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​Adobe beefs up Lightroom mobile photo app with premium features

Photo enthusiasts should appreciate raw editing and an advanced camera mode -- but some new features are available only with a paid subscription.

Lightroom for Android devices gets a new pro camera mode that gives photographers manual control.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Adobe Systems is adding some muscle to the mobile versions of its Lightroom software for taking and editing photos.

The company on Wednesday released new Lightroom apps for iOS-powered iPhones and iPads from Apple and rival devices powered by Google's Android. Each version gets different improvements -- new editing power for iOS and new shooting controls for Android.

But both cater better to photo enthusiasts who want the mobile app to better match what Lightroom for personal computers can do. They point toward a future where power users can get serious work done on mobile devices -- but where freebies will be harder to find. Some of the new features in Lightroom for mobile will be available only for individuals willing to pay between $10 and $50 per month for Adobe's Creative Cloud subscription.

"We wanted to evolve Lightroom from a companion app to a standalone app on its own," said Josh Haftel, the senior product manager leading the work.

It's been difficult for Adobe to extend its power on personal computers to mobile devices, where phone-era competitors such as Instagram and VSCO Cam have found a way to fulfill people's creative urges. But Adobe is showing it's serious with power features that at least should appeal to the large number of enthusiasts and pros already using Lightroom on their laptops.

A key part of Lightroom is its ability to view and edit raw photos -- the higher-quality but harder-to-handle images captured directly from camera image sensors, not the more limited but convenient JPEG images most folks use. Adobe's updates improve the mobile apps' abilities to handle raw photos.

Raw photo editing on iOS

Lightroom on iOS now can edit raw files taken with a digital camera and transferred directly to the iPhone or iPad, Haftel said. Apple's camera connection adapters are the most reliable way, but Eye-Fi wireless cards can be used, too, and Adobe hopes that camera makers with Wi-Fi-equipped models will open up an ability to transfer raw files too.

The new ability, which Adobe later plans to bring to Android as well, lets people edit and share files right as they're shot even without a PC on hand.

"Now you don't have to wait to get home to edit," Haftel said. "For some people, it enables them to leave their laptop at home."

Linear gradient editing lets photographers ease the transition between bright skies that overwhelm dark foregrounds. Elia Locardi shot this raw photo on a Fujifilm camera and edited it on an iPad with Lightroom.

Elia Locardi/Adobe

Gradient editing tools

Also new with Lightroom 2.4 for iOS are editing controls that change regions of the photo gradually. Linear gradients helps balance exposure in sunset shots with bright skies but dark foregrounds, and radial gradients are handy for brightening subjects that need an exposure boost. Both abilities have long been in Lightroom for personal computers.

But raw editing and gradients on iOS only are available to Creative Cloud subscribers. With Adobe's Creative Cloud subscriptions -- $50 per month for the full suite of Adobe software and $10 per month just for Photoshop and Lightroom -- customers can synchronize files between their PCs and mobile devices.

Other notable changes for everyone, though, include abilities to automatically correct some lens flaws such as distortion that makes parallel lines bow; use keyboard shortcuts on iPads with keyboards attached; and apply copyright information as photos are imported.

Pro camera mode on Android

Camera apps on iPhones and iPads can only take JPEG photos right now, but Google's Android lets camera apps shoot in an Adobe raw format called DNG. Apple will catch up in coming weeks by adding raw photo support to its next version of iOS, but for now, raw photography remains an Android advantage.

Since shooting DNG is a popular feature, Adobe chose to improve it with a new camera mode in Lightroom 2.1 for Android. Lightroom's built-in camera offered some basic adjustments, but now it has a pro mode that offers manual control over parameters like shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and focus.

The change paves the way for other camera modes in the future, too, Haftel said. He wouldn't commit to any, but those could include tools such as panoramic capture or high-dynamic range shots that combine multiple shots into one.

The Android and iOS versions of Lightroom have diverged, but just for now, Haftel said: "The goal is to keep the apps in sync as much as possible, but the different platforms have different successes or focuses."