For most photographers 16GB of memory will allow Lightroom Classic CC to run really well, though photographers doing a lot of work using both Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time you will benefit from having 32GB of memory.
Price to Lightroom Performance With Memory
As a photographer you are probably visiting this page because you want to know how much money you should spend on memory for a computer to run Lightroom well. As a hobbyist photographer who has to as much out of his dollar as he possibly can I am all about how to get the best bank for my buck so you are at the right spot.
8GB Of Memory To Run Lightroom – Just Enough
It is entirely possible to have a computer run Lightroom well with 8GB of memory in your computer. However, you are likely going to find that with 8GB of memory in your computer you will have a hard time running Lightroom, Photoshop, and a browser with a number of tabs open all at the same time.
If budget is super tight and you just can’t pay for the upgrade to 16GB of memory then go with 8GB and make sure you close down everything else besides Lightroom and Photoshop while you are editing your photos. You should even close down Photoshop if you aren’t using it to give Lightroom as much of those 8GB of memory as you possible can and things should go pretty well.
16GB Of Memory to Run Lightroom – Best Price to Performance
16GB is really the sweet spot right now to run Lightroom well for most photographers. At least as far as price to performance goes. The cost to go to 8GB of memory to 16GB is fairly reasonable and the performance benefits to Lightroom are really worth the additional cost worth it.
Lightroom really wants more than 8GB of memory while you process photos. Starting up Lightroom the program immediately takes 1.5GB of memory. Scroll through 20 or so raw photos in the Develop module for a minute and Lightroom memory usage jumps up to 3.5GB of memory. Change a few sliders on several raw images and it goes up to 4GB of memory. Generate 1:1 and smart previews on 20 megapixel raw files and Lightroom uses about 7GB of memory, getting dangerously close to those 8GB and not leaving much room for macOS/Windows 10 in addition to other programs (like web browsers).
I did some further testing to see what functions in Lightroom Classic 8.3.1 utilized memory. I couldn’t get Lightroom to consume more than about 7GB of memory doing “normal” tasks every photographer is going to do on a regular basis like import photos, rate them, edit them using sliders/brushes/filters, and exporting to JPEG. For most photographers doing the routine tasks in Lightroom, 16GB is enough memory to have it perform really well and leaves enough room to run other programs at the same time like Photoshop and a browser.
However, when I threw an panorama merge of 13 raw frames at it while it was building 1:1 and Smart Previews for 533 raw photos in the background the memory utilization jumped up to 20GB while doing the merge and settled in at about 16GB after the merge was done. This was on a Windows 10 computer that had 32GB of memory so Lightroom could stretch out and pretend like it owned the place by using as much memory as it wanted to.
32GB Of Memory to Run Lightroom – Extreme Editing Choice
If you are a more experienced post processor and know that you are going to do panorama and/or HDR merges in Lightroom or you know you are going to be round tripping between Lightroom and Photoshop on a regular basis working with lots of layers in Photoshop, 16GB of memory won’t be enough.
16GB of memory will still work, it just means you will run out of memory and the computer will have to go to the much slower hard drive in your computer to get some temporary relief when it runs out and everything slows down while that is going on.
If you are a photographer who is going to be doing a little bit more extreme editing of your photos then you want to go with 32GB of memory. I use a Windows 10 PC for most of my editing. It is a computer I custom built myself in 2014 that has 32GB of memory and while I have worked on sports composites I have had Photoshop give me error messages that I couldn’t use the select and mask workspace because there wasn’t enough memory available.
Those are extreme cases, and I think the issue had to do with some of the features in Photoshop having a problem called a memory leak where it didn’t manage the memory properly. So I am not recommending that photographers upgrade further from 32GB of memory to 64GB of memory unless you can afford it without any problem and you know you are going to be working on gigapixel images or other extreme photo processing.
Save Money on Memory
While you are here, if you pay to have the manufacturer of your computer upgrade the memory for you they charge a premium for that. Especially Apple, who charges on a nearly exponential scale to upgrade the memory in their Macs. For some Macs you don’t have a choice, like the 2019 MacBook Pro and the 2019 21″ iMac. However the 2018 Mac Mini, the 27″ iMac, and nearly all PCs allow you to upgrade the memory yourself through a very simple process and save quite a lot of money.
Check out my Photographer’s Guide to Buying a Mac Mini and Photographer’s Guide to Buying an iMac for more information on that and other configuration options.
Thanks for your focus on Lightroom performance and recommended PC specs.
FYI: Keeping the library module’s Metadata section open slows down switching from image to image within the library quite a bit on my installation of lightroom. Closing the metadata section makes it much faster. I7-5820k, 32GB RAM, 24MP dng files, LR 8.3.1.
Thanks for the hint. I will be sure to look into it.
Really enjoyed the article and podcast. Very tricky to test the Develop Module. Using an adjustment brush several times brings LR to nearly a grinding halt for me. Image loading also always has that ubiquitous delay. Win10, i9-9900, 64GB RAM, Nvidia 2060, 4k Monitor.
Looking forward to learning what you find out.
Thanks for your efforts.
Wow. That is a beefy machine. Should be able to handle things well. Have you tried turning off GPU acceleration to see how it goes?
I really enjoyed you podcast and article on ram. I’m hoping that your testing will lead to some best specs for building a PC. I know that you did a photo taco episode last year on specs for a PC but I’m hoping for an update this year.
I’m looking forward to tackling my first pc build so I’m patiently waiting the detail as like yourself I’m after value as well as the challenge of the build.
I caught your episode on memory & Lightroom – and listened to the whole thing ! 😉 Thank you for that very thorough explanation. I have an iMac 27″, went to Apple site, learned how to upgrade memory, ordered it (Apple doesn’t sell it – weird) and it’s on the way. No more beach balls!!
Loved your article…I am looking for a laptop for Lr and photoshop and would like to know your opinion on the new surface pro7 ultra light and versatile Microsoft surface laptop. the Macs and apple are to much for me to spend….please give me your opinion. thank you. su
Thanks so much for reading the article. Glad you found it helpful. I am glad Microsoft is working on building good options for interesting hardware. They will certainly run Lightroom and Photoshop, but I think they are overpriced and/or underperforming options so far. I recommend a Dell XPS 13” laptop if you want a Windows option.
Check out this article for help on how to spec it out: https://phototacopodcast.com/best-budget-computer-for-photography/
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