Adobe Lightroom 6 / Lightroom CC review: Adobe updates Lightroom with support for Android tablets and some catch-up features

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MSRP: $149.00

The Good Lightroom 6 remains a robust and fluid-to-use raw photo editor and organizer, and the new filter brush is quite useful. Plus, speed improvements are always welcome.

The Bad While Adobe finally adds features like face detection, HDR merge and Panorama stictching, they feel like first-generation implementations.

The Bottom Line Adobe Lightroom 6/CC remains a fine photo-editing and organizing tool, but the new version doesn't rise much past its predecessor.

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7.9 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 8
  • Interface 8
  • Performance 8

Lightroom, Adobe's raw-format processing and photo-management software for enthusiast and professional photographers, plays catch-up with the competition for version 6 -- Lightroom CC if you subscribe -- adding some requested features that we've seen elsewhere like HDR merges, panorama stitching and face recognition. There are also the usual set of smaller enhancements, some performance tweaks, and minor updates to the mobile apps.

The Android tablet version is identical to the phone version, writ large. Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

The big news on mobile is the addition of support for Android to the tablet version and touch support for the Surface . The phone versions also get some minor changes, though it supports raw files on the few Android devices that incoporate it.

Thankfully, the company still offers a perpetual-license version ($150, £100, AU$186) in addition to its cheapest-option monthly photography plan ($10, £8.60, AU$10). I'd heard rumors that LR6 would be moving to all subscription, but Adobe hasn't really added much to the mobile apps to make it worth it for a lot of folks.

For those unfamiliar with Lightroom, the software consists of seven self-explanatory modules: Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print and Web. In Library you import and keyword photos and create collections, though there's a Quick Develop panel for quick-and-dirty adjustments. Develop is where the bulk of retouching and adding effects takes place. Map lets you view photos by geotags or bulk add tags to untagged images. The last four modules are where you format output. For more information, read my review of the previous version .

Installation and setup

Lightroom remains hampered by its outdated architecture. Its database is based on SQLite, and that's why you still can't put catalogs on network volumes, either for personal or collaborative use. Though it will work if you store your catalog in Creative Cloud, that only works if your catalogs are small and you don't use Smart Previews -- which means you probably don't sync with the mobile apps and therefore have no reason to subscribe. Otherwise, they'll use a huge amount of space out of your 20GB limit. Just the Smart Previews and regular Previews files for a single catalog of mine together take up more than 20GB on my portable drive.

Migrating and upgrading can be a major pain. For instance, you have to upgrade your old catalog not just to use it, but to import from it. There's no way to create a copy on import or even to rename it on upgrade. If you're switching machines, you have to dig into your system files to transfer all of your custom everything -- including hidden folders on the Mac -- and there's still stuff that always gets left behind somehow.

Lightroom does let you store your settings with your catalog file, and really, if you're using the application on more than one computer the only efficient system is to store the catalog file and settings on a portable drive and carry it around. You know, sneakernet. Welcome to 1990, Adobe. Unfortunately, Lightroom takes a performance hit when you work on external drives. The alternative is to waste tons of space on Creative Cloud or Google Drive in order to store mirrored versions of all your presets.

However, using the cloud version on more than two machines is still a pain. CC lets you use the applications on two machines simultaneously, and if you want to use it on a third you have to log out on one. I get that. But the only option you have when logging into that third machine is to sign out of all the machines where you're logged in. Unlike most modern cloud environments, it doesn't tell you where you're logged in and let you select one to sign out from.

These drawbacks are ridiculous for professional tools and still true of so many Creative Cloud applications that it drives me to tears and sugar every time I have to upgrade or migrate. Lightroom still doesn't sync via CC. I have to manually mirror my settings directories to Google Drive and Creative Cloud to make sure I've got the most recent set somewhere easily accessible.

I've been complaining about this for so many versions of every application that I can only assume either either other people don't care enough to complain, or that while Adobe cares a lot about shoving people into constant upgrade cycles it doesn't really care about how frustrating it is to follow its policies.

What's new

Processing gets a boost from your graphics chip for more fluid operation in the develop module and import and export for systems with OpenGL 3.3 or DirectX 10; given how long they've been out, that shouldn't be an issue, though you'll need to upgrade to the latest graphics driver. Adobe also drops support for 32-bit operating systems, so that means it runs only on Windows 7 or later and Mac OS X 10.8 or newer.

Adobe claims general performance improvements for import and export, and it uses more CPU cores for exporting. While I can't tell if it's actually faster as I just moved to two new systems -- a Mac Pro and a Windows laptop with an SSD drive -- but I can say that it works fine in Windows running in a VMware Fusion virtual machine. Note that Lightroom will only use a single GPU if you've got more than one. On every platform there's still an annoying pause when jumping from Library to Develop, and working with USB 3.0 external drives is a sluggish.

Lightroom's new People view displays the many faces of T-Mobile's John Leger. Lori Grunin/CNET

The most high-profile new feature is face recognition, which works pretty much the same as in every other application. When you open a folder in the new People view it automatically starts working (although you can also set recognition always on). It stacks the photos it thinks are of the same person, and you type in a name on the stack. Then it starts suggesting names based on on ones you've already assigned and you proceed to confirm or correct.

It's worth it if you photograph the same people over and over again; it definitely gets better as you add more confirmations, and you can group select to approve the guesses, which really speeds things up. Once named, the people appear in your keyword list for quick filtering.

But the hit rate seems to be about 60 percent, which makes the process pretty tedious. That, plus after going through and tagging my family members in one set of photos, it didn't recognize some of them in a subsequent import, and the ones it did recognize needed to be confirmed again. I also found that while it correctly recognized faces in portrait-orientation portraits, the thumbnails it displayed were of the center of the body. And it's slow. The feature needs more options, such as to ignore faces in the background and blurred faces. It did filter out non-faces pretty well, although there were the usual cat, dog and flower errors.

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