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Adobe Lightroom mobile (iOS) review: Companion app for Lightroom supplies basic photo retouching

It's a really good first effort, but there's quite a bit missing from Adobe's iPad companion to its Lightroom photo-editing software.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read

Editors' note, June 18, 2014: Updated with mentions of the app's newly added star ratings and support for custom sort order, which Adobe added in conjunction with the release of Lightroom mobile for iPhone .


Adobe Lightroom mobile (iOS)

The Good

Lightroom mobile incorporates a fluid interface and sufficient adjustment options to be useful.

The Bad

The app doesn't support metadata editing or color labels; you can't use saved presets or Smart Collections; and the synced images aren't quite high-resolution enough for judging sharpness.

The Bottom Line

Dedicated Lightroom fans will find Lightroom mobile a fine lean-back photo-editing experience, but it needs a little bulking up before it's enough to attract new subscribers to the fold.

Are you among the Lightroom faithful who've been waiting (and waiting...and waiting...) for a mobile app to allow for remote and lean-back image processing? Well, Adobe's official Lightroom companion app has finally arrived. And while it's not quite all it can be, it should satisfy many of the users who've been waiting patiently.

To be clear: this is not a standalone app. It requires the desktop software for ingesting full-resolution images. It also lacks many of the organizational tools and full-resolution previews that you can get in another Lightroom companion app like Photosmith, but in exchange you get much more responsive performance and a solid set of adjustment capabilities.

Lightroom Mobile's easy interface (pictures)

See all photos

Lightroom mobile (LRM) is "free" with any of Adobe's subscription programs that include Lightroom except for Creative Cloud Enterprise -- there are technical issues holding back that implementation at the moment. It requires Lightroom 5.5, which became available concurrently with version 1.1; you can try them both out in conjunction with the 30-day free trial of Creative Cloud if you're not yet a subscriber, or get a 30-day free trial of the app with the perpetual-license update to 5.5. For the moment, it only operates on an

or newer running .

Aside from its annoying push toward subscription software, there are seemingly valid technological reasons that Adobe LR mobile requires the latest, cloud-savvy versions of its software. It uses the Smart Preview proxies that debuted with LR 5 and syncs them between desktop and mobile using its cloud servers. Unlike Photosmith, which requires both the app and LR desktop (LRD) to be on the same network to sync, LRM only cares that you're connected to a network. Unfortunately, you can't connect peer-to-peer in the absence of a network.

Lightroom mobile color presets
LRM has most of the same presets as the desktop version, but doesn't support custom ones. And the choices pop up right over your image. Lori Grunin/CNET

Synced collections don't appear in your regular Creative Cloud file view. Instead, Adobe created a lightroom.adobe.com subdomain where you can view them, and which will presumably acquire more features over time.

Two months after launch, the Lightroom website remains pretty basic, with thumbnails, a quick slideshow, and the ability to share entire galleries (but not individual photos). Lori Grunin/CNET

In order to use LRM, you login with LRD and enable sync, then set specific Collections to sync. It automatically generates the necessary raw proxy images, though it doesn't indicate within LRD that there's a Smart Preview in the usual spot beneath the histogram. As long as you're connected to a network, the selected Collections and any operations you perform on the images within are automatically synced between the two. If you want to be able to work on images while disconnected from the network, you have to enable offline editing; otherwise, it dynamically downloads each image as you open it and caches it temporarily.

The images are small enough that you don't have to wait inordinately long for them to load, but as a group they're big enough that they can take up a lot of space on a limited-capacity

. (Pity that amazing compression algorithm from HBO's "Silicon Valley" doesn't really exist.) You'll probably want to come up with a syncing strategy to manage your storage. The syncing itself happens pretty quickly and seamlessly, at least over Wi-Fi, though there is a noticeable pause before the interface becomes available as you wait for the proxy to download when working online. And you can work on already-downloaded images while it continues to sync.

Lightroom mobile adjustments
The app offers the same capabilities as the Quick Develop panel in the desktop application. You select the adjustment and a slider appears. Unfortunately, you can't enter numerical values. Lori Grunin/CNET

You can only work with a single catalog at a time. (As a refresher, Lightroom images are mapped in databases called catalogs, in which which you can create collections, and Lightroom only supports a single open catalog.) However, the app will attempt to sync with whatever open catalog you're logged into and will offer to switch to that catalog. So, for instance, if you're working with the images from a machine at the office, then go home and log on with a different machine, you can switch to syncing with that catalog. To do so wipes the previously synced catalog from your device. It can also import photos from your camera roll and automatically sync them back to the desktop.

This architecture is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, it keeps your

from storage overload. However, it also means that unless you're working serially on different projects, it's constantly wiping and resyncing. Whether that matters to you depends upon your workflow.

The interface is generally well designed, and as long as you're familiar with desktop Lightroom you'll grasp it pretty quickly, as it maintains the same sensibility and logic without violating any iOS interface conventions. There are essentially five working views: a grid view, filmstrip view, adjustments, presets and crop. But some capabilities aren't immediately findable. For instance, it wasn't clear to me at first that tapping on an aspect ratio flips it or that selecting outside the crop box lets you rotate. But overall it's pretty straightforward. There's also a quick reference of all the relevant gestures, though there's only eight.

Lightroom mobile white balance
The one-click white balance tool pops up a loupe, but it still takes some trial and error to select exactly the spot you want. Also, on very bright images it can be hard to find acceptable -- non-clipped -- values. Lori Grunin/CNET

In adjustment view, selecting a numerically determined operation pops up a slider. That's fine, but I like to enter values, which is faster and more precise when you know what you want. With presets, you get thumbnail previews, which is nice. However, the preset list frequently appears right over the center of the image, which is pretty silly.

Adjustments and presets mimic the built-in options available in LR desktop's Quick Develop panel; it doesn't support custom saved presets, which to me is a big negative. If you use presets in your workflow, you create custom versions. As a highly imperfect workaround it does allow you to copy the previously used settings to the current image.

An icon within LR desktop indicates which Collections and images are set to sync, but it really needs some indicator for images that have been edited within the mobile app as well as a way to filter them. I want some way in desktop LR to be able to view only the mobile-edited versions so that I can cycle through them, tweak adjustments, and generally make sure the changes are correct, since the

's screen gamut and dynamic range can't match that of a good desktop display. It may be possible to kludge this using the rating support added in version 1.1, though the app still lacks color flagging, another annoyance.

I did get it to work somewhat seamlessly in conjunction with Photosmith, which has far more powerful organization tools -- it allows you to edit metadata, color code and rate images, as well as give you a higher-resolution view for better ability to judge sharpness. Even an edge-detection view (like manual-focus peaking in a camera) would help in the absence of extra pixels, especially on lower-resolution devices. Version 1.1 added the ability to create and sync back a custom sort order.


Though there's still quite a bit missing from the app, there's enough in Lightroom mobile to help desktop users who need remote editing or viewing.


Adobe Lightroom mobile (iOS)

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Interface 8Performance 8