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Updating the Process Version in Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3

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Have you puzzled over the mysterious little icon that shows up when you edit older raw images in Adobe Camera Raw 6 or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3? Author Conrad Chavez explains the process versions and why you’ll want to use that icon to update them.
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You might have seen a little exclamation point icon that shows up when you work with an image you developed with Adobe Camera Raw before version 6, or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom before version 3. (If your images have only been edited in Camera Raw 6 or Lightroom 3 or later, the icon won’t appear and you don’t need to read this article.) In Lightroom, you’ll see the icon in the Develop module.

The icon tells you that the raw image was rendered using the raw processing method Adobe was using before Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3 (see Figure 1). Adobe calls its rendering methods process versions, and there are only two. The one Adobe used up through Camera Raw 5 and Lightroom 2 is called Process Version 2003, while the one in Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3 is called Process Version 2010. The reason for the change is that Adobe wanted to make dramatic improvements to how raw images are rendered, and this involved rewriting fundamental parts of the code that had been there since Camera Raw 1.

Figure 1 The alert icon in the bottom-right corner indicates that the image uses Process Version 2003. Clicking the icon updates the image to Process Version 2010, visibly improving image detail and noise.

When you see the process version icon, you can click it to update the rendering method of the image to Process Version 2010. But what exactly does that mean? In short, it makes raw images look better, but that’s not the whole story. Let’s take a closer look.

What Does Updating Do to the Image?

Back in Camera Raw 5 and Lightroom 2, some users noted certain aspects of raw processing where they felt Adobe should meet or beat the competition. Adobe decided to rise to the challenge, but to get it done required rewriting the core processing technology of Adobe Camera Raw. The result, Process Version 2010, brings improvements such as better detail rendering, noise reduction, and sharpening, as well as improved rendering of the (highlight) Recovery and Fill Light options. Another benefit of updating is that you’ll be able to preview sharpening and noise reduction at magnifications lower than 100 percent—an enhancement many users asked for.

In Camera Raw 6 and Lightroom 3, images you edit for the first time are developed using Process Version 2010, but images you edited in older versions of Camera Raw and Lightroom stay in Process Version 2003 until you update them. The reason Adobe doesn’t automatically update your entire image library to Process Version 2010 is because they wanted to minimize unexpected visual changes to images you’ve painstakingly processed in the past. That’s why they display the process version icon, letting you apply the update when you’re ready.

If you’ve noticed that the Detail and Contrast sliders in the Noise Reduction options aren’t available for some images, that’s because those controls simply aren’t available for Process Version 2003 (see Figure 2). This is related to the complete overhaul of the noise reduction code, so to use those sliders you have to update the process version.

Figure 2 Some noise reduction options are not available when an image uses Process Version 2003.

While Adobe did its best to preserve the appearance of images developed with Process Version 2003, the changes under the hood are so extensive that you may see minor image differences in Camera Raw 6 or Lightroom 3 even if you don’t update the process version. If you absolutely require that an image look exactly as it did in the version of Camera Raw or Lightroom you were using before, keep editing that image in the older version.

For all of your other images, Process Version 2010 is an opportunity to make them look better than they ever did before. This ability to bring the advantages of new and future processing improvements to old images is one of the classic reasons to shoot raw in the first place.

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