Lightroom vs Aperture - The Results

by Michael Clark
03/06/2007


Editor's note: Once Lightroom 1.0 was released, many people suggested that an Aperture vs Lightroom comparison would be valuable. On one hand, I liked the idea because comparisons, when handled properly, are useful. But I wanted something that would be helpful for both our Aperture and Lightroom communities.

It dawned on me that we could run parallel comparisons by two different writers on each of our sites. From the Aperture blog I asked Micah Walter, and from our Lightroom site, Michael Clark, the author of this article.

In my opinion both of these guys have put forth an outstanding effort. In Micah's article, Aperture vs Lightroom - An O'Reilly "Inside Aperture" Field Test, he takes his Aperture experience and pits it against Lightroom during a real shoot. And here in Michael's article, he brings his Lightroom experience into play as he compares it to Aperture.

To get the full benefit of what these guys have done, I encourage you to read both articles. It's an investment of time, I know, but the reward will be a greater understanding of these two innovative photo management applications.

A Week with Lightroom... and Aperture

After a long week of comparing Lightroom and Aperture, things are starting to heat up, including my MacBook Pro. Woohoo, I'm just waiting for it to ignite into flames after putting these two applications to the test. I've been working with each program and am ready to give my opinions on the topics I listed in my first Lightroom vs. Aperture post on February 19th.

I'd like to reiterate that these are my opinions; I don't claim to be an expert on either of these software applications. The program that works best for me is based on my present knowledgebase of these two programs, the type and quantity of images I produce, and my previous experience. Your experience may differ--all part of the fun. So, lean back in a comfy chair and relax. This could take a while.

Because I have an Apple MacBook Pro that's newer than my G5 tower, and because Aperture won't load onto my G5, I worked with both programs on my laptop so as to keep the comparison equal. My MacBook Pro has 2GB of RAM installed and has a Dual 2.3 GHz processor. And just for the record, I know Lightroom inside and out. I've used Aperture to work up a number of images in the past, so I know how to use it already to some degree, but I'm no expert. I shoot with Nikons and my main camera is a Nikon D2x.

Color Management

Aperture and Lightroom handle color in much the same way, and they're both dependent on a good monitor calibration device to assure consistent color. In Aperture, the color space for exported images is controlled in the Image Export Preset (Preset > Image Export) while in Lightroom, it's in the Export dialog box itself. No huge differences that I can see here.

Importing Images and Adding Metadata

In my experience, there isn't much difference between how you import images into Lightroom or Aperture. Lightroom has some unique and slightly more powerful options, such as being able to back up images as you import them. And the user interface is much nicer with Lightroom thanks to the metadata templates. Lightroom reminds me of Photo Mechanic. The ability to back up images as they're imported (if you're importing from a memory card) is just another nice touch to help speed up the workflow process.

I didn't notice a huge difference in how long it took each program to import images. Both programs set up a "hot" folder on the desktop to automatically import images, which is especially nice if you're shooting tethered.

File/Folder Structure

The folder structures for each program differ only slightly, so this is one of those cases where personal preference matters most. It's nice that you can create projects and smart folders in Aperture but I don't really need that for my workflow. With all of the other topics I'm covering here, I confess I didn't have a lot of time to work with the different projects and smart folder structure in Aperture.

Photo Editing: Ranking and Rating Images, Stacking and Versions

Editor's note: We distinguish between "photo editing," which is selecting the best shots from a day's work, and "image editing," which is altering the pixels on a picture, such as making an exposure adjustment. In this section, Michael compares the photo editing capabilities of both Aperture and Lightroom.

Photo editing is the raison d'etre for both Aperture and Lightroom. Both of these applications are far ahead of any other photo editing software currently available, and both speed up the selection process considerably. It seems that Aperture and Lightroom were created specifically to deal with the large number of images shot digitally these days. And both handle that task extremely well.

As much as I'd like to say that I prefer one program over the other, I think both are superior editing applications. With large dual monitors (see user interface section below) and a super fast desktop computer, Aperture becomes a very potent editing tool. Lightroom may seem simple compared to Aperture in this regard, but its simplicity is its greatest strength during the photo editing process.

With both applications, ranking and rating your pictures is simple. There's not much difference save for the fact that Lightroom allows you three different methods for ranking images--color, stars and flags--while Aperture uses only stars. This isn't terribly important, but it's nice to have the color ratings in Lightroom so I can color code which images are going to my various stock agencies or other clients and not disturb my star ratings.

Now let's get to Stacking in Aperture and Lightroom. Personally, I don't see the need to use stacks. My methods for editing use star ratings in stages, and I upgrade the star ratings in successive editing sessions to choose which images get processed. I find this to be a more logical editing process. It gives me time to really look at my images and decide which ones are the real gems from a photo shoot. Having said all that, there's no arguing that the Stacking feature is much better implemented in Aperture than in Lightroom. That's because of the visual separation of the images in Aperture. In Lightroom, it works almost the same way, but it's hard to tell where one stack ends and another begins.

The Versions feature works similarly in Lightroom and Aperture also. In fact, it works so well in both applications that I like them equally. I'm happy Lightroom has added this feature because it lets me make black and white versions of my favorite color images without altering the original color master.

And last, but certainly not least, both Aperture and Lightroom have really sophisticated Compare modes for pulling up images side by side and comparing them at 100 percent or at screen size. This is one of the best features in both programs and really allows you to analyze your images on a technical level. I only wish they'd let us compare more than two images. It would be great to be able to compare up to five images at 100 percent at the same time.

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