Digital Darkroom Software Review: Lightroom CC, part 1 – Lightroom Mobile

Program:  Lightroom Mobile
Platforms Tested Available:  iPhone, Android
Price: “free” as part of the $9.99/month CC Photography plan (with Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC and some other goodies)
Installation: its a usual download from the app store, but it won’t work without a Creative Cloud membership and one of the monthly plans.

With my 30 day trial of Lightroom CC 2015 nearing its end, it’s about time I share what I’ve found so far.

First up: Lightroom Mobile.

Is it enough to convince me to pay the $10/month? Will I go back to Lightroom 5? Maybe just drop $80 to upgrade to vanilla Lightroom 6? Or will I drop Adobe altogether and do my photo editing in some combination of open source softwares?

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure yet… If you’re interested, read on as I go through what I’ve found of interest in Lightroom Mobile. (Some thoughts on CC will be shared in a few days or a week or so.)

And if you make it all the way to the bottom, there’s a surprise…

Syncing from Lightroom to the phone

A few months ago, I had an idea to start processing some film shots through various phone apps. I created a couple of folders on the hard drive, exported some pictures to them from Lightroom 5, and set up iTunes to keep those folders synced to the phone.

Easy enough, but I didn’t do much with it. Partly because I don’t play with the phone much these days, but mostly because when I do take the time to play I have to consciously remember the project and decide I want to work on it, then go find the synced folder and hope the app I want to play in looks in the other folders and not just the camera roll.

With Lightroom Mobile (LM), syncing is now far easier: I just create a collection in Lightroom CC (CC), set it as a synced collection, and *poof* everything automagically appears on the phone, sorta.

All the pictures wind up on the phone, but 1) they’re Smart Previews of the images, and not the RAW files (or jpegs or whatever), and 2) they’re in LM, not the camera roll.

The first is not a problem, or a surprise: Lightroom in all its incarnations is all about nondestructive editing, and the Smart Preview is a perfectly capable file. In fact, if I write a post from the sofa, any images that I post here probably owe their existence to Smart Previews (I’ve got ~400GB of images and the internal hard drive is only 256GB).

The second is not much of a surprise and not really a problem either, since LM has some great sharing options via the iOS extensions functions, but some of the apps I might like to use for this haven’t included the extensions into their code. So if I want to edit in Oggl or Polamatic or Mextures, or…, or…, then it’s export to the camera roll from LM, open in the app of choice, edit, then import back to LM.

Even this is probably better than the old workflow, and, again, it’s probably something that app developers need to build into their apps, and not something in LM or iOS.

With apps that work via the extensions function, the workflow is better: select ‘Open In…’ from the light table or loupe views and choose an app; the app will launch and open the image ready to edit; you make the edits; and (here’s where it breaks down:) you then have to save to the camera roll—which strips the filename and date, but retains camera make & model, color space, photographer, and some other metadata—and import the picture into LM with no name or other metadata that tie it to the original. On the computer, this is far more seamless.

It’s still better than my old method: there’s no need to keep a folder on the hard drive, no need to sync with iTunes (though I do that daily anyway),* and edits made in LM show up back in CC, again, sorta.

If you sync an image from CC and edit it entirely in LM, then the changes show up back in CC in all their nondestructive glory.

But if you edit in another app and then import into LM, the images show up in CC, but they’re not imported (and not surprisingly, I guess), really. Instead, they’re locked up in the “Mobile Downloads.lrcat” file and there’s no obvious way to import them as a batch from there. You can rename and move one at a time, but if you store images in folders by year/month/day as I do, and if you’re working on images shot over the past year or 10 as I sometimes do, especially on the phone, then it can be a pain to find the correct folder to drag it to and then rename it appropriately (especially if your naming scheme is anything like mine).

It’s easier to import them directly from the phone, as this works exactly as it always has, but it seems to sorta miss the point of syncing, methinks.

Overall, the Sync is fairly easy to use, and makes a bit more sense than my previous method, especially since my photo work happens primarily in Lightroom on the Mac, with some secondary work on the phone. Why involve iTunes or the file system unnecessarily?

Editing in Lightroom Mobile

LM’s editing function is more or less identical (functionality-wise) to some of the common panels in CC’s develop module: the Crop, Basic, Tone Curve, and HSL/Color/B&W screens are identical; there’s a dedicated vignette tool, but no Grain or Dehaze; and there are some presets too. In short, you can make pretty much the same edits to an image in LM as you can in CC with pretty much the same basic set of tools, albeit on a much, much smaller, non-color calibrated screen, with a much less precise input method. (On android phones with styli, or with a third party stylus for the iPhone, it is probably easier, but I haven’t tried it: I forget that I bought a stylus back in the iPhone 4 days and carry it around in the briefcase…)

Most of the tools work pretty much as you’d expect them to… not much to report there.

Here are some screenshots…

Crop:

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Presets:**

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Adjust – Basic:

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Adjust – Tone Curve

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All of that was done in about half a minute… much like I would’ve done in LR 5 (or CC), if I was into editing Hipstamatic shots (beyond the occasional rotate: the iPhone has trouble with orientation when the phone is more or less horizontal), and the results are more or less typical for a picture out of Lightroom.


If you’ve read this long… you get a cookie.

I recently figured out how easy it is to record screencasts, so… drumroll please… Here’s my first attempt at a video review. It’s a bit long, and I don’t cover everything so I’ll probably record another part later, but this more or less covers most of the stuff so far.

So. Other than my Bob Ross-influenced delivery and the random clicking an popping noises (which I think is my beard tickling the Apple earphone’s microphone: future screencasts will be done with a different set of headphones), any thoughts? Did you find the video useful? I hope so, and stay tuned: I plan to make another on sharing between apps, and God willing future app reviews will take this form, instead of the screenshot variety… this is much better, I think.

Anyway, that’s Lightroom Mobile. Is it worth $10 per month? Probably not, but it’s probably worth $10, maybe even $20, just for the syncing options, and maybe another $10 for the ability to make very imprecise, non critical adjustments to images without a computer, and so that makes 10 or so months of Lightroom CC worth as much to me as Lightroom 6. Since there has been, historically, roughly 2 years between versions, it seems that an upgrade from 5 to 6 is the more economical option, especially if I go back to or continue using my old, iTunes-based syncing method, and to be honest, this is what I’m leaning toward now.

Before I jump on it though, I really need to get on a review of CC and see if maybe the Dehaze and color sliders in the B/W module are worth enough to me. Maybe the inclusion of Photoshop CC can sway me, though I don’t use it much. I don’t use it enough to warrant upgrading, so its addition adds marginal value at best, maybe $10, maybe, but if it’s faster at stitching panoramas or making HDRs or Focus Stacking, then maybe it’s worth a bit more… I think I might stitch two panoramas a year, and since that function is included in LR6, and since I have CS6, I doubt Photoshop CC is really worth much to me at all.

Anyway. Stay tuned for my thoughts on CC, coming soon-ish, probably within the next week or so, since that’s how much longer my trial lasts… It probably won’t be very long: the speed alone is more than enough reason to upgrade.

*which reminds me… I should maybe think about modernizing my podcast delivery scheme.

**I don’t use presets, much… never have: not in Lightroom 4, not in 5, and probably not in CC. I play with them some, and I posted one of my own to the blog here some time ago, and I use one to kickstart the negative conversion process, but I’ve never made Adobe’s or third party presets much of a part of my workflow.

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