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Lightroom vs Adobe Bridge: Which Is Best in 2021?

Lightroom vs Adobe Bridge: Which is best?

Which should you buy, Lightroom vs Adobe Bridge? If you haven’t used either program extensively, it can be a tough choice.

That’s where this article comes in handy; below, I give an overview of both Lightroom Classic and Adobe Bridge along with their pros and cons, then I pit them head-to-head on three key features to help you decide. 

So whether you’re a beginner looking for your first photo editing and organization tool, or you’re a more experienced photographer trying to decide on the most effective option for your needs, read on. 

Adobe Bridge: overview

Adobe Bridge files
Bridge is a file browser on steroids, which shows the contents of creative assets on your drives.

Most photographers will be familiar with Lightroom and Photoshop, but what about Adobe Bridge? Where does it fit in and how can it be of use? Let’s start by taking a look at this often-overlooked part of the Creative Suite. 

Adobe Bridge is a creative asset manager that lets you preview, organize, edit, and publish multiple creative assets quickly and easily. Note the reference to “creative assets,” here, rather than “images;” Bridge works with all sorts of files, including images, audio, and video, as well as files created in Illustrator and InDesign. 

Bridge can even be used to organize and view metadata for other types of files such as PDF and Word documents. 

Put simply, Bridge is a file browser on steroids. It shows you the contents of the folders on your computer, and helps you find assets, view metadata, and access files.

Pros

  • Excellent way to browse files
  • File structure of your computer is left unchanged
  • Easier to see metadata than Lightroom 
  • No import needed; files are already there on your drives
  • Many metadata and export features are similar to Lightroom 

Cons

  • Not an all-in-one solution 
  • No built-in editing tools 
  • Some photographers may struggle to find a use for Bridge 

Adobe Lightroom Classic: overview

Adobe Lightroom is a creative tool for image organization and manipulation; it’s been the market leader for photo editing and cataloging for well over a decade.

Lightroom files
Lightroom has been the market-leading photo editing software for over a decade.

Before Lightroom, Photoshop was the industry-standard photo editor. After the launch of Lightroom, photographers found that the new program allowed for quicker and more efficient editing. 

Lightroom has two innovative features that set it apart from Photoshop. First, it is a non-destructive editing program. Image changes are saved but are easy to roll back at any time, even after the files and the software have been closed and reopened.

Second, Lightroom has a sophisticated, in-built image cataloging system. With Lightroom, you can apply metadata, create Collections, set flags, ratings, and much more.

Lightroom file organization
The familiar Library view in Lightroom.

With an increase in demand for editing images across multiple devices and storing images in the cloud, a second program, named Adobe Lightroom CC, arrived on the scene. Featuring a more streamlined interface and stripped-back set of tools, it does have one major advantage – the ability to sync developed photos between computers, tablets, and mobile devices. 

The program many of us knew and loved was renamed Adobe Lightroom Classic, which is the version of the software that we are examining in this article. 

Pros

  • All-in-one solution for photographers
  • Excellent options for organizing files, including metadata and ratings
  • Easy-to-export files
  • Ability to batch rename and apply settings across an entire shoot, Collection, or catalog
  • Ability to import third-party Lightroom presets 

Cons

  • Images need to be imported into catalogs
  • Large catalogs slow down the software for some users
  • Steeper learning curve than Bridge 
  • Some image editing still needs to be done in Photoshop

Lightroom vs Bridge: comparison of key features 

Now that you’re familiar with the basics, which program should you pick? In the next section, we’ll take a look at some key features such as file organization, ease of use, and image editing to help you decide which option is right for you.

File handling

Both Lightroom and Bridge are excellent for general organizational tasks like adding and viewing metadata, rating files, creating Collections, and exporting images. Both programs let you look through a series of images quickly and efficiently, rate the keepers, then create a filter or a Collection based on your picks.

sorting images in Lightroom
Both Lightroom and Bridge have excellent ways to rate and sort images.

When you take a more in-depth look at both programs, the one you prefer may depend on whether you like to organize your files yourself or prefer the software to take on that task. If it’s the former, Bridge will suit you. If it’s the latter, try Lightroom. 

As stated above, Bridge is a file browser showing you images already on your computer. Lightroom is dependent on you importing photos into its catalog; until you do this, you’re more or less staring at a blank screen. 

With Lightroom, images from your source folder (typically a memory card or external drive) are copied by default to a location, where Lightroom creates a folder for that year, then creates a folder for each day that you took photos.

You can import images into your Lightroom catalogs from your hard drives, but that generally doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you move the files to another location, Lightroom won’t know where they are, and you’ll have to search for the files before you can do proper viewing and editing. 

importing files into Lightroom
Importing files into Adobe Lightroom Classic.

If you don’t like the sound of this, Adobe Bridge may suit you better. You’ll never have to import any photos, which also means that photos don’t go missing from a catalog if you move them. 

Bridge also has some nice little tricks up its sleeve, like the wonderful Reveal All Recent Files menu option. This lets you instantly find all the most recent files you’ve been working on in Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. 

Both programs are excellent for viewing files, though Lightroom does have a slight edge. The standard view of the Library module is a series of thumbnails that, like in Bridge, you can make bigger or smaller. Lightroom’s advantage is that you can double click to view a single image within Lightroom – whereas in Bridge it will open the image in Photoshop instead. 

viewing files in Adobe Bridge
The Reveal All Recent Files option in Bridge.

However, Bridge does do a better job of displaying metadata. Although both programs offer the familiar metadata panel on the right-hand side, Bridge gives you some alternatives. I particularly like the Details view in the Essentials tab – this gives you a list of images down the screen with detailed metadata in each row.

This is a welcome change from Lightroom. I must admit I am often frustrated by its metadata view, particularly the small amount of information the Loupe overlay shows. 

So who wins the file handling comparison? I’ll call it a dead heat, depending on whether you like to organize your files yourself or if you prefer the software to do it for you. And of course, how you like to view your metadata. 

Lightroom vs Adobe Bridge viewing metadata
Metadata view in Adobe Bridge.

Photo editing

At first glance, a photo-editing comparison might seem a little unfair. Lightroom is an excellent photo editor, whereas Adobe Bridge has no in-built file editing capabilities at all. But bear with me, because this is all about how you like to edit photos, and not so much about the capabilities of each program. 

Lightroom is the undisputed king of photo editing. The Develop module contains an extraordinary range of tools, including exposure and contrast, highlights and shadows, white balance, temperature, tone curve, hue/saturation/luminance controls, color grading, and lens corrections, to name just a few. There are also cropping and straightening tools, red-eye reduction, graduated filters, radial filters, and healing brushes. 

Develop module in Lightroom
Lightroom Classic has an extraordinary range of editing tools for photographers.

However, I know a few photographers who prefer to use Photoshop over Lightroom for all of their image editing. If you are the same, then the Bridge/Photoshop combination will probably appeal more. 

This combination gives you the best of both worlds – you get the file browsing capabilities of Bridge with the power of Adobe Photoshop. Opening files to edit from Bridge is a breeze. Double-clicking on an asset opens it in one of Adobe’s other software programs: JPEGs open in Photoshop, and RAW files open in Adobe Camera Raw. Project files from Audition, InDesign, and Illustrator open in their respective programs. You can even double-click to view other files, such as those created by Microsoft Office. 

If you do want to make small changes to RAW files without leaving Bridge, there’s a way to do that, too – right-click any image and choose Open in Camera Raw. This accesses Adobe’s Camera Raw plug-in without heading to Photoshop. You can even change the behavior of double clicks to do this (in your Bridge preferences). 

Open in Camera Raw Bridge
You can right-click an image to edit in Camera Raw without leaving Bridge.

That said, I have to hand Lightroom the photo-editing win for its non-destructive capabilities. You can, of course, edit photos in Photoshop in a non-destructive manner, but Lightroom makes it easy, and with so many powerful tools at your disposal, Lightroom offers over 90% of what many photographers look for in photo-editing software. 

Ease of use

As a longtime Lightroom user, I’ve seen the software go through multiple iterations, and I’m pretty comfortable with how it works and how to find things – so it’s tough for me to judge impartially.

Lightroom is based around a series of modules; you can select a module by clicking on its name across the top right of the screen. These include Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web. Almost all my time in Lightroom is spent in the Library and Develop modules (so yes, there’s a lot of functionality in the software that I just don’t use). 

Bridge is also well designed and features the familiar feel of other Adobe products in the Creative Suite. It’s fairly intuitive as a file browser, with many of its features easy to use and understand.

However, Bridge did leave me scratching my head at some of the different views across the top right of the screen. For example, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the Metadata and Keywords views, and details from both of these can also be viewed elsewhere, like in the Essentials view. 

viewing files in Adobe Bridge
There are lots of ways to view files in Adobe Bridge.

As someone who prefers to edit in Lightroom as opposed to Photoshop, the key question in my mind was not how to use the software, but what do I use it for? Yes, Bridge is a better file viewer than Finder on my Mac, but other than the improved metadata view, why would I go for Bridge over Lightroom’s excellent file organization and editing tools? 

Although I have a real appreciation for Bridge, I can’t help but think that Lightroom is more straightforwardly usable. You can organize your library, rate images, add metadata, edit images, and export them – all in one program. What could be simpler than that? 

Lightroom vs Adobe Bridge: Which should you choose?

Lightroom and Bridge have many similarities, but they are fundamentally different programs. The one that suits you best will ultimately depend on two factors: how you like to organize your files and how you like to edit them. 

I recommend you try Bridge if:

  • You like to organize your own file structure
  • You prefer to edit images in Photoshop
  • You work with a wide range of creative assets like video, illustration files, and InDesign files

And I recommend you try Lightroom if:

  • You like software to organize your files for you
  • You prefer an all-in-one solution
  • You primarily work with images

At the end of the day, both programs have excellent features for file handling and organization, with the ability to create Collections, add and view metadata, rate files, and export images.

So whether you choose Bridge or Lightroom, you’re certainly in for a treat.

Now over to you:

What do you think about these two programs? Which do you plan to use and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Bridge vs Lightroom FAQ

What is the point of Adobe Bridge?

Adobe Bridge is a creative asset manager that lets you preview, organize, edit, and publish multiple creative assets quickly and easily. Bridge may suit photographers who like to organize their own file structures and edit images in Photoshop.

Do I really need Adobe Bridge?

Adobe Bridge is a powerful asset manager that comes as part of the Adobe Creative Suite. You don’t need Bridge, but many people like to use it for browsing and organizing files.

Can I edit images in Adobe Bridge?

Adobe Bridge doesn’t contain any in-built image editing tools. Double-clicking JPEGs opens them in Photoshop; double-clicking RAW files opens Adobe Camera Raw. You can also right-click an image in Bridge to launch Camera Raw.

Can I use Lightroom without a catalog?

No, you need to create a catalog and import images for Lightroom to work.

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Matt Murray
Matt Murray

Matt Murray is a travel, portrait and stock photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Matt publishes Fujifilm X-series body reviews, lens reviews and photo galleries on his website Matt Loves Fuji. Matt also hosts an analogue photography podcast Matt Loves Cameras featuring reviews of classic film and instant cameras.

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