Adobe recently announced that moving forward, Lightroom will only be available on a subscription basis, and that support for the perpetual license version is at an end. While this isn’t a great surprise to the photo community (all of Adobe’s other software is already subscription only), it still leaves a bad taste for those who are uncomfortable with or opposed to subscription software.
Its inevitable that many photographers will be wondering what other options exist and what tradeoffs are involved in staying with Adobe vs migrating to a competitor.
Do you need PhotoShop?
I don’t use PhotoShop as much as I used to. I do my primary editing in Lightroom these days and switch to PhotoShop only when an image requires something more complex. Having said that, when the difference between a “money” shot and a snapshot is a tourist in Bermuda shorts, I reach for PhotoShop every time.
The table below is a brief comparison of the key features and capabilities of Lightroom vs PhotoShop.
|Photo Management / browsing / archiving
|Native RAW editing
|Create graphics from scratch
|Compositing / Image Manipulation
|Low to Moderate
|$699 (Extended: $999)
Many photographers are intimidated by PhotoShop’s complexity and non-intuitive interface, and use it rarely if ever. If you are one of those photographers that don’t use PhotoShop, there are many options available to you for RAW archiving and editing software, and one of those may provide what you need without requiring a subscription. A list of many of those options is available here.
However, if you require an image editor that goes beyond Lightroom’s capabilities, PhotoShop is the gold standard, and the competition simply can’t match PhotoShop for the depth, quality, and professionalism of its toolset. If PhotoShop is part of your photo workflow, then sooner of later, Creative Cloud is in your future. Adobe offers both Lightroom and PhotoShop for $10 per month.
What happens to my existing Lightroom edits?
My biggest concern about migrating away from Lightroom is my existing portfolio of images. I have edited thousands of photos in Lightroom over the last 7 years, and losing my edits isn’t a viable option for me. In Lightroom, edits are stored in the catalog, and while transferring the raw images from one application to another is straightforward, converting Lightroom’s catalog of edits to a new format is not.
Capture One can import Lightroom catalogs and many Lightroom edits will be preserved – but not cropping, rotation, spot removal and other selected operations. Furthermore because different algorithms are being used to recreate the edits, there is no guarantee of integrity – images with the same edits applied may not look the same as they did before.
ON1 takes a different approach. Their idea is to make copies of any images that have been modified in Lightroom and save the copies as separate TIFF, JPG, or PSD files. If your workflow involves applying presets during the photo import process, all of your images could potentially be subject to being copied. I worry about file proliferation and the substantial increase in disk space required to house all those non-raw copies.
DXO doesn’t support Fuji X-Trans cameras like the X100f and XT-2, and would be a poor choice for a Fuji shooter.
If you want to preserve your legacy work, staying with Lightroom is your best option.
Many photographers expect software that they purchase to be supported by the manufacturers forever. The reality is that a piece of software typically has a 3-5 year life expectancy before it is no longer supported. Once software is out of support, it is inevitable that external changes such as new cameras, new versions of operating system, and new technologies render it obsolete.
Examples: I purchased PhotoShop CS5 in 2011 and never felt the need to upgrade – even after support was dropped by Adobe. There was no problem until 2016 when the new OSX Sierra operating system upgrade proved to be incompatible with PhotoShop CS5. My Lightroom upgrades tend to be more frequent as I upgrade primarily to get support for new cameras – I purchased Lightroom in 2011 and in 2015.
The reality (for me at least) is that PhotoShop requires upgrading every 5 years and Lightroom every 3 years. All of the other software vendors have a similar product support horizon.
Forever support is a myth – unless you are on a subscription – where it becomes a reality.
I don’t like the fact that I have to keep paying or my software becomes useless – potentially jeopardizing access to my images.
This would be extremely nasty if it were true. In reality, if you terminate your Creative Cloud subscription, only the Develop and Map modules of Lightroom are disabled. You can continue to import and export images and use all the browsing and archiving functionality of Lightroom. As a minimum, that gives you plenty of time to migrate your collection to another image editor if you tire of the subscription model.
Reoccurring Costs of Subscription Software
In 2011, PhotoShop costed $699 and PhotoShop Extended cost $999. Versions of Lightroom between 2011 and 2016 averaged $149 each. Between 2011 and 2016, I purchased PhotoShop once and Lightroom twice. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume the less expensive standard PhotoShop version.
The following graph shows my total cost of ownership of both PhotoShop and Lightroom (perpetual license model) over 5 years compared to an ongoing Creative Cloud Photography subscription at a cost of $10 per month.
|Total Cost of Ownership over 5 Years: Perpetual License vs Subscription
The graph clearly shows that my total cost of ownership for Adobe perpetual license software over 5 years was significantly higher than if I had been paying monthly $10 subscription fees during that same time period.
Cloud Storage – the Elephant in the Room
Adobe’s CC backs up your images to the cloud when they are imported or edited, and some photographers will no doubt have privacy concerns about this policy. Many organizations also have IT and data security policies that explicitly forbid cloud storage of proprietary data. If you are one of these photographers, the Adobe cloud may not be for you.
In addition to privacy and security concerns, there is also an operating cost consideration. The financial argument for CC in the section above is based on the basic subscription that includes 20GB of cloud storage. Unfortunately, for owners of high resolution cameras or for enthusiastic photographers, 20GB simply isn’t enough storage. Adobe will happily sell you additional cloud storage in blocks of 1TB at a monthly cost of $10 per block.
If you require one or two additional terabytes, the cost advantage of CC rapidly deteriorates.
|Total Cost of Ownership over 5 Years with Additional Cloud Storage
Is there any way to mitigate escalating cloud storage costs? Yes and no. Lightroom Classic CC does not store images in the cloud and instead uses your local drives. This negates the additional costs of cloud storage but also negates having an automatic offsite backup. It also prevents you from synching images for editing across multiple devices.
Please note that there is no PhotoShop CC “Classic”, so all of your PhotoShop edits will automatically count towards your cloud quota unless cloud sync is explicitly disabled for PhotoShop CC.
I think a strong case can be made for upgrading to Creative Cloud Photography. Creative Cloud offers access to PhotoShop and preserves your portfolio of image modifications. It provides forever support, and options should you decide to terminate your subscription. It can also be less expensive if you can stick with the basic 20GB subscription.
Like you, I was annoyed when Adobe dropped support for perpetual licenses – but they still deliver solid software at competitive prices to serious photographers. Should I stay or should I go? I think I’ll stay…for now.