Monday, July 28, 2008

Aperture vs Lightroom

Professional and semi-professional digital photographers who own Macs have a difficult choice to make when buying a "one package fits nearly everything" application.

I was an early Adobe Lightroom beta tester at a time when Aperture was already on sale in its first buggy offering. The bad press surrounding Aperture 1.0 was certainly a contributing factor for me to press on with the Lightroom beta and I ultimately purchased the commercial offering and have been using it for over a year, upgrading along the way.

I like Lightroom though I have to say that its interface can be clunky. For example, the workflow is set up rather like a darkroom such that images must pass from one work surface or module to the next. A lot of my images need to be straightened and cropped. To do this I have to go from the first module to the second and back again. Not all that convenient when I would prefer not to switch modules at all!

Lightroom has limited export capabilities, its web gallery feature having a "do it our way or not at all" feeling about it (and it's Flash based as well). Lightroom is, however, fast enough on my rather old and therefore slow PowerBook. I keep reading how Aperture is slow even on a super-fast machine, and no-one likes to know that their machine is no longer cutting edge, so I've ignored the temptation. Up 'til now.

The reason for downloading the Aperture 30 day Trial version was simple. Aperture 2.1 gets a five mice rating. Five mice ratings are hard to come by, so I looked into why this should be so, particularly given the bad press that the original version has received, and it would appear that the latest version is indeed a winner.

A recent conversation with a London professional also made me think. He was, he said, waiting to see which of the two was going to come out on top. I had to admit that at the time I assumed that Lightroom would win because of its dual platform design. Not necessarily, said the pro, but he was still using older software such as Photoshop and Bridge until a firm decision could be made.

The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, so I downloaded Aperture Trial and imported about four gigabytes of raw images. At first I thought the performance of Aperture was dreadfully slow, but some of this appeared to be due to my not following instructions (and Aperture's pdf manual is an excellent read, so no excuses there). My biggest criticism came when I tried to straighten an image and got nothing like the result I expected. A little practice, however, and it does seem to work just as well as Lightroom's, or for that matter, iPhoto's rotation.

The good news is that the image processing is all done within the main module. There is no switching to be done, at least until you come to the place where Aperture really scores - and that is output.

I quickly found myself designing a 20 page photo album and the result, printed to pdf, is a 58MB document that is really impressive. It could be professionally printed and bound into a hard or soft covered book simply by ftp-ing the file to Apple (or someone who Apple uses, I'm not sure how this works exactly).

The decision to move from Lightroom to Aperture must be made on cost and the fact that it would appear that I cannot import the Lightroom library directly into Aperture. What I would have to do, I think, is copy all the master files, those that came straight from the camera, and then an exported file from Lightroom with all the modifications. Hmm, that will take a while.

Of course, I could run the two packages in tandem, or, given Aperture's better output options, use Lightroom as the digital darkroom and Aperture for publishing.

The other thought is that sooner or later I am going to upgrade the old PowerBook to an Intel MacPro which would mean the speed issues would become less of a problem. Not that I am all that convinced that Lightroom is faster.

The jury is still out on this, but I'll tell you if and when I reach a verdict.

Update:

I was close to ordering Aperture when I thought about having Lightroom files on a separate hard drive - could I do the same with Aperture. The answer is "yes". And a sort of "no". You can reference any number of projects on different hard drives, which may be a plus for Aperture over Lightroom. But the library of all the modifications appears to have to be resident on your system drive. Of course this library will be a fraction of the size of the master files but I am not sure I altogether like the idea of separation! Continuing the thought process!