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Lightroom 6 arrives with performance improvements and new tools

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Adobe’s latest version of the photo editor is no revolution

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Photographers and photo editors are about to hear some long-awaited news: Lightroom 6 is now available. It's available as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription — where it's called "Lightroom CC" — and as standalone software. But the excitement should be tempered, because the new version is really more of an update than a revolution.

It's been almost two years since Lightroom 5 was released, which at the time was a major update to the photo editing program's look and performance. The biggest change in this version of Lightroom is speed. Lightroom 6's performance is based heavily on your computer's GPU and processing power, but Adobe is promising speed increases on most modern machines. Even if you're using a MacBook Pro from four years ago, you'll still see an improvement in the overall performance and the speed of individual tools.

Lightroom 6 specs

The biggest improvements are found in the rendering speed of the "exposure" and "distort" tools — changes made with these appeared much faster in the preview build of Lightroom 6 I used. Importing a large batch of images into your Lightroom catalog is also faster, but it still takes long enough that you might want to use the time to walk away from your computer or check Twitter.

The new Lightroom is faster, but it still crawls here and there

Rendering RAW images still takes some time, though. Lightroom spends a full second or more before you see a fully rendered version of the image you want to edit, so you're still going to want to use another program if you want to quickly inspect the full quality of your images.

Adobe has added a few new features, the most notable ones being "HDR merge" and "panorama merge." While HDR and panorama tools aren't revolutionary, these particular ones generate rich DNG files that can be edited without worrying much about quality loss (as opposed to working like a JPEG, which can degrade quickly).

Other features announced today are the addition of facial recognition and finer control over the graduated filter tool. There's also DNG editing support on some devices running Android Lollipop — but only on DNG images taken by phones with that capability. Right now only a few phones can do that, like the OnePlus One and the Nexus 5 or 6.

One other major thing Adobe has done with Lightroom 6 is made library syncing work across all your devices. Smart folders can be created on any device — your laptop, your phone, or your tablet — and they will instantly appear everywhere else. Say you've edited a file on your laptop but forgot to upload it to Dropbox or email it to a client — by the time you walk out the door, you should be able to access that edited file on your phone, where you can flag and review it or share it anywhere you want.

With this announcement, Adobe is further stressing the value of its Creative Cloud subscription plan. While you can purchase a stand-alone version of Lightroom 6 for $149, you won't have access to any of the file-syncing features, and you'd have to buy separate licenses for Adobe's other software. A monthly subscription to Creative Cloud, however, gives you access to brand new desktop, mobile, and web versions of Lightroom CC (a nomenclature that Adobe introduced with the most recent version of Photoshop), file-syncing, and other programs like Photoshop.

Lightroom CC and Lightroom 6 are available from Adobe starting today.

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