I spend a lot of time in Adobe Lightroom. This also means that I spend a lot of time at my desk, working in a Lightroom catalog. Luckily, that's about to change. With the launch of Adobe Lightroom mobile, it's time to take our editing work on the road. I've spent the week trying out this app on my iPad, and today I'm sharing my experience.
When Lightroom 5 launched, there was a sneaky feature included in the release notes: Smart Previews. This feature is what Adobe called "representative RAW files" that are small file size duplicates of your RAW images. Even when you're not on the same drive as your RAW images, you can maintain your previews and edits with Smart Previews. Lightroom mobile uses the cloud-based Smart Previews to reduce the file storage needs.
To get started with Lightroom mobile, you'll need an iPad running iOS 7 or newer (Adobe says that an iPhone app is coming soon). From the app's info, it appears that all iPad iterations except the very first one are supported by the app. Props to Adobe for supporting my aging iPad 2, by the way.
Launching alongside Lightroom mobile is the brand new Lightroom 5.4, which is required for use with the app. To get started with Lightroom Mobile, make sure you update your installation of Lightroom to the latest version.
You'll also need an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to use the app. If you don't already have one, Adobe will provide a 30-day free trial of Lightroom mobile when you sign in with your Adobe ID.
When you setup Lightroom mobile, your entire catalog won't sync to the cloud. Instead, Lightroom will send selected collections to the cloud. Make sure you are using Lightroom 5.4 and sign in with your Adobe ID before attempting to start syncing.
To get started with a synced collection, start by making sure you have a collection of images built. Then, right-click a collection name in the Collections panel and choose Sync with Lightroom mobile.
One quirk that I noticed right away is that only one catalog can be synced with Lightroom mobile at a time. Switching catalogs will cause you to lose the synced collections.
The iPad App
Let's get this out of the way: the interface is incredible. Although it's different than the desktop version, the tiled layout is stunning. This app could definitely be used to show image collections to clients.
After entering a synced collection on the iPad, you're presented with this masonry style layout of your images. Tapping an image brings it into full view, and after a few seconds, it it sharpened and displayed a histogram alongside the image.
One of the key parts of a workflow is the culling stage, and I'm finding Lightroom mobile to be fantastic for cutting my image collection down to the keepers. In the lower left corner of the image is a flag icon that can be tapped to toggle an image as a pick.
Even more intuitive is the ability to swipe up or down on the image to flag it or unflag it. Immediately, this app is going to find its way into my workflow to cull image collections down away from the computer.
Of course, the value of Lightroom mobile is that once changes are made on the iPad, they get pushed back to the same images on your computer's catalog. With no more than a minute's lag from my testing, I'm confident that my collections will stay usably synchronized.
Much of the editing power of the desktop version of Lightroom is present on the iPad. Adobe should be applauded for not copying and pasting the interface of Lightroom onto the mobile app. Instead, they designed an interface that fits a touch screen device perfectly.
When you tap to open a single image, there are four icons at the bottom of the screen that access the editing power of Lightroom mobile. The far left icon toggles the traditional Lightroom filmstrip of image thumbnails. The second icon opens the full editing options that you're accustomed to.
Tapping this icon opens the "editing attributes," like exposure and contrast. Tapping any of those icons opens new set of tick marks that appear over the image. Dragging that slider from left to right works the same as the desktop version of Lightroom. As always, the back and forward arrows are in the lower right hand corner to undo and redo your changes.
Adobe should be applauded for not copying and pasting the interface of Lightroom onto the mobile app. Instead, they designed an interface that fits a touch screen device perfectly.
Editing on Lightroom mobile is that simple. Pick an attribute, slide the point, and your editing changes will take effect. The mobile app temporarily pauses syncing to keep your iPad working quickly, but you can always tap the cloud icon and choose "Sync Now" to accelerate the process.
Once a sync completes, the changes you made on your iPad will be visible in your catalog on your Mac or PC.
Finally, you can also add presets to your images by tapping the third icon on the bottom of the app. The presets are categorized and you can tap any preset to apply it. From my testing, I did not find a way to add or use "user presets", but let's hope that it makes its way into a future edition of the app.
Beyond the standard editing features, cropping is also available in the mobile app. You can click the fourth icon from that same "tools" panel at the bottom of the app to choose cropping options. Choose an aspect ratio (like square or 4x3) to crop the images to, then tap and drag over the image to change your crop. You can even twist your fingers to correct tilt.
Edit Photos Taken With Your iPad
In addition to syncing via the cloud, you can also import images from the iPad's camera roll. Go out of a collection by pressing the back arrow several times and you'll be at the home screen of the app. Press the arrow in the upper right hand corner to create a new collection. When it's created, you can tap the newly created collection to add images from the iPad's camera roll.
The best part is that these images are reverse synced to your cloud collection, and I transferred the screenshots you see in this tutorial using this option. You can add iPad images to any collection by pressing the "+" button present in the corner.
Adobe built in a sharing option to make Lightroom mobile a true portable solution. When viewing an image, choose the icon in the upper right hand corner to choose the iPad's typical sharing pane.
The normal iOS sharing options will appear allowing you email or message your images. You can also configure the app with your Facebook, Flickr or other social media accounts. Once you've done that, those icons will appear as well.
It's no secret that I'm a Lightroom fanatic. I've tried creating my own patchwork mobile solutions, but none were good enough to use. I was bound to like any version of an official app, but I have to be honest, this app impressed me.
This is going to change the way that I work, and untether me from the desk more often. I can definitely see myself spending long car rides culling large collections. The editing functionality is good enough to use and is more than a gimmick. When I get back to my desk, I can pick up on my edits without missing a beat.
One thing that Adobe hasn't made clear is the amount of storage space that will be avilable to your Lightroom smart previews. The typical Creative Cloud account includes 20 gigabytes of storage, but it's not clear if the images go in this same bucket of storage or not. Keep in mind that because they are using Smart Preview technology, the images take far less storage space than the RAW files.
The only thing that might turn some users away is the required tie to Creative Cloud. Personally, I have preferred buying the boxed version of Lightroom and skipping Creative Cloud, but this may change my plans.
I think that this may be a tipping point for many other photographers as well, and the cloud seems to be the way that Adobe is headed. The fact that this has essentially been added for free to the collection enhances the value of Creative Cloud as well.
Adobe hit a home run with the release of Lightroom mobile. It's going to find its way into a lot of photographers workflow, mine included. I came in with high expectations and this app met them. I think the power of the app will only grow with future updates.
Have you tried Lightroom mobile yet? How does it fit in your workflow? Let us know what you think about this new app.