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Lightroom Faster | New Update Makes A Known Speed Hack Unnecessary

By Kishore Sawh on September 22nd 2016

If you threw a rock in a room of 10 Lightroom users you’re bound to hit 8 or 9 who had a performance complaint. Out of that grouping you wouldn’t have to be a betting man to think all of them would lament its speed, no matter how great their overall affection may be for the program. So naturally, there are work arounds.

Of course the very nature of ‘work arounds’ suggests it has its shortcomings and hurdles, otherwise it would just be ‘the way’. One of the ways many savvy Lightroom users have managed to get Lightroom to perform a bit better is to build Smart Previews upon import of their images, but keep the original files ‘out’ of Lightroom. You could do this by changing parent folder names, or most commonly (because changing names gets messy, real quick), keeping the original files on an external drive whilst leaving the Smart Previews where Lightroom can find them.


This accomplishes two things at once; allowing users to keep bulky image files and folders off their working computer thus freeing up space, and in that scenario, Lightroom defaults into letting you work on Smart Previews, exclusively. So a user would be able to work on Smart Previews like they would any image in LR, and when the original files were attached again the changes would sync, much in the same way LR Mobile works. The speed increase can be immense, and users regularly report a 50% decrease in load times. Great. But not perfect, and this still requires building smart previews which can take a while.

These methods have their merits, except one requires an external drive and the other can get disorganized quite easily. What would be ideal is to be able to keep the originals and the Smart Previews in the same place, not worry about moving around or renaming, and having Lightroom just work on the Smart Previews anyway. This is what they said they’ve attempted and achieved with the most recent Lightroom update (CC 2015.7 & Lightroom 6.7).


To enable this feature couldn’t be simpler, as all you need to do is go to Lightroom>Preferences then the Performance Tab, and click the box at the bottom that says “Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for editing.’ Done.



So by the sounds of it it’s all just too good for words, so I went ahead and tested this on 2 different computers (One comp has a 7200rpm HDD, and the other an SSD) running the Lightroom’s last version and then the latest Lightroom CC. In theory it makes total sense that there should be a massive speed increase, but in practice, for me, it was rather hit or miss.

[REWIND: Highlights vs. Whites | What’s The Difference & When To Use Which?]

Using varying files anywhere from 25MB to 50MB in size (15GB image folder), and testing Smart Previews alone, versus the new method where LR chooses Smart Previews even in the presence of Originals, I still found the method where the Originals were ‘offline’ to be quickest. However, it was significantly faster than just using the originals, and that, to me, makes having this little box ticked autotelic.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ryan Longnecker

    so good. brb going to entirely reshape my lr catalog now

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  2. Mark Romine

    Hope beyond hope that this will be the answer to my speed problems. I have a tricked out iMac 5K that has been a LR dog ever since I installed LR 6 Stand alone on it. My speed issues have not been so much with load times but with the spinning beach ball while making adjustments. This is worse than slow load times. At least with load times you can do something else to be productive.

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    • Dessa Bailey

      Mark Romine are your pictures actually on your Mac or are they on a separate hard drive? My suggestion is to get a separate hard drive and move everything you don’t need on it, and if you don’t have ssd drives on it, you need them. Then make sure all your pictures are not on your machine, they need to be on the separate hard drive, this should also be an ssd. I hope this helps:-)

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    • Mark Romine

      Hi Dessa, all my images ARE stored on a separate drive from the boot drive. My boot drive is an SSD.

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  3. Mark C

    Hmm interesting that the old method is still faster. One thing that confuses me still is when, if you import your RAWs to 2 locations at once, when you delete a smart preview, does it keep the original RAW in the second location (ie doesn’t delete it from both locations)? I assume so, but that’s annoying…

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  4. Curtis Mason

    Any idea if you’re able to delete the original file as you’re culling through the smart previews?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Curtis. With the new option turned on, where you’re culling through smart previews WITH Originals present, you can. if the Originals are not present you can remove the photo form LR but not delete it.

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  5. Marlon Richardson

    Adobe was listening built-in smart previews

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  6. Lee Hawkins

    Kishore, are there any trade offs (except for time and effort) for using smart previews vs. originals?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Lee, and yes there are. For one, building smart previews can take a while, depending on the volume and size of images, and power of your computer. It’s taxing. However, in addition to that, Smart Previews are limited in resolution and functionality – it’s a much, MUCH, smaller file.

      This means that you won’t have the same level of detail, can’t zoom in the same, and in terms of raw processing you won’t be able to ‘see’ quite as much, even though once the original is connected you will. I’ve always advocated smart previews if you’re doing bulk, global adjustments. If you have a preset system you use religiously but don’t get into fine details, it’s fine. So it’s well suited for wedding shooters and the like, who do more global adjustments than fine local ones.

      The other thing that irritates me about smart previews is you are limited to only working with that file within Lightroom. I am not typically a wedding shooter, and because I do a lot of rather deep retouching I’m constantly going from Lightroom to ‘Edit In’ Photoshop. This function is is not available when using smart previews, which for me, is a deal breaker. I think you’re not the only one with this question, so I may just write a post about it. Cheers Lee

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    • Jean-Francois Perreault

      I’m not so sure about the zoom.
      In the “old” method, where the original wasn’t there, then yes the zoom function was a problem because you only had the smart preview to zoom into. You couldn’t zoom much.

      With this new option, where the original file is still active, the zoom works as usual. At least that’s what I noticed. Before, when zooming in, the zoom was kept at a minimum. It wasn’t a 100% zoom. With the new version, if my original file is there, the zoom seems to fully work.
      I may be wrong but that’s what I’m noticing.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      You’re right in a sense Jean-Francois. You’re able to zoom quite fully, but due to the low resolution the benefit to zooming far in is minimal, if effective at all. That’s all I was referring to. Cheers

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    • Jean-Francois Perreault

      What I meant is that if the original file is there, online, then the zoom will use the original file (or the 1:1 preview if built), not the smart preview.

      [again, I’m not 100% sure…]

      [UPDATE] I have just read this on Laura Shoe’s website:
      “Because of these issues, if you zoom in to 1:1 to work on your photo while the preference is turned on, Lightroom will automatically switch over to working with the original file if it is available”.

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  7. Marshall Christensen

    Many thanks, I am one of those in the room hit by the rock you mentioned. I did not know of this feature offered in the most recent update, I am going to enable it right now and try it out
    Thanks again!

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