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iPad photo editing will get better with Lightroom upgrade coming soon

Lightroom and iPads both will get more useful with an update that'll let you import photos directly from a memory card into Adobe's editing software.

Sanho HyperDrive USB-C Hub for iPad Pro

Plugging a memory card into an iPad, as with this Sanho HyperDrive USB-C Hub, will let you import photos directly into Lightroom.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Adobe's Lightroom photo editing tool is about to get way more useful on Apple's iPad with the ability to import photos directly from a memory card. Apple's tablet doesn't have all the same features as Lightroom on a personal computer, but direct import is a crucial step for those who want to leave their laptops at home.

Adobe is testing direct photo import now and will ship it later this year, Tom Hogarty, Adobe's photography product management leader, told CNET in an exclusive interview. "This has been a long time coming. Customers have been asking for this for quite a while," he said. File system changes in iPadOS 13 and iOS 13 enable the new feature, which Hogarty demonstrates in a video.

Lightroom is widely used software for editing and cataloging, and Adobe has offered a tablet version for years. But that tablet version often functioned more as an accessory to Lightroom on a laptop than as a standalone tool.

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I tried Lightroom's new direct photo import on my iPad Pro, and it worked well. Lightroom found the photos, copied them over to its own catalog and synced them via Adobe's Creative Cloud service to my main catalog on my laptop.

With Lightroom's direct photo import, Adobe is helping the iPad grow up into a full-fledged computer.

Adobe also just released an iPad version of Photoshop, although to mixed reviews, with an Illustrator version to come. And the company has its eye on Apple's Sidecar technology for Lightroom, which could let customers use the tablet as a way to control Lightroom running on a Mac.

You could get photos off a memory card and into Lightroom on iPad or iPhone before, but it took a lot of extra work. You had to move photos into the device's camera roll, then from there import them into Lightroom. Then you had to delete them from the camera roll. (More recently, you could also use the Files app in iOS and iPadOS to transfer them directly to the device, but it was still a detour from direct import.)

"In the past, it's taken so long to get the files from the card onto the tablet I just typically haven't bothered. I'd just wait until I got home," Hogarty said.

The Lightroom change also will let customers pull camera photos onto their iPhones for quick editing and online sharing. 

Adobe offers two somewhat incompatible versions of Lightroom for Windows and Mac customers. The older lineage is Lightroom Classic, which stores photo and video files on the computer, and the newer one -- just called Lightroom -- stores them in the cloud. The new iPad import process works with either version. But captions, keywords and titles added on the iPad, iPhone, Android phone or any other device won't transfer to Lightroom Classic.

Lightroom iPad photo import

Lightroom on iPads will let you import photos directly from a memory card, showing a selection screen that lets you pick the ones you want to transfer.


Lightroom already could directly import photos to Windows and Mac laptops and to Android devices.

"The Windows Surface Pro workflow has been excellent for years. They've done a great job," Hogarty said. "Android also will give you direct access."

Adobe has a challenge matching its broad suite of creative pro software to all the computing devices on the market. Along with the iPad and phone work, Adobe has committed to bringing some of its software to Microsoft's Surface Pro X devices, which unlike typical Intel-powered Windows systems use an Arm processor that requires software to be rebuilt.

Hogarty declined to comment on whether Adobe plans to release Lightroom for the Surface Pro X.

First published Nov. 13, 8 a.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 14, 4:31 p.m. PT: Adds details about a successful test of the feature.