Hands on with Adobe Lightroom Mobile for iOS


Credit: Adobe

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.


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.


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.

crump-Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 7.40.01 PM

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.


Bob Heathcote

How come you don’t say whether you can import the photos using the camera connector? Still trying to understand how to use without a computer

Michael W. Perry

This is not a review, it’s a grouch or perhaps a whine.

Lightroom Mobile certainly doesn’t cost $10/month, much less $600. If you have the quite valuable in themselves CC or Photoshop packages, it is free. If you don’t have those, you don’t need this iOS app. And the attempt to compare it unfavorably to Office for iPad is silly. View-only hardly makes the latter worthwhile since you can’t edit without a subscription.

Perhaps the best way to understand this whine is to note that the author’s Office for iPad review includes a section headed “Why Microsoft Office matters to me” that says: “The reality of my life is that I live in a Microsoft Office world.”

Mark Crump is perfectly free to live in that Microsoft Office world. But he should not let his love for it bias how he reviews an Adobe product. If can’t be objective, he can at least pass the review along to someone who can.

Mark Crump

I reached out to Adobe before I wrote the article to confirm the pricing. This is what I received from them:

“Lightroom mobile requires a qualifying Creative Cloud or Photoshop Photography Program subscription: Photoshop Photography Program, Creative Cloud complete plan, Creative Cloud Student and Teacher Edition or Creative Cloud for teams complete plan. Lightroom mobile is also accessible through the Creative Cloud 30-day trial.” Those prices start at $9.99/month

While for my Office needs, I do live in an MS world, for my photo needs I live in an Adobe world. I have had standalone Adobe licenses for a while. If you read back through my article list, Adobe products do review well from me. Heck, I suggested Indesign (with subscription) was worth it for making ebooks.

In the case of Office (which may not have been a totally fair comparison) I felt that what the iPad app brought to the table was worth considering a subscription for. In the case of Lightroom Mobile, I did not feel that the iPad app was worth having a subscription for.

That may change, and if it does, I will certainly write about it.


It’s not free if you want to use Lightroom iPad you must pay! bottom-line.

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