Note: This article was originally drafted prior to Apple’s release of Aperture 2.1 and Adobe’s release of Lightroom 2.0 beta. I will continue with the original intent and address these releases in an update.
Within the last year, I have gotten more serious about digital photography. I would classify myself as a “somewhat serious hobbyist”. I bought a Nikon D40 about 18 months ago and followed that up with a 55-200mm VR lens. My big Christmas presents were a Sigma 30mm f1.4 and a Nikon SB-600 flash.
I mostly shoot portraits and action shots of my son - playing with trains, running around the park, etc. I don’t take pictures as much as I would like, but I still read about photography topics as much as I can. In the process of all this, I outgrew iPhoto and downloaded the 30-day trails of both Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 and Apple Aperture 1.5. I put them both through their respective paces and eventually decided on Lightroom for the following reasons:
- Overall, I preferred Lightroom’s interface
- Lightroom’s Develop controls were easier to use and more intuitive for my newbie brain
- While most folks give Aperture the edge in terms of straight photo organization, the ‘project’ concept didn’t quite meld with how I wanted to organize my pics. I’m not a professional photographer and Lightroom made it much easier to organize by date and then build Collections from there
- I like Lightroom’s ability to set flags and colors for individual shots as well as ratings
- Aperture was…wait for it…sloooow. The difference between the two on my Power Mac G5 2.0 with 2.5GB of RAM was noticable
- At the time Lightroom was cheaper
After about a year of using Lightroom, I have been happy with the results. It is fast, easy to use, and pretty much does what I need it to do. I have about 3000 pictures in my catalog, mostly family shots. I don’t print a lot of photos and I’m still in the process of evaluating different online options. That being said, here is a quick list of areas of slight annoyance/improvement, based on how I do things:
- Aperture’s Smart Album capability would be nice. I have a few “Best of” collections and every now and then I have to manually add new pictures to them. The ability to keyword or rate them appropriately and then have the software do the rest would be sweet. In Lightroom’s defense, the Metadata Browser is pretty sharp. You would have to build a ton of Aperture Smart Albums to replicate what Lightroom does automatically.
- The side panels in the Library and Develop Modules can get long and require scrolling to see the info you need. I would like to be able to customize their display a bit more. Right now I have the Navigator and Quick Develop panes permanently collapsed to make room for other stuff. Being able to turn them completely off would be a plus. Granted the panels as well as the filmstrip can toggled with various function keys, but usually there is something there that I need.
- Conversely, the left panel in the develop module is sort of a waste of space, for me anyways: I don’t use too many presets or take a lot of snapshots.
- I should be able to stack within a collection, as opposed to just within a folder
- Keyword management could get unruly if I I expand much further than the basic key words I use now: names, photo descriptors, etc.
- In order to get pictures to my iPod, I have to export JPEGs and then import into iPhoto in order for iTunes to see them. This is the only thing I use iPhoto for.
None of these things are deal breakers by any stretch and Lightroom has a lot of good things going for it: Targeted Adjustment Tool, better Metadata display in Grid view, fast preview generation. Also some common knocks against LR don’t apply to me: I don’t print from it, I own a single 20 Cinema Display - hence lack of dual monitor support is a non-issue. I also don’t have much of a dog in the “modal” debate since I rarely use the Slideshow or Web Modules. I spend most of my time in the Library organizing and when I need to make an adjustment, I just hit ‘D’ to go to the Develop Mode and ‘G’ returns me to Library Grid view when I’m finished.
I promptly downloaded the Aperture 2.0 Trial to see what changes were made, and to see if any of the areas mentioned above were addressed.
- The combined Projects/Metadata/Adjustments Inspector cleans up the overall interface nicely. I also like that Shift-I will move it to the right.
- I had forgotten how useful a true Full Screen Mode is.
- Access to the Aperture Library from iTunes (see above) and my AppleTV. Mucho easier.
- Much more organizational capability with projects, folders, and albums (smart or static). While I like LR’s simplified organizational tools, after a year of use, they are somewhat limiting.
- I don’t have much of a use yet for Light Tables, but they are kinda cool.
- Adjustment settings are pretty intuitive and easy to use. I don’t see any major differences in RAW decoding between the two. My firmly entrenched status as a beginner could explain that as well.
- Aperture now displays exposure information below the histogram, just like Lightroom.
- Finally, speed. Just scrolling in Grid View in version 1.5 was almost unusable for me, with significant delays to just draw the preview. Version 2.0 is much faster, even without using Quick Preview Mode. However, piling on the Adjustments can slow down loading a full-size preview.
- I have really become tied to flags and color labels in Lightroom. In Aperture, I’m kind of lost without them.
- Lightroom’s Remove Spots tool gives better results and is easier to use than Aperture’s Spot/Patch Tool
- Aperture’s Loupe is nice, but sometimes I find it limiting - especially when doing Spot/Patch work. With the Loupe displayed, moving the Source circle for the Patch tool means I can’t see where I’m moving it to. While Lightroom’s zoom isn’t perfect, it works better in some circumstances
- Using the Highlights and Shadows Adjustment pretty much kills my Loupe. Things grind to a halt.
- I really like Lightroom’s interactive histogram. 75% of my image processing is sliding the specific tones around within the histogram itself. I have mistakenly attempted to do this more than a few times in Aperture.
Overall, I think that Aperture 2.0 is a solid program. It will be interesting to see how Lightroom reacts. Now I just have to spend more time taking pictures than writing about software for those pictures…
P.S. I should get some sort of award for not using the term ‘workflow’ anywhere in the above post.