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Adobe Camera Raw Vs Lightroom

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Capturing images on your DSLR or mirrorless system only gets you part of the way. To complete the image for printing or sharing on online social media, you need editing software.
You might be aware of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, but what about Adobe Camera Raw? If you haven’t heard of it, then read more below.
A man standing on a red rock shot through a cave , processed with adobe camera raw editor

What Is Lightroom?

Lightroom was the second program, after Photoshop, that Adobe created for photographers. It allows you to complete non-destructive edits on your work.
Although not as all-encompassing as Photoshop, Lightroom lets you do most, if not all image editing. For layers, masks and heavy duty editing, you’ll need Photoshop.
There is no reason why you can’t use both PS and LR together. Exporting images from one to another is not only possible but very effective and simple.

What Is Camera Raw?

Adobe Camera Raw is something you’ll only see if you shoot in raw format. If you don’t shoot in raw format, then you need to start with our article here.
Raw formats hold more information from your captured scene. This allows more editing possibilities when you come to adding exposure. Or playing around with the white balance.
When you do shoot in raw, your computer has a problem with viewing the files. You may see there are no profiles nor icons for those images.
Raw images need a conversion to JPEGs, TIFFs or other image formats. If you have Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw actually opens when you try to upload a raw file.
Lightroom lets you import and see these files immediately as it comes with Adobe Camera Raw. You images convert before they pop up in the editing interface.
Adobe Camera Raw is a small program that allows you to edit your images. From cropping to exposure, including colour management and much much more.
A screenshot of how to edit photos on adobe camera raw

Are Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom Basically the Same Thing?

For those who have experience with Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom, you could be mistaken into thinking they are basically the same thing.
They are similar, and as I said before, Lightroom includes Adobe Camera Raw in its initial import step. Adobe Camera Raw is an editing software, but there are many things you can do only with Lightroom.
Many things that Adobe Camera Raw just can’t do. Adobe Camera Raw could have been the inspiration for Lightroom, as it appeared five years before Lightroom did.
The big difference here is that Lightroom uses a database. It is able to store your images in folders, independent of any organisation on hard drives. They also have a mean keyword tag and search tool.
Adobe Camera Raw, on the other hand, is just a browser. It lets you work on one image at a time. Lightroom can carpet edit many images at the same time.
So although they allow you to edit the components that make your image, they stand well apart in the same family.

Advantages of Adobe Camera Raw Vs Lightroom

Lightroom works by using a catalog. This catalog keeps the information on every photo, it’s location, every single applied adjustment – together in one place
It also manages keywords, metadata and many other things. This is a great way to work compared to Adobe Camera Raw, unless something happens to that one file, known as an LRCAT.
If it is accidentally moved, deleted or become corrupt, goodbye edits. You’ll be left with an empty interface. Then you’ll need to start again from the beginning.
With Adobe Camera Raw, it gives you a sidecar file for each raw image you edit. To lose every single edit, you’ll need to delete every single XML file.

A screenshot of how to edit photos on adobe camera raw

Disadvantages of Adobe Camera Raw Vs  Lightroom

The reason many of us use Lightroom is a no-brainer. It points straight to the images you have imported, allows non-destructive edits and stores these edits wonderfully.
What makes this even better is that the images go through Adobe Camera Raw automatically. I don’t need to stand there and edit each image before opening them (the Photoshop process).
Lightroom creates a catalog file that includes all your images, and their edits. If you were to use Adobe Camera Raw, you would need a file for each image.
The thing I love are ‘Smart Previews’. This handily lets you make Camera Raw adjustments to images that aren’t even on your computer. This is perfect for not having to take all those external drives with you.
With Adobe Camera Raw, your edits store as XMP sidecar files. If these are deleted, your image will appear un-edited when opened.

Presets in Adobe Camera Raw Vs Lightroom

As the entire editing interface is basically the same across both platforms, technically the presets are too. An Adobe Camera Raw preset that, let’s say, adds +100 contrast should have the same effect in Lightroom.
Unfortunately, both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom store preset in very different ways.
Adobe Camera Raw stores presets as standard XMP files. Lightroom stores them in its own format. This is the LRTEMPLATE.
These presets can be tediously converted, but it is incredibly time-consuming. It involves copying every setting by hand.
And there are up to 100 different sliders and adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw.
Aerial view of a sprawling cityscape at night - Lightroom vs Camera Raw

Batch Exporting Adobe Camera Raw Vs Lightroom

Batch editing is a normal step in Lightroom’s adjustment possibilities. For Adobe Camera Raw, it is possible but only when using Adobe Photoshop or Bridge
This is perfect when you have many images from the same session that need very similar work. Otherwise, you need to edit each image separately, one-by-one in Photoshop. 
The most important area here is that the Adobe Camera Raw edits are non-destructive. The edits are saved in that separate XML file. Backing up your work is also effortless.

Backing Up

When it comes to backing up, the process is slightly different. You don’t need to back up at all, but we recommend it entirely. This not only saves your time but your frustration too.
For Adobe Camera Raw, you should back up your images twice. Once when you download them from your memory card (to two or three places) and again when you export them with the edits.
For Lightroom, you need to back up the catalog periodically. The program will remind you to ‘back up’ your edits each week. You can change this to ‘daily’ or ‘each time Lightroom exists’.
An eerie forested landscape in low light processed with adobe camera raw


Both programs are editing platforms. They allow you to make adjustments throughout each set of your image. If you are shooting in raw format, there is no solution where you don’t need Adobe Camera Raw.
You find Adobe Camera Raw either in Adobe Bridge, Lightroom or Photoshop. Therefore, one of these programs is needed to convert your images. Lightroom and Bridge offer batch processing, Photoshop doesn’t.
The real question is down to you and your editing techniques. Do you need to edit your images a little or a lot? Are you planning on using layers and masks? If so, you need to go through the slow process of Photoshop.
If not, then Lightroom is for you. Afterall, if you needed to further edit a few images, you can export them from Lightroom into Photoshop, where the former acts as a library of your images.

Looking for more tips on Raw images? Why not check out our articles on On1 Photo Raw 2019 Review and How to Open Raw Images in Gimp Using Ufraw next!

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