Adobe Lightroom marries several powerful photography tools inside of one integrated suite: a single app to import, convert, organize, edit, and export image files. Lightroom brings together just about everything you need to process your photos.
Lightroom launched in 2006 and drew many users away from Photoshop. For most photographers, it was Lightroom's speed advantage. Lightroom's ease at batch-process images is a major advantage.
But Adobe made an interesting decision: it split the program into two unique branches of Lightroom: Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC. These are now commonly called "Lightroom Classic" and "Lightroom CC" respectively.
Lightroom is a popular app and splitting it into such distinct halves was a bold move. And it left many users wondering which version they should go with going forward. Would Classic be shelved in favor of the new kid on the block, Lightroom CC?
Maybe you're a longtime user of Lightroom, wondering if you should switch to the latest version. Or you're looking to start organizing your images and are choosing the platform to use. In this article, we're going to see the difference between the two versions of Lightroom and which version you should choose, depending on your needs.
Choose Your Flavor
First of all, you don't have to choose between the two editions of Adobe Lightroom. As part of a monthly subscription to the Creative Cloud Photography plan, you have access Photoshop and both versions of Adobe Lightroom. These three tools can combine to give you all the features you need to manage and edit your images.
In practice, however, you'll want to choose a Lightroom version and get comfortable in it. You're going to be importing, managing, and editing your images in it, so it helps to have a single source. Splitting your images between versions of the app is only going to cause confusion.
What Do Both Versions of Lightroom Do?
While Classic and CC are unique apps, there are many basic features that they share. The basic idea is that Lightroom is a tool for managing images at scale. It brings together a suite of tools inside a single app that helps you make sense of a large set of images.
Here are some features that you'll find in both versions of Lightroom:
- Both versions handle a variety of image formats, like RAW, JPEG, DNG, and more
- Both apps let you control the look and feel of an image, adjusting factors like exposure, white balance, contrast, and other visual settings
- Both versions of Lightroom give you tools to manage and organize images, like keywords, tagging, albums, and more
Each app also has its unique features as well. Let's take a look at what sets the two versions apart.
Old Familiar: Lightroom Classic CC
If you've been using Adobe Lightroom for several years, this is the version that you're familiar with. It's the traditional version of Lightroom that uses a catalog on your computer to store information about your image adjustments and corrections.
When you think Lightroom Classic, think about it like a traditional desktop app. Lightroom Classic stores information about your images in a catalog file that is separate from your image files. You can store your original image files anywhere, whether that's on your computer's hard drive or stored on an external drive.
Lightroom Classic features everything you might need to manage a massive library of images. With separate modules that help you work with images in different ways like Library, Develop, and Print, it's a full stack solution for working with your images.
Lightroom CC: Goes Anywhere
Lightroom CC has continued to evolve since it's launch, and Adobe has steadily added new features. Altogether, they've refined the software to give you more and better tools to work with your image files, including more and more features from the Classic edition, so that it is now a much more robust alternative.
Software as a Service
Lightroom CC takes the increasingly popular approach of storing everything on a server: by default, your images are stored in Adobe's Creative Cloud.
You can still use your computer to import and upload images, but it's clear that the goal is to get images off of your device and into the Creative Cloud. If you're frequently working on a laptop or mobile device this a a real plus because it means you access high-quality versions your images without downloading the original, probably pretty large, files.
Lightroom CC also has mobile-first apps. The iOS and Android apps feel almost exactly like the desktop version of the app to provide continuity in working with your images.
You'll find most of the essential features from Lightroom Classic inside of CC. There are tools to organize, edit, correct, and share images. It just simplifies these features so that it takes less effort to work with your images.
Lightroom Classic CC vs Lightroom CC:
So far, we've looked at the two versions and reviewed some of the defining features of each platform. You might be wondering which is the right choice for you. The answer, as usual, is "it depends." Let's look at two scenarios that might lead you to choose each version of the app.
Best Lightroom for Pro, Amateur Photographers: Lightroom Classic CC
If you're a serious photographer who needs access to all of the robust correction and editing tools you're accustomed to, there's no doubt that Lightroom Classic CC is the choice for you.
Lightroom Classic CC gives you tight control over your files and images. I'm very careful with how my images are stored and backed up, and this is a key advantage in Lightroom Classic's favor. My images are stored on a NAS and carefully archived, and I trust my systems more than letting them disappear to Adobe Creative Cloud.
- Best of Both Worlds: Use a Fast Working Library and Secure Picture ArchiveAndrew Childress20 Sep 2015
- 3-2-1: How to Safely Store Photos in Lightroom ClassicAndrew Childress29 Jun 2022
Lightroom Classic also has the best tools for batching images. Lightroom CC doesn't currently allow you to edit multiple images at the same time, which is a real deal breaker for busy photographers that need to speed through edits.
Lightroom Classic still has the most features and tools. When you need features like HDR merging or stitching together panoramas, Lightroom Classic is a must, as these features are missing from Lightroom CC.
Best Lightroom for Mobile, Casual Photographers: Lightroom CC
Lightroom CC has a "it just works" feel. You won't spend time thinking about what drives your images are stored on or how the folders are organized. You just dump images in the cloud, and you can access them from any device with Lightroom CC installed (including mobile.)
Casual shooters or mobile photographers will find enough in Lightroom CC to make it worth a look. There are robust editing tools that can help you improve your image from capture to export. It also doesn't neglect the essential cataloging tools like keywording, tagging, and other organization basics.
Lastly, it's clear that Adobe is devoting the majority of their development efforts to Lightroom CC. It's a double-edged sword: Lightroom CC is going to continue evolving and adding features, but it might also mean Lightroom Classic gets left behind in the process.
Keep Learning About Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom isn't going anywhere, but it is indeed shifting. The fork in the road that divides Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC shows that Adobe's ideas about image management and editing are moving.
At Tuts+, we have a full library of Lightroom tutorials that can help you get comfortable with the app. Check out the links below to learn more:
- Adobe Lightroom CC: Is It a Fit for Your Photography Needs?Andrew Childress30 Jun 2022
- How to Build a Film Style Look in Adobe LightroomAndrew Childress29 Jun 2018
- How to Add Color in Lightroom Classic Using Hue, Saturation, and LuminanceAndrew Childress01 Dec 2022
Which version of Lightroom are you using these days? Let me know in the comments section below if you have a strong recommendation for either version and why.