R.I.P. Lightroom
03 Nov, 2017

R.I.P. Lightroom


I still can't quite believe it.... Adobe decided to kill the perpetual lightroom license model, and make it subscription based only. Talk about a bombshell for my photo workflow :-(

I'm sure you have already heard about the "new" Lightroom Classic CC that replaces the old Lightroom CC / Lightroom 6 Standalone, so I won't go into details about what they did in terms of licensing. But for me - a owner and user of Lightroom 6 Standalone - the consequenses are rather dire. To understand my reasoning I first need to share a bit of history with you:

I have been using Lightroom since v1, and it really is a very well thought out and feature complete photo software solution that currently reigns supreme in it's niche. But nothing is perfect, and I have been whining a long time about the absolutely abyssmal performance Lightroom has in 4K resolution regardless of how powerfull your hardware is - and i'm not alone on this. There has been a public outcry for more than two years about Lightroom performance, and it's been so loud that Adobe themselves eventually commented that the next release would be all about performance (probably because people started abandoning ship due to the lack of support and development on Lightroom for years).  So I - like many others - have been waiting for this release for a looooong time.

"But for me - a owner and user of Lightroom 6 Standalone - the consequenses are rather dire"

Well, now it's here, but the strings Adobe attached with the product makes it a dead end for me, and here's why:

Obviously economics is playing a part. At 14$/month (price in Denmark) it does become substantially more expensive than the ~100$ I would pay every 2 or 3 years, when I upgraded my perpetual license.
Also, The whole Adobe tie-in problem with loosing editing access to my images if I stop paying the subscription, is of course a major problem as well - but even that's not really the worst part.

See, the symptoms of the real problem is this new "Classic CC" which they took almost 3 years to release. It might appear be all about performance, but it is in fact proof of several things I have feared for a long time - let me explain:

In Classic CC there's no major changes or complete code rewrites compared to the old lightroom CC / Lightroom 6 Standalone - apart from three things:

  1. The preview renderer/handling on import has been disabled and now relies on the camera built jpg in the RAW files. New previews are first rendered when you have made changes in editing, or manually elected to render a higher resolution preview. This allows for much faster handling at import and culling.
  2. The preview/import/export renderer has changed from a monolithic piece of code that could at best run 2-4 threads depending on the task, to a much more scalable modular solution that dispatches threads to use all your CPU cores, when several instances of the same task needs to be completed. This makes import and export as well as preview rendering substantially faster on modern high core count hardware. But it makes no performance difference on older and 2 core only hardware.
  3. It loads the different lightroom modules in the background, and have them cached and available in memory for a faster and more fluently module change experience.

The essential issue is these changes have been requested for at least 5 years (since LR4), and Adobe has put no development efforts towards this until now, when the pressure was just too loud, and Adobes longterm plans for Lightroom is still not really ready. These changes are in no way representative of what constitutes a proper new release or a fundamentally changed and improved piece of software/code. It is in fact only the absolute minimum effort needed to keep the software running for another couple of years, while appearing to listen to your customers. This is not something the lightroom development team have worked on for 2½ years, it's something made in a couple of months by a few of the devs, that made and knows all the old and slow code.
What happened to the remaining Lightroom development team and their work for the last 2½ year you might ask? Well, their efforts was directed at the new Lightroom CC - A completely new, built from the ground up, cloud centric product - that has nothing to do with the old well known lightroom.

" These changes are in no way representative of what constitutes a proper new release or a fundamentally changed and improved piece of software/code"

These petty changes to Lightroom Classic proves exactly what was feared since Adobe introduced subscription based licensing: That it would take away Adobe's incentive to improve their software, because you would have to pay continually unless you're ready to give up Lightroom, with all the edits and data you put into it and move to a competing solution. Something most of us will go to great lengths to avoid.

As bad as this may all be, it really shows the real intentions of Adobe. The decision to just barely keep Lighroom alive and rename it Classic CC, is pointing towards a much more catastrophic problem: Lightroom as we know it is going to die.

With all the development efforts going into the new Lightroom CC, and with the obvious lackluster changes to Lightroom Classic, the writing is on the wall - heck, Adobe even wrote it between the lines themselves with the "Classic" naming og our old Lightroom. Classic is only ever used for software that is marked end of Life - software to be replaced by something completely new. We all instinctively know this, no matter how much Adobe denies it by now. What a blunder by the marketing people!

Classic will only get the absolute minimum of attention until the new Lightroom CC is on a sufficient feature parity to suspend development of Lightroom Classic all together. Why you may ask?
Well it's pretty simple, with the new Lightroom CC you need to subscribe for cloud storage at Adobe as well. This makes the tie-in and cashflow towards Adobe complete - and better yet - makes et even more impossible to stop/leave Adobe without serious consequences.

Don't get me wrong, I know the philosophy behind the new Lightroom CC product in the longer run is the right solution for more productivity. Combining the ease of use and the universal availability across devices, is exactly whats necessary to appeal to the younger generations. And commercially the smartphone generation is much bigger than the perpetually shrinking amateur/professional DSLR/Mirrorless group of photographers today. I also know that in 3-5 years when the new CC is mature and we all have a better ISP connection for image upload to the cloud, it will even start to make sense to the pro's. At that point price and tie-in fears will be the only drawbacks to consider for potential users.

"Lightroom as we know it is going to die"

But what many fails to understand is this: Changing you photo management and editing to the new Lightroom CC (now or i 3 years) is a complete change of software, workflow and knowledge for all current Lightroom standalone / Classic users - regardless of the name being almost the same.

So the question is: Is it wise to subscribe now to get access to Classic and continue on, when all it does is postpone the inevitable? Sooner or later you will be forced into changing your software and workflow.

My answer and its consequence is this: Why would I want to change into a new photo software solution, that includes monthly cloud subscription & Storage plan for my photos, when it's way to expensive and permanently ties me into Adobes cashcow if I want to work on my photos? Especially if I already have all the storage and a workflow to maintain this at home?
I might as well face the music now, and use my standalone LR6 for the next 1 - 2 year until I find my replacement workflow software, that uses perpetual licensing and keeps me from vendor tie-in on the storage front.

So now I'm officially on the lookout for a Lightroom replacement - something that's going to be really hard to do, because the old Lightroom is a great piece of software (except for performance).

R.I.P. Lightroom

PS: I'll write a followup article later on describing my considerations and thoughts on replacement solutions. I'd be wise to try and avoid this happening to me again with the next product I choose, so maybe there are changes I can make in my workflow, that makes me much more software independant than I am of Lightroom today. Food for thought....