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New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which Version is Right for You?

You may have heard that Adobe recently unveiled some pretty significant changes to Lightroom. When you consider using Lightroom, you will now have two different versions to choose from; both are aimed at different audiences. In this article we will take a look at both the new Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic, so you can choose the one that best meets your needs.

New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which is Right for You?

How we got here

There are a lot of letters and numbers associated with Lightroom, so it might be helpful to walk through a quick timeline of how we got here.

In the beginning, way back in 2007, there was Lightroom. At first, Adobe was content to come out with periodic new releases and number them. So we had Lightroom 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0, with each version they added some new features. If nothing else, the system was easy to understand.

After that, however, Adobe moved to a subscription model. They simply called it Lightroom CC, which stood for Creative Cloud. With the change to the subscription model, there wouldn’t be big periodic launches. Instead, new features would be rolled out periodically. That’s the world we lived in until recently.

Now, however, Adobe has essentially split Lightroom into two different applications. They are Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Lightroom Classic

Let’s start with the simple one, Lightroom Classic. If you are already familiar with Lightroom, then this is the easy one to understand. Lightroom Classic is basically the same Lightroom you have been using but it’s just updated a little bit. There are really only two changes.

The first is that it is faster. It uploads (imports) image faster, it moves through pictures faster, it edits faster – it seems to do everything faster. There have been a lot of complaints about speed in recent versions of Lightroom. As Adobe added more and more features, it gummed up the works so it was moving slower and slower. Adobe clearly made fixing this a priority.

So Lightroom Classic is faster – a lot faster – than previous versions of Lightroom. How much faster? I haven’t seen any numbers, but the increase in speed will be noticeable to you immediately. It is much faster.

Beyond the speed, is there anything actually different between Lightroom Classic and the prior version? Yes, but not that much. In fact, when it comes to making global changes to your pictures, there is nothing different. The features and controls are all exactly the same. There is one change that is small but is really handy if you make local adjustments to your pictures (i.e. changes to discrete portions of your pictures rather than the whole thing).

New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which is Right for You?

Adobe added new masking controls to the local adjustment tools – those being the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter. It is called the Range Mask feature, and it allows you to limit the selection you make by either the Luminance or the Color. In other words, if you make a selection with the Adjustment Brush or one of the filters, but there are things you don’t want to be included in your selection, you can remove them using these tools. This promises to make local adjustments much more doable in Lightroom.

Lightroom CC

Now comes the new part, and the one everyone is talking about (for good or for bad), Lightroom CC. This is a whole new Lightroom. It really comes down to three principles.

  1. Lightroom CC is simpler to use
  2. It is designed for mobile devices
  3. It relies largely on cloud storage

Let’s take a look at each of these.

#1 Lightroom CC is simpler

Lightroom CC has a simpler interface. It is streamlined and more intuitive. Those new to Lightroom will find it easier to navigate and use.

New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which is Right for You?

Simplified Lightroom CC editing controls.

This comes at a cost though. Experienced Lightroom users will find the experience a little like switching from Photoshop to Photoshop Elements. There are entire modules of Lightroom that are missing from Lightroom CC.

There are no Print, Maps, or Books modules. There are some editing functions that are missing as well (the Tone Curve and Camera Calibration). There is no Photo Merge or HDR. In fairness, however, over 90% of the editing functions in traditional Lightroom are present in Lightroom CC.

New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which is Right for You?

Expanded Lightroom CC editing controls.

#2 Lightroom CC is for mobile

Lightroom CC is designed for mobile platforms. It will look and work exactly the same whether you use it on your phone, your tablet, or your desktop. You’ll be editing full resolution versions of your photos, and they will be synced to all your devices. What’s more, Lightroom CC makes it easy to share your photos to various social media channels. Because of this, however, you can only export to JPEG (no PSDs or TIFFs) and only in sRGB, which is the color space that is used for all online photos.

#3 Cloud storage

All your edits in Lightroom CC are backed up to cloud storage. Of course, this will cost you extra. More about the plans below, but the first TB of data will cost you $10 a month, and it goes up from there. There is also an additional element of organization added in; Lightroom CC uses Adobe’s Sensei to automatically add keywords to your photos.

New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which Version is Right for You?

The Plans

Here’s the deal, though, you don’t necessarily have to choose between the different versions of Lightroom. If you subscribe to the Photography Plan (in my opinion, most readers of this website should be doing that) you already get Lightroom CC. It has just been added to your subscription, along with a token 20 GB of cloud storage. If you aren’t already familiar with the Photography Plan, it is where you get Photoshop and Lightroom for $10 a month.

If you want additional cloud storage, it will cost you more. 1 TB of cloud storage costs another $10 a month, taking the Photography Plan plus the 1 TB of cloud storage up to $20 a month.

Finally, if you only want the new Lightroom CC, you can get it along with 1 TB of cloud storage for $10 a month. That might be a good option for those that are very mobile, store everything to the cloud, and/or are just getting started with Lightroom.

Here is a chart from Adobe showing the options:

New Lightroom CC or Lightroom Classic: Which Version is Right for You?

Purchased outright version is going away

There is one more thing you need to know. If you want to purchase Lightroom outright and avoid the monthly charge, you can still do so, but Lightroom 6 is your last chance. Adobe will also stop updating that fairly soon (meaning if you buy a new camera and LR 6 can’t open the raw files there will be no update for that – you’d have to convert them all to DNG before importing). The days of being able to purchase Lightroom (as opposed to renting it) appear to be just about over.

Which version of Lightroom is right for you?

So, which one is right for you? If you are just starting out with Lightroom and your photography is based on mobile platforms, then Lightroom CC might be for you. But if you are already using Lightroom, I think Classic is the way to go.

If you are used to Lightroom, then switching to CC will probably seem like a step backward. Further, if you tend to use desktops and laptops for your editing, then Classic is clearly the way to go. For those instances when you need to do something on your phone, there is always Lightroom Mobile (not ideal, but it works in a pinch).

Of course, all this assumes that Adobe keeps updating Lightroom Classic (the use of the term “Classic” has a lot of people scared since that is often the kiss of death in the tech world).  For the moment at least, Adobe is promising continued updates to it.


Fill in this quick poll and tell us what you’ll be choosing in regards to Lightroom.

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Jim Hamel
Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel excels in showing aspiring photographers simple, practical steps for improving their photos. He is the creator of several courses here at Digital Photography School, including the popular 31 Days to Becoming a Better Photographer course. His book Getting Started in Photography has helped many begin their photographic journey. You can see his work on his website: JimHamelPhotography.com

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