Lightroom 6 and CC: First impressions

Adobe Lightroom 6 and CC

Lightroom 6 is available now, with performance enhancements and other new features. Read on for additional information and answers to some questions that aren’t always addressed by the general media coverage of this release.

Does Lightroom 6 require a subscription?

There has been anxiety in the Lightroom community about whether the next version would continue to be available both by subscription and as a pay-once perpetual license. Good news: Nothing has changed, you can still get Lightroom either way.

Creative Cloud (subscription). If you subscribe to any Creative Cloud plan that included Lightroom 5, you can immediately download what’s called Lightroom CC as soon as it appears in the Creative Cloud desktop application. (If it hasn’t appeared by now, sign out of the Creative Cloud desktop application and sign back in.)

Perpetual license (non-subscription). If you aren’t a Creative Cloud member, you can buy a perpetual license copy of what’s called Lightroom 6 from the Adobe purchase page or any other authorized retailer. Perpetual license upgrades are available only as downloads from Adobe.

Adobe product page where you can buy Lightroom 6

Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC are essentially identical. The main difference is that the subscription version, Lightroom CC, lets you use Adobe Creative Cloud to sync images and edits with Lightroom Mobile apps on iOS and Android as well as Lightroom Web, which works in a web browser. Adobe has confirmed that Lightroom 6 will receive updates for bug fixes and profiles for new cameras and lenses, while Lightroom CC will get all that while also being eligible to receive new features as well. This is essentially the same difference we have seen for a while when the same version of Camera Raw is released for Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC.

There are rumors that this is the last version of Lightroom to be available as a perpetual license, but there is no convincing evidence to support this. Adobe does make it hard to find the perpetual license purchase on their web site, but consider that it would have been even easier for Adobe to not offer a perpetual license for Lightroom 6 at all. Also, Adobe is still providing the latest camera and lens support and bug fixes for Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS6, the last perpetual license version of Photoshop (released back in 2012 but still sold today).

HDR and panoramas, with DNG output

There is now a new Photo > Photo Merge submenu with HDR and Panorama commands. Just select multiple images and choose the command you want. There are not a lot of options, but well-shot image sets should give you good results. The HDR feature includes multiple options for deghosting. If you want more control or to better be able to handle special cases, you may still prefer more specialized tools for these tasks. It’s nice that photo merging happens in the background; you can edit other images while your HDR or panorama is being merged.

The most intriguing and unique feature of the Lightroom implementation of both HDR and panorama merging is that it produces a Digital Negative (DNG) file, not a TIFF or Photoshop file, so you can edit the result in the Develop module using its raw editing capabilities. This is potentially a huge time saver because you don’t have to pre-correct any of the original images before merging them, and you don’t have to send them over to Photoshop first. The other major advantage of this approach is that the file size of a merged panorama is much smaller in DNG format than it would have been as a TIFF or Photoshop file. (If you’re really curious about the type of DNG the HDR output uses, it’s linear, demosaiced, and 16-bit floating point to store the dynamic range. So, not quite true raw, but still more flexible than a rendered TIFF or PSD).

The panorama feature is faster than the one in Photoshop, but not always as successful. In my testing,  Lightroom fails at some panorama sets that Photoshop can merge successfully. I’m optimistic that whatever additional panorama intelligence Photoshop has can eventually be shared with Lightroom. (Adobe Camera Raw 9 adds the same DNG-based HDR and panorama merge features, in addition to the non-raw Photomerge capability that has been present in Photoshop for several versions. If you also have Camera Raw 9 and you find that some panoramas aren’t working in Lightroom, it’s actually worth a try to see if they work better in the panorama feature in Camera Raw.)

Because of the way Lightroom and Camera Raw processes HDR images, Adobe suggests that you should be able to get good results with just two bracketed images up to three stops apart (remember, it’s blending from the raw data). Being able to use just two images isn’t just trivia, because being able to shoot only 2 images per HDR set instead of the more traditional 3 or 5 could save you a significant amount of storage and backup space if you shoot a lot of HDR. You can certainly use more than two images if the scene has a very high contrast range, but blending more images increases the chance of ghosting in areas that have changed between exposures.

It’s possible to create HDR panoramas too. It’s recommended that you first merge the HDR sets, and then take the results and merge those into a panorama.

Is it faster than Lightroom 5?

Lightroom 6/CC (and Camera Raw 9) includes some performance optimizations. The most notable one is that Lightroom 6 can use your computer’s graphics processing unit (GPU) to accelerate image processing. You’ll notice the effect of GPU support the most in the Develop module, where editing and navigating is now more fluid and responsive. If in Lightroom 5 or earlier you had to wait through a screen update delay after dragging a slider, in Lightroom 6 there should be no delay at all for many controls (though not all). The instant feedback makes the creative process in Lightroom much more interactive and enjoyable.

If you experienced severe lag on Retina/HiDPI displays when developing images in Lightroom 5, the new GPU optimizations in Lightroom 6 are reported to eliminate those. While there was also some optimization work in some areas outside of the Develop module, such as in importing and exporting, those optimizations are not GPU-based and the improvement over Lightroom 5 is not nearly as noticeable or dramatic as it is in the Develop module.

Adobe uses the OpenGL standard to support all kinds of GPUs, from discrete graphics cards in powerful desktop computers all the way down to integrated graphics in many laptop computers. For example, Lightroom 6/CC (and Camera Raw 9) GPU support is enabled for the discrete graphics in my 2011 MacBook Pro laptop. The benefits of GPU acceleration to go up along with the amount of video RAM (VRAM) available to the graphics system in your computer. For specifics and a link to a Lightroom GPU FAQ by Adobe, see System Requirements later in this article. In the Adobe Lightroom forum Lightroom/Camera Raw engineer Eric Chan wrote up a detailed description of what you should expect from GPU support on various hardware: GPU notes for Lightroom CC (2015)

GPU support is enabled by default unless there’s a problem with your graphics system. You can toggle GPU use in the Preferences dialog box in Lightroom (and Camera Raw), though the only reason to turn it off is if an incompatibility is causing graphics glitches while you’re trying to edit.

Lightroom 6

If you do have a MacBook Pro with dual graphics (both integrated and discrete graphics), note that Lightroom 6/CC will cause OS X to enable discrete graphics even if you have disabled GPU support in Lightroom Preferences. Battery life is reduced when OS X enables discrete graphics, but if you are a Photoshop user this is nothing new. (Lightroom 5 did not cause OS X to enable discrete graphics.)

GPU not enabled? Some users are reporting that the GPU is not enabled in Lightroom even though it seems to meet the requirements. There is a discussion about this at the Photoshop Feedback site where Adobe programmers are troubleshooting with users: Lightroom CC – Problem with my graphics processor.

Face it

Lightroom 6/CC can recognize faces and associate them with keywords. You’ve probably seen a feature like this in other photo management software; it helps you tag people with keywords more quickly. To support this feature, the Library module has a new People view to go with the Grid, Loupe, Compare, and Survey views. People view presents just the faces found in images, though if are using the Secondary Display in Loupe view you can see the entire image that contains a selected face.

How does Lightroom list faces? When face detection is running, Lightroom attempts to identify faces in images. When it finds one, it marks it as a “face region” on the image. You can then add a name to a face region, and that name becomes a keyword. (If you’ve ever tagged faces on Facebook, it works a lot like that.) You can control when face detection is running so that it doesn’t occupy your processor when you’re trying to get other work done. If Lightroom has no idea who a person is, the name field under a face is blank. As you fill in more names, Lightroom can recognize more untagged faces and suggest their names. If you want to tag a face but Lightroom didn’t already identify it, you can manually draw a face region and tag that.

Names you’ve added using face recognition are marked with a new keyword attribute appropriately called People. When you export images, you can include or exclude Person metadata in the Export dialog box, just as you can include or exclude Location metadata in Lightroom 5. Control over person and location data is a useful privacy feature when exporting images that will be uploaded to public websites.

Other enhancements

Activity Center. There can be so much going on in the background in Lightroom 6/CC that Adobe lets you control some background processes. A new Activity Center gives you options for starting and pausing Lightroom Mobile sync, address lookup for the Map module, and face detection. On less powerful computers these options can help the application concentrate on tasks like processing raw images in the foreground.

Lightroom 6 Activity Center

Filter masks. Lightroom 6/CC includes the ability to paint in the masks created by the Graduated and Radial filters so that you can exclude areas from those filters. Here Lightroom is catching up with Adobe Camera Raw, which added this feature some time ago.

Soft proofing and printing now accept CMYK printer profiles. Previously you could select only RGB-based profiles for the soft-proofing feature and in the Print module. Now you can also select CMYK output profiles. This is not full CMYK support since you can’t edit in CMYK, but it’s an important addition and it brings Lightroom up to par with Adobe Camera Raw, which added CMYK profile support a while ago.

Pet eye removal. Red Eye reduction doesn’t work with animal eyes, so if the pets in your photos have creepy flash eyes you can use this feature. This is another feature that catches up to Camera Raw.

Updated slideshows. The Slideshow module has a few more options, such as the addition of a pan/zoom effect, multiple audio tracks that you can sequence, transitions synchronized to music, and being able to preview the slideshow at 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios in case the screen you’re presenting on is a different aspect ratio than the computer you’re using to prepare the slide show.

Collection filtering. It’s now easy to search for a collection by name using the new filter field. My list of collections has gotten so long that this is something I’ve wanted before.

Add to collection during import or tethered shooting. The Collections feature is extremely valuable for organizing images into projects such as slide shows, in part because they transcend the limitations of a folder hierarchy. But in Lightroom 5 or earlier you had to import images to folders first and then add the same images to a collection. Now there’s an “Add to collection” option in the File Handling panel of the expanded Import dialog box. Because folders are “real” and collections are “virtual,” the images will still show up in whatever number of folders are created based on your File Handling settings, but all will also be added to the one collection you select.

New Auto preview size. If you select the new Auto preview size, Lightroom will build previews at the pixel dimensions of your monitor, up to a maximum of 2880 pixels on a side. This is useful when your monitor does not match any of the other set preview sizes.

Updated web galleries. Flash-based web galleries have been removed, and replaced by HTML5 galleries.

Better touch support. Optimizations and a workspace for touch-enabled PCs such as Microsoft Surface.

Lightroom Mobile enhancements. On Android, the Lightroom Mobile app now supports tablets, DNG import, and storage on SD card. On iOS, Lightroom Mobile now has improved cropping, and TIFF import support. Some of the changes in the Lightroom Mobile user interface are useful, but not immediately clear and discoverable without turning to demo videos or documentation.

Updated camera and lens support. As usual, the new versions of Lightroom and Camera Raw add profiles for more cameras and lenses, and tethering support for two new cameras.

System requirements and more GPU information

Adobe has the Mac and Windows system requirements for Lightroom 6/CC.

For Mac GPU support, your Mac must be running a fully updated version of OS X 10.9 or later. Also, its graphics hardware must be able to run OpenGL 3.3 (all Macs going back several years do); you can also look up your Mac in the useful Apple tech note Mac computers that use OpenCL and OpenGL graphics.

For optimal GPU performance, Adobe recommends 1GB or more of video ram (VRAM), or 2GB VRAM if you have a Retina/HiDPI display. But you’ll still get some benefit from a compatible GPU even if your computer has less VRAM than those amounts. If your Mac has integrated graphics only, don’t worry because OS X 10.9 or later can dynamically allocate more VRAM to graphics (up to a point) if there’s RAM to spare. If you have a Mac that has user-upgradeable RAM, add as much RAM as you can afford to make sure there’s lots of memory for OS X to hand over to the graphics subsystem after your running applications take their share.

Adobe has published a Lightroom GPU FAQ that is also essential reading if you want to get the most out of GPU support. There is a similar Camera Raw GPU FAQ.

More information

I’ve only scratched the surface, so for a more complete and detailed list of changes and tips as well as other perspectives, read these articles by sources I highly recommend:

That was just a first look at the software. Stay tuned for more about Lightroom 6/CC!

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