Adobe Launches Lightroom Mobile App for iPad; Here’s Our Hands-On Review

Photographers have been asking for a mobile version of Adobe Lightroom pretty much since the first iPad launched four years ago and, for some eager folks, even prior to that. Well, everyone finally got their wish tonight, as Adobe launched the Lightroom mobile app, which lets you edit and organize your images on your iPad. (The company says iPhone and Android versions of the app are also in the works.)

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While the Lightroom mobile app is free to download, you need to have one of Adobe’s controversial subscription plans in order to use it. The best current Adobe subscription deal for photographers is the Photoshop Photography Program, which costs $9.99 a month and gives you Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5, along with some other features including 20GB of cloud storage. You’ll also need the latest iteration of Lightroom, which is at Version 5.4, to run the app, but that’s a free update and available now.

Testing it Out
I had a chance to try out the Lightroom mobile app before tonight’s launch and found it to be a handy if slightly underwhelming program. (Maybe if it came out in 2010 with the first iPad I would’ve been more impressed.)

That’s not to say that Lightroom mobile is a bad app at all. In fact, it’s well designed and does a fine job of giving you cloud-based, wireless access to your main catalog of Lightroom images on your desktop computer, so you can tweak and showcase them on the iPad’s display. To be honest, when I first heard that a mobile version of Lightroom was coming, I was worried it was just going to be a dumbed down version of the software with limited capabilities, much like the consumer-oriented Adobe Photoshop Express app.

Instead, Lightroom mobile is a fairly robust little program, letting you edit and organize images on your iPad, including RAW shots thanks to Adobe’s Smart Previews, which are a smaller, representative file format based on lossy DNGs. Smart Previews of RAW images are, generally speaking, about 1-2MB apiece so they won’t clog up your iPad.

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As mentioned, to take full advantage of Lightroom mobile, you’ll need to be running Lightroom 5.4, which you will set up to sync with the app via Adobe’s Creative Cloud. To sync your Lightroom images files to the iPad app, you need to create a specific mobile photo collection in the Library module of Lightroom on your desktop. Once that’s in place, click the sync icon next to the collection and the photos from that group in Lightroom 5.4 will start appearing in the mobile app on your iPad.

Aside from the familiar “Lr” icon on the app, the mobile version of Lightroom has a fairly no-frills look to it compared to the feature-laden, desktop version. This seems partially by design, since the app is not really designed for road warrior-type photographers who might want to make major changes to photos when they’re in the field. (For that, Adobe seems to be saying, use the regular Lightroom program on your laptop.)

Editing Tools
When you open an image in Lightroom mobile, icons below the photo offer several key if somewhat basic tools. The Filmstrip icon gives you a visual way to scroll through thumbnails images in a collection; while the Adjustments icon lets you tweak white balance, color temperature, exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows and other essentials using touch and swipe gestures.

The Presets icon is probably the most fun feature, giving you a range of pre-cooked photo filters, similar to what’s available in Instagram or Google’s popular Snapseed app. There’s a range of black and white and color styles and filters you can apply to your photos, with a fly-up tab of small thumbnails giving you a preview of what the effect will do to a shot. Tapping the Crop icon will call up a set of tiles with different aspect ratios to change the crop.

To compare before and after adjustments, hold three fingers down on the iPad’s screen to see the before look. There are also undo and redo arrows at the bottom of the screen, letting you step backward and forward through adjustments.

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You can also flag photos you like by swiping up; unflag them by swiping down; or flag them as rejects by swiping down twice. And because of the live sync between your iPad and Lightroom 5.4, all mobile adjustments are automatically duplicated on your Lightroom collection — even RAW images — on your desktop, as long as there’s an Internet connection. So, in effect, you can edit RAW images with your iPad via the Smart Preview proxy files. (If there’s no Internet connection, you can still work on your images in the Lightroom mobile app but edits and metadata will not be synced to your Lightroom catalog on your desktop computer until later.)

You can also import images from the built-in Photos app on your iPad into Lightroom mobile and tweak them and sync to Lightroom 5 on your desktop. While syncing all these images back-and-forth between iPad and computer is a largely seamless process, it sometimes took a second or two for my photos to sharpen up to full resolution on the screen when a sync was going on. So the Lightroom mobile app can feel a bit slow, at times.

Limited Display Options
I was also disappointed in the limited number of display options in Lightroom mobile. The app’s slideshow functionality is very basic and if you were hoping that a mobile version of Lightroom would take advantage of the iPad’s power of display to make it a solid digital portfolio — I know I was — you’ll probably be disappointed.

There are three different transition options when running a slide show — crossfade, wipe and a cheesy image flip feature — and no way to integrate video clips. And, aside from manually watermarking each individual photo before syncing them, there’s no easy way for a photographer to add his or her particular branding to a slideshow or gallery.

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There are ways to socially share images from the app to Twitter or to email them, but, as with the slideshow, options are limited. For instance, in the version of the app I tried out, there was no way to upload shots directly to Facebook, which was odd. (It could be because it was just an early build of the app.)

Final Thoughts
It’s taken a while, but Adobe has finally created a mobile version of its popular Lightroom editing and organizing app for the iPad. This nicely designed, free app does, however, come with some caveats. For one, you need to be enrolled in one of Adobe’s controversial, cloud-based subscription plans in order to use the app, and you need to be running the latest version of Lightroom on your main computer to take advantage of its features. Secondly, if you were expecting a robust and sophisticated program to do major edits on your images out in the field, you’ll be disappointed. You might also be disappointed by the limited number of display options with this app: the slideshow features are fairly rudimentary and it presents itself as a rather mediocre photo portfolio.

On the other hand, Adobe’s done an excellent job of creating an easy to use iPad app that lets you tweak and organize your images via touch based gestures. And because the app’s Smart Preview files are automatically synced wirelessly to Lightroom 5 running on your desktop computer, you’re, in effect, editing RAW images on your iPad. That’s pretty neat stuff. Unfortunately for Android users, they’ll have to wait to join in on the fun.

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3 Responses to “Adobe Launches Lightroom Mobile App for iPad; Here’s Our Hands-On Review”

  1. Adobe Launches Lightroom Mobile App for iPad; Here’s Our Hands-On Review | Xcuz Me Says:

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  2. Caslar Says:

    Sync speed is ridiculously slow due to the unexpected round-tripping to the cloud. It’s a showstopper. Should be designed to be plugged in or with local wifi.

  3. Mike Wren Says:

    @Caslar – Give Photosmith for iPad a look. We designed it for local Lightroom sync without the subscription. Photos and their associated metadata like keywords, star ratings, pick/reject flags, color labels can be synced back and forth with very little effort. All sync is local – it happens directly between your iPad and Lightroom, so it’s super quick.

    I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the app or workflows – mwren at photosmithapp.com

    Mike Wren
    Photosmithapp.com