Lightroom Classic or Lightroom CC. What’s the difference and which one do I want for my photo editing needs?

Learning photography can be confusing.  So can learning editing. And now to further muddy these new waters, Adobe offers two new versions of Lightroom.

And in a fun twist when it comes to versions of Lightroom, what used to be Lightroom CC is now Lightroom Classic and what is now Lightroom is actually a new version of Lightroom CC which is just a much better new version of Lightroom Mobile.

Have you gone crosseyed yet? Yeah, me too. Want to invest in Lightroom but need help figuring out which new version is for you?  Let us help. Today it’s Lightroom Classic or Lightroom CC and a battle between these new versions of Lightroom for your subscription dollar.

What is Lightroom?

If you’re brand new to photo editing, you might not even be sure what Lightroom is, let alone which you need, Lightroom Classic or Lightroom CC.  Adobe’s new photo editing program, Lightroom, was first introduced to the photography world in 2007.

This software is designed for photographers. Lightroom gives you the tools you need to edit, organize and share your images. Its designed with a professional photographer’s workflow in mind and allows you to edit RAW files and handle a huge number of images.

Lightroom vs. Photoshop

Wait, you might say.  Isn’t Photoshop also a photo editing application?

Yes.  It’s a really amazing photo editing program. Photoshop is the most robust and powerful photo editing program on the market today.  Its power lies in transforming a single picture or design, whereas Lightroom’s power lies in providing an entire workflow process for photographers.

Most photographers use Lightroom versions in combination, usually starting with Lightroom to import, organize and perform basic edits, then switching to Photoshop for fine detail work.

I like to compare the programs to a car wash.  Lightroom is the cheap wash…it gets most of the work done for you in a quick and efficient manner.  Photoshop, though, that’s the top dollar custom wash and wax for when you need a lot of cleaning and enhancing done to your car…er, image.

Personally, about 85 percent of my photo editing workload is accomplished via Lightroom.  But occasionally, for those really tough photos, I pull them into Photoshop for the final detail work.

If you want just a photo edit application and don’t care about organizing photos or batch edit, Photoshop is your solution.  For all the other stuff, though, you’ll want Lightroom.  But which version?

Lightroom Classic vs Lightroom CCLightroom Classic or Lightroom CC

Let’s start this dual by introducing our challengers.

Lightroom Classic

Lightroom Classic is actually called Lightroom Classic CC. But we are going to call it Lightroom Classic for purposes of this discussion.  It’s the original, desktop classic Lightroom software that we’re all familiar with (which Adobe now refers to as an application.)

If you’ve been using Lightroom for a while on your computer, you’ve been using a previous version of Lightroom. In this new version of Lightroom, you store original files locally (your hard drive or an external drive), edit on your desktop and work in a file/folder based workflow.

Lightroom CC

Lightroom CC, an improvement from Lightroom Mobile, is the new Creative Cloud based application for photo edit tools.  Adobe now calls this new Lightroom CC just “Lightroom” but we’re going to call it Lightroom CC for discussion purposes again.

Lightroom CC (CC for Creative Cloud) works on all your mobile devices but is designed more for the on-the-go user who prefers to edit on their mobile devices. Lightroom CC lets you access your photos across multiple devices, take photos on mobile phones and edit/share photos on the go, thanks to the Creative Cloud.

The Main Differences

#1. What Devices You Can Use to Access the App

This is one of the first and most obvious differences in the two different versions of Lightroom.  Lightroom classic requires a computer and a fairly robust one at that to run the application with any speed and consistency. Lightroom CC can be powered by a computer, phone, tablet or other smart mobile devices. Lightroom CC is also available in Android and iOS formats.

Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic

#2. How Files Are Stored

The second main difference between the different applications is where your photos are stored. In Lightroom Classic, your photos are imported and stored locally on your computer, laptop or a drive attached to your machine.

In order to work on those pictures, you need access to that local drive housing your catalog.  If you want to share an image, you need to export it out of Lightroom to a third party.

In Lightroom CC, files are stored on the Cloud.  You can upload pictures through your computer or via your device’s camera roll.  From then on out, the original files remain on the Cloud for easy access among different devices.  Lightroom CC also allows you to create new shared folders for collaborating with a third party.

#3. Organization

Adobe Lightroom Classic uses a folder-based system.  Your pictures are placed into a new catalog and further sorted into different collections and smart collections. Photographers can mark files with different options of flags, star ratings, and color labels.

Lightroom CC doesn’t use a catalog. Photographers can organize new pictures into what the app calls albums, but there are no options for smart collections available. Photographers can mark files with different options in flags and star ratings, but no color label options are available.

#4.  Modules

Lightroom Classic has a robust system of tools it calls modules.  Those modules let photographers do more than just edit pictures… photographers can have several options to develop slide shows, create prints at specific sizes, create photo books, see a map of geotagged pictures. It also provides photographers facial recognition and allows photographers to shoot and capture through a camera tether.

Lightroom CC skips most of those other modules and focuses mostly on just edit work.  It lacks the extras like creating prints, the ability to shoot tethered and facial recognition.  It does offer artificial intelligence keywording, which does a pretty good job of finding what you want.  It’s not foolproof though.

#5.  Backups

Lightroom Classic requires manual backups of your catalog.  And during those backups, only your catalog (the culmination of edits and collections you’ve made) is backed up, not the pictures themselves.  If your computer dies, you better hope you’ve backed up your catalog AND all your images recently.

(Need some info on best backup practices?  Click here!)

Lightroom CC, on the other hand, automatically backs up your actual images in the Cloud.  If your device crashes, you can just grab a different device with the app, login and access your photos and edits.

#6.  Editing

When it comes to Lightroom or Lightroom Classic and photo edit, there aren’t many glaring differences. Both are great photo edit apps and you can utilize smart previews to edit with.  Both accept presets and feature tools like graduated filters, radial filters, and local adjustment brushes.  They are organized differently in each app, but most of the tools are available in both.

Lightroom CC lacks the camera calibration panel and color and luminance masking.  But it has a much more intuitive interface and is packed with in-app tutorials to help photographers learn what each button and slider is and how to use Lightroom.

#7.  Exporting

In Lightroom Classic, photographers can choose to export a file as a JPEG, TIFF, PSD or DNG file and in three different color spaces. Lightroom CC will only export in JPEG and the sRGB color space.  It also lacks plugin support, such as a plugin to export directly to your gallery hosting service (Smugmug, Shootproof, etc.). Photographers can export using just your smart previews, though it’s recommended to use the actual file when exporting high-res images for clients.

#8.  Educational resources

There are thousands of resources available for Lightroom Classic.  Watch Youtube videos, read tutorials, take an e-course or read a book.  Many community colleges and education centers also offer courses on Lightroom.

Cole’s Classroom also has a number of really great Lightroom Classic tutorials available, including this one on some quick tips for beginners.  Even if you watch a video or read a book from a pervious version, it’s not hard to extrapolate that information into learning Lightroom Classic.

But Lightroom CC hasn’t been out very long.  There are very few resources available on it.  If you are someone that needs step by step guidance on how to learn an application, there simply aren’t that many options available.  That will change, of course, as more people begin using it.  But for now, you’re stuck with a limited number of tutorials and videos.

Adobe Subscription Plans for Lightroom

Cost Comparison

Adobe offers a number of packages for its software.  Here are some of the most popular and what they cost.

  • Photography Plan – $9.99 per month: Get Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and 20GB of cloud storage.  You can upgrade your plan to include 1TB of cloud storage for another $10/month.
  • Lightroom Plan – $9.99 per month: Edit, organize store, and share photos from anywhere using Lightroom CC.  This also includes 1TB of cloud storage for your photos.
  • All Apps Plan – $52.99 permonth: Get all 30+ creative apps offered by Adobe including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, and XD.  You’ll get Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC and 100 GB of cloud storage. This is a great option if you use Lightroom with more than just the photography-related applications.

Click here to go to the Adobe site and compare plans!

Which Should You Get?

If after reading all the above and you still don’t know what to get, here are our recommendations.

Choose the plan that includes Lightroom Classic if you:

  • Are a longtime Lightroom user interested in keeping things the same
  • Want to do all of your photo edits on a desktop or laptop
  • Use Ligthroom’s other modules (Print, Map, Slideshow, etc.)
  • Want maximum tools and functionality of the application
  • Have slow or unreliable Internet connection service
  • Are disciplined enough to maintain your own backups
  • Have a huge catalog that would exceed the local storage limits or make cloud edit cost prohibitive

Choose the standalone Lightroom CC plan if you want:

  • To edit across many devices
  • A simple, straight-forward photo edit app with lots of power
  • Cloud-based edit and storage
  • You’re new to Lightroom and want a program that is easy to learn and you aren’t concerned about photo organization or mapping, print sizing, etc.

Use both versions of Lightroom

How about using BOTH!

I’d like to offer a third alternative…using Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Lightroom CC to accomplish your workflow.  It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition!  In fact, embracing both applications and choosing the right app at the right time provides awesome flexibility and performance!

A few weeks ago, I shot photos at the Wyoming State Fair.  It was three days of hot, dusty work photographing livestock shows and other fair events.  Part of my contract called for providing a few photos each day to post on social media.

In the past, my workflow went something like this.  Stop photographing the event, import my photos to my laptop, import photos into Lightroom Classic and generate smart previews, perform my edits and upload them to the appropriate Facebook site.  It was a pain and ate up a lot of time.

This year, I used Adobe Lightroom CC to speed things up.  I shot the photos on my Nikon, then used the Nikon WMU app to transfer them to my phone.  I pulled up Lightroom CC, did a quick edit and uploaded a few to the client’s Facebook page.  All without ever leaving cattle show.

Another way I can see Adobe Lightroom CC being helpful for me is for on-the-go processing.  Right now, I work on a laptop and an external monitor for my edits.  If I want to edit photos on the road, I have to pack up my laptop and my external hard drive.

With Adobe Lightroom CC, however, I can import my photos to my local hard drive, upload them to the cloud and edit those same photos from anywhere I have Internet access.  I can leave my laptop at home and edit on my tablet or my phone.

The Future

Adobe has said they will continue to serve and develop both the classic, computer-based version of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Lightroom CC.  They’ve already made a number of important additions to Adobe Lightroom CC since it was first introduced making it more popular for professional photographers.  For instance, one of my complaints was that I couldn’t batch edit

But the truth is, we don’t know Adobe’s long-term plans for either of these apps. My advice is to pick the plan and app that works for you NOW.

If changes happen down the road, you can decide the best option then, when you have more information. And since you aren’t purchasing the apps outright like in the past but paying a monthly subscription fee, the plans are more fluid.

So make the best decision you can for yourself right now.  Try your Adobe app for a while.  Try both together, as I do occasionally.  If you decide it isn’t the right one for you, switch to the other and see how you like it.

Any way you name it, Adobe Lightroom is a powerful program with great capabilities.  As technology grows, so too will the program and its capabilities.  You’ll be glad to be growing your skills right along with it.