February 21st, 2010
Apple’s recent release of Aperture 3.0 highlight’s the fact that photographers that are Mac users are faced with a choice of do they use Adobe Lightroom or Aperture for digital asset and workflow management.
I want to disclose right up front that I am a Mac user and I use Lightroom extensively and Aperture only occasionally. I use Aperture primarily because I cover it in my e-books and am interested in being able to give sound, unbiased advice in the area of workflow.
I don’t intend to do a feature by feature comparison (others have already done that) but rather raise some of the general issues and considerations that Mac photographers should use to help make the decision of which is best for them personally. Here are some of the issues to consider if you find yourself trying to decide between Lightroom and Aperture:
- Lightroom 3 is still in beta so in a way there are details to compare with Aperture 3 but there could well be significant new features in the final release of Lightroom 3 that we don’t know about. So exact feature comparisons are still impossible. However, it’s clear that the noise reduction and sharpening in Lightroom 3 is going to be world class!
- There are some dazzling new features in Aperture 3! It now manages video files and even allows you to create mixed video and still slide shows and I love the new adjustment brushes! Ya, Lightroom has adjustment brushes but the Aperture 3 brushes are more intuitive and work better.
- It’s been two years since Aperture 2 was released. One has to wonder why Apple takes so long between releases. Is their development staff big enough? They took a similarly long time between the first two versions of Aperture. They also take too long time to get RAW support for new cameras. Apple keeps promising to get better in this area but their track record is dismal. Just ask a D300 user that had tried to use Aperture 2 for RAW files.
- When Apple makes an update to Aperture they don’t have an open beta process with users like Adobe does, where users can give input, they just drop a release on the users. This closed approach seems to be part of the Apple culture. This closed approach makes sense for their consumer hardware products (like iPhones and iPods) but doesn’t make a lot of sense for Professional level software products. This closed approach to software development is more convenient for the developers but I think it does not make for great customer relations.
- Apple software products have a high level of integration with other Apple products. Aperture is nicely integrated with iPhoto, me.com and I expect the same will be true for the iPad. This integration may eventually extend to iMovie and Final Cut Pro. You will never get that level of integration with Lightroom.
- There are four times more Mac photographers using Lightroom than Aperture. Taking a look at these popularity numbers is an valuable insight. Up through Aperture 2 Mac photographers clearly preferred Lightroom.
- I find Aperture 3 runs noticeably slower than Lightroom Beta 3 on my MacBook Pro (2.4 Mhz Core 2 Duo with 2 gig ram). I did this comparison by loading exactly the same 40 images from my 5D MkII into a fresh catalog in Aperture 3 and Lightroom Beta 3. Update: John Quarles notes below in the comments that his experience is that Aperture 3 need at least 4 Gig of RAM and 8 is even better.
So, is there a clear winner at this point if you are a real estate photographer? I don’t think so. Before the release of Aperture 3, I would have said Aperture was out of the running, but Aperture 3 gets Apple back in the game. I’m personally put off by the sluggishness of Aperture 3 but its features are stunning. There is still no way for real estate photographers to straighten verticals and remove barrel distortion in either Aperture or Lightroom without using a plugin like PTLens and there never will be because both Aperture and Lightroom are committed to non-distructive adjustments.
For anyone in the process of making a choice between Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3 I recommend that you listen to TWIP (This Week In Photography) episode #129 also available through iTunes (search for TWIP). This particular podcast is a well balanced discussion of all the strengths and weaknesses of Lightroom and Aperture. Also, you need to tryout both Aperture 3 and Lightroom Beta 3 on your particular Mac. There are free trials for both. Which you choose depends a lot on your machine and your personal priorities.