The Lightroom Manifesto: Adobe has lost its way

In News by Jim Harmer38 Comments

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.

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on


  1. I don’t think I can wait till spring. On1 10.5 is right up there and constantly updating all the time. The on1 team truly committed on giving the best product they possibly can. I also tried C1 and difference is night and day. I know its mostly habit now which is always hard to break, but now its time to start a new one.

  2. Could not agree with you more! The painfully slow culling in LR CC has been my biggest LR problem for a good while. We do volume dance shoots where 4500 images need to be culled/edited and proofs output within 1 week, and I can tell you we barely meet that deadline thanks wholly to how darn slow importing and culling are. I own Topaz Studio, OnOne, and Photo Mechanic and will be testing each in our off season to see if there is a better choice for us moving forward.

    As someone who’s used PS for over 20 years , and LR since it came out. We used to upgrade one or the other every year for 100-200 bucks, so the subscription model is not a bad deal, but I HATE the wonky validation/registration checks and think the DRM system could use as good fixing as well as the speed issue. We’ve had laptops that have been running the fully paid for and licensed version suddenly pop up “your 30 day trial is over” messages when we are out of town at remote locations without internet access – after we tested them the night before to be sure everything was working before we headed out to the job site. My new practice is to start laptop and fire up lightroom in the hotel and just leave the laptop on till we get to the shoot. Frustrating and disappointing.

  3. I have never liked LR’s total control of my pictures. Having used CS5 from day one I purchased LR6 to be able to process my newer cameras raw photos (couldn’t in 5). After much trial and error I managed to find a workaround. I liked how LR edited, so stuck with it, until On1 Raw. Along with Perfectly Clear I am a happy camper. Still transitioning, and go back to LR occasionally, but LR is just not worth the money.

  4. Oh, no!! “Buy a company” is the worst you can ask Adobe. They always do just that and than sooner or later ruin everything that company was good for. No, no, no buying anymoore.

    They bought CoolEditPro and ruined it in version 5 (up to version 3 was just dumbed down and worsened GUI, but in later version it become unstable, slow and laggy). I HOPED they will learn how CoolEdit never lost work after crash, and put that into Premiere, but they never improved Premiere and rather Audition now salvage only 50% of crashes – so after decade Audition become broken, not Premiere fixed.

    Another case is Macromedia. I loved their product, now I just write code by hand mostly. They add more and moore side features to attract “one-click-auto” users, but basic functionalities are worse. Or buggy.

    Premiere… OMG. Another bought software, that they were only adapting over years. Afte CC they introduced few stupid and time consuming properties, which are NOT optional, but forced to every users. Just some of them are now possible to turn off in preferences. Than the stupid GUI changes always toward the worse. Latest “improvement” was rounded buttons. Who needs that in serious production??? We need speed!

    Version 15 was the most notoriously slow if lumetri was used. I started to use my ancient workflow: To prepare all footage outside Premiere (stabilize, clean, grade), than just cut in Premiere. I also noticed that “just cut” and many moore things I can do in free Davinci. Ok, version CC2017 was magically improved, so it is now possible to work.

    I do not know other software in deeps, to comment. OH, I remember warps stabilisation was invented and the original inventors had thoose demo arround. I was really excited, but wastly sad how it was implemented when Premiere bought it up. They dumb down stuff just to be “one click fix” possible.

  5. This article put too much attention to NEW FEATURES we miss. We do not miss new features that much as we miss speed. Adobe upgrades their software from the easyest way they can. They tweak GUI and add meaningless features. We should stop calling them to add new features since we are getting JUST THAT! New features.
    Jim did not mention PROCESS which is 2012. We are more than willing to pay for QUALITY and SPEED improvement. Features can be only cherry on the cake.

    Dehaze tool is only usefull on sky alone. For all other uses it gives unpleasant results. So having it on BRUSH was essentil, but not having it at all would be as fine as before. If they gave us dehaze, than having it on brush is like normal to have. Update was rather fix of original update.

    Having mobile version to show customers their galleries to pick best photos is fine; not having it under password and no watermarking and the fact user must create Adobe account, is dealbraker. Another dealbraker is that for some reason some images out of batch have completely wrong colors when uploaded straight from Lightroom. So Useless feature again.

    Guided upright was right decision, since Capture One have just that. But in Adobe it is so painfully slow that is completelly useless. Capture One on the other hand have different approach and it is lightning fast.

    Boundary warp? Who needs boundary warp if panorama is not used at all. I do use it since it creates new DNG with all original RAW properties and meta (like lens profile, etc). I prefer that compared to TIFF. But still I rather use Microsoft ICE, since it does better job, still with automated process. One thing I like more in Lr is how it handles “edit in” – if I select three files for edit in “MICROSOFT ICE” or “SNS HDR PRO” software it will convert them and load all three in ONE instance of that software. So it is automated process. Capture One can’t do that and TIFF’s must be exported manually and than imported into other program (it exports selected files, but it will open as many instances of selected program and load each TIFF in separate instance).

    While I like this in Lr, I do not like after that. I must explore folder to delete temporary TIFF’s and I must restart Lr to reflect changes in edited TIFF. Even editing in Photoshop is more tightly integrated in C1 than it is in LR. It reflects changes in seconds by itself after Ps was closed and file saved.

    1. Author

      I agree that speed needs to be fixed, and said so in the article. In fact, the majority of the article is about performance. However, I also don’t expect the software to only fix the way the current feature set works if they want us to pay a subscription for updates. I also think new features need to be coming if they want us to pay a subscription price.

  6. Do you think Adobe is spreading their LR team too thin by maintaining Adobe Bridge as well as lightroom, lightroom mobile etc?

    I have tried a lot of Lightroom equivalent programs.
    IMO CaptureOne is the best overall. It is fast, full-featured and powerful. I only have a Pro license* for my Sony camera and can’t use other manufacturers’ RAW files.If I purchased the full license, I would use this for organising and developing all RAW shots.
    Rawtherapee is a powerful free RAW development package. It allows culling, rating, and metadata but not collections. It used to crash too frequently but is much better now.

    *Oddly I can’t use the de-fringe lens correction function at all with this license.

  7. I too have been with Lightroom since the initial per-1.0 betas. I have processed something in the range of 250,000 photos in that time. For a long time, I had assumed the issues were with my catalog size or my old computer. I think upgraded to a custom maxed out system with barely any improvement. In the end, I spent the money on PhotoMechanic and that has made a world of difference. I now do my initial import and culling in PM. I only import into LR once I have completed the culling and rating process. There is no excuse for the slow improvement process and terrible performance. This leaves aside improvements they could be making to the other modules (like Books which I use fairly regularly). My only quibble with your post is that I was actually really happy about the LR AppleTV app. It works wonderfully for showing off a whole collection of photos (to customers or family)

  8. There’s plenty that bothers me about Adobe’s attitude and handling of Lightroom – I agree with you about Lightroom for Apple TV, but the focus that Lightroom mobile has been getting is insane given the state of their desktop app. Mobile is a nice to have which may come in useful in a professional capacity occasionally at a push, it may even become convenience for some ‘on the go’ workflows. But it is still a peripheral to the desktop app and when that works as poorly as it does…

    What really bothered me with Adobe’s LR survey was that they almost went out of their way to avoid understanding the scale of the problem. I’m paraphrasing, but “please indicate how often you use LR, if you stopped using it and switched to something else how often did you use to use it.” So, LR is now purely a library management tool for me at the moment, and yet I clicked a button that said I use LR every day., which I used to. The results of that survey question at best cannot possibly reflect reality, and at worst management will look at the daily user numbers and conclude the problem simply can’t be as bad as all the negativity on blogs, forums and social media suggests. I’m just hoping the guys at Affinity have a LR competitior in the works – Designer is more than I need to replace Illustrator, Photo still not quite up there with Photoshop, but gaining and has 360° photo support that PS doesn’t, which is important for me.

    I agree with you on guarding against negativity on the web, but Adobe has shown such little regard for their users while enjoying record profits and releasing product updates that look to be more focused on increasing those profits further than delivering what their customers are actually asking for – this feels very much like a one-sided relationship and one I look forward to being able to end unfortunately

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