Adobe’s announcement last year that it would offer two different Lightroom products sparked many a question and no small amount of frustration. While experienced Lightroom users can choose between the programs with not too much difficulty, people who are just beginning to use Lightroom don’t have enough experience with the software to understand how the differences will affect their workflow.

I’m writing this article with you new Lightroom users in mind, but I’m also providing info that will be helpful to those who are on prior versions of the software and haven’t decided whether to upgrade.

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase after clicking on these links, I receive compensation at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to make these free tutorials possible!

I’ll cut to the chase and say that most of you will want to use Lightroom Classic. Those of you that I talk to on a regular basis, those of you who send questions, and those of you who take my classes want to store your photos on your computer rather than the cloud AND you have terabytes of data – more space than is affordable to store at Adobe. However, I’m going to go over the details below so that you can make the choice for yourself.

(All photos courtesy of Adobe.)

Adobe’s Current Lightroom Products:

  • Lightroom CC is the new cloud-based software. You can access the software from any computer – without installing the program – by logging in to Lightroom Online. You can also install a program on your computer to use when you can’t be online. Finally, you can install Lightroom CC apps on your phone and tablet. Lightroom CC isn’t as full-featured as Lightroom Classic and the mobile apps have even fewer features. If you choose this version, all of your photos and the edits you make to them live “in the cloud.” You can choose to also store your originals on your computer; however, any edits you make won’t be applied to the photos you store locally. This product is available by subscription only.
  • Lightroom Classic is the “old-fashioned” version of Lightroom. Your photos live on your computer and any external hard drives connected to it. Lightroom Classic is the most full-featured of the Lightroom variations. This product is available by subscription only.
  • Lightroom 6 – The most unpopular announcement relating to Lightroom is that Adobe is discontinuing “perpetual licenses” of this software. This means that you can no longer buy it outright. Lightroom 6 is the legacy version of Lightroom, meaning that it doesn’t have the most recent updates and that Adobe will no longer update it. For a limited (but unspecified) time, you can still buy this product. You should know that this version might not support new cameras. If you have a new camera or plan to buy one soon, check this page to see whether Lightroom 6 will work with your camera. Look in the column that says “Minimum Lightroom Perpetual version required.” While all cameras listed are supported by the most recent version of Lightroom 6, it’s likely that cameras released later in 2018 will not work in LR6.

Lightroom Buying Options:

As if it’s not confusing enough to sort through the different products, the buying options aren’t exactly straightforward. You can purchase:

Functional Differences Between Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom 6:

The following table is a comparison of the Lightroom Classic features I use the most often, with a few other features thrown in. It’s not a complete list of the differences between Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom 6.

Feature Lightroom CC (Cloud) Lightroom Classic (Desktop) Lightroom 6 (Desktop)
Apply Keywords while importing No Yes Yes
Apply Presets while importing No Yes Yes
Rename photos No Yes Yes
Import JPG, Raw, PSD, etc. Yes Yes Yes
Store originals in cloud Yes No No
Store originals on hard drive Optional Yes Yes
Use Pick/Reject flags Yes Yes Yes
Use stars to rank Yes Yes Yes
Use color labels No Yes Yes
Sort photos Limited Yes Yes
Keyword Sets No Yes Yes
Nested Keywords No Yes Yes
Apply keywords to multiple photos at once Yes* Yes Yes
Use survey & compare views No Yes Yes
Organize photos in folders No Yes Yes
Organize photos in collections and albums Yes Yes Yes
Facial recognition keywording No Yes Yes
View metadata Some Yes Yes
Insert copyright into metadata Yes Yes Yes
Artificial intelligence search without keywords Yes No No
Search for keywords Yes Yes Yes
Filter by stars and flags Yes Yes Yes
Search by date Yes Yes Yes
Filter by metadata Some Yes Yes
Smart Collections No Yes Yes
Develop Mode/Editing
Crop & straighten Yes Yes Yes
Exposure Edits (Exposure, Contrast, Whites, Blacks, Highlights, Shadows) Yes Yes Yes
White Balance (including presets & dropper) Yes Yes Yes
Presence (Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation) Yes Yes Yes
Parametric Curve, Point Curve, RGB Curves Yes Yes Yes
Curves Targeted Adjustment Tool No Yes Yes
Hue, Saturation & Luminance Color Adjustments Yes Yes Yes
HSL Targeted Adjustment Tool Not on the desktop version, but it is in the mobile apps. Yes Yes
Split Toning Yes (make sure you’re using the current version for this feature!) Yes Yes
Sharpening, Noise Reduction Yes Yes Yes
Chromatic Aberration, Lens Correction Yes, but not as many options. Yes Yes
Upright Yes Yes Yes
Vignettes, Grain, & Dehaze Yes Yes Vignettes & Grain, but no Dehaze
Camera Calibration No Yes Yes
Install & use 3rd party presets Yes* Yes Yes
Local Edits
Local adjustment brush, gradient tool, radial filter Yes Yes Yes
Local editing options Everything except color tint Complete Complete
Range Mask No No No
Local presets No Yes Yes
Red-eye tool No Yes Yes
Spot Removal tool Yes Yes Yes
Edit in
Edit in Photoshop CC Yes Yes Yes
Edit in Photoshop Elements or 3rd party programs No Yes Yes
Export with watermark No Yes Yes
Export with new name No Yes Yes
Export to file formats Original & JPG Original, JPG, PSD, TIFF, DNG Original, JPG, PSD, TIFF, DNG
Resize on export Limited Yes Yes
Sharpen on export Limited Yes Yes
Share photos online with people who don’t have Lightroom Yes Yes No
Print to home printer No Yes Yes
Map module No Yes Yes
Slideshow No Yes Yes
FTP to website gallery No Yes Yes


*Available in desktop CC, but not in mobile apps.

If you’ve used Lightroom before, you’ll notice that many of these tools are organized differently in Lightroom CC.

How to Choose

It really comes down to this. If you are subscription adverse, have a camera that Lightroom 6 supports, and don’t plan on purchasing a new camera anytime soon, you can purchase Lightroom 6. It’s missing only a couple of features that Classic has.

The rest of us should choose between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic. And if you purchase the Creative Cloud Photography Plan, you still need to decide which program you will use most of the time: CC or Classic. These two programs do not talk to each other or synchronize – if you want to store all of your photos together, you need to choose one or the other.

Lightroom CC is best for: people with small hard drives who are comfortable storing all of their files in the cloud, and who have consistent internet access. It’s also good for people who need to edit on multiple computers or devices. Keep in mind that 1 TB isn’t much storage – I currently have 6 TBs of photos. If you decide to use LR CC, you’ll need to be ruthless about culling your images. And if you ever cancel your Lightroom subscription, you’ll need to remember to download your photos for safekeeping.

Lightroom Classic is best for: people who want their photos to live on their computer. People with terabytes of photos to store. People who want all of the editing features that Lightroom has to offer. People who want to use Photoshop Elements along with Lightroom.