Yesterday I looked at how Aperture handled RAW+JPEG pairs and today it’s the turn of Lightroom. At first glance it looks as if Lightroom RAW+JPEG pairs work in much the same way, but there is in fact a significant difference: Aperture imports both and lets you choose which one to display; Lightroom only imports the RAW file and simply indicates that there is also a JPEG.

There are lots of times when it’s useful to be able to shoot RAW files and JPEGs at the same time, but with Lightroom it’s especially important to decide how you want it to handle them before you import them into your catalog.

01 Import preferences

Lightroom RAW+JPEG pairs

In Lightroom, you control this using the General tab of the Preferences dialog. There’s a checkbox half way down that’s so inconspicuous you could easily miss it: ‘Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos’. If you want your Lightroom catalog to store both images, you must make sure this box is checked.

02 Importing both JPEGs and RAW files

Lightroom RAW+JPEG pairs

If you do this, Lightroom will treat your JPEGs and RAW files as separate images and display both in your library. Here are the JPEG and RAW versions of a photo side-by-side. You can stack (group) them if you only want to see a single thumbnail.

03 So what if you don’t check the box?

Lightroom RAW+JPEG pairs

When your camera shoots RAW+JPEG images together, it will give the same filename to both, and only the file extension will be different. If you DON’T check the ‘Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos’ box, Lightroom will give priority to the RAW files and ignore the JPEGs when you import the images.

04 RAW+JPEG display

Lightroom RAW+JPEG pairs

Once the import is complete, Lightroom will display the pictures with a ‘RAW+JPEG’ suffix (these are Nikon RAW files, so it says ‘NEF+JPEG’, but it’s the same thing). Now you might imagine that there’s some way you can swap between them, just as you can in Aperture – but you can’t.

In fact, Lightroom is simply indicating that a JPEG version exists, but doesn’t give you access to it. Lightroom treats the JPEGs as ‘sidecar’ files which are physically associated with the RAW file but not directly editable. I find that very misleading, but maybe that’s just because I’m used to the way Aperture does it.