I’ve worked with Lightroom, Aperture, Bibble, iPhoto, Bridge and even iView Media (before Microsoft bought it). Of that bunch, Lightroom and Aperture are the clear front runners which has lead to lots of discussion, flame wars and other comparisons online. Which is best? Which should I use? When will ‘X’ be updated to include ‘Y’? Each application has strong supporters and loud whiners. Some are calm and carefully reasoned; others are shrill fanboys.
So how is one to chose their next professional photo management tool?
Clearly they are both excellent programs capable of managing, editing, adjusting, and sharing your photographic work. But equally clearly, they are not the same; each approaches the same fundamental tasks with its own philosophy and style. Their feature sets overlap a great deal, but each also has capabilities the other does not.
So again, how is one to chose their next professional photo management tool?
This single blog post is not going to settle that. And the common advice of “download both trial versions and see which one works best for you” is only helpful if the advisee has enough time to really work with, learn, and understand each. Both applications are (as Guy Kawasaki has famously described great products) deep, indulgent, complete, elegant and emotive.
Having said that, I want to attempt to describe the strengths I see in each program (I’m a licensed owner of both) in an attempt to at least give you an idea of which might better fulfill your needs while supporting your style. I’ll confine my comments to Lightroom version 2.6 and Aperture version 2.1.4.
- Local non-destructive adjustments — this ability to make local, rather than global, image adjustments (exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, and sharpening) is important to those who would rather reserve Photoshop for infrequent use. If most of your images make a stop in Photoshop anyway, Lightroom’s tools don’t offer much.
- Graduated filter — perhaps most often thought of as a graduated neutral density filter, this local adjustment tool also offers brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, and sharpening. Again, if you use Photoshop a lot, this is a small thing.
- Automated output sharpening — through an agreement with PixelGenius, output to print or screen incorporates a sophisticated sharpening algorithm that accounts for output media (screen, glossy paper, matte paper) and output size.
- Rapid new RAW support — as new RAW formats are created for each new camera release, Adobe is generally quick about publishing updates as “point” releases to support them.
- Print options — in addition to paper size and type, print templates can include margins (different for each edge) and an “identity plate” as text or graphics.
- Speed — even though RAW processing requires plenty of computing horsepower, Lightroom does a reasonable job even on slower hardware.
- Chromatic aberration correction — red/cyan and blue/yellow sliders plus the option to turn on or off de-fringing.
- Sophisticated capture sharpening preview — pressing the option key while moving the sharpening sliders offers a very helpful screen preview of the effected areas.
- Flags and Labels — handy as additions to star ratings to select and mark images.
- Keyword suggestions — speeds keywording by suggesting keywords previously used in combination with keywords in the selected image.
- Quick Collections — handy as a way to quickly organize images into collections.
- Soft Proofing — the ability to preview colors on the screen to simulate their look on the selected output device (at least to the extent the screen can reproduce the image’s color gamut).
- Organization — although some do not “get” Aperture’s system of projects, albums (which can be image groups for display, books, light tables, or web sites), folders and smart albums; the combination provides exception organizational power.
- Photo books — beyond creating photo books (which is a powerful feature in itself), the book layout tool can be used to create a wide range of printed material.
- Highlight/Shadows color correction — a slider here keeps highlight and shadow adjustments from effecting color in those areas of the image.
- Keyword merging — duplicate keywords can be merged into the keyword hierarchy.
- Clone brush in addition to clone spot — this tool works well if an area to be cloned over is more linear than circular.
- Photo lab printing — perhaps no more than a convenience, but ordering prints from within the application makes that chore simple and avoids problems with formats and profiles.
- Clickable arrows for all adjustments — again, perhaps a simple convenience rather than a strength, but making small corrections are more fluid.
- Simple importing — the import dialog makes it easy to see where images are coming from and where they will be placed on import.
- Metadata management — its easy to add custom metadata fields, and to organize all metadata fields into custom sets for display.
The list above completely dodges the hairy question of interface preferences. There must be some scientific way to quantify the productivity and efficiency differences between the two programs, but I don’t know what that is. And it wouldn’t take personal preference into account anyway. Some folks just hate the modal approach that Lightroom has taken to divide the image workflow into parts. Others don’t like its dark design or the larger size of the fonts and controls. And event though Apple is well known for its interface design prowess, there are those who just don’t like Aperture’s look and feel.
Back the the question: So how is one to chose their next professional photo management tool?
Judge each programs’ strengths against your needs and style. I suspect a lot of the back-and-forth over Aperture vs. Lightroom has to do with what’s important to the speaker. If most of your images are going to Photoshop anyway, the fact that Lightroom has local adjustment tools won’t make any real difference for you. And Photoshop’s soft proofing may make Lightroom’s lack of it irrelevant.
Some strong opinions come from misunderstandings about the programs. My favorite is the complaint that Aperture “hides” your images in its private “database.” Neither is true — the “database” is the Mac OS file system and the images are “hidden” inside the Aperture Library package (just right click on it, and show package contents, to see all the files and folders within). Not to even mention that referencing files (instead of using managed files) allows you to put the images wherever you want in whatever folder structure suits you.
I imagine that I’ve left out some readers’ favorite feature in the summary above. And what I call an “other strength” may be a critical feature for some. That’s all certainly possible as what I perceive as a strength, or as a less than compelling feature, others may see differently. If I’ve missed your favorite, please note it in the comments to this post.
Which will you buy with your Christmas money?