Adobe expands Lightroom, its professional photo editing software, beyond the desktop, with the launch of an iPad app. Dubbed Lightroom mobile, the companion app brings a streamlined set of image editing tools to Apple's tablets and automatically syncs image adjustments between your iPad and desktop computer. The app is free, but to take advantage of its features you’ll need a subscription to one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud options.
I’ve been using a final version of Lightroom mobile for about a week now, editing images shot with everything from an iPhone to a Nikon D800E. The app lets you perform the same Basic Panel adjustments found in the desktop version of Lightroom. Tools like white balance, exposure, contrast, highlight, and shadow control are all available via a slider interface. You can rotate images and crop them, choosing from pre-defined aspect ratios. In addition, a collection of 47 filters and effects presets are offered, ranging from BW toning to film grain simulation, sharpening, and vignetting. All image edits are non-destructive, with changes saved automatically, as you make them.
The app’s interface is uncluttered and fairly straightforward. The home screen displays all of your available image collections (more on how those are created in a moment). With a collection selected, a tile view displays a thumbnail of each image, which you tap to edit. The UI accommodates both portrait and landscape orientation, with the editing tools always displayed in a scrollable row below the image. The app makes use of touch gestures, with a two-finger tap cycling through info views, including a live histogram display. A three-finger tap and hold toggles before and after views.
You can reset any individual editing parameter to its default with a double-tap. There is also a global rest button that lets you revert the image to its original state. Undo and redo buttons allow you to move step-wise backwards or forwards through your edit adjustments.
null Instead of uploading huge full resolution raw file images, however, Adobe generates a smart preview for each image. This lower resolution file takes up only a fraction of the space of the original, but, at 2560 pixels wide, is detailed enough for basic image editing on your iPad. It is this smart preview that the Lightroom mobile app accesses from the cloud when you choose to edit an image. Any changes you make in the app automatically sync back to the cloud. In addition, those changes are automatically incorporated back into the full resolution raw file, jpeg or tiff in your desktop version of Lightroom.
Those of you who take photos with your tablet (you know who you are), can import photos from the Camera Roll into the mobile app as well. The app includes a bare-bones slideshow feature, geared more towards showing your portfolio to a potential client, rather than a family vacation multimedia presentation. Image collections can also be viewed in a web browser, so that you can share your work with others by pointing them to an Adobe-hosted url associated with your account.
For any of this syncing to work, you must be signed in to Adobe’s Creative Cloud services (hence the subscription requirement) on both the mobile and desktop versions of Lightroom. The mobile app does provide an offline mode, which will download and store images locally on your iPad so that you can work on them later even without Internet access. You can manually delete these local files later, to free up storage space on your iPad. You can share finished images directly to your social media accounts.
In terms of organizational tools, Lightroom mobile is extremely limited, far behind third party apps like Photosmith. You can flag images as picks or rejects. And you can create new collections. But that’s it. This is by design, according to Adobe’s digital imaging product manager, Sharad Mangalick. Noting Adobe’s recent history of releasing new Lightroom versions as public betas, he stresses that the goal with the mobile app is to prioritize the features that photographers will actually use. “We know what we think should go in the app,” he says, “but we want to hear from our users what they want to see.” He says we can expect additional features in upcoming versions.
The obvious question, of course is, Where’s the iPhone app? The ability to shoot, edit, share and sync photos to your Lightroom catalog would make Lightroom mobile an even more attractive option for photographers who shoot both with DSLRs and their iPhone. Mangalick tells me that an iPhone app is in the works and will be available later this year. An Android version is, “on the roadmap,” according to Adobe but with no official timeframe for a release.
Lightroom mobile is available immediately from the App Store. It is compatible with the iPad mini and iPad Air, and the iPad 2 or later. Your device must be running iOS 7 and you must have Lightroom 5.4 (also available immediately) installed on your computer. The app is available to subscribers of the Creative Cloud complete plan for individuals or teams, the Photoshop Photography Program, and the student and teacher edition. Users without a Creative Cloud subscription can try out Lightroom mobile with a 30-day free trial. Additional information and instructional videos are available on Adobe’s site.