Hands on with Adobe Lightroom Mobile for iOS

Lightroom Mobile

In my quest to make 2014 the Year of the iPad, a professional photo editing program that interfaces with my Lightroom-based workflow was a big gap. This week Adobe released Lightroom Mobile (Free, but subscription required) and I took a look how it could help my photo workflow.

Lightroom Mobile allows you to perform basic editing and photo culling features. It can also sync with your Adobe Lightroom 5.4 desktop client. There is, however, a huge gotcha for that.

Pricing

The biggest thing that annoys me about Lightroom Mobile is the pricing. It requires either a Creative Cloud license or at the minimum a Photoshop Photography Program license. Those run from $9.99 to $600. That’s a lot.

Unlike Office for iPad, the app simply will not work without a subscription. While Office at least gives you the option to read files without an Office365 subscription, Adobe Lightroom Mobile greets you with a login screen when you launch the app. I also have a standalone Lightroom 5 license, but without a Cloud license I can’t sync my photos to Lightroom Mobile. Given the limited feature set of the mobile app, I think this is a huge miss for Adobe.

What the app can and can’t do

The biggest draw to Lightroom Mobile is that it can handle RAW files in a non-destructive manner. It can also sync with my collections on Lightroom 5.4. It has a small amount of presets and cropping tools you can use to adjust photos with, but they are pretty standard and about as good as most existing photo apps available. What I did like is that you can adjust the white balance either via presets, or picking a reference point on the photo. You can also adjust the contrast, brightness, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance and saturation. You can also undo all edits to a photo.

What it can’t do is the advanced editing you use Lightroom Desktop to do. You cannot have custom presets, adjust curves, sharpening, noise reduction, lens correction and the like. It’s also not a professional-level tool. For starters, your iPad display is not calibrated. In my case, being color blind and shooting down to black-and-white most of the time, this is not a problem for me.

Hopefully, Adobe will add more features soon. Right now, the feature set is just too limited to justify a $10/month subscription.

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Syncing with Lightroom 5.4

Setting up syncing with Lightroom 5.4 is pretty easy. You go to the collection you want to share and check off a box next to the name. From there, Lightroom syncs down a Smart Preview of the photo. Smart Preview files are a new lightweight, smaller, file format based on the lossy DNG file format introduced in Lightroom 4. They also let you edit files not directly attached to your Mac. I use them to edit photos on the go when I’m not attached to my main drive at home. On the iPad, this helps keep the file size to a manageable level.

You can also create collections on Lightroom Mobile and sync those back to the desktop version as well. You can import photos from your iPad’s camera roll, but not your PhotoStream.

It’s also important to note that your photos are not synced through Adobe’s cloud services. So you can’t bring your iPad to a shoot, create a collection and have the photos already on your desktop when you get back to your desk.

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How it will integrate with my workflow

My photo workflow is pretty basic. I import my photos from my camera’s SD card to Lightroom. I then go through the photos and pick or reject my photos. From there I do the needful on the photos via a collection of custom presets. Lightroom Mobile can certainly help with the culling process. I find using the iPad to go through photos a very relaxing part of the process. You can import your photos during a shoot and then view them with model to see what ones he or she likes. This saves a ton of time and helps eliminates the need to book other sessions for a reshoot.

Other than that, I don’t see me doing any heavy photo editing on my iPad. I might see how a photo will look in B&W, but all my post-processing will still be done in Lightroom 5.4.

Is it worth the subscription?

If you do not have a Photoshop Photography Program subscription already, I see little reason to subscribe just to get Lightroom Mobile. Unlike Office365, where all apps can access files stored on your OneDrive, Lightroom Mobile does not access your Creative Cloud storage. If it did, and I had the ability to sync down a collection at will, that might make the subscription palatable. As it is now, the app should just be free since it’s more of a companion app to Lightroom 5.4.

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