Lightroom: Catalog Size & Speed

category: Lightroom • 2 min read

I receive emails regularly asking me for my advice, my opinion on how big a catalog should be? Many people are complaining about how slow Lightroom is.

First some technical information:

  • Lightroom has always used a database called SQLite which is owned by Oracle
  • SQLite doesn’t have many limits. The limits are:
    • How SQLite was compiled. The developers decide how big it can get. See: SQLite limits
    • The operating system will determine how big the SQLite database can be. It’s only 1 file.

I decided to do my own test. I copied thirteen thousand photos three times by adding xxx, yyy and zzz into the filenames. I imported the 50,489 photos with render previews: minimal. Slightly less than a full day to import all of the fifty thousand photos on a 3Gb core2duo. | Lightroom | 13,000 photos | 50,000 photos | |:——————- | ——————: | ———————————-: | | Disk Size | 179 Mb | 673 Mb | | Startup | identical | can’t see the difference | | Grid speed | identical | can’t see the difference | | Develop speed | identical | can’t see the difference | | Queries | excellent | depends on the query |

I have noticed a significant slow down on very large smart collections. This only happens only when I open some of the smart collections, especially the negative smart collections. A negative query is what’s missing and it takes a full scan, instead of using any index.

  • Lightroom is quite dumb when it comes to detecting duplicate files. Changing the name of the photo and the extension of the photo will make it as different photos.
  • The previews are NOT part the SQLite database. They can always be deleted, and Lightroom will rebuild them on the fly when needed.
  • Notice that also there is 3 times more photos, the disk size is only slightly larger than 3 times the size. Please note than not all the photos have titles, captions and/or keywords.
  • See Upgrading Lightroom and how it affects speed.