Choosing Lightroom Over iCloud Photo Library in iOS 10

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Lightroom and iCloud Photo Library

Yesterday was the first time I finally felt confident enough in Lightroom to turn off iCloud Photo Library. I had been jumping between the two services for a while, using Lightroom as my main photo library, but still keeping a few backups in iCloud.

I still love how iCloud Photo Library syncs so beautifully in the background. I liked the ability to just open up my iPad and have all the shots from my iPhone already there, as if by magic. But the major caveat to iCloud Photo Library is that it just doesn’t do a very good job of optimizing a photo library for easy, consistent access.

I spent about 1.5 months with the “Optimize Storage” feature activated, and I couldn’t see any discernable pattern to how the service would store photos locally. I was hoping to keep the last 2-3 weeks of photos in full resolution, but there would occasionally be pictures within that timeframe that required a download.

In contrast, I like the straightforward nature of Lightroom’s mobile syncing. It doesn’t sync in the background, so I know I have to keep it open in Split View while it finishes uploading or downloading. I’ve set it up on my iPhone to only load smaller 400 kb Smart Previews of my pictures, so that even though it can’t download in the background, I can still quickly download all of my recent shots after opening the app up.

Lightroom really shows me exactly what I don’t like about iCloud Photo Library: an overall lack of control. Yes, it does sync properly, and that’s a really big deal. But the fine-grain controls for photos just aren’t very good:

  1. There’s no way to quickly edit a few photos: I always have to press Edit, make changes, and then press Done, and then swipe to the next photo. This solution just sucks, and it’s the iOS equivalent of keeping the “Save” button around, which is something that Apple has gotten rid of, even on OS X.
  2. There’s no way to sync just a particular set of photos to the iPad. You either deal with a cryptic “Optimize Storage” that doesn’t tell you which pictures it has actually downloaded, or you tell iCloud Photo Library to download everything. These solutions are too extreme for me, and I think a healthy middle ground, like the ability to download up to X gigabytes of photos, would be much better. I’d also love to selectively sync a specific album or set of photos, like how you can download a specific playlist or album in Apple Music.
  3. This change could hit the iPad in the next iOS update, but I’m disappointed that there aren’t more photo viewing options on the iPad Pro. Once again, it’s either tiny thumbnails, or gigantic full-screen pictures. It would be great to be able to zoom in and see larger thumbnails on the 12.9-inch screen.
  4. Photos on iOS 10 doesn’t have any keyboard shortcuts. At all. This is just silly. We should at least be able to start searches, fave a photo, and use the arrow keys to move between photos.

The new machine learning features for tagging faces, objects, and places is amazing, but ultimately isn’t as useful to me as being able to quickly edit photos, and manage my storage in a way that keeps relevant photos accessible. Until iCloud Photo Library can offer this, I’ll continue to stay a full-time Lightroom user.


My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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