How to Upgrade Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5

This is a quick guide on how to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5, if you are considering moving up to the latest and greatest Lightroom version. While the process of upgrading the actual software is pretty straightforward, there are some important steps you need to take to make sure that the catalog is upgraded successfully and you are using the latest available features. If you are scared about upgrading and have not done it in the past, this guide might help you to go through the process. The good news is, Adobe allows keeping both versions of Lightroom on the same machine, which means that you can install LR5 and continue to use your old LR4 with the old catalog(s). Once you are satisfied with the upgrade, you can then remove the old version of Lightroom, along with the old versions of catalogs.

1) Download and install Lightroom 5

If you are hesitating about downloading the online version of Lightroom 5 versus buying a boxed version from a store, don’t – they are both exactly the same. Adobe lets you download the full version of Lightroom and use it for 30 full days until you input the serial number from a retail boxed version, or the one supplied by Adobe when you purchase it digitally. This is a great way to try it out and see if you want to keep it or not.

For now, let’s go ahead and download Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 from this article (the latest version of Lightroom is 5.2 RC).

Once the file is downloaded, install LR5 on your machine using the default settings. When Lightroom 5 asks for the CD key, choose the Try option to start your 30 day trial.

2) Back up your existing Lightroom catalogs

Before you upgrade, it is always a good idea to locate every catalog you have and back it up to a place other than your computer (ideally to an external back up drive). All you have to do is find the actual catalog files with .lrcat extension and back them up. You don’t need to back up all other files and sub-folders like “Previews.lrdata”, because those folders just contain thumbnails of images that you can re-generate later. Plus, if you back up the whole folder, it will take significantly longer than just backing up the single catalog file. If you do not want to go through the hassle of regenerating thumbnails later, you can back up everything – your choice.

3) Upgrade your Lightroom Catalogs

After everything is backed up and Lightroom 5 is installed, you should see the Lightroom 5 icon on your desktop. Double-click the icon to open up Lightroom, which will fire up a dialog box warning you that you need to upgrade your catalog. It is required to upgrade the catalog, so you will have to do this for each catalog that you have in your computer. The upgrade screen should look like this:

Upgrade 1
Lightroom will place the upgraded catalog in the same folder where you have the original catalog and will preserve the folder structure and the file name (by default, it will add a “-2″ to the catalog name as shown above). You can either keep it in the same folder, or you can move it to a whole different folder structure. I typically just leave the folder structure the same and clean up the folder later (more on that below).

Next, simply hit the “Upgrade” button to start the upgrade process. Depending on the number of pictures in your catalog and your computer’s processing power, the upgrade process could take anywhere from several minutes to several hours:

Upgrade 2
By far, this Lightroom 5 upgrade has taken the longest when compared to previous Lightroom upgrades. Part of the reason is the complete overhaul of the way the data is stored and searched in the catalog, so the upgrade process has to do all that from scratch. On my primary machine (which is a very fast one with the latest generation Intel Core i7 processor and lots of memory), the upgrade process took between 15 to 30 minutes per catalog! This is the window that stayed on the screen the longest:

Upgrade 3
I upgraded a total of about 8 catalogs and I am happy to say that I did not encounter any issues.

4) Make sure that all images are available and visible

Write down the total number of photographs in your upgraded catalog, then close LR5 and open LR4. Look at the total number of images in LR4 and make sure that the numbers match. Close LR4, open LR5 back again and then go through some random images and open up 100% views to make sure that the images are all there. Wait for thumbnails to regenerate, since previews for the new catalog are not migrated.

5) Review Collections and Presets

Make sure that your Collections and previous Presets are all preserved. LR5 and LR4 should be sharing the same preset folders, so those should work by default. If the upgrade was successful, custom Collections and your Keywords should be visible as well.

Lightroom Presets and Collections
If anything is missing, something went wrong with the upgrade process…

6) Process Version

The good news is, Lightroom 5 and 4 both have the same process version (2012), which means that you do not have to go through the hassle of moving your images to the new version to be able to enjoy all the new features. However, if you are upgrading from an older version of Lightroom (like LR2 or LR3), then Lightroom will prompt you to update the process version in a window like this:

Lightroom Update Process Version Dialog Box
I highly recommend upgrading the “Process Version” of all images after you upgrade if you have not done so previously, in order to take full advantage of all of the new features that are available in LR4/LR5. But keep in mind that changing the process version will most likely affect the colors, tones and even exposure on your previous images, so definitely review the heavily edited work before and after the change. If worst comes to worst, you still have the old backup of your catalog, so you can repeat the upgrade process again.