Both Aperture and Lightroom have been updated to versions 3 since my discussion of their differences back at version 2. The recent upgrades have been kind to both, although I would say that the changes to Lightroom were more evolutionary than those of Aperture. To update my old post, let me point out the important changes I see in the two powerhouse photo workflow applications.
The most significant change to Aperture, in my view, is the addition of brushes to make localized, instead of image-wide, adjustments. Yes, Lightroom fans, this is mostly a “catch up” feature for Aperture since Lightroom added brushes in version 2. Happily, Aperture has taken it a little farther with the ability to brush in or brush out effects and the choice of more effects (even curves) than the set provided by Lightroom. But still, its mostly catch up.
Yes, curves. Aperture added another “catch up” feature in a flexible implementation of the curves adjustment brick. Along with brushes, certainly one of the most requested features and one of the biggest gap in features with Lightroom.
In another move to match Lightroom, Aperture now also has adjustment presets. Once you find adjustment settings that you like enough to use over and over, you can save them as a preset And, in Aperture, those presets are added to the existing adjustments rather than replacing them as Lightroom does.
I may be going against the grain here, but I don’t see much value in the iPhoto-like additions of faces and places to Aperture. But I know lots of people like both features, so I’ll simply say that “automatic” facial recognition is here along with a map based method for geo-tagging your images. If those are important to you, Lightroom has neither (although you can add geo-tagging with a plug-in).
Aperture has always had a very nice full screen editing environment. Version 3 adds full screen implementations of the image browser and project views.
The import dialog was always a favorite of mine in Aperture and it has gotten better with many more import settings such as metadata presets, adjustment presets, RAW+JPEG handling and more.
In an odd move that seems to add more complexity than its worth is Aperture’s new trash can. If you delete an image, it goes there, instead of the system’s trash can. So deleting images is now a multi-step process: delete, empty Aperture’s trash and then empty the system trash. Why?
Did I miss a few of your favorite features? Probably. Apple says they added over 200 new features in this upgrade and I’ve only touched the ones that most interest me in my personal photo workflow.
One thing that did not change with Aperture 3 is its insatiable demand for CPU, GPU and RAM. Woe be it to anyone expecting stellar performance on anything less than the top end class of Macintosh. I’m running it on a Mac Pro with eight 2.8 GHz CPU cores, an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT video card, and 8 GB of RAM and it runs fine. Your mileage may vary.
In closing comments on Aperture 3, I’ve got to mention all the bugs, some severe and several effecting me, that Apple allowed to ship with version 3.0. That’s not good; many depend on Aperture for their professional workflows. Granted, if Aperture is a key part of your business, you probably didn’t just upgrade and go instead of sticking with version 2 until your testing of version 3 proved it ready. But still, this is a professional tool and Apple did not do a professional job of delivering the upgrade. The good news, at least for me, is that version 3.0.3 and several small OS updates have made Aperture reliable.
The philosophy of the Lightroom upgrade bares some resemblance to the upgrade from Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) to Snow Leopard (10.6). Both focused mostly on the underpinnings and basic structure. And it that regard, many of Lightroom’s updates for version 3 are more under the hood.
The RAW image decoding pipeline has seen a near complete overhaul, but the user will see nothing but the improved results. Most significant of these is vastly better digital image noise suppression (which may now be best in class). This is not good news for noise reduction plug-in developers.
A controversial change is the very new import dialog. It has gained a number of new features bringing it to near feature parity with Aperture, but in the result has aggravated many Lightroom users.
Lens correction is a big deal to lots of photographers. Lightroom now has automatic geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting correction built in. Profiles are included for most common lenses, but profiles can also be created for any lens with an additional free utility. Its surprising to see the difference this makes to an image, even one made with good glass.
Oddly, Lightroom still does not have onscreen proofing using ICC profiles, although it was widely rumored to be getting that feature and Photoshop has had it for what seems like forever.
I’m guessing that few people who are invested in Aperture or Lightroom will be changing programs based on the features in this upgrade. Aperture has closed the gap with Lightroom in all the key image management and editing features. Lightroom has added some important refinements. But the basic nature of the two has remained the same. If you didn’t like Lightroom before, you still won’t.
Lightroom still has its modal structure separating the Library from the Develop and Print modules. And it is still a powerful image editor with a wonderfully flexible print package for single sheets. But I don’t see its image management features as its strong point and that hasn’t changed with the upgrade.
For Aperture, the story is very good. It retains its “Apple-like” user interface and power book printing tools while adding the image adjustment tools that have long been missing. The features gap between Aperture and Lightroom is, for all intents and purposes, gone.
The last several weeks have seen a number of new RAW image formats supported by Aperture. Lightroom has done a generally better job of keeping up with new cameras, but perhaps we’ll now see Apple doing a faster. This will surely be important to folks who upgrade camera bodies often.
For me? While I have been using both programs for different things, the improvements to Aperture move it to the top of my list and I’ll be doing all my new work in Aperture alone.
If you’d like to find out more about the improvements in both applications, take a look at these sites: