Which Lightroom Version Do I Need?

by Andrew S. Gibson
Which Lightroom Version Do I Need?

A few years ago buying Lightroom was easy as there was only one version to choose from. Now there are two current versions of Lightroom – Lightroom Classic and Lightroom (three if you include the no longer available to buy Lightroom 6).

Then there’s the name changes. Adobe changed the name of Lightroom CC (2015) to Lightroom Classic CC in October 2017, then to Lightroom Classic (dropping the CC) in May 2019. Lightroom CC appeared in October 2017 and was renamed to Lightroom in May 2019. No wonder people are confused!

The simple answer – with few exceptions, Lightroom Classic is the best version to buy or upgrade to. Don’t even think about migrating your Catalog to Lightroom unless you fully understand all the implications, both practical and financial.

Let’s expand on that.

Lightroom Classic (formerly Lightroom Classic CC)

Lightroom versions

Lightroom Classic is the newest desktop version of Lightroom. In October 2017 Adobe improved the speed of Lightroom, added a few new features and changed the name. Lightroom Classic is paid for on a subscription basis that currently costs $9.99 per month in the United States, and a similar amount in other countries, depending on exchange rates and local taxes. For that, you get the following:

  • Adobe Photoshop.
  • Full use of Adobe Lightroom for Mobile and other Adobe apps, such as Adobe Express.
  • Lightroom for web.
  • Adobe Portfolio.
  • The new Lightroom (formerly known as Lightroom CC – see below).
  • 20GB of cloud storage space for storing photo files.

You also need to make sure your computer meets the minimum system requirements to run Lightroom Classic. This Adobe help page lists the requirements for Windows and Mac OS computers.

Verdict: If you’re new to Lightroom then Lightroom Classic is the version you should buy (or more accurately, subscribe to). The only reason not to choose Lightroom Classic is if you use a smartphone for ALL of your photography (in which case Lightroom might suit you better).

Continual internet access not required

It’s important to note that Lightroom Classic works the same way as earlier versions such as Lightroom 6. You don’t have to be connected to the internet to use it. You save your photos and Catalog files on your own hard drives, not in the cloud. Internet access is only required to install updates, synchronize Smart Previews and for Lightroom to check you have an active subscription.

Lightroom splash screen

Lightroom (formerly Lightroom CC)

Lightroom versions

Lightroom is a completely new application introduced by Adobe in October 2017 and made available to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan subscribers alongside the renamed Lightroom Classic. It’s cloud based and, unlike all other versions of Lightroom, stores your photo files on Adobe’s servers. Storage is relatively expensive, and Lightroom is not as fully featured as Lightroom Classic.

The following point is important so please pay attention – Lightroom is aimed at photographers who use smartphone cameras. If you’re a Lightroom Classic or Lightroom 6 user, don’t migrate your Catalog to Lightroom unless you understand all the implications! There’s no need to upload your photos to Adobe’s servers unless you have a really compelling reason to do so and don’t mind paying for the storage space (which costs $10 per TB per month). You also need a good internet connection as Lightroom continually communicates with Adobe’s servers to synchronize your photos.

Limitations of Lightroom

It’s also important to understand that, compared to Lightroom Classic, Lightroom has lots of limitations. Here are a few.

  • Limited export functionality. You can save your photos as JPEGs, and you can save Raw files as DNG files, but that’s it.
  • There’s no Maps, Print, Book, Slideshow or Web module.
  • You can’t print photos from Lightroom.
  • You can’t export photos directly to apps such as Exposure or Luminar (only to Photoshop).
  • You can’t install plugins to extend its functionality.

Verdict: Try it out if you’re a Lightroom Classic subscriber – you might find a place for the new Lightroom in your workflow. But don’t sign up for one of the Lightroom CC photography plans unless you take all your photos using a smartphone camera and understand the financial implications of paying for cloud storage space.

Lightroom 6

Lightroom versions

Lightroom 6 is the last of the standalone versions of Lightroom that come with a perpetual license. Adobe no longer sells Lightroom 6 on its website so you can’t upgrade to it if you’re using an older version of Lightroom (Lightroom 4, Lightroom 5 etc.) But if you already own Lightroom 6 you can keep using it as long as you want, or at least until updates in your computer’s operating system mean that it no longer works.

Lightroom 6 is no longer supported by Adobe and doesn’t receive any major updates, including compatibility with Raw files from new cameras (but you can convert them to DNG using Adobe’s free DNG Converter). The Map module no longer works as the licensing agreement between Adobe and Google has expired. The gap between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom 6 continues to grow as Adobe adds new features to Lightroom Classic.

If you’re looking to upgrade to Lightroom 6 from an earlier version of Lightroom in order to avoid subscribing to Lightroom Classic then I have some bad news for you – you’re out of luck. Don’t buy Lightroom 6 from Ebay, it’s not an official version (Adobe doesn’t support Ebay as a reseller). The serial number may not work and, worse case, it may have malware embedded in the software.

Verdict: As the gap between Lightroom 6 and Lightroom Classic grows, more photographers will upgrade to the Creative Photography Plan. If you really don’t want to do this then your only option is to explore the alternatives, such as Luminar, ON1 Photo Raw and AlienSkin’s Exposure.

Key points

Hopefully this article clears up any confusion created by Adobe’s recent name changes to Lightroom Classic (formerly Lightroom Classic CC) and Lightroom (formerly Lightroom CC).

Bottom line – the Adobe Photography Plan, the one that gives you Lightroom Classic, Adobe Photoshop and the new Lightroom, is the only subscription plan most photographers should even consider buying or upgrading to.

Upgrading to Lightroom Classic

Don’t forget that if you’re using an older version of Lightroom and would like to upgrade to Lightroom Classic then you should read our tutorial How To Upgrade To Lightroom Classic.

You can also go straight to the Adobe Lightroom Classic page and sign up for the appropriate plan there (but please read the tutorial first so that you subscribe to the correct plan).

Introducing Lightroom Classic ebookThanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about Lightroom Classic and photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic and 47 PhotoTips cards. Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module ebook

More great Lightroom Classic tips, tricks and tutorials!


Michael Farber October 24, 2017 - 4:57 pm

Thank you Andrew! Now I know what kinds of LR are available.
I am still using my LR 5.7 and it gives me all the tools I need for successful post-processing. However, after reading your article on LRs, I became aware that my version of LR might stop working. So my question is that can I just update (instead buying the whole version) to LR 6 stand alone version from my LR 5.7? I think it should save me some money as I am not a professional photographer but just a passionate hobbyist.
Thanks again!

Andrew S. Gibson October 24, 2017 - 8:47 pm

Hi Michael, what a good question. I don’t honestly know if Lightroom 5 will stop working before Lightroom 6. But upgrading to Lightroom 6 will give you the best chance of maximum longevity from your software. Lightroom 6 has some nice tools that you’ll appreciate, like the ability to refine Graduated and Radial filters with the Adjustment Brush, and merge to HDR and panorama. And yes, you can still upgrade to Lightroom 6 now although it won’t be available forever. Adobe hasn’t given any indication as to when it will be removed from sale. Follow the link in the article to see the buying instructions. You’ll be given the choice of buying an upgrade on Adobe’s website.

Michael Farber October 25, 2017 - 3:34 pm

Hi Andrew,
I was able to update my current version of LR 5.7 to LR 6.0 from Adobe site. The price was $79.99 that is $70.00 less than buying a whole new LR 6.0.
Thank you for your recommendations.

Andrew S. Gibson October 26, 2017 - 2:09 pm

You’re welcome, happy to help.

Rick Mili October 24, 2017 - 8:15 pm

Nice succinct clarification of the differences. So what is your recommendation for those who are currently Lightroom 6 users and have no interest in getting locked into a subscription model? Should we start looking for a LR alternative? Do you have any suggestions? I understand that Luminar is considering adding some Asset Management to their product.



Andrew S. Gibson October 24, 2017 - 8:59 pm

Hi Rick, it’s a tricky question to answer. If you find a viable alternative to Lightroom now, who’s to say that it won’t evolve in a direction that you don’t like in the future? There’s no way of knowing. Some photographers have switched to PhaseOne’s CaptureOne, but the perpetual license isn’t cheap at $300 and PhaseOne is also pushing people towards a subscription model ($20 a month). MacPhun are going to add digital asset management to Luminar, whether it’s any good or not only time will tell. AlienSkin have Exposure 3, which I haven’t tested. ON1’s software has rudimentary digital asset management. You can download trials to see if you might like to use any of them.

If you’re happy with Lightroom 6 then I’d stick with it for the time being and only consider moving if you find another application that has features you want or need. Give the other applications some time to evolve so you can see which suits you best. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Adobe bring back a perpetual license for Lightroom if there’s enough demand. Or maybe a reduced subscription (say $5 a month) for Lightroom without Photoshop CC. It’s only conjecture, I have no inside information.

Hope that helps!

Rick Mili October 24, 2017 - 9:42 pm

Indeed it does help. It would appear to be sound advice.

Thank you, Andrew.

Karen October 24, 2017 - 11:41 pm

Thank you, Andrew. I discovered that you have to at least have El Capitan or later on a MAC to use Lightroom Classic CC. When I got Lightroom CC 2015, I had to buy a new computer to be able to handle it, which came with Yosemite, so I’ve been nervous about doing upgrades to a new OS X lest I find myself in the same boat again. My old computer could not handle the upgrade to the newer system….it was extremely slow for starters. You might want to mention this to people considering the upgrade to Lightroom Classic CC, although they’ll find out soon enough. I appreciate your careful explanation.

Andrew S. Gibson October 26, 2017 - 2:15 pm

Hi Karen, that’s a good idea. I’ve added the link to Adobe’s help page that sets out the minimum system requirements for Lightroom 6 and Lightroom Classic CC. How old is your computer now? If it’s fairly new it should be able to handle the OS upgrade. It’s also possible to upgrade to El Capitan rather than High Sierra. The instructions are here:


Connie Wheeler November 23, 2017 - 4:12 am

Hi Andrew,
I have LR 3.6 and my camera is an Olympus OM-D E-M5. So, unfortunately with this LR version I have to convert raw files using Adobe DNG, painful; as I upload to my PC via Olympus software first, then convert . (Also my computer system is not that new -9 years ) . I often shoot in both Raw and JPG. to avoid the process. I’m a hobbyist but would like to upgrade to LR 6. I don’t want the subscription method. I’ve read that LR 6 takes much longer to convert to DNG would I be better off getting LR5? I also use Photoshop CS2 for some editing, mainly clone and heal tool (I know I’m a dinosaur) .
Thank you

Andrew S. Gibson November 23, 2017 - 12:05 pm

Hi Connie, I never noticed any difference in speed between Lightroom 5 and Lightroom 6 when it comes to DNG conversions. If there is a difference I’m sure it’s negligible. Lightroom 6 has more features than Lightroom 5, and I would go for that. Your only problem might be that your computer is too old to run Lightroom 6 properly. You can test it by downloading Lightroom 6 and using it as a trial. Here’s a link to the download page:


You can check the minimum system requirements for Lightroom 6 here:


Connie November 23, 2017 - 12:15 pm

Hi Andrew,
many thanks for your quick reply and suggestions re download of LR 6 . I’ll give it a go.

Richard March 9, 2020 - 3:52 am

Nice article, but what I’m trying to determine is if the Classic is downloadable for both my desktop AND laptop.
I’m using the trial Lightroom with 1TB special web version package but that seems to be a watered down version of Lightroom CC, right?

So, if I go full Lightroom CLASSIC, for the $9.99 and 20GB (or 1TB) will I be able to independently download it on both desk and lap….and will I be able to sync them?

thanks so much…appreciate your time

Andrew S. Gibson March 9, 2020 - 7:59 am

Hi Richard, yes you can download Lightroom Classic for both desktop and laptop. It sounds like you’re using Lightroom rather than Lightroom Classic and yes, it doesn’t have the full feature range of Lightroom Classic at the moment. As for syncing, you have a couple of options. The first is to use one computer as your main Lightroom Classic installation and that’s the computer where you keep your Lightroom Catalog and previews files. Then you can use synced Collections to make certain photos (or all of them if you wish) available in Lightroom Classic on your other computer.

The second is to keep your Catalog and previews files on an external SSD and then simply connect it to the computer you want to use.

The best option probably depends on whether you do most of your work in Lightroom Classic on one machine and just occasionally on the second (in which case go for the first option) or whether it’s split more evenly between the two (go for the second option).

chanmax May 11, 2020 - 6:00 pm

Nice article, but what I’m trying to determine is if the Classic is downloadable for both my desktop AND laptop.

Andrew S. Gibson May 12, 2020 - 8:17 am

Yes, you can download it on both.

hamiltonian May 13, 2020 - 2:39 pm

Hi, interesting article – I’d add that those with ‘old’ computers may struggle – I have Windows 8.1 on my (otherwise perfectly adequate) laptop, and Classic does not work on that… so I’m stuck with 5.7

Andrew S. Gibson May 13, 2020 - 4:35 pm

Hi Ian, good point, the help page linked in the article has all the details.

Sylvain August 10, 2020 - 12:48 am

You made it very clear… good job! many thanks!

now what if I want to upgrade from 6.14 to Lr Classic with subscription, is the transition smooth? any risk of error or corruption of my 130k++ photos ? (I know about backup, byt that scares me…)
I just saw your other link about that, I’ll have a look…

Andrew S. Gibson August 10, 2020 - 8:49 am

Hi Sylvain, yes the transition is smooth and there’s nothing to worry about. Follow the instructions in our how to upgrade tutorial (link below) and you’ll be fine. No need to be concerned about making a backup. If you don’t have one already just duplicate your Catalog file. It’s highly unlikely anything will go wrong (I’ve never heard of it happening) but it’s good practice to have a backup just in case.


Rob August 19, 2020 - 2:58 am

Thanks Andrew,
Great and valuable informative thread !!
I’m currently running Lightroom 3.6 Version 6.1. For whatever reason i can no longer update this software.
I’ve noticed a neat little addition, “radial filter” has been an addition somewhere along the way. I’ve done heaps of research trying to find out how to add it to my toolbar – zero luck.
I’ve basically given up hope of having the filter unless i update / upgrade.
Could you shed any light (no Pun!) on how i may be able to achieve adding it to my toolbar without going to drastic measures?
Kind regards

Andrew S. Gibson August 23, 2020 - 8:34 pm

Hi Rob, Lightroom 3.6 isn’t supported any longer by Adobe which is why you can’t update it. From memory the Radial Filter was added in Lightroom 5. It’s impossible to add it to Lightroom 3.6, so don’t waste any more time or energy trying to figure out how to do it. Your only option is to upgrade to Lightroom Classic.

Michael Vaughan March 6, 2022 - 12:30 am

On my old University computer, I purchased and installed the educational version of LR3, then 4. I have since retired and no longer have access to that computer, but I still have the installation discs. I installed LR4 on my new Win11 laptop and was able to use it for 30 days but was given the option to start a subscription or upgrade. I’m pretty sure I should get Classic. Any comments?

Andrew S. Gibson March 7, 2022 - 9:24 am

Hi Michael, yes get Lightroom Classic, that’s the best option for you.

Michael Vaughan March 6, 2022 - 12:45 am

I just read the fine print on Adobe’s contract which says that I would have to connect at least once every 99 days to maintain the contract, even though I’m paying. Is that correct?

Andrew S. Gibson March 7, 2022 - 9:26 am

Hi Michael, yes it is. When you upgrade to Lightroom Classic it will install an app called Creative Cloud on your computer which manages your Adobe apps and subscriptions. It needs to check in with Adobe’s servers to check for updates and to make sure your subscription is current.

Michael Vaughan March 9, 2022 - 12:40 pm

So, what happens if I don’t use it at all for more than 99 days, but continue to pay my monthly “rent”?

Rhonda Pearce August 22, 2022 - 6:21 pm

Hi. I bought LR6 prob 2 years ago. Can I load that on my computer and still have LR 5 until I know 6 is working ok ?
Also I having upgrade my IOS recently because I’m scared to lose Lightroom. What do you think about that.
I live in the Bahamas and from what I understand LR Classic it’s not available to us. What do you know about that.

Andrew S. Gibson August 26, 2022 - 9:24 am

Hi Rhonda, yes you can install Lightroom 6 on your computer and still use Lightroom 5. Lightroom Classic isn’t available in the Bahamas, so you can’t upgrade any further than Lightroom 6. You don’t say whether you use a Mac or PC but you need to be careful with operating system updates as Lightroom 5/6 might stop working.

Leora October 5, 2023 - 2:12 pm

Hi! I just upgraded my MAC. If I am luck enough to have LR6 on my computer and it is working, is there a reason to upgrade? I am a personal photographer and mostly use lightroom for organization.

Andrew S. Gibson October 6, 2023 - 9:15 am

Hi Leora, if Lightroom 6 is working then you don’t have to upgrade, unless you want to take advantage of all of Lightroom Classic’s new features, like AI masking, which will help you get much more from your photos.


Leave a Comment