Right in time for Android 14, Adobe has added support for Ultra HDR image editing in Lightroom mobile for Android. Google’s newest OS supports the new image format, and it stands to make a big change for the better in how our smartphone photos look. Being able to make edits in Lightroom will let discerning smartphone photographers have plenty of control over the final product — but it’ll be a while before most people can actually see the finished product on their own devices. Viewing an HDR image requires the right display and software that supports the format, which most people don’t have at the moment.
Importantly, Ultra HDR isn’t the bad kind of HDR we’re all tired of. It uses a wider range of light and dark tones to express an image — closer to what we see with our own eyes — and on an HDR display, that comes across as brighter whites rather than the flat grey tones that we often associate with “HDR” photography. Ultra HDR is how Android phones will record and read HDR photos, and the files are standard JPEGs, so they’re backward-compatible with SDR, or standard dynamic range displays. (If you’re looking for a more thorough explanation, Mishaal Rahman at Android Police has a great write-up.)
The new HDR support comes via version 9.0.0 of Adobe Lightroom mobile for Android, and right now, it works with the Pixel 7, 7 Pro, and 7A running Android 14. After toggling on an option to import HDR photos in settings, you’ll see a new HDR icon in the upper right corner when you bring one of those images in to edit — tapping it shows you a histogram with the extra HDR highlights visible. If you’re viewing it on a device that isn’t supported, as is the case with my Pixel 8 review unit right now — this portion of the histogram will appear in red.
If you can access HDR editing, you’ll be able to make adjustments as usual and also toggle on a preview for SDR displays. That’s important because once that photo leaves your phone, it will most likely be viewed as an SDR image. You need an HDR display, which recent flagships like the Pixel 8 and iPhone 15 series offer, but the app you’re using to view the image also needs to support HDR images. Apps like Instagram strip an image’s metadata when you post them, so all you see is an SDR image. It’s a real headache. For now, Adobe recommends exporting images as AVIF files, which Google Chrome supports. But until there’s much wider support for HDR image viewing, the best experience is probably going to be right on your own phone.