007. As such, both programs share the same RAW processing technology. And in recent updates, Lightroom and ACR have started to look quite similar.
That said, if you want to use ACR, you need another software program to host it. Lightroom, on the other hand, is a one-program solution. It’s the reason why making a comparison between Lightroom and Camera Raw is so difficult – you’re comparing a plugin to a full-fledged software program.
Ultimately, there are two major comparisons you can make:
- If you want to know which program to use for serious photo editing, you need to consider Lightroom vs Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop.
- If you want to know which program to use for file management and basic editing, the comparison is between Lightroom vs Adobe Camera Raw in Bridge.
That’s why, to avoid confusion, this article is structured in terms of features and workflows. Then I’ll wrap things up by telling you which program wins (in my opinion) considering the needs of different photographers.
Access and interface
The first big difference between Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw is that Lightroom is a standalone program. You can get an Adobe subscription and have access to Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom Mobile.
The individual subscription only allows for Lightroom to be installed on two devices, and files can only be accessed by one person at a time.
The interface is very user-friendly and streamlined. As a result, Lightroom is easy to use and has a smaller learning curve than Camera Raw.
When handling RAW files, Lightroom uses the same technology as Camera Raw. The results should therefore be the same but with a different interface.
Adobe Camera Raw
You can’t download and use Adobe Camera Raw on its own – you always have to use it through another Adobe app. These can be Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Bridge, or After Effects.
When you launch Adobe Camera Raw with these programs, you access the ACR interface. Since the most recent updates, ACR looks very similar to Lightroom. Because of this, the user experience is very similar. However, learning to use Bridge and Photoshop is more difficult than learning Lightroom.
Adobe Bridge can be installed on any number of computers and can be accessed by multiple contributors at a time. Photoshop, like Lightroom, can only be installed on two computers and can’t be used at the same time.
Files and formats
Adobe Camera Raw
Adobe Camera Raw was developed with the idea of opening and editing RAW files. It therefore supports most raw file formats (you can find a complete list of cameras supported by ACR on the Adobe website). And you can use ACR to process other file formats such as JPEG and TIFF.
ACR + Photoshop
When you open a RAW file with Photoshop, it will automatically launch Adobe Camera Raw. Camera Raw can also be launched midway through your workflow in Photoshop as a filter.
ACR + Bridge
Bridge supports all sorts of file formats because it’s meant to be an asset manager for all of the Adobe apps. So it handles PDF files, AI files, PSD files, etc.
When you open a RAW file from Bridge, it will automatically launch Adobe Camera Raw. If you want to use ACR with other photography formats (such as JPEG), you can just right-click on the image and choose Open>Camera Raw.
Lightroom might share some photo-editing capabilities with Camera Raw, but it wasn’t developed specifically for RAW files – it was created to satisfy the needs of all photographers. As a result, you can import any type of photo with the same process regardless of the format.
Lightroom supports most RAW formats (including DNG), HEIF, TIFF files in 8, 16, and 32 bits, JPEG, PSD, PSB, CMYK, PNG, and some video formats.
Image editing and batch editing
The photo editing tools in Lightroom and Camera Raw are quite similar. Both offer basic color and exposure adjustments.
You can also do selective edits, crop and rotate, remove spots, correct perspective and chromatic aberration, etc. But there are a few differences, as discussed below:
One of the best things about Lightroom is the ability to sync your edits across multiple photos. After you’ve edited a single photo, you can tell Lightroom to sync all the edits with other photos in the catalog (or you can select just a few adjustments to sync).
Another way to apply the same edits to multiple pictures is by using presets. You can save your edits as a preset, or you can download presets from other photographers (some are free, others are for sale). You can then preview the presets just by hovering over them, which makes it easier to browse different effects.
A great Lightroom feature is that it retains a photo’s editing history, even if you close it and come back to your image another time. That way, you can always revert to an earlier version if you’re unhappy with your recent edits.
Lightroom does support video files, though you can do very little video editing (you can apply some presets and use the Quick Edits in the Library module).
Adobe Camera Raw
In Camera Raw, you can batch edit only if you decide to do so from the beginning. You simply open several images in ACR and select them. Then every adjustment you make will be applied to all the selected images.
If you want, you can save your edits as a preset and apply them to multiple photos inside Adobe Camera Raw. It’s also possible to buy or download ACR presets from other creators; however, there aren’t as many available as there are for Lightroom.
To edit video, you can use Camera Raw as a filter inside Photoshop CC – all the tools are enabled as if you were editing a photograph. And Photoshop allows you to edit the duration of the video, add text, graphics, and so much more.
With Adobe Camera Raw, if you want to come back to a certain point in your editing process, you need to save Snapshots as you go. These Snapshots get stored in an XMP file, so they’ll be available anytime you want them – as long as you remember to create them. Otherwise, there’s no way to go back in your editing history if you close and later re-open the file.
This is one of the biggest differences between Lightroom and Camera Raw; Lightroom is an image manipulation and organization software, while Camera Raw is only for image manipulation. Therefore, you simply cannot manage your files with ACR (no file management features exist!). That’s why I’ll compare the workflow of Bridge plus Adobe Camera Raw vs Lightroom.
Both workflows allow you to organize, tag, and rate your files before or after editing. Adding keywords is also available in both programs.
Adobe Camera Raw + Bridge
Bridge is a file browser that you can use to manage all the files – not just the photographic ones – on your hard drive. Therefore, you’re working directly with your original files.
Because you’re only browsing existing files, loading is faster than Lightroom’s import process, though it takes longer if you need to search with keywords or you want to make collections.
Since Bridge supports many file types and gives access to more than one person at a time, it’s great for collaborative work in big teams, whether people are working on the same or different projects.
From Bridge, you can access Adobe Camera Raw to process your images – RAW and otherwise. All the edits are saved in a sidecar file (ACR creates one for every photo). Having the edits in separate files is what makes the adjustments in ACR a non-destructive process. Separate files can also store presets.
Lightroom is a database program. When you import your images, you can access them even if they are offline, you can sync them across devices (if you use Lightroom CC), and you can keep your original files intact.
Importing your images can be a slow process, as Lightroom uploads the files and creates high-resolution previews (you have several options here). However, once the import process is complete, searching and organizing your files is faster than in Bridge.
Note that edits done in Lightroom and uploaded to the Cloud can be accessed from other devices that share the account, because all the files and edits are stored in one place. Edits can also be saved as presets for a more efficient workflow.
Adobe Camera Raw vs Lightroom: Which program is best?
As you’ve probably gathered, there’s not a clear answer to the Adobe Camera Raw vs Lightroom question. The program that’s best depends on your workflow and personal preferences.
If you’re a beginner photographer, Lightroom might be better for you, as it’s more user-friendly and has a smaller learning curve. Also, if you like using presets, you’ll find plenty of great options for Lightroom users. If you don’t plan to do advanced photo retouching, you can even get by without Photoshop.
For event photographers who need to cull, keyword, and batch-edit large amounts of pictures, Lightroom has better organizing tools. Also, most websites allow direct uploading from Lightroom, which allows you to share images with your clients in a more efficient way.
On the other hand, photographers who also need to edit videos or do graphic design will appreciate Adobe Camera Raw. That’s because Bridge and Photoshop support more file types and offer more tools for advanced editing.
In terms of cost, the two programs are essentially identical. For $10 USD per month, you can grab Adobe’s Lightroom Plan (which includes access to Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC, plus 1 TB of cloud storage). Alternatively – and also for $10 USD per month – you can purchase Adobe’s Photography Plan, which includes Lightroom Classic, Lightroom CC, and Photoshop CC (with Adobe Camera Raw), though cloud storage is limited to 20 GB.
Of course, you can also use both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom according to the needs of each project – that’s what I do!
Now over to you:
What do you think of Adobe Camera Raw? How does it compare to Lightroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Adobe Camera Raw vs Lightroom FAQs
Not really. While you don’t pay for Adobe Camera Raw specifically, accessing the full program requires a Photoshop subscription.
Whenever you import a RAW file, Lightroom automatically uses ACR – you don’t have to do anything extra because ACR is built into Lightroom’s editing engine.
When you open a RAW file in Photoshop, it will automatically launch ACR. You can also use Adobe Camera Raw as a filter at any time while in Photoshop.
The Camera Raw filter has fewer tools than ACR. Also, you can use the filter to modify a layer in a document, but it cannot modify the document properties.
No. ACR is a plugin that needs to be hosted by another program – you can use it with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Bridge, and After Effects.