Our previous analysis has helped us understand the formats and conversions involved in RAW workflows. But it hasn’t come down to the questions that cost us the money: Which apps do we have to keep updated, for compatibility with new cameras, and other new apps?
The simplest workflow for the photographer is to store images in a Lightroom library as RAW files, and export from Lightroom to a recent version of Photoshop, which will open these RAW files in ACR, respecting all edits applied in Lightroom. This version can then be saved as a high bit TIF file back into Lightroom where it will be stored with the original file. Simple process, minimal steps, convenient, and leaves rendering to the last possible point in the workflow. However this workflow requires anyone who purchased new cameras to continuously upgrade Lightroom, which is moderately priced app, and getting more affordable over time, and to similarly upgrade Photoshop, for continuous access to the latest camera formats and compatibility with the the latest versions of Lightroom (explained below). Photoshop is not a low cost app, and not as low priced as Lightroom even for upgrades; plus there are now two applications which need to be upgraded with each new generation. So this is simplest and most flexible workflow, but also the most costly.
The way that Adobe deals with the need for inter-application compatibility is through defining “Processes”. For instance Photoshop CS5, and Lightroom 3, used Process 2010, which was developed in (you guessed it) 2010. Any other app can also adopt that standard. The problem happens when you have newer images processed in Lightroom4, or another Process 2012 app (though I doubt that there are many other Process 2012 apps out there yet), and try to open it into Photoshop CS4 or CS5. In those older apps (yes, I just called the current version of Photoshop “older”… get your wallet ready) you’ll see a warning dialog that this version of Photoshop does not support the more recent features used on this image.
However, there is a workaround. At least when importing from Lightroom, you will see an option to render the file from Lightroom, to retain the edits made with the newer functions. Since you are going to have to render the file shortly, the fact that Lightroom instead of ACR in Photoshop performs this function is not a big deal. It might, in some instances, mean one more saved interim copy of the image, if your workflow isn’t optimized to avoid that, costing you disc space, but not really any extra effort.
So perhaps you have already noticed what this change in workflow could mean to your wallet: you don’t have to update Photoshop every time you update Lightrooom, (or your camera) to retain compatibility. In fact, you won’t ever need to update Photoshop at all, unless there are new features in it that you decide you need, or other critical changes (such as support for newer OS versions) occur. There are similar workflows for rendering from Aperture and other applications using their latest “Process” version, then opening in Photoshop, though they may be a bit less automatic, since they are not handing off between two Adobe apps. Be sure to render out using a file, type, compression type, and bit depth that your receiving application can handle.
There are a few warnings that go with this suggestion. You will lose your ability to open images from newer cameras directly into Photoshop, and will have to launder them through Lightroom or your other app that contains the latest camera RAW format definitions. But you will have to render out any images to TIF before opening them with Photoshop, so these two processes will occur seamlessly in the same workflow.
Another warning would be that Adobe may not honor your copy of Photoshop for upgrade, if you have not kept up with all the interim versions. But unless you intend to purchase upgrades for both Lightroom and Photoshop with each generation (which is looking like every two years) then you will have to become familiar with these other workflow options, and act accordingly. Those using other RAW conversion and image management apps will similarly need to decide if they will update that app for new camera compatibility, and recent “Process” versions, plus update Photoshop as well; or develop a lower cost workflow that only sends TIF and JPG files to Photoshop, and does not use Photoshop’s ACR plugin for opening and rendering RAW files.