Fastidious photographers always travel RAW. The pictures are simply better. But editing RAW image files on the move has not been easy unless you are prepared to lumber yourself with a portable computer. Now Adobe just changed all that with a worthwhile update to the mobile version of Lightroom.
The new Lightroom Mobile app is configured differently for Android and iGadgets.
On an Android phone LRM is restricted to Adobe’s own DNG (digital negative) format, but that still makes the upgrade worthwhile, particularly as it doesn’t cost anything.
The in-app camera in Lightroom captures images in DNG with either automatic or manual control. In other words your Android phone can now take photos like a DSLR. You are no longer a JPEG hostage. The images can be edited in Lightroom with its complete array of functions – crop, straighten, exposure, contrast, saturation, black and white conversion, detail clarity, colour temperature and so on – and directly saved to Google Photos or shared to social media servers.
There is a Widget for the Lightroom camera that opens the camera directly from the Android desktop with the last used settings, auto or manual, RAW or JPEG.
The new Lightroom Mobile for iPhone and iPad is different from the Android version. It will handle RAW files from any camera currently supported in Adobe Camera RAW. There is one caveat, for it to work you need to be an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber. Once you have that in place you can confidently travel with no greater encumbrance than an iPad and an SD card reader to Lightning adapter.
For testing purposes we imported Olympus RAW files (ORF) into the iPad and opened them for editing in Lightroom Mobile. The Local Adjust function is a nice touch allowing for the selection of an area on the image to which tonal and colour editing adjustments can be applied. The area for adjustment can be defined either linearly or radially. Linear selects a straight section across the image that can be enlarged or reduced as a section defined by parallel lines. Radial selection creates a circle/ellipse around a centre point. There is a control point at the apex of the selection outline that controls the degree of feathering.
Androiders are not so fortunate. To edit a RAW image from a camera on an Android phone it must be converted into the DNG format and copied to the Lightroom image folder on the smartphone. That’s too cumbersome to be an option for the tourist travelling light. Furthermore we could not find any way of transferring photos from a camera to the Nexus using an SD card reader, as can be done with an iGadget.
Adobe CC subscribers can sync images edited on portable devices with Lightroom on a desktop computer.
Lightroom Mobile is not as fully featured as either Apple Photos editor or Google’s Snapseed so if you have no interest in RAW file editing then the attractions of the Adobe app are not so obvious. And we have compared JPEGs and RAWs from the Google Nexus 5X and the differences are not pronounced. We expected the in-camera JPEG compression to produce obvious noise reduction detail blurring but we couldn’t see it, even at 300 percent enlargement on a high definition computer monitor.
So LR Mobile is most useful on the iGadgets where it can open and edit RAW files from a camera. On the other hand there is no Lightroom camera with RAW capture for the iPhone as there is for Android.
The Manual Camera app (for Android devices from the Google Playstore) will capture JPEG and RAW simultaneously and has, as the name suggests, manual controls for exposure compensation, white balance and ISO. The RAW files are saved as DNGs and can be edited in Lightroom Mobile and the advantage of this app is that you can choose to edit the DNG if you’re feeling fussy or the JPEG if you’re in a hurry.
The upcoming iOS10 for iPhones 6 and later promises to open up the camera module to third party app developers to create camera apps that can record DNG and JPEG simultaneously. Adobe will probably be quick to take advantage of the new operating system to provide a Lightroom camera for iPhones.