How to Choose Which Version of Lightroom to Buy


Lightroom creative cloud

Buying Lightroom used to be simple. All you had to do was buy the full version of the program, and upgrade (if you wished) every time a new version came out. But ever since Adobe announced the Creative Cloud subscription service, photographers have been faced with two choices. You can still go for the standalone version, or you can buy Lightroom as part of a Creative Cloud monthly membership. But how do you know which is the best option for you? Read on to find out.

Creative Cloud is announced

Adobe’s initial announcement of the Creative Cloud licensing concept was somewhat controversial as the price for a subscription to Photoshop ran at $20 a month (all prices in this article are in US dollars). For photographers who had already purchased the full version of Photoshop this represented a significant price increase. Not only was subscribing more expensive in the long run, compared to upgrading Photoshop regularly, but the license to use the software expired once monthly payments stopped.

There’s little doubt this was a raw deal, but Adobe listened and introduced a new package for photographers – a subscription to both Lightroom and Photoshop CC for $9.99 a month (or $119.88 per year).

Lightroom creative cloud

Read about this on forums and photography websites and you will still come across a lot of negativity towards the Creative Cloud subscription model, especially from Photoshop users upset at the loss of a perpetual licence. But today, I aim to cut through this negativity and take an objective look at the differences between the two options.

Two types of Lightroom users

To start, we have to acknowledge that there are two types of Lightroom users.

The first uses Lightroom in conjunction with Photoshop and wants access to both programs. For this user, the Creative Cloud option is the only choice if you want the latest version of Photoshop CC. Alternatively, if you own a version of Photoshop CS and are not bothered about upgrading to Photoshop CC, you can buy the standalone version of Lightroom and use them together.

The second type of user carries out the bulk of their image processing in Lightroom. For tasks Lightroom can’t handle, they may use an older version of Photoshop, a less powerful program like Photoshop Elements, or a plug-in such as the Nik Collection or Perfect Photo Suite 9. These users may be wondering whether to continue using the standalone version of the software or to subscribe.

Financial considerations

If you are on a budget, and don’t need Photoshop CC, then it is definitely less expensive to buy the standalone version of Lightroom. At the moment a new version of Lightroom comes out approximately every 18 months. At $9.99 a month, the subscription service would cost you $179.82 over that period. If you are new to Lightroom, the full version (priced at $149 from the Adobe website) saves you money, and if you already own Lightroom, then the upgrade (priced at $79) is even less, saving you a little over $100 over the same time period.

As a standalone version user you get free upgrades until a full new version comes out. So, if you upgraded to Lightroom 5.0 when it first came out, you can upgrade to the latest version (5.7) for free, taking advantage of new features introduced since then. But when Lightroom 6 comes out, you will need to pay the upgrade fee to use it. Upgrading isn’t compulsory, and you can continue to use your earlier version of Lightroom as long as you want.

Adobe have stressed their commitment to continuing the standalone version of Lightroom for the foreseeable future.

Note: The standalone version of Lightroom is a little hard to find on Adobe’s website. You can get there by going to Adobe’s home page and clicking the Menu option at the top. Click the All Products button at the bottom, scroll down to Lightroom and click Buy. Or you can also find it here on Amazon

Lightroom creative cloud

What the Creative Cloud subscription gives you

The Creative Cloud subscription is more expensive, so what do you get for that extra money? The two headline features are Photoshop CC, a powerful image editing program that you are likely familiar with, plus access to Lightroom Mobile, a mobile version of Lightroom that works with iPads and iPhones (but not currently with devices using the Android or Windows operating systems).

There are several additional features that may interest some people, such as 2GB of online storage space, access to Lightroom Web and the ability to use Photoshop CC and Lightroom on multiple machines (although not at the same time).

What happens when the Creative Cloud license ends?

If you stop paying your subscription fee you no longer have the right to use the full versions of Photoshop CC and Lightroom. Photoshop will stop working completely (or at least until you renew the subscription).

But Lightroom is different. Bear in mind that with Lightroom your Raw files are untouched. The edits you make are stored in the Catalog. If you lose access to the Catalog, you lose access to all the edits you have made to your images, including all post-processing.

Adobe doesn’t want that to happen, so it gives you partial access to Lightroom even if you cancel your Creative Cloud subscription. You have full access to the Library, Book, Print, Slideshow and Web modules. The Develop module is severely restricted (you can’t make any adjustments using the right-hand panels) and there is no access to the Map module.

Lightroom creative cloud

Your Catalog remains intact, including any Collections you’re created and any changes to metadata, including ratings and keywords. So does your post-processing, and the ability to make basic edits to photo files using the Quick Develop panel. You can also export your photos any time you want.

You need to have Lightroom Version 5.5 or later installed for this to work.


Hopefully you are now clearer about how the two ways of buying Lightroom differ, and which is best for you. If you want to use the most up to date version of Photoshop CC, or Lightroom Mobile, then the Creative Cloud subscription service is the choice for you.

However, if you don’t require the latest version of Photoshop CC, or Lightroom Mobile, then buying the standalone version is the least expensive way to go.

What do you think? Have Adobe got it right with the price and services offered for the Creative Cloud Photography plan? Do you use the Creative Cloud version of Lightroom or the standalone version? Please let us know in the comments.

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Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

  • Marinus Beers

    I HATE the subscription model, and will stick to the standalone version.

  • Herrner

    Lightroom mobile is available for Android, albeit only for phones:

  • Keith Starkey

    So, you can export your photos from Lightroom anytime. Can you, however, make a copy of the catalog and download it? If not, you have no control over your RAW files.

  • Senchy

    And what if your country is not significant enough for Adobe? If your country is not listed on Adobe webpage purchase is not possible.

  • Carl Wright

    The catalog stays on the machine locally, only photos you sync to the cloud are stored with Adobe…

  • Carl Wright

    Personally the Creative Cloud for £8 a month has been money well spent for me. Particularly with the intro of Lightroom Mobile which helps speed up my workflow etc…

  • Keith Starkey

    Well, I have Lightroom as a stand-alone product. I’d like to use it in conjunction with PS via the Creative Cloud. I take it that’s possible?

  • What country do you live in Senchy? It may be available through a reseller. Full list of countries where Adobe Creative Cloud is available in this PDF:

  • Carl, do you mind if I ask how you incorporate Lightroom Mobile into your workflow?

  • Hi Keith, if you use Photoshop CC the software is installed on your computer, just like your standalone version of Lightroom, and the two will work together. There’s no need to upload photos to the Creative Cloud.

    It’s the same with Lightroom CC, the Catalog is stored on your computer, as are your Raw files. If you used the subscription model of Lightroom you wouldn’t notice much difference from the standalone version. The main differences are that you get access to Lightroom Mobile and Lightroom Web with the CC version.

  • Yes, it came out for Android after the article was written.

  • Is hate too strong a word Marinus? Surely it’s just a matter of choosing which option works best for you?

  • Marinus Beers

    For me it’s not too strong, it (the subscription model) makes me feel like a cow that is milked. In my opinion it’s only a way to make more money… Capitalism at its worst.

  • Keith Starkey

    Great to hear, Andrew. I’m just now getting into the idea of Photoshop (currently trying GIMP because it’s free…this unemployed stuff takes its toll on you). But if I can just pay, say, $10.00 a month for just PS, I’d be happy, since I already have Lightroom. Thanks again for your response.

  • The price and currency depends on which country you live in Keith, but in the United States you get both Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC for $10 a month. Hope you find a job soon!

  • Keith Starkey

    Thanks, Andrew.

  • Senchy

    Bosnia, so no access to CC. I have my copy of LR4 brought by a friend from US, but would love to be able to use monthly subscription for photographers.

  • Carl Wright

    Rather than sit trundling through images I’m going to keep or reject in Lightroom desktop I sync all new imports to the cloud.

    Then I can sit on the sofa going through them on the iPad in Lightroom mobile, as well as basic exposure adjustments and cropping if required.

    It will then all sync back to Lightroom Desktop and enabled me to then do full blown editing (If required) on the desktop.

    For me this means I can spend time relaxing with family whilst just running through some of the workflow I’d normally sit doing on the Desktop.

    If a 500px user, you can also upload to there direct from the iPad / Creative Cloud; which if your images only need a basic tweek it’s easy!

  • Carl Wright

    It’s also worth adding that Photoshop Mix on the iPad works well with Creative Cloud too… Check out Adobe’s site for further details

  • smegman

    Nice writeup, I think you’ve captured well the scenarios in which you’d pick one over the other. It’s definitely helped me decide which one I’ll be picking; I had been wavering between the two earlier.

  • I keep thinking that the subscription model is stupid. I’ve had the entire CS5 series for three years and a half on a student price. Juste PS CC and LightRoom together would’ve reached that price in a bit under two years. Dumb.

  • Graeme Finlayson

    I’ve been a Lightroom user since 2011. The option to move to Photoshop CC with Lightroom for less than £10 per month was a no-brainer for me.

  • Remember that not everybody is a student and can take advantage of Adobe’s student prices.

    For readers that are interested, there is some information on Adobe’s pricing for students and teachers here:

  • Thanks Carl, that’s very interesting. The iPad is a brilliant tool for sorting images.

  • I guess one possible solution is to use a VPN so the Adobe website thinks you are accessing it from the United States, and allows you to sign up to the Creative Cloud. You would need a method of payment though and you would have to be careful that you were connected to the VPN every time you used Lightroom. No doubt it contravenes Adobe’s terms and conditions too.

    I did find this on Adobe’s website, but whether it means CC will ever be available in Bosnia is another matter:

    “We intend to make Creative Cloud as widely available as possible. Adobe will share more details about country availability over time. While individual membership may not be available in your country, you may be able to purchase a team membership in your country via Adobe’s network of resellers.”

  • Paul

    Good article. Thank you.

  • LunaStar PM

    I have had the subscription for a while now and love it. Getting the latest versions as they come out, to me is worth it in itself. My only problem with it, is how they only offer LR mobile to ios users. Come on adobe, don’t you realize you have Android users also?

  • Casey

    My problem with CC as a professional, and maybe I’m just naive/paranoid, are the licensing terms in the EULA.

  • Alex Silva

    Subscription is the way to go for me and my needs. I started with the Photography CC in 2013, and I then moved up to the full suite last November. It just works 🙂

  • jom

    keep your comments to your self please!

  • Joel

    Hate is not too strong a word for being exploited by software companies making minor upgrades to their products. Adobe is not alone in this, but if there was consumer demand for the new products they wouldn’t need to implement the subscription model to generate revenue.

  • Marinus Beers

    I beg your pardon? Heard about freedom of expression?
    Besides, in the article Andrew explicitly ASKS for an opinion.

  • Lightroom mobile is available for Android phones now, although apparently not for tablets. Presumably that will come in the future. Details here:

  • Hi Jom, Marinus is right, I did ask for opinions. I don’t expect us all for a minute to agree, but everyone has a right to think what they want. Thanks for understanding.

  • Well, the good thing is that everybody has a choice. Adobe have commited to the standalone model and hopefully that will continue.

  • Michael Owens

    I use an offline version of cc – after buying EVERY version of photoshop since its release, the subscription model made me feel abused as a customer.

    I don’t use Lughtroom, only because I’m very versed in the use of Photoshop and there is no advantage whatsoever for me.

    I do buy a lot of plugins, which for me, is my payback for using the ‘internet shops’ version of CC.

  • Michael Owens

    His other option, when not supported – is to grab a version from the online shop. It’s not his fault Adobe don’t cover his homeland and that shouldn’t be a reason why he has to miss out on the software.

  • Michael Owens

    I also feel that android, being Linux based is more open to hacking, and making the software free. IOS is much harder to do that with, not impossible but harder.

  • Photoclub organizer

    My opinion: Subscription software is another blade in “death by a thousand cuts”.

  • Which licensing terms are you doubtful about?

  • ipaco
  • jrjrjrjr

    hey everyone, im downloading Lightroom for the first time and I did not had to pay anything on the adobe site. I choose the adobe photoshop Lightroom 5.7

    What do you think:
    Is this a good one to start with?
    and should I be expecting a bill or “your trial is over’ message soon?


  • Ron Lawrence

    Wifi don’t use PS do you see the CC version to be worth the price? In my opinion is it’s not.

  • It depends on whether you want to use Lightroom mobile or Lightroom web (see link below). If you don’t, and you’re not bothered about receiving the latest updates (such as the Dehaze slider recently added to Lightroom CC) then go for Lightroom 6.

  • Sonja Oudhoff

    i use both Ps and Lr. For me it makes financial sense given i have a strict budget to adhere $10 month is manageable. i don’t mind subscribing to something i enjoy ?

  • Sherman Wright

    Thanks for the topic Andrew, I think I’ll purchase the stand alone version, hence, I already have PS14. I have enough monthly bills.

  • Peter Finnegan

    Isn’t the subscription model just like renting a mobile phone. And money expert Martin Lewis here in the UK says its cheaper and better value to buy a phone outright. If you rent the software for 5 years you’ve paid out £510 or £1020 for ten years. That’s a hell of a lot of money and partly because you are getting continuous updates. But if you buy stand alone software many don’t buy the new version each year. They don’t feel the need to for just a few minor updates. They make do with what they have. I always suspect these big companies like Apple and Adobe deliberately stagger their updates adding on just a few each year so that you will feel like you have to buy the newer version. I mean in ver 6 they added HDR and panorama merge but wouldn’t they have had the technology and know how to have included that in version 5 when it was released.

  • It depends – because with the subscription model you get Photoshop CC as well, and if you use both Lightroom and Photoshop it’s great value (in my opinion, not everybody will agree). Certainly much cheaper than buying both Photoshop and Lightroom back in the day when that was the only way you could license both programs.

    If you just want to use Lightroom then buying Lightroom outright and upgrading when a new version come out will be less expensive in the long run. The only thing is that you’ll miss out on the new features that Adobe have introduced into Lightroom CC. Lightroom 6 users have to wait until Lightroom 7 for them. The main ones so far have been the Dehaze slider and the new Lens Corrections and Transform panels.

  • Pebbles Da StrayCat

    Hi, sorry, I just downloaded LR for Android, free 30d trial version. I must understand that it will not be possible to use it in my mobile without CCloud suscription after that period? Thanks!

  • That’s right, that’s how it works.

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