Aperture 3 vs Lightroom 3 Beta 2

My first photography “library” program was Aperture 1.5. I bought it right about the time I got my first DSLR, the Nikon D40. I wanted to shoot raw, and needed something to process the images. I wanted to be able to file, sort and tag my images. I set out to evaluate Lightroom and Aperture. My results were here.

Aperture was working will for me, but then I got a little more demanding in my image processing, and that’s were I ran into trouble. Now, I am sure there are others that were incredibly happy with the editing tools in Aperture 2, but I wasn’t. I started to process the images that I most cared about by opening them in Photoshop. Then I decided I wanted to use Camera Raw, and needed to go find the actual NEF file first to open it in Adobe Camera Raw before opening them in Photoshop. I didn’t often need to use Photoshop layers and such, but I did every once in a while. Mostly I just like using Camera Raw.

That’s when I discovered that Camera Raw was the engine behind Lightroom. It was a library and UI with Camera Raw doing the image manipulation. Hmmmm…. So I did a trial of Lightroom, and then bought a copy of Lightroom 2. I was still using Aperture 2 for some things like Books, which Lightroom doesn’t have an answer for.

Now, I was fairly happy with Lightroom 2, but when Apple announced Aperture 3, I was thinking I might be headed back. The upgrade price wasn’t too much, so I went for it. I should have just done a trial. I had issues with it right from the start, but maybe you won’t. I will try to compare the two programs, only bringing up my issues with Aperture 3 at the end.

So, here I will try to compare what I like and don’t like about Aperture 3 and Lightroom Beta 3. For this comparison, I use past experience, and two events that I did where I processed a wedding on Aperture 3, and another party on Lightroom 3 beta.

1) To start with, I still like the library organization of Aperture better. I like folders. I like being able to group projects, books, slide shows and whatever else into a folder. It keeps things together. I had got used to the collection method of Lightroom, and how separate it keeps these virtual folders from the actual image location. For a while I thought it seemed fine, but when I went back to try Aperture 3, I realized I missed it.

2) In the beginning I was put off by the Modules in Lightroom. I felt that it was a bit restrictive. In reality, it was just fine. I got used to it quickly. Now in Lightroom 3 Beta, you have more access to your images in the Develop module (collections), so that area is improving as well. The floating Inspector in full screen mode in Aperture is pretty nice though. Full screen mode in Lightroom is a great feature, but I wish it had a floating window like Aperture. Yes you can remove all the other side bars, but it’s not the same.

3) I still like the Develop Module of Lightroom better than Adjustments in Aperture. Aperture 3 is much improved. Some of the deficiencies in V2 to Lightroom was the gradient tool, brushes, and presets. Aperture 3 added the brushes and presets which was welcomed. I still feel that I can adjust an image to better results with brightness, clarity and a touch of vibrance than I can in Aperture with exposure, definition, and a touch of vibrancy.

4) Brushes are a great Aperture 3 addition, however I find it much easier to add and adjust presets in Lightroom. I like the ability in Lightroom to adjust the brushes. I have presets, but I can tweak them as I would like. I have not figured that out in Aperture yet. I also just like how Adobe has laid out out the menu system for applying presets and brushes better. To me, the masking in Lightroom seems better than in Aperture. It might be subjective, because I wasn’t using the same images, but it just seemed to work better in Lightroom on the images I used it with. Also, I use the graduated filter on sky’s all the time. This is something that Aperture should implement.

5) I like the ability to move the linear points on the histogram in Aperture. I would often pull in the endpoints on an image that maybe didn’t get shot with quite enough light range.  I missed this in Lightroom, but after figuring out how to use the tonal curve, it is probably a wash, but moving endpoints in a little bit in Aperture is really easy. On the other hand, I am starting to use the ability in the Tone Curve and some of the other blocks to adjust while moving the mouse on the image. That way you select the tones you want to adjust, and Lightroom moves the tone curve. That is pretty cool. That was there in Lightroom 2.

6) Books. Aperture has, Lightroom doesn’t. Some people don’t care, but I like the layout engine in Aperture. I wish it had a few more features, and made it easier to export to my own book printer, but that may come. There is now the ability to for plug-ins to work with it. It would be nice to be able to create custom templates that you can save off, but there are only really hacks for this that involve saving copy’s of existing books, and swapping out pictures. I do use the book feature, and if I am sticking with Lightroom, will still keep Aperture around for this function.

7) Printing. Lightroom has been much better than Aperture in this regard. The print module in Lightroom 2 is great, and is a little improved in Lightroom 3 beta. I don’t print much from my own machines, but I have used it to create print layouts and print packages that I have exported to jpegs that I have had printed elsewhere. You have great control over layout with Lightroom. There are a few tricks to getting it to work. I was glad that I had purchased Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for Photographers by Scott Kelby.  Aperture 2 has very basic printing ability. You couldn’t print different images on the same page. Aperture 3 has improved the printing ability, but I still don’t think it can match Lightroom. If you print a lot of your own images, you should probably look into this a bit more.

8 ) Slide shows. Lightroom 3 beta added the ability to match the time of the slide show to the length of the song. It will automatically adjust the length of each slide to match the song. this is very cool. Aperture 3 has a feature that allows you to press a button in real time to adjust the length of time the image is displayed. This sounds better than it works in real life for me. Maybe I just need more practice. On the other hand, the control you now have over the Ken Burns theme is amazing. You drag rectangles (like cropping rectangles) on the screen to specify the start and end sizing for each individual image (if you want) to get great control on how the image moves and expands. This works really well. This extra control is definitely a plus over the slide shows that Lightroom supports.

9) Web Galleries. I can’t say much about this. I keep thinking that I will use these features, but I don’t. I end up exporting my images and using custom javascript or using gallery software like Zenphoto. I end up exporting my images and FTP’ing the images myself. I have played with the built in galleries a bit, and some of the galleries that Lightroom has look pretty nifty. Neither seemed to have the perfect gallery for me. I looked at the effort it would take to create a custom gallery, and it looks like some are available for Lightroom  and that it would be the easier of the two to actually create a custom one.

10) Because I don’t use the web galleries, I need to get my images somewhere. To do that, you need to export them. There were several places I would put images, including Flickr, Facebook, and websites. With Aperture 2, I would export images separately, then use the Flickr uploader. With Lightroom 2, I found a Flickr plugin that I could use to upload the images directly. One of the issues though, is trying to keep track of images that you had already uploaded. I tried to add a flickr keyword to my images, but often I would forget. Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3 beta have improved upon this situation. They now let you create a linked folder/collection to these services. This allows you to see what has been uploaded, revise flickr images (with pro account), and sync new images. Unfortunately both programs give you very little control or options. I would like to be able to specify a set, for example when uploading to Flickr. Another issue that I had was with watermarking. I would on export use a plugin to put my name and a border on my images. Lightroom 3 has improved it’s exporting function so that you can apply watermarks whenever you export now. That is welcome.

11) Faces and Places. Aperture wins her. I don’t know how many professional photographers will want to use Faces. I find it a nifty tech, but haven’t committed to it. Probably because I haven’t committed to Aperture. I apply tags to photos of family members names right now. For my other work, I don’t tag them with names. I think it would be a better way for dealing with family photos though. The GPS integration is another story. I have yet to get a GPS device because it seemed like such a hassle to deal with the GPS data. Lightroom does have a couple of plug-ins, but I haven’t tried them. Aperture is the first with a out of the box solution. I imported some iPhone pictures, and also tagged some of my other pictures on a map. I thought it worked well. I like the map view. I think this is a great step. I would definitely think about getting a GPS unit if I am using Aperture long term.

12) Video is slowly starting to become more a part of a DSLR shooters workflow. I was quite excited to see that Apple has started to address this. It works pretty well. Aperture imports the clips with your other photos, and applies your metadata. While viewing your images, you are able to view video clips, and can even adjust the start and end points. What would be fabulous is if you could adjust the clips. Right now no editing is possible. Lightroom Beta 2 has a first glimpse at dealing with video. Before this second beta, Lightroom would tell me that it had files it couldn’t import. Then I had to go move them to another location my self. I have forgotten to do that more than once, before formatting the card. Lightroom’s version doesn’t allow you to view the files or trim them. They will open in a default player however. Better than nothing. I have seen a demo of how CS4 Extended will allow you to take an adjustment layer an apply that to all frames in the video, even as the objects move through the frame. That would be super cool to see in a future Lightroom version.

Ok, so where am I at? First of all, Aperture is almost unusable for me. It is very frustrating. I get distorted images, where they turn green, or pixelated, or have a big X across them. This started when I was using Aperture 2, and from what I have heard on the web, was probably about the time I upgraded to Leopard. I still  have issues with V3. I haven’t used it as much lately because of it, but it seems like the issue is becoming less frequent.

Second, Aperture 3 is slower than Lightroom 3 beta. Especially on images that have used the new brushes. I have a 3gig 2.2 iMac. It’s almost a couple of years old. I am careful to close all that I can when I am running Aperture or Lightroom, but the issue is most obvious on Aperture. The computer becomes unresponsive. It appears to be processing something, but there is no message, and no ability to interact with the program.

I still feel more comfortable with, and feel like I can get better results using the develop module from Lightroom, and it’s brushes than I can with Apertures adjustment panel and it’s brushes.

To me, Aperture wins some of the “extra” categories like Faces, Places, Books, and handling of video. There are also some parts of the library functions I like better with Aperture, such as the combining of items into folders. I am getting used to how to use Collections in Lightroom however, and I am liking the key wording area too. One little nicety of Lightroom is the little arrows to the right of items in the library. These arrows usually bring up some extra information. The ones I like the best are the ones dealing with files and the file system. When in a collection, if I want to see the Lightroom folder where this image came from (if I am looking for other similar ones) there is a button next to “folder” that will take you right there.

So right now, I fell like I want to use Aperture, but will be sticking with Lightroom, and upgrading to v3 when it comes out. I will be keeping Aperture around for using the books feature. You may have different conclusions, but those are mine.

If you have a Mac, I recommend giving each a solid couple of weeks of a free trial with real images, and see how things go. You get to make your own decision.