Apple M1 Macs get a fast, new version of Adobe Lightroom Classic

Adobe also taps into Apple's hardware for accelerating AI.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Apple's M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Air

Apple's 2020 13-inch MacBook Air was one in the first crop of computers to be powered by the company's M1 processor.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Adobe released on Tuesday its first Lightroom Classic version adapted for Macs powered by the new M1 processor, a boon to photographers who want to get more use out of Apple's energy efficient hardware.

The new software sports a major new feature: the ability to quadruple a photo's size with Adobe Super Resolution technology. Super Resolution, which debuted in Photoshop in March, lets photographers zoom in on distant subjects or print photos in larger sizes. The feature is available for all versions of Lightroom but gets a particular boost on M1 Macs because Adobe is tapping into AI-accelerating Neural Engine circuitry that Apple built into its processors.

Adobe announced its M1 progress during Apple's 2021 WWDC conference for developers. Adapting software for M1 Macs is a major focus for developers as Apple progresses through a two-year replacement of Intel-based machines.

Apple began selling M1-powered MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro laptops in 2020 and brought the chip to new iMacs in May. Apple's M-series chip family, which is replacing Intel processors in Macs, is a close cousin to the A-series chips that power iPhones and iPads.

To get the most out of M1 chips' performance and battery-saving abilities, software like Lightroom has to be rebuilt for the processor. Although Apple's Rosetta 2 technology can translate Intel Mac software to run on M1 Macs, full performance comes when the software instructions are native to the M1. Adobe supplies software to both professionals and consumers, so its products are among the most important making this change.

Photoshop is Adobe's top product, but Lightroom is widely used by photographers to edit and catalog their photos. Lightroom comes in two versions: Lightroom, which stores your photo catalog in the cloud, and Lightroom Classic, which adds many advanced features and stores photos on your computer. Adobe released M1-native Lightroom in December and Photoshop followed in March.

Lightroom isn't the only Adobe software transitioning to the M1 environment. The company also said on Tuesday that it would roll out M1-native versions of its Illustrator design software and InDesign layout software. Its Premiere Pro video editing software for M1 Macs is available as a public beta test version. 

Faster than an Intel i5-based MacBook Pro

Third-party test results by Pfeiffer Consulting show Apple's 13-inch M1-based MacBook Pro outpaces the same-size Intel-based model using a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor on many tasks. For example, Lightroom's new AI-powered Super Resolution feature took 10 seconds to convert a 12-megapixel photo into a 48-megapixel photo on the M1 machine but 36 seconds on the Intel machine.

"On average, based on 10 different workflow benchmarks, Lightroom Classic on the Apple M1 system showed over 2x performance gains over the Intel system," said Pfeiffer, which was commissioned by Adobe to conduct the tests. 

For the Premiere Pro beta, Pfeiffer reported a 78% speed boost for M1 Macs across a variety of tests. With Illustrator, the advantage was 65%, and for Photoshop, it was 89%.

Benchmark tests require a lot of caveats. One is that many Mac owners use MacBooks with more powerful Intel Core i7 chips employing six or eight processing cores that would put up a better fight against the M1 Macs. But those are available only in Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pros, which aren't on the market yet with M-series processors. 

Subscribers to the mobile and PC versions of Lightroom also now get seven photographers' collections of portrait editing presets tailored for a range of skin tones. One batch of presets from Aundre Larrow, who's offered advice on photographing people with darker skin and who helps on the set of United Shades of America, is also included in the free version of Lightroom for mobile devices.