Aperture vs Lightroom
In most cases, I’d rather use my blog to come up with my own content instead of reply to something brought up elsewhere. However, this topic of Aperture vs Lightroom came up on The Grid today and Scott Kelby said something that caught my attention. Scott’s comment was that Adobe’s Camera RAW was the industry standard for RAW conversion (I agree that it is), but he also stated he’d never read anyone say that Aperture’s RAW conversion was better than Adobe’s.
When I think about it, I really don’t recall reading that Adobe’s RAW conversion is better than Aperture’s…or any other RAW conversion engine. It just doesn’t seem to be a topic that generally comes up in product reviews or discussions of these products. I read on another Aperture user’s blog that he felt it created a better RAW conversion than Adobe Camera RAW, and he had some images to illustrate his point. This could be simply a matter of taste, though. To be fair, Matt Kloskowski brought up a point on the show that some issues like this are subjective — that we choose products based upon a look that matches the photographer’s taste.
I decided to put this to a test. Actually, I’ve done that before and preferred Aperture’s conversion. That was prior to updates from both Adobe and Apple, so this seemed like a good excuse to see how the new engines compare. Both images were saved at the best quality JPG, 72 DPI, sRGB color space. I didn’t make any adjustments to the images, so this is as close as I can get to showing you how they appear upon conversion and export.
I managed to get a stunning, dirty-blonde model to assist my test.
The Adobe Camera RAW Conversion Image
The Aperture 3 RAW Conversion
I prefer the Aperture conversion to the Adobe conversion. The Adobe image seems a bit more washed out and flatter than the Aperture image, but not by much. In fact, I’m pleased to see how much the Adobe version has improved since the last time I tried this comparison. During my previous test, the Adobe conversion didn’t seem as sharp as the Aperture conversion. It doesn’t appear that way to me this time. To be sure, I zoomed in to 200% for a closer look.
Aperture 200% Crop
I don’t see a noticeable difference in sharpness in the Aperture vs Lightroom RAW conversion comparison. I think the differences I detect between the RAW conversion may be due to slightly more Blacks in the Aperture conversion. That’s something easily adjusted in Adobe products with a slider. I’m still happier with the initial image from Aperture, but I don’t think that the differences are as far apart as my previous tests. Either product can deliver a good RAW conversion and let you make adjustments to suit your taste. So if you hear someone saying that Aperture’s conversion is better than Adobe’s, or vice-versa, they’re blowing smoke. Both products are really very close in conversion quality.
Also, I think that Adobe users should be happy with the competition provided by Apple and others. That competition is what drives these corporations to improve their products and we all benefit.
The only comment Scott made that disappointed me was when he told Aperture users that they’re all alone (or words to that effect). I don’t have any doubt that the Lightroom community is larger, given that it’s available on Windows and Mac platforms, and Aperture is only available on the Mac. That said, I’m not surprised that Scott Kelby doesn’t see as much of the Aperture community. He’s invested in the Adobe community and I believe that’s going to dominate his perception. When you teach workshops dedicated to one vendor’s product line, you may not get as much interaction from users of another product. I don’t doubt that some Aperture users have asked for training and now there are a pair of Aperture courses on KelbyTraining.com. They’re good courses, but I don’t anticipate any ongoing development of material for Aperture.
Scott shared a story about a man who was talking about all the neat features of the Microsoft Zune, and how it was a better device than Apple’s iPod. That may be true, but people are buying the iPod. His point in telling that story was that features aren’t always what sell a product. He’s right. We may differ, though, on what aspect makes another product a better choice. It appeared as if Scott was suggesting Lightroom was the better choice because of the community. I believe that Aperture is a better choice because of the user experience. Both are valid, so you have to decide for yourself which is more important to you when evaluating Aperture vs Lightroom.
I use Aperture for my photo management and Photoshop for image finishing. Both are excellent products, but they serve different needs. Aperture and Lightroom are similar enough that I can take concepts from one and apply it to the other. How much difference is there in keyword strategy between the two products? When it comes to file management, I think Aperture has a distinct advantage with its database approach compared to Lightroom Catalogs (though Aperture lets you choose either approach). When I watch other people show me their workflow in Lightroom, it seems to me that they put a great deal of time into their file management strategy to overcome the inherent weakness of using file names, folder hierarchies and catalog techniques vs. using a database. Then they put in more time to come up with backup strategies.
I have four Aperture databases. Yes, I can make projects and folders inside, but I really don’t have to do any of that stuff. All I need to do is tag a few keywords and rely upon metadata that comes from the camera to organize my images any way that I want. If I want to backup my images, I push one button and Aperture updates a Vault (another database) with the changes since my last backup. If I want to move my images from one drive to another, I drag & drop the database. There’s no worry about breaking a catalog. In other words, I spend less time thinking about managing my images because Aperture has the means to do that work for me.
Am I alone? Am I out in left field using Aperture while the rest of the world uses Lightroom? I doubt it, but it wouldn’t bother me if that were true. I don’t follow a crowd for the sake of following the crowd. I perceive Aperture as the better product because its features allow for a better workflow than I would have if I used Lightroom. The other folks using Lightroom may have more tips and presets, but they appear to need them more than I do.
That doesn’t mean I don’t envy a few features in Lightroom. It has much better noise reduction than Aperture, and it has a few adjustments that are lacking in Aperture (e.g. Gradients). I like its integration with Photoshop, but Aperture better integrates with the Mac OS X environment. When I get right down to it, the things that may be lacking in Aperture are available to me in Photoshop CS5, but the workflow features that I like in Aperture are not available in Lightroom. In a world of compromise, I find Aperture & Photoshop a better solution than Lightroom & Photoshop. It’s not about the features, but the experience. Your mileage may vary.
Both products have a lot to offer. Both have free trial versions so you can decide which one works best for you. If you’ve already invested a lot of time in managing your images in one, stick with it unless you have a very compelling reason to change. Peer pressure isn’t a compelling reason. Think about all of the images that you’ve modified, adjusted, marked as a favorite, etc…then think about doing it all over again if you decide to switch. Now that’s a loyalty program in itself.
UPDATE: This turned out to be a very popular post, as many people are trying to decide the Aperture vs Lightroom issue. So I decided to do something that I hope is a bit more helpful. I created the Aperture vs Lightroom blog to look at the features of each product and compare them. Please stop by to check it out. If you have questions or suggestions for comparisons, I’d love your feedback.