Adobe is today introducing Lightroom mobile, an iPad version of its powerful desktop photo editing and organizing app. Lightroom mobile can be used on its own, but it's really built to be a portable extension of Lightroom 5: it automatically syncs collections of photos back and forth between the two apps, letting Creative Cloud subscribers make edits on the go and always have the latest version of their photos with them.
Lightroom's basic editing tools all make the jump to mobile
You'll be able to get a lot of editing done in Lightroom mobile, but ultimately, you'll want to head back to the desktop to finish up. The mobile version includes most of the desktop's primary editing tools, including the sliders within its Basic pane — which allow you to adjust exposure, color temperature, highlights, shadows, saturation, and more — as well as the crop tool and Adobe's built-in tone presets. You can also pull up a histogram with a two-finger tap and view a photo's original version with a three-finger tap.
Lightroom mobile's editing tools are all just as capable on the iPad as they are on the desktop, but that also makes it clear just how much the app doesn't include. You can't directly tweak the tone curve, or modify individual colors' attributes, or use custom presets — so don't plan on applying VSCO Film on the go or swiping on a blue sky to make it even bluer. Some of the more detailed tools could be added at a later date, but Adobe tells us there will probably never be feature parity between mobile and the desktop apps because its aim is to tailor features specifically to each platform.
Lightroom mobile's editing capabilities are still powerful though, with much credit going to its use of Adobe's smart previews, which turn giant RAW files into tiny compressed ones that still retain much of the extra data that makes them so open to being manipulated. It also makes the files small enough that performing complex edits on them happens fairly quickly: even on the original iPad mini, the app displays edits almost immediately. Edits don't stay on the smart previews though — if you're working with a RAW file on the desktop, changes will all be losslessly transferred to it when you're done on the iPad. And all of your Lightroom mobile photos will sync to and be stored on the web too, where you can share them with others.
The app is a great counterpart to Lightroom 5, even if it may not have all of the features that you regularly use when editing photos. An iPhone version is in the works for later this year, and an Android version is planned for some time down the road too. While Lightroom mobile is free to download, there's a big catch as to who can use it: you have to be a Creative Cloud member — subscribing to its $9.99 per month photo package at the least. Even those who have purchased Lightroom 5 in full but don't subscribe still won't be able to use it. That's certain to be a big disappointment for some, but for Adobe's many subscribers, it's sure to be a helpful and enjoyable new way to work on photos.