Is an upgrade to Photoshop CC worth it?


It’s been three hotly contested years since Adobe launched Photoshop CC, the subscription version of Photoshop.  There were a lot of confused, concerned, and angry photographers when Creative Cloud was first announced.  The switch from owning to renting the software created numerous questions.  Would it ultimately cost more than the previous standalone upgrades?  Where the new features in CC meaningful enough to buy?

The answer to the cost question was “no” for many photographers, including me, at least initially.  Then I got on board when Adobe dramatically reduced the cost and threw in Lightroom and other goodies into the Creative Cloud Photography Program for only $9.99 a month.  In other words, that’s 25 years worth of Photoshop and Lightroom subscriptions for the price of one Nikon D800 body.  Which is not to say that $120 a year is trivial, but that it is probably a worthwhile investment if the new features are relevant to your work.

It’s been over three years since CC was originally launched.  The differences from CS6 have continued to grow with the 2014, 2015, and last week’s 2015.5 upgrades.  So I thought I’d ask, “Is now the right time to upgrade from CS6 to CC?”  I believe the answer still depends on your personal needs and budget, and I put together the following lists to summarize the benefits you might get from upgrading.  Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all CC enhancements, just the ones relevant to photographers.


Photoshop CC offers the following enhancements (vs Photoshop CS6):

  • Support for new cameras (launched after July 2015).   As of July 2015, Photoshop CS6 will no longer be updated to support RAW files from new cameras. You can work around this by using Adobe’s free DNG Converter or a 3rd party RAW converter.  If you don’t want to use one of the options from Adobe, I would recommend taking a look at Capture One.  At $299, you won’t save money for a long time with Capture One, but it offers an extremely good RAW conversion.  Or you could pick up DXO Optics Pro for $99.
  • Camera RAW filter lets you keep adjusting RAW images when opened as smart objects in Photoshop.  You can additionally use this tool to make familiar Lightroom/ACR adjustments to any pixel layer (such as to add clarity).
  • Better support for extension panels (“plug ins”) As a software developer, I can attest that the latest versions of Photoshop offer the ability to create much more beautiful and powerful extensions for Photoshop.  As a small example of this, my own Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop has an enhanced user interface when running on CC, and offers a few enhanced functions that aren’t possible on CS6.  And there are many other extension panels out there from other developers that require CC or later.
  • Face-Aware Liquify to easily retouch the size and shape of various parts of people’s faces.  This is truly an incredible tool if you shoot portraits.
  • Perspective Warp to fix distortions.  This tools is also incredibly useful for landscapes to increase or decrease emphasis on something by making it bigger or smaller within the image.  For example, you could make a distant mountain look larger.
  • Content-Aware everything…
  • Path Blur added to the Blur Gallery.  This is an incredible tool for adding motion and energy to an image.  I use it frequently to simulate a long exposure effect in my photographs.
  • Spin Blur added to the Blur Gallery.  This is perfect for making making a parked car look like it is in motion by spinning the wheels.
  • Updated Smart Sharpen adds noise reduction and a better interface.
  • HiDPI support on Windows.  This allows you to make the Photoshop user interface larger so that it is easier to read on high resolution monitors.
  • Camera Shake Reduction to salvage handheld images that should have been shot on a tripod.
  • Real-time healing brush.  This offers a fast and accurate (live) preview of the healing brush.  Note that some users (especially people retouching skin on portraits) may prefer the results of the legacy brush.  You can switch to the legacy healing brush by checking Preferences/Tools/Use Legacy Healing Algorithm.
  • GPU acceleration for certain tasks (healing brush, sharpening, enlarging).  Note that many older computers cannot take advantage of these GPU features.
  • Focus Mask allows you to create a selection based on areas of the image that are in or out of focus.  While I love the concept, this tool creates a hard-edged mask for which I have yet to find a use.
  • CS6 Extended Features (video and 3D, which are not in CS6 Standard).
  • And the list grows if you’re using a version of Photoshop older than CS6.


Lightroom CC offers the following advantages (vs Lightroom 6):


If upgrading doesn’t make sense for you, I believe you have the following options:

  • Stick with the old versions and keep waiting.  The CC Photography Plan is very popular and unlikely to go away.  If you upgrade cameras or decide you want to get new features in the future, you will probably have the same options.
  • Get another RAW converter and keep using an old version of Photoshop.  This is a good option if you value quality and want to save money.  I would recommend either using Adobe’s free DNG Converter or buying DXO Optics Pro.
  • Switch to another editing package.  Note that you should investigate whether you will additionally need to buy another RAW conversion program, as many alternatives to Photoshop either do not support RAW or do not offer sufficient quality for RAW conversion.  I have dabbled with a few commonly-mentioned options, but I find they fall well short of my needs.  I cannot endorse any of them at this time.  There’s a reason why people say they “Photoshopped” an image, it’s the gold standard.


Those are just my thoughts.  I’ve been extremely happy with CC, but everyone’s needs are different.  I’d love to hear your comments below if you use another solution (and please comment on the types of photography you do with it).  And if you’ve made the switch to CC already, are you happy with the choice you made?


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  • Skip Armstrong

    Greg, my concern for upgrading to CC is the many plugins I have and actions/brushes I created. I’m afraid to lose them.

  • Skip- Most 3rd party stuff should be ok, but that’s valid and something to watch for. Any plugins bought in the past couple years should be fine, and anything that’s been maintained likely has a compatibility update, if needed. Adobe lets you install CC as a 30-day trial. If you’re interested, I would recommend installing that (and I checking any options to uninstall your existing version). You can have multiple versions installed (I have 5 different versions installed on my machine). -Greg

  • Judith Nicholls

    Never. I will go as far as I can to discourage rental software. If this catches on it will be $9 a month for every product I run. Even if I don’t need or want upgrades. Nope. OK, maybe not never, but this sure isn’t enough to move me to rental software… Face aware, I don’t need it. Mostly I use Photoshop to hold plug-ins anyway. About all I use in PS itself is content aware fill, clone, crop or otherwise prepare for printing. Yes, I manage my photographs in Lightroom. So what I worry about is Lightroom going rental only. Then when I get a new camera, I would be in trouble. Would have to add one more step to my workflow, which I would not want to do. Adobe surely knows this, so it’s only a matter of time…

  • Skip Armstrong

    ah, I didn’t know you could have multiple installations, interesting. would that also pertain to Lr?

  • Yes, you can have multiple versions of LR also. But keep in mind that LR is working with a database. So if you upgrade and start working on an updated database, you shouldn’t expect your work shows up in the old version. Things are much simpler with multiple versions of PS. If you want to evaluate LR, I would just start with a new database and try a few images – rather than monkeying around with your main catalog. Then you can import the catalog when you’re ready to move forward. If what I’m saying doesn’t feel comfortable to you, I recommend skipping it. But multiple versions of PS is very easy to manage.

  • Skip Armstrong

    Great! that’s just what I’ll do. I’m not sure if you could also answer this. I currently run win 7 64bit and build my own systems. I’m not going to upgrade to 10 even tho they keep bugging me. Do you see issues doing so? And #2 since I do weddings and bar mitzvahs I can’t afford to have my computer down so I have a complete spare system running off a cloned hard drive. does the CC only install or run on one machine? now would that work. txs.

  • Microsoft is supporting Windows 7 until 2020 ( Given that Windows 8 wasn’t very popular, there are probably a lot of Windows 7 users. I would assume that most major companies would continue to make their products compatible for Windows 7, including Adobe, but that’s pure speculation on my part. I can say that I’ve generally heard glowing reviews of Windows 10 from other photographers. It’s incredibly stable, and I know many Mac users who have suggested they may switch back to Windows (especially given Mac quality has been sliding over the past few years).

  • CC can be installed on 2 machines. If you try to use it on a 3rd, it will cause the other two to be logged out. For software development purposes, I juggle Photoshop CC installations on a Mac, a Windows 7 PC, and a virtual Windows 10 PC on my Mac. CC treats that as 3 installations of course, and I’m routinely switching without problems.

  • Very good points. I’ll add some thoughts on a few… (1) I am familiar with that tool to create extension panels for Photoshop (it’s called “Configurator”). It runs on Photoshop CS6 and the original release of CC, both of which are included with a Photoshop CC subscription. So you can always use that functionality if you want, you just can’t use it for Photoshop CC 2014 or later. So nothing is lost, you just don’t get to bring that functionality to easily build your own panel into the latest version. And since users who use Configurator probably don’t know JavaScript, it’s just creating a custom set of buttons to run scripts for most users. Simply changing the Action panel to “button mode” may sufficiently cover this need for some users. The newer versions use HTML instead of Flash to make panels, and the impact is that professionally built panels are much better. (2) LR cannot read PSD whether you buy the boxed version or subscribe to CC. So while that’s a consideration in buying Lightroom, it’s unrelated to subscribing to CC or not. (3) Photoshop CC can open the RAW as a Smart Object and use the new Camera RAW Smart Object. It can do this with or without LightRoom. But your point is well taken, as adjustments to the RAW sliders in LR and PS are not connected. And yeah, the different keyboard shortcuts are very unfortunate. I personally use Lightroom extensively, but I know many pros who just use Bridge (or another Digital Asset Management program).

  • Skip Armstrong

    Good to know. Thank you for the great info!

  • Judith Nicholls

    Our household has several Windows 7 systems, several Windows 8.1, and several Windows 10 systems. By far the most stable are the Windows 7. I’m not going to upgrade the two WIndows 7 systems to 10. But I will, at the last moment, upgrade the Windows 8.1 systems to 10.

  • Judith Nicholls

    That’s a plus I’ll keep in mind, that you can easily hop back and forth. I limit myself to using two systems (desktop and big notebook) and am going to install irfanview on my tablet just so I can do simple things for facebook posts and the like. My understanding is non-CC licenses have a deactivation/activation limit.

  • JIm Kress

    I just upgraded to Photoshop CC 2015.5 It is INCREDIBLY slow to start the application. It literally takes minutes for it to open and be ready for use. Adobe has yet to post a solution for this problem. In fact they seem to be ignoring its existence. Prior versions did not suffer from this painful bug.

  • You sure it’s a bug? All recent versions of CC take longer than CS6 to boot, but my experience with CC 2015.5 is that the start time is very comparable to other recent versions of CC. Not ideal, but it’s still just a couple of seconds on my MacBook Pro and PC.

  • JIm Kress

    Since it is a problem that a number of people are having, I would consider it a bug.

  • Oh, thanks for the heads up. I haven’t been affected apparently.

  • Debra T

    I’m just now considering the subscription, but I’m not a photographer. I’m a graphic artist for virtual worlds such as Second Life. I earn a small income and it’s something I’ve done for 6 years. I paid $950 for CS5 Extended in 2010 which was a huge investment. I thought I could use it forever, and I could, had my old Windows 7 computer not began to have problems due to age and usage…I’m a beast with video cards. I had to buy a new system with Windows 10, and low and behold, I can’t install my old CS 5. Windows is in cahoots with Photoshop! I’m just a retired woman who tinkers around and doesn’t want tobligation to sign up for anything. Photoshop dropped the ball on non pro’s. I think they knew Window’s 10 was coming and would force a lot of people out of the old model. Right now I’m using two computers, since my old one works for Photoshop but could not keep up with the Second Life graphic updates,even after I changed out my Video card 4 times since 09. Puters get old. We get screwed. No where did my original packaging say “Enjoy” but bend over for your ass reaming in a few years! Dramatic yes, but keeping up with technology has gotten harder for me. I used to build systems back in the Win 97 days, now I can hardly keep up. At this post, I don’t know what to do.

  • B Satrio Jati
  • What are your specs?

  • arthur schwartz

    If you upgrade to Photoshop CC 2017 the newest version you will have to pay a monthly subscription fee every month because you only Lease it not own it. Plus if they raise prices for their monthly subscription fee and you do not want to pay for it Adobe will charge you an expensive cancellation charge and Adobe will deactivated your Adobe software and you will not be able to use it anymore.

    But you can still get Adobe CS6 Master Collection for One Hundred Fifty One Dollars which you own and there is not any Monthly subscription fee and the Adobe software will never stop working. It downloads directly from Adobe and it has Adobe Photoshop CS6 Extended; Illustrator CS6; INDESIGN CS6; InCopy CS6; Acrobat Pro; Dreamweaver CS6; Fireworks CS6; Premier CS6; After Effects CS6 and more. Check it out here.

  • Oseburuwachukwu Abumchukwu “Og

    CS5 should not have a problem with Windows 10. My CS2 still installs fine in Windows 10, CS5 definitely works.

  • Bob

    “subscriptions for the price of one Nikon D800 body”
    Most amateur photographers will never buy a Nikon D800 body in their lifetime. For the first time I am going to strongly recommend not Lightroom but OnOne Photo and Capture One Pro to everyone in our camera club.

  • That’s perfectly fine, of course. I reference that camera because I use it and it is popular. My point is the software is as valuable as the camera, and the cost is much lower. Even if you buy a second hand camera for $600 every 5 years (most enthusiasts spend more), it still costs the same and dramatically more once you factor in the cost of lenses, memory cards, filter, bags, or whatever else you might buy. Not everyone needs the best camera or software, but the most capable software (any of it, not just saying Adobe) is relatively cheap compared to the hardware.

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