The Lightroom Manifesto: Adobe has lost its way

Photo by the author – Jim Harmer

I'm not happy with what I'm writing.  I don't like calling people out and spreading negativity on the web.  However, I feel passionate about Lightroom and I believe it's being mishandled.  I'll keep my tone in this piece as positive as I can, and rather than just complaining, I will suggest an easy change Adobe could make to better serve photographers.

Yesterday, Tom Hogarty admitted that Lightroom performance is subpar and posted a user survey asking what we're experiencing.  Tom seems like a good guy and I appreciate his attention to users yesterday.

But honestly, my first thought after seeing the survey was, “Wait… You can't be telling me that Adobe is only now realizing that Lightroom performance is unbearably slow… right!?!??!  It's been like this for over three years!”

Adobe has made VERY few updates to Lightroom (computer version) in the last two years.  The pace of innovation has been so slow that I felt certain they were working behind the scenes on a complete re-write of the program to vastly improve the speed and put it on par with programs like Capture One or Photo Mechanic (for culling).  After yesterday's poll, it seems apparent that they are just now seeing that there is an issue in the first place.

LR Has Seen Few Feature Updates in 2 Years

The following is a full and complete list of features added to Lightroom in the last two years.  This excludes updates for minor bug fixes, new lens and camera support, and is only for the computer version (non-mobile).

  • December 6, 2016 – “Reference View” added.  It makes it easier to compare two photos side-by-side.  Also, you can now export a collection set as a catalog, and create smart collections with images that have snapshots.
  • June 8, 2016 – “Guided Upright” added.  It provides another way to straighten lines. Pending Sync section shows sync status of photos.  Smart previews can now be merged to HDR or Panorama.
  • January 27, 2016 – “Boundary Warp” added.  It just warps stitched panos to fill empty spaces.
  • October 9, 2016 – The import process was changed and the update was badly bungled.  Functionality was removed and an annoying bug was introduced.  Tom Hogarty apologized for how the update was handled and the old import was restored.  Props to Adobe for listening, but the net experience was just the same old Lightroom as before.
  • October 5, 2015 – Dehaze can now be applied with an adjustment brush.

That's it.  Two years later, we have another option for stitching a pano, another way to straighten lines in photos, and a way to compare two photos on the screen.  Everything else was just bug fixes and camera/lens support updates.  This pace of innovation simply does not warrant paying monthly for a subscription.

Import and Culling In LR Is Unbearably Slow

The develop module in Lightroom works reasonably quick.  On my machine (an iMac 5k which was fully specced out at the time of ordering), it takes several seconds for a photo to completely load when browsing through images in the culling process.

Again, this is NOT just me.  I hear on at least a weekly basis from readers of Improve Photography that working in Lightroom is just too slow.

Obviously, the performance depends on your specific machine.  Lightroom is much faster on my iMac than my Mac Air.  However, if there are any photographers who haven't noticed the unbearably slow performance of Lightroom, PLEASE go download a free trial of Capture 1 or Photo Mechanic.  It's like editing in warp speed.

I recently stopped using Adobe Premiere for video editing after being an almost daily user of Adobe Premier for many years.  I switched to Apple's Final Cut, and now I can edit a video in HALF the time it took me to do so in Premier.  The speed difference is unbelievable.

Almost two years ago I posted a video showing the import speed of Lightroom compared to the competition.  The test showed that Lightroom's import was 600% slower than the next worse alternative.  Adobe saw the video and reached out to me, but their response was mostly “There has to be some kind of bug.  Tell me about your system.”  That was frustrating.  It wasn't just me and anyone using the program could see that instantly.  I heard from hundreds of other photographers who were all seeing the same thing.

So Where Has Adobe Been for the Last Two Years?

Adobe seems to have a much greater focus on Lightroom Mobile than on Lightroom for the desktop–despite the fact that no one could argue that Lightroom for the desktop is vastly more important to passionate photographers today.

Adobe has also put attention toward silly side-projects like “Lightroom for the Apple TV,” which was released in July 2016.

Adobe bought Fotolia in late 2014.  Many updates in Adobe products (not Lightroom specifically) seem to be focusing on integrating that stock photo portfolio into Adobe software programs–so they can sell our life's work for a couple dimes a piece.  Forgive me for not being overly excited.

The Lightroom Manifesto: How Adobe Can Fix This

  1. Stop all silly side projects.  No more “Lightroom for Apple TV” or spending time making very minor features like “Reference View.”  That's not what we're asking for.
  2. Buy a company–Camera Bits Inc.  That's the company that makes Photo Mechanic.  Photo Mechanic has created what photographers are asking for.  Buy the company, learn how they are doing what they are doing, and then implement it into Lightroom as a culling module.  Jeff Harmon has been calling for a culling module for ages, and I think he's right.  The speed of the develop module is fine.  Import and culling IS the issue.
  3. Adobe is constantly with its users.  It has a Lightroom blog, evangelists, a conference, social media, etc.  However, somehow the real pain points of photographers are getting lost.  The situation with Lightroom performance has been urgent for over 3 years, and they seem to only now be focusing on it.
  4. I'm okay with paying for a subscription to Adobe products.  I currently have two $50/month subscriptions.  I'll pay for professional tools.  However, the pace of innovation on Lightroom has fallen far below expectations.  2018 is coming up, and the current version is still Lightroom 2015.  Looking at the list of added features in the last two years does NOT make me excited about giving up another $100 next month.
  5. Give the Lightroom team the resources they need to succeed.  Every interaction I've had with the people Adobe has been positive and impressive.  The Lightroom team does seem to be passionate about the product.  This leads me to believe that they simply aren't getting the resources they need to make Lightroom what it can be.

The Future

I'm personally giving Adobe until the Spring to fix Lightroom performance or I'm going to be canceling my subscription and embracing the alternative photo editing programs which are improving at a tremendous rate.  It would be difficult for me to imagine doing photography without Photoshop and Lightroom, but the status quo is not working.

Also, the feature set in Lightroom has slowed to a crawl ever since Adobe locked us into a subscription.  They swore up and down that the subscription model would allow them to make better improvements to products and consistently develop them over time.  That is simply not factual.   The list of significant features added to Lightroom in the last two entire years is barely one sentence long.

Adobe is a great company and the only reason I'm writing this is because I'm passionate about their products.  Unfortunately, after seeing what Adobe has done with Lightroom over the last two years, it seems clear that they are not passionate about me–their customer–anymore.

40 thoughts on “The Lightroom Manifesto: Adobe has lost its way”

  1. Well said Jim. With the subscription model that was implemented, it can’t be that Adobe is losing money with Lightroom. (Or if they are, some serious mismanagement is going on). Other products are gaining ground and causing LR users to jump ship. Example – I see Topaz Labs is promoting Topaz Studio as an editing program , (expanding beyond their simple plug-ins). I wasn’t going to take the time to learn yet another program, preferring to work with the tool I know, Lightroom. But if this ship has run aground and no new serious development or improvement is forthcoming, it may be time to consider the alternatives.

  2. I wonder if they don’t feel any pressure because users are so fully vested in LR, considering edits, ratings, metadata, etc. Moving away seems like a daunting task.

  3. I’ve been with Adobe products since the beginning and recently because of the cost and performance I’ve started using On1 myself as a standalone (vs a LR plugin). It appears incredibly fast with full functionality at an amazing price. If this company continues to make this progress with raw editing it might just be worth me making the move to a new product set. Of course I’m not a professional Photog but enthusiasts do make up a nice share of the subscriber base.

    1. @brian I too had switched to On1, however I ran into a problem and they did not come to the fix and resolve party. Their after-sell support was terrible. It was so bad I decided to remove it and stick with LR.

  4. And here’s me thinking it was just me that thought LR was so slow on Import & culling (& spot removal after a certain number of uses). Well said Jim!

    Frankly I am not convinced by the subscription model at all – it feels like a “lock-in” for customers. I also think the subscription model has made Adobe complacent in some areas – notably Lightroom.

    Time is the most important thing we can spend – and if competitor products are delivering (much) faster processes with similar functionality, that is a game changer for me.

    Adobe: you need to put yourself back in the photographer’s shoes – as you used to so – and sort this speed issue out urgently – that is way more important than gimmicky little updates.

    1. Having feeling like we were forced to switch from the standalone version to the subscription model to get all the latest updates and to discover that in 2 years not a lot has been done feels like a ripoff of the slickest kind. Adobe needs to put out an major update.

  5. Jeffrey Sonshine

    I’m a relatively new user considering purchasing Lightroom for organizing and editing my photos. Your article has given me pause and now I’m going to investigate alternatives that will probably be less expensive. Also, Adobe is recommending a subscription for $120/year including updates, rather than buying a disc for $150. Why should I pay more if there are very few updates?

    1. @Jeffrey – That’s a very good point. There is NO GOOD REASON to pay a subscription for Lightroom when they aren’t making feature improvements at any sort of reasonable pace. I’m fine paying a subscription, but only if that means they will be working consistently to add new features. The last two years have seen very little of that.

      1. Nathan Goldberg

        Yup. One of my main decisions in going with CC instead of CS6 and sticking with it is the fact that there were annual updates previously with CS4 and CS5 versions of Lightroom. My expectation based on that track record was that we’d be at an equivalent of CS8 by now, as opposed to what it actually is…6.7 dot dot dot dot… Of course, having “free” access to Photoshop is a big plus. For what little I use Lightroom Mobile, I could easily make do without it. Had I known that the updates would have been as stagnant as they’ve been, I would have stayed with CS6.

    2. With the subscription you get to sync your collections and edit them on any device, like your phone or tablet. I personally moved away from the paid version into the subscription just for this feature.

      I would give it a try. For me and the amount of work i do lightroom it works just fine.

  6. Jim,
    Especially since you are now shooting Sony, compare the image quality and color in Capture1 Pro vs Lightroom. It’s quite a learning curve for processing and organizing, but I find it far more powerful than Lightroom, and the image quality/detail and color is quite a bit better as well with my Sony raw files. Especially now that C1Pro has PSD support.

    I haven’t figured out a better method for combining HDR/exposure blending type at a very basic level for Real Estate than doing that merge in Lightroom, but after a few rounds of doing that, Lightroom becomes slower and slower until I close it and re-open it. I’m not proficient enough To do that merging in Photoshop at a speedy pace yet for faster turn around time.

    1. @Zach – Yeah, I spent some time with Capture 1 and was very impressed. I just wish Adobe would fix Lightroom so I wouldn’t have to switch to a completely new system. I’ve been a Lightroom user since 2008 and I’d really love to see Adobe innovate.

      But, I completely agree with you. Capture 1 is really good. Just wish the switching process didn’t mean losing years of work. I know much of the data will transfer over, but I’d hate to lose ANYTHING if it’s being applied to my entire portfolio of years of work.

  7. All this time I thought it was my PC crawling despite having 16 GBs ram. Data import crawls like doing a program download over a modem.

  8. Interesting. When I started digital photography in 2013 there was no CC and I was too cheap to shell out for LR, so as a part-time Linux user I went with Darktable. Since then I’ve experimented with Lightroom, but never took to it, and I now have about 50,000 pictures in my Darktable catalogue (not a lot for some, but not a tiny number).
    So, paradoxically, I pay a CC subscription for Photoshop (the development cycle of Gimp is a total mess), but don’t use the Lightroom licence that comes bundled with it. I know Jeff Harmon has found DT fiddly but I’ve never felt motivated to convert to LR.
    The danger with a good piece of Free (Libre) Software is that the developers will disappear: DT has a small and focused core team who are brilliant and opinionated and if they fell out it could end up as a mess like Gimp. But your findings above show that paying for your software doesn’t give any guarantees of anything better.

  9. Thanks for this article I also thought to be the only one with LG being so slow. I have a super fast MacPro that I bought for exactly the reason to edit big size photos fast and thought LG would be working well. Except it never did. I bought the standalone LG6 as I just can not justify giving them a fee for nothing. And as a Jeffrey said why pay a sub for nothing?
    I also believe this trend of wanting subscription is just an easy way to try and make money. It stops the incentive of working hard to improve the product and getting more customers to buy the product.

  10. Heather Strong

    CAN I GET AN AMEN!!! I haven’t been doing much research on the speed problems w/ LR, I just knew I had them and also knowing my computer had more than enough bandwidth to handle whatever I might throw at it. Just for fun the other day I downloaded the free version of Acdsee, so much better. After the seeing the buzz here (and other places) I think I’ll have to give C1 a try too. Anything is better than the pain of LR, using that almost ruins the whole photography process for me.

  11. I’ve been using LR and PS for longer than I care to remember. However I remain a rank novice I resisted the subscription idea for a long while and gave in a couple of years back. I had concluded that a monthly reasonable[/] subscription was working out similar to my buying new versions to keep up to date – and they would look after that for me. In the event I feel it has been of doubtful benefit. I am not complaining about import speed because I don’t really have a comparison. I do have a problem with not infrequent crashes that I presume comes from my operation – The computer is new and should be plenty powerful enough. It is funny I came across this article and blog because’over the last couple weeks I stumbled across ON1 Raw ‘I like it and am seriously thinking of changing . Purchase price less than equivalent 1yrs Adobe Sub. Masking is brilliant. Thank you for timely help

  12. Two things in life are true. Death and Taxes. Oh wait……make that three. Lightroom culling is and has always been slow. I’m on a fully speced iMac 5k. 32 gigs of RAM. Lightening fast SSD. It doesn’t matter. Culling is like molasses compared to Photo Mechanic.

  13. It seems to me there are lots and lots of users who have been of the mindset that it is just their system that has been the problem rather than an issue with Lightroom itself. Although I’ve heard many podcast hosts complaining about it on their shows, I have yet to see any organized campaign to get Adobe’s attention. Apparently a lot of people are evaluating other options but without a mass exodus from Adobe, the company is clearly just kicking back, collecting subscription fees and ignoring their customers. Jim, I nominate you to create a Facebook page design to recruit followers who will commit to leaving light room next spring along with you. If enough people will commit to this, maybe that will get their attention.

    1. Robert Fuller

      Excellent idea. Social media is a very visible way to add volume to the issues. Socially minded companies (which I’m sure Adobe is) watch it closely. While Jim focuses a lot on performance, there are a lot of other areas where LR could be improved. Perhaps there could be a way to create a Top 10 list of the most wanted features that users are requesting. I’d also suggest working with other photography professionals to beat the same drum and amplify the message to Adobe.

  14. Gordon Perkins

    Well said. The transition to a subscription-based service really had me believing that this was going to speed up the software updates not slow them down. So disappointing and the competition is catching up.

  15. Mostly agree Jim, but on a very fast non 5K iMac which admittedly is constantly running out of HD space, LR is a TOTAL DOG starting up, accessing files, in the develop module and everywhere else :-). Well it doesn’t help that I also have a crashplan backup running 24/7 trying to not take 3 years to upload terabytes to the cloud, but I digress 🙂 Seriously though – the “healing” brush is extremely frustrating for me to use – it’s the one annoyingly bad feature of the develop module that drives me to photoshop more than any other. It’s just not good, even with the last batch of improvements they made a couple of years back. Yes – the import module is horribly slow, but the way they apply non-destructive edits (can’t recall the blog I read defending Adobe’s workflow, but essentially each non-destructive edit is applied as you move between photos) is bound to be exponentially slower the more edits you make. Seems like they could internally generate snapshots so that they didn’t have to apply every single edit each time – maybe just a few point in time from the last snapshot. I have now joined captureOne for a subscription, purchased luminar and affinity photo and bought photo mechanic several months back – all at different times on big sales, but basically positioning myself to move away from Adobe. Thankfully, my complete lack of ever putting any metadata into my catalog means I’ll be able to switch fairly painlessly to a new workflow sometime in the future 🙂

  16. You Tell it Jim!

    I don’t use LR myself as I much prefer ACR and then directly into Photoshop but I constantly see my students struggle with LR. Almost every time I teach post processing my students will default to LR instead of ACR and complain about how sluggish the performance is no matter what specs their system has.

    For those who like the LR tools but can’t handle the RAM overhead I would recommend starting out in Adobe Bridge to manage your files in a more transparent fashion with less strain on computer resources. Then open your RAW files in ACR and you’ll be able to perform all of the same functions as LR without the clunky interface, buried files and crushing RAM suck. I also prefer the GUI of ACR is it is so basic with no frills.

  17. In Australia Adobe have increased the monthly subscription by 40% from the initial $9.99 to $13.99. Their rationale is to cover the variation in the $Au and the imposition of the Australian GST on “imported products”, an increase that is in excess of the real change. Looks like Adobe will latch onto any excuse to hike the price so watch out world my guess is you will be next. I actively advise new photographers to look elsewhere and don’t use any subscription based product, you will eventually be stung.

  18. I also think that the performance has decided over the last few years. I recently returned from a trip to Norway with about 2000 image. These took nearly 48 hours to import generating 1:1 previews and then flagging them in the library module was still slow slow slow. About 6 out 7 seconds per image. LR is so good at some things and it’s integration with Smugmug is really handy but its beginning to turn me off bit time. I’ve used LR since version 3 and Photoshop for longer. They fixed the poor performance of Photoshop a few years ago by writing some legacy modules in 64bit code but I understand LR is already fully 64 bit.

  19. Having spent the last few years becoming competent with LR, I dread the idea of moving to another product and the new learning curve. As you also pointed out, I don’t want to revisit 15k images to re-process them. But maybe the time is coming. I tried Capture 1 and the speed comparisons are like night and day. Even shooting tethered seems to show that C1 has got a real handle on raw processing – roughly speaking, LR takes me 6 seconds to present a tethered image and C1 is less than 2 seconds. Which, assuming LR is using the same RAW processor for import and tethered import, my normal Import process is taking at least 3 times longer than it should.

    It also puzzles me that a “simple” tool like spot removal in LR is nothing like as clever as the Spot Healing brush in PS. Is there no shared technology in Adobe development?

    I’m not writing to abuse Adobe – I want them to “fix” the problems. Sooner rather than later so I don’t have to look for an alternative.

    I want them to focus on the core product – while LR Mobile is nice, I’m never going to consider using my phone to edit my images – I spent time and money to calibrate my monitor and won’t edit on a tiny uncalibrated phone. Give me layers instead of toys for my phone!

    That’s why I completed the survey!

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