What we’re buying: Lightroom on a new iPhone, Google’s Pixel 2 cases

This month, we’re making the most of our devices, whether that’s by testing mobile photo-editing apps, trying out an iPad keyboard that matches its surroundings, or simply just laying down a little too much cash for a pretty-looking Pixel 2 phone case.


I’ve been using Adobe’s Lightroom on my phone for a few years now. It’s never been the most user-friendly image-editing suite for iPhone (that’d be Google’s Snapseed), but it makes up for that shortcoming with sheer power. Adobe focused on adding incredibly useful features to the mobile app, like support for both editing and capturing uncompressed RAW files and high-dynamic-range (HDR) photos.

Since I upgraded to the iPhone 8 Plus, the app has gotten even more useful. This is mainly because of the extra processing power afforded by the A11 Bionic processor. While Apple crowed at launch about how much games and AR would benefit from the chip, what won me over was that now it takes only a few seconds to export an edited RAW file at max resolution. On my old iPhone 6s, that would take anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds. In that time, I can export and upload five or six photos to Instagram on Apple’s second-newest phone. What’s more, on my old phone, using the “professional” mode brought everything to a grinding halt. Setting exposure and ISO was a chore, and a handful of adjustments were grayed out because the hardware wasn’t capable enough. Dragging the white-balance selector around was a stuttery experience too.

That isn’t the case with the 8 Plus, but I’m usually getting better results shooting in auto or HDR mode; I shoot only full manual with my Nikon, but I’m fine letting the computer take over on my phone.

More than that, even with the 8 Plus, making adjustments to ISO and shutter speed sometimes brings the app to a crawl. It’s intermittent, though, and I rarely use the pro setting, so it’s not a huge deal. Given how buggy iOS 11 has been for me, I’m willing to blame the system software and not Lightroom.

This brings us to HDR. Apple has made huge strides with the iOS camera app’s HDR setting (it’s turned on by default out of the box) and, depending on the use case, it often produces better photos than Lightroom does — especially in low-light situations. That probably has a lot to do with the new hardware’s dedicated image signal processor. Snapping a photo at a concert using Lightroom results in an unusable image full of purple grain where the shadows are, and outdoor shots at dusk typically don’t fare a whole lot better.

For instance, a photo taken of the gaping hole in my parents’ garage roof blew out all the highlights and turned everything a sickly yellow, while the default camera app looked approximately like what I saw onscreen when I hit the shutter. Daylight HDR photos usually look overprocessed and unnatural, but every now and again the shadows and highlights aren’t blown out and I get better results than with the iOS camera.

As far as actual editing goes, Lightroom is as good as it ever was, if not a little better, thanks to the device I’m using it on. Aside from the speed improvements I mentioned earlier, editing on the 8 Plus’ bigger screen is a lot more enjoyable than on my 6s. It’s also easier to see fine details and how different adjustments like sharpening or clarity affect them. Holding my phone in landscape makes editing an even more comfortable experience. Editing tools tuck into the right rail and expand when I tap on them, and disappear just as quickly.

I keep mobile photos and shots taken with my Nikon camera siloed off from one another and typically don’t edit iPhone shots anywhere but on my phone. And for that, Lightroom CC is great. It doesn’t quite allow for the more stylized edits I favor for my DSLR stuff, but for throwing a set of pictures to Instagram after an impromptu photo walk through my neighborhood, it does the trick. And if I want to get really crazy once I get back to my laptop, I can always use the Lightroom camera to grab some RAW files. Will the app’s shortcomings, like wonky HDR, stop me from using it? No, because for me it’s still better than Snapseed’s mostly gimmicky editing tools and iOS’ bare-bones options for tweaking.

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