Incompatible Camera Raw Versions Between Lightroom 5 And Older Versions Of Photoshop (CS4/CS5/CS6)
August 27, 2013
7 comment

One of the benefits of being able to do all of my post processing in Adobe Lightroom is that I don’t need to rely on Photoshop. Photoshop is expensive, especially when you buy one of the bundles. Even with the Creative Cloud’s subscription model, you can spend hundreds of dollars a year to keep your tools current. For amateur and semi-professional photographers, that’s not always economically feasible. I bought Adobe CS4 Production Premium several years ago and, since it does everything I need it to do, I skipped CS5 and CS6. One of the side effects of forgoing Photoshop upgrades, though, is that as Lightroom and the accompanying Camera Raw gets updated, Adobe doesn’t update Camera Raw in older versions of Photoshop. The different versions isn’t an issue if you are using a camera that is supported by the older version of Camera Raw, but for newer cameras, you can run in to a situation where Lightroom can open a raw file that Photoshop can’t.

That is what happened to me a few years ago when I picked up a new camera. An update to Lightroom added support for my then-new Nikon D7000, so I was able to import and edit my raw files. However, when I tried to have Lightroom send the raw file in to Photoshop, literally nothing happened. It turns out, previous versions of Lightroom weren’t as graceful with the camera raw incompatibility, so I devised a workaround that would at least have Lightroom prompt me with the option to render a PSD. While the same camera raw version incompatibility exists today for my D7000, it appears that in Lightroom 5, the workaround is no longer necessary, as Lightroom does a better job with the communicating the issue.

Knowing You Have A Problem

If you have a new camera and use Lightroom 5 with an older version of Photoshop, you may have already seen this dialog.

Lightroom Fanatic - Incompatible Camer Raw Versions

Lightroom Fanatic – Incompatible Camer Raw Versions

This is Lightroom’s way of telling you that, while it can handle the raw files from your fancy new camera, your older, ghetto version of Photoshop can’t.

Here is a run down of the options available.

Open Anyway

If you click on Open Anyway, Photoshop will open if it is not already, but no image will be loaded in to Photoshop. Photoshop doesn’t give any indication that it tried and failed to load the raw image. It’s as if Lightroom points Photoshop to the file it should open and Photoshop simply stares at the file like some sort of alien creature and refuses to approach it.

I tried also having Lightroom send a TIFF over to Photoshop by creating an additional external editor, selecting Adobe Photoshop CS4 with a File Format of TIFF.

Lightroom Fanatic - External Editing Preferences - Photoshop as TIFF and PSD

Lightroom Fanatic – External Editing Preferences – Photoshop as TIFF and PSD

If you set your Additional External Editor to Photoshop, you will see the following dialog, to which you can just click Use Anyway.

Lightroom Fanatic - Duplicate Editors

Lightroom Fanatic – Duplicate Editors


Even with the TIFF option selected, Photoshop would not open up the resulting file.

I suspect that under the hood the raw file is still involved in the handshaking with Photoshop, like Lightroom tells Photoshop to open the underlying raw file as a PSD or a TIFF and, since Photoshop can’t read the raw file, it can’t create the target PSD or TIFF.

What about DNG?

If you use DNG files instead of the manufacturer raw images in the same situation, you still see the dialog message about the version incompatibility, but at least Photoshop will open up the DNG that it is sent. My guess is that Lightroom is sending the DNG and, even though the embedded raw data might not be readable, it’s already converted by Lightroom’s Camera Raw to a readably DNG format that even older versions of Photoshop can handle. If you have a need for Photoshop to access the underlying raw files and are stuck in compatibility hell, this might be an option.

Render using Lightroom

The other option, Render using Lightroom, causes Lightroom to render a version of the image and send that to Photoshop, which it happily opens. In this case, Photoshop is not accessing the raw file; it is accessing a Lightroom-rendered copy of the image. This option does work for me and, as a side benefit, the rendered image can also contain any edits made with the raw file in Lightroom. If you need, however, Photoshop to access the raw image, maybe because the Lightroom-rendered version is missing some data or detail, you might want to explore the DNG option.

I hope this post helps. I’ll eventually upgrade to Creative Cloud, but because it is possible to continue living with older versions of Photoshop in the modern Lightroom world, I don’t have to rush.

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There are 7 comments

  • Gretchen says:

    This helps! Thanks

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks for this, I was about bash my head against my desk!

  • Dennis says:

    I was going crazy with this question. Thanks for taking the time with this. That said, I’m disappointed with Adobe for making this so difficult. It clearly is a tactic to push users to continually upgrade. I will use the work around for now, then will consider creative cloud if I get more serious. Too bad there isn’t a really solid alternative to photoshop.

    • dave says:

      Hi, Dennis.

      It’s definitely frustrating, and upgrading is the easiest option, and Adobe likely had that in mind. As a software guy, I suspect that it’s also expensive for them to keep going back to old versions of their software to introduce the updates for Camera Raw, so it’s probably a combination of cost savings on their part alongside the side effect of encouraging upgrades. Glad the workaround works!

      Thanks for the comment!

  • David Low says:

    Thanks for taking the time to make this clear, thought my CS5 photoshop was the problem. May go over to CC if they make it affordable for the ‘one man band’