Occasionally I like to think out loud and note down my hopes and ideas for the next version of a particular piece of software. It’s not that I think a developer might actually read this and pick up on any of these points, but more as a fun little writing exercise. In this case, I want to talk about Lightroom, and what I would like to see in an updated version this year.
I’ve done this kind of post about Lightroom before, the last time being in 2013. I know it’s just wishful thinking and won’t actually make a difference, but even so, I always try and be realistic with my wishes. None of the things that I wanted to see before has come true, so I doubt any of these will either, but it’s still a fun thing to think about (for me, anyway). While some of this may be construed as Lightroom bashing, it’s not intended as such, but rather constructive criticism.
One of the problems with talking about a new version of Lightroom is, because of Adobe’s insistence on two separate versions, identifying the typically simple question of “what is in a new version” becomes a difficult proposition, and sorting that mess out is the first thing on my wish-list:
Wish 1: Version Parity between the Standalone and CC Versions
While I get what Adobe is trying to do with subscriptions, and I understand that they need to add value to the subscription version of Lightroom, but this has gotten a little ridiculous with the current versions of Lightroom. As the software is still in the 6.x or 2015.x cycle, standalone users, as far as I’m aware, aren’t getting any of the features that have been added to the various CC updates. That means that if you buy the standalone copy even now, you’re essentially getting a two-year-old version, feature wise, as compared to the CC version.
If anyone asks me which version that they should get, I tell them that they should go for the CC version, even if they don’t like the idea of buying a subscription. I appreciate the many reasons that people don’t like this subscription model but compared to the standalone version; it’s a much better deal. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if Adobe released a new standalone version every year, but they haven’t and now the differences between the CC version and Version 6 are becoming significant.
Having two versions is also a pain if you’re trying to provide educational material or additional content for the software. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage people’s expectations depending on which version you have, and you have to be very careful so as not to let your readers feel cheated because they have a different version. It’s hard on people writing full books too. I have a great Lightroom CC book from Martin Freeman, but it’s partially out of date now because the software has seen so many updates, but is still technically a “2015” release.
While the constant updating is one of the advantages of the subscription model, it also has its disadvantages. The level of bugs in Lightroom has gone up in my opinion. Rather than testing things properly, I get the impression Adobe is rushing stuff out the door to meet the promises of its subscription plans. Anyway, this has become more of a rant and less of a wish, so let’s move on to my related second point….
Wish 2: New Full Version
As I pointed out in the previous paragraphs, it’s becoming difficult to differentiate between what is a “new” version and what is an update. I do think it’s time for a new full version, though. Adobe does this regularly with the rest of its creative suite, so Lightroom is overdue. Photoshop recently had a “2017” version for example, but Lightroom is still in the 2015 cycle. I think it’s time for a Version 7 / 2017 cc version run. A new version should feature some badly needed core changes, which I’ll go into in more detail below. It would also address the first point, at least for now.
Wish 3: Improvements to the Core Raw Engine
Adobe’s RAW process is still using the 2012 version, and there have been a lot of developments in raw processing technologies since then. With lots of new raw processing software being released at the moment, in my opinion, Adobe’s could do with an update. While Adobe’s camera raw engine is still pretty good (depending on which camera you’re shooting with), and probably still one of the best, I still think some of the basics could do with improving. For example:
- New Sharpening Engine. Adobe’s sharpening algorithm is ok, but it lacks options, and many users have asked for other methods over the years, such as high pass sharpening. With most of its competitors having a selection of sharpening options, I would like to see improvements in this area in Lightroom.
- 32 bit Floating Point Internally. This was one of the great features of Aperture, and I would love to see Adobe implement this in Lightroom. With this technology, some adjustments won’t clip highlights and shadow detail for example, and the overall integrity of the processing pipeline is improved. To be honest, I don’t hold out much hope for this, but it’s something that I would like to see.
- Improvements in the default settings for raw files. While Adobe’s use of camera profiles provides a good match most of the time, there are a few instances where the matching between a raw file and a corresponding Jpeg isn’t great. I would like to see Adobe improve the quality overall, but also in a few specific areas. In my opinion, while the colour profiles do match the colours well, the defaults often don’t match black levels and contrast correctly. When you import RAW images, the results often look flatter than the corresponding Jpegs, often putting off beginners, many of whom think that Jpegs are better because they don’t understand what’s going on.
- Unified Colour Engine. One of the things about the software that I’m not sure many people are aware of is that Lightroom uses a different colour space between the develop module and the Library module. The Develop Module uses ProPhoto RGB, but the Library module uses Adobe RGB. Most of the time there aren’t any issues, but occasionally you can see subtle differences between photos in the two modules, especially if your calibration is off. In the past, Adobe claimed that this was for speed issues, but I find it hard to believe that this is still necessary.
- Improve Fuji X-Trans processing. I don’t think I need to say any more on this than has already been stated.
Wish 4: Core Library Rewrite/Overall Speed Improvements
The database and organising side of Lightroom is one of its weakest features in my opinion. It’s slow and inefficient and badly needs a rewrite. I’m not the only one who thinks so either. I’ve read dozens of threads on various forums from people who also want to see this happen.
The library side of Lightroom has been the most neglected too, at least in my opinion. While other modules have seen improvements and new features over the years, the Library module has been left relatively untouched. It needs improvement, both regarding the interface and the underlying programming.
One of the areas also related to this is the speed (or lack thereof) when importing images. Lightroom is particularly slow with this compared to other software which gets you up and running quickly. I think that import speed is one of the most requested features in Lightroom, and I really wish they would work on it.
Another part of the Library that I think could do with a significant improvement, is with metadata handling. I’ve blogged about this numerous times, but Lightroom could really do with better metadata tools and a better interface. I still think that it should have a whole separate metadata module. Here’s what I’ve written in the past about the metadata improvements that I’d like to see in Lightroom:
Ability to Append Metadata. In other words, a function to add metadata to existing metadata rather than overwrite it. This functionality is especially useful in caption fields for example. You could do this in Aperture, and I believe in Photo Mechanic too, and it’s a very useful feature to have. There is a plug-in that enables this functionality, but it would be great to have it in the core software.
Ability to find and replace metadata. What I mean is, the ability to search the Lightroom database for specific metadata, be it keywords, captions, titles or whatever, and replace the corresponding text across all, or a selection of images that have it. I know you can sort of do this by editing keywords at the moment, but being able to do it with other fields would be useful.
The ability to create your own view presets. While you can create your own metadata templates in Lightroom, there’s no way out of the box to edit the metadata view templates. What I’m talking about is the list of metadata fields that are displayed on the bottom right of the Library module. There is a plug-in that will let you edit this view and create your own presets, but it really should be part of Lightroom.
A Dedicated Metadata Module. I would love to see a whole module dedicated to metadata editing. I’m sure many people are saying to themselves “that’s stupid, that’s what the library module is for” but if you need to do a lot of metadata editing you probably know what I mean. The fact that many professional Lightroom users who need fast and powerful metadata editing, use photo mechanic for such a workflow highlights the fact that there is a demand for something like this. It would be good if it were in a main central area where you can enter information, rather than it being tucked down the bottom right of the screen. Something like photo mechanic built-in to Lightroom would be very useful in my opinion.
Ability to import metadata from another catalogue. I would love to have something similar to the now discontinued Aperture’s merge library function. With this, you can merge a sub-library into the main library, and it will find similar images and only import the metadata. It makes working with a subsection of your Library on a laptop easy. I would love something similar in Lightroom. All it’s doing is importing and syncing the metadata from another library, so a command to import metadata from another catalogue could work.
Wish 5: Better GPU usage / Open CL support
Lightroom added GPU support in version 6, but it’s not the best. Considering that other applications can manage to leverage the GPU to support image processing without any of the issues that Lightroom seems to have with it, I would like to see improved GPU processing in the next version.
Wish 6: New Interface
Lightroom’s interface is starting to look a little dated. Compared to many modern apps, the Lightroom UI looks a little old and clunky by comparison. It’s not awful by any means, but I think it could do with a new coat of paint. It’s virtually unchanged since the original version of the software launched.
I have seen a few re-imaginings of Lightroom’s interface over the past few years, and some are really nice. This one in particular, is my favourite. But even Adobe’s own Lightroom mobile interface looks much better than the desktop version. There was a hint a while ago that Adobe might be heading in this direction with the ill-fated attempt to replace the import dialogue box, so you never know. Just so long as they do a better job than they did with Photoshop.
Wish 7: Mac Specific Features
While parity between the Mac and Windows version of Adobe software is commendable for the most part, I would still like it if the company would support certain Mac technologies properly.
A couple of things that I’d like to see in this vein are: support for share extensions and the OS X share sheet and some way to integrate with Apple photos. The latter would be to make it easier to send your images to Photos or import images from Photos. This may seem like a pointless feature to some people, but as Photos is the main way to get images onto your iOS devices, I think this would be a welcome addition.
I know you can use Lightroom mobile as a go-between, but there are many limitations to this approach, and you still end up copying the image to the photo library on your iPhone anyway, so a direct go between on the Mac would be a useful function. It will probably never happen, but then again, most of this list probably won’t happen, so why not dream!
Wish 8: Fix long standing bugs
There are several bugs in Lightroom that have been around for quite some time and have never been fixed. Most of these are minor inconveniences rather than showstoppers, which is probably why they’ve gone unfixed all this time. Either way, I would love to see some of these addressed. Here are just a few examples that I’ve catalogued over the years:
- Import dialogue occasionally doesn’t see memory cards as devices, but they show up in the drive list.
- Import dialogue only occasionally opens when you insert a card, even if you have the feature enabled.
- The “Preview” pane in the Develop module gets stuck, and the only way to restore it is to hover over the thumbnail of the current image in the film strip.
- after you drag and drop a folder onto Lightroom, the next time you go to import images, the import dialogue reverts to your pictures folder your boot drive, rather than your most recent location.
- Files are imported in random order for certain cameras, rather than the capture time. The import is set to custom order, and you have to change it.
Wish 9: Sync between Libraries via Lightroom Mobile
I would love to see Adobe expand upon the current system for syncing between Lightroom desktop and Mobile and let you sync between multiple desktop catalogues. Using the existing Lightroom Mobile infrastructure, this would be possible, but a bit limited, because it only syncs smart previews.
The obvious solution to this would be for Lightroom to sync full res images to the cloud also, and then only use those for your desktop libraries. Obviously, this would require a significant infrastructure investment on Adobe’s part, and they’d probably have to charge more for it, but I’m guessing that they’re going to go down this road eventually anyway.
An alternative approach would be to sync smart previews via the cloud, and then if Lightroom detects that your other library is on the same network, sync full res images when needed via your LAN. I think this could make for a useful desktop/mobile workflow. One wouldn’t even need to go via the intermediate step of using the cloud, and some sort of local syncing to make a better workflow for working on multiple systems could be implemented either.
The one piece of software that seems to have really figured this out is Mylio. Its sync engine is a marvel to behold. It gives you granular control over which size images are on a particular device, and it syncs both locally and via the cloud depending on which is faster. It also makes sure that your images are in multiple locations so that you always have a backup, and it will recover the catalogue if one device loses images. If Adobe could copy this model, that would be great!
Wish 10: The Little Things
There are a lot of little things that I would love to see Adobe improve, or add. These aren’t bugs, but more features that could do with enhancements. In no particular order here are some of my suggestions: ( I’ve published some of these before)
- Add the ability to create collection sets when creating a collection. Much like the way you can create a new folder when saving a document, the ability to create a “folder” for your collections when creating new ones would be a real timesaver and is one of those things that really should have been implemented by now.
- Have the ability to add folders or drives to the Folders panel without having to import images. I’ve come across the situation several times where I want to move a folder to a new drive, but to do that properly; you need to add the destination, so it shows up in the folders panel. The only way to do this correctly seems to be to add a folder of images from that location first. Making this easier would be nice. Alternatively, the software could allow you to select a destination that’s not already in your library for moving folders. In other words, add a “move to…” option when right-clicking on a folder in the library module, and let you set any destination, adding it to your catalogue if it’s not already in it.
- A Global Publish Button. If you use Lightroom’s publish services to publish the same photos to multiple services, then you already know what a pain it is to have to go through each one and hit the publish button again and again. It would be great if there were a “publish to all” button or something along those lines. You actually can do this with a plug-in, but again, it would be great if this was part of Lightroom.
- The Ability to set Naming options on Export (as Part of an Export Preset): I would love to be able to have Lightroom ask the user to set the file naming and file sequence options at the export stage. This would work in much the same way as you currently can with the saved files location. It would make a very useful addition to the ability to make export presets.
- The ability to sync the publishing services set-up across libraries and machines. This is something they could do through Creative Cloud. It’s really annoying when you set up all your published services, and then you move to a new library, and they’re gone. It’s also a pain if you work from a laptop sometimes too and have to set up everything again. As creative cloud lets you sync preferences on some other Apps, it would be nice if they could use that service for this too.
- Better caching of Adjusted images. This one of the things that I find frustrating in Lightroom. If you make edits to an image, it doesn’t automatically regenerate a full res 1:1 preview. You have to do it manually. So, even if you’ve generated a 1:1 preview on import, once you make edits, that preview is deleted. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the standard cached preview showed all edits, but it doesn’t take things like lens fringing fixes into account. I often find myself toggling the 1:1 loupe view when browsing a folder just to get it to render the images properly. Surely it can’t be that difficult to have Lightroom render an updated preview in the background as you’re working on a picture.
That’s about it. I know some people want more fancy features like layers and so on, but I can’t really see any of that happening. Adobe most likely intends to keep the distinction between Lightroom and Photoshop, and that will probably always be the case. I’m not very optimistic about any of these features being implemented any time soon either, but with the increased competition, perhaps we will see some of these improvements going forward. And again, want to emphasise that I’m not trying to say Lightroom is bad (frustrating at times perhaps ;-) ), but I do think it now needs some core improvements and not just bolted on new features.
Originally published at blog.thomasfitzgeraldphotography.com.