I did a trial of Lightroom and Aperture a couple of years ago. They were both pre 2.0, but I don’t remember the exact versions. I picked Aperture. The need to switch modules in Lightroom was giving me frustrations, and the library function seemed to be stronger in Aperture. At the time, I hadn’t used Photoshop much, and had no experience with Camera Raw. These things had me leaning to Aperture. In the time since I have been fairly happy with it, but there hasn’t been an update in quite some time.
Since I last used Lightroom there have been several updates to the develop module that is backed by Camera Raw. The ability to paint adjustments and graduated filter effects sounded really cool. Also, my favorite technical camera book writer, Scott Kelby, has a Lightroom 2 book. This brings up my other beef with Aperture. Not really Apples fault, but because of the smaller audience, there are far fewer people blogging and writing books about it. Maybe Aperture is so much more intuitive that no one needs to explain anything. But then again, I just found out a couple of weeks ago that you could save individual book pages as jpegs.
So, I decided to get Scott’s book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book for Photographers, and give Lightroom a 30 day trial. I am not sure that it was a good idea. Not that the time was a waste of time. Far from it. Now I have something else that I want to spend $300 on.
So, first of all, I should say that that the separate modules don’t bother me anymore. Probably because I really only use 2, and once you get down to it, you still have to switch between library and developing type functions in Aperture. I had thought that the library functions, how you arrange, sort and keyword your photos, was better in Aperture. That is not really the case with Lightroom 2. One thing I like about Apertures file structure, is that you can store virtual folders and smart folders inside the original downloaded structure. When you look at the interface, it appears that a book, or smart folder is inside the folder where the master photos live. It helps keep things all together. With Lightroom, you have two separate views, one of the hard drive folders, and one of collections. Collections are an organizing structure where you can move pointers to your files. Whether the file is the on the hard drive view, or in a collection or smart collection, it is the same image. You can use them to say hold only your best images from a shoot, or the best images from several shoots grouped together. I think this will work our fine, just takes some getting used to.
Both Lightroom and Aperture allow you to flag, color tag, rate, and keyword tag your photos. Lightroom allows you to flag any photo, while Aperture will only let you pick one image from a stack or a project. The key-wording now seems better than Aperture. Both allow you to create keyword sets, but Lightroom has more key wording possibilities. Lightroom will actually try to suggest keywords for you. Pretty cool. The suggestions, sets, and keyword list just seems better contained. I don’t really like Apertures keywords floating overlay.
I like the metadata handling better too. I find the different metadata lists or filters in Aperture confusing. Especially trying to edit them. There is a separate way to handle what is shown vs what can be automatically filled in, and I still don’t have it figured out. Presets in Lightroom work just fine. I like the little buttons at the side of some of the items too. Two of the best are a button that shows you in lightroom other items taken on the same date, and a button that takes you to the folder where the image is contained. It pisses me off not having that in Aperture. I find my self looking at a smart folder with pictures from all over, and wondering what else was taken at that time. Lightroom +1.
One of the things I really liked about Aperture is the library filter. The ability to find pictures by just about any type of metadata, rating, or date is pretty cool. Lightroom manages to do it one better. The grid view in the Library has an even better way to drill down to the images you are looking for. As you select an item, the next items you can select from are updated live to only have the available choices. Very cool. You can then save your searches as presets. I would like the ability that Aperture has to save them as a smart collection. To create a smart collection requires a different not so cool interface.
At first it seemed like Aperture did a better job of letting you see a full screen view of the image, but there are easy short cuts to remove the panels (tab) and lights out mode that dims or makes the screen black showing only the picture. Very neat. I have also grown tired of the loupe in Aperture. I like Lightroom’s ability to just zoom the whole picture, and then allow you to pan within it. It seems faster than the loupe does, which can beach ball my machine.
The ability to customize the views in Lightroom is astounding. You can collapse just about everything, and they all have keyboard shortcuts that you can use to bring them back. The only thing better would be if you had the ability to save as a preset, your favorite configurations and cycle through them with a key press.
We now get to the Develop module in Lightroom. If you use Camera Raw, you will be right at home. I still haven’t used it all that much, but have been trying to understand it more. Apertures Adjustments panel works much differently. There are many of the same ideas though. I find the camera raw backed Lightroom tools much better. I just feel like I can adjust the parts of the image I want better without as much messing around. The Tone Curve panel is amazing. I feel there is much better control over separate tones in your image that I can manage to get in Aperture. Maybe I just need someone to show me. Something that is very cool, is that panels like in the Tone Curve and the Hue/Saturation panel, you can click and drag on an area in the image to adjust that tone or color. Sweet.
I also like the whole histogram thing in LIghtroom. I like the arrows that indicate when the picture is lacking detail in blacks or lights. Simply clicking on the arrows shows the areas on your image in red that may be problem areas. Simple.
I still haven’t even talked about gradients, the adjustment brush, or masks. I still haven’t even had time to look into them. Maybe tomorrow 🙂 I have only just played with the Slideshow, Print, and Web modules, but I have only barely played with those things in Aperture. The one thing I would miss about Aperture is the books. I have been using books quite a bit, and really like the layout tools. It is not perfect, and I sometimes wish for more flexibility, but for me, that is a big hole.
I haven’t played with presets much yet, but the concept is something I have wanted in Aperture for some time. I wanted the ability to make some adjustments and then save them so that they could be applied to multiple photos. You can kind of do this with the Lift and Stamp tools, but they can’t be saved for one click access. You would have to search for a photo saved with these and then Lift and Stamp. The tool also doesn’t have the granularity that I want when copying these settings. I was very happy to see that Lightroom will let you individually select just about everything that you can set with it’s copy function. Lightroom also has the ability to batch sync these settings. Because of these presets, you can even configure Lightroom to apply these settings on import or export.
The one thing that I have been trying to do without much success is to export an image with an exact size, say no larger than 800×800, but with a border and my name in the corner. Not sure if this is possible without a plugin. That is my issue at the moment. I relied on an Aperture plugin called BorderFX to do this. There may be a Lightroom plugin to do this, but I don’t have one right now.
So, if you can’t tell from all that, I would be leaning to Lightroom if I hadn’t bought Aperture first. Even with Aperture, I am thinking of getting Lightroom. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many more blogs, books and users of Lightroom that can help you along the way. That alone would easily swing a tie. A last thing that are frustrating with Aperture is sending images to Photoshop for an HDR or Panorama. You can’t. You have to find the containing folder, find the images in Bridge, and then open them from there. Not the easiest process. It prevents me from even doing it at all. With Lightroom, it is an export option. Sold.
Update: See comparison of newer versions here.