Lightroom Vs Aperture

March 12, 2008 - By 

Prompted by the comments in my last post about Aperture 2.0, I downloaded the Adobe Lightroom trial and used it for about a week. “It has Curves!” people screamed. My decision to get Lightroom was instantly made as I gleefully grabbed the curve and stretched it around just like in Photoshop… or so I thought. I looked around the interface for the switch or menu item that would let me access the Red, Green, and Blue Curve adjustments, and was severely disappointed to see that there was no such button. Using the RGB curves to tone the image is a large part of my workflow when it comes to landscapes and skies. It’s great to use the RGB curves separately to fake a cross processed look or pull some red out of the mid-tones easily. It looks like a round trip to Photoshop is needed for curves with Adobe Lightroom. I was back to square one.

After that fiasco, I was starting to see that neither of these programs would be able to do what Photoshop does for me. I’m not naive to think that either would be a TOTAL Photoshop replacement, but there are some things that I thought would have been a no brainer like fully functioning curves. I began to think of these programs as management tools to be used to separate the good from the bad and begin to find the best photos, to be ultimately corrected in photoshop. But how is this unlike my Bridge/Photoshop workflow that I have now? Now that RAW converter is built into Bridge, I am starting to wonder if I really need one of these tools. I already have a fully organized hand-made file structure where I can find what I’m looking for relatively easily. What good is bringing my library into a proprietary system that only allows me to see my photos if I open a HUGE application like Aperture? Bridge can Rate my photos, collect multiple versions, copy and paste changes between multiple photos, make web galleries, and help organize a round trip to Photoshop. What am I gaining by moving every photo I take to Aperture?

I totally understand the need for a tool like Aperture when doing a large photo shoot where I need to quickly go though, rate and process dozens of images for the day. I can see how a pro can use these tools when a deadline is looming they have to aggregate their best shots from a specific shoot in record time. But, as a daily photoblogger it’s hard for me to imagine loading EVERY photo I take into Aperture. I shoot in small bursts every day. I shoot different objects all day long so keywording is rather useless unless I tag everything with “Chicago” or “Street”. Also, I use Photoshop for everything that goes on my site. So, why not just use bridge to sort everything by day, pick the best photo and load it into Photoshop?
Well this wouldn’t be a Lightroom vs Aperture review if I ended up using Bridge for everything. Luckily, my mind came to a slightly different conclusion. I will be using my existing file structure to organize all of my day to day shots and I will use Aperture as my Project/Vacation based organization tool. In other words, all of my every day, walking around the street photoblog photography will be processed as is, through Bridge and Photoshop. However, when bigger projects come along, or when I need to load up themed sessions like vacations or large daily event photo shoots, I will use Aperture.

Why did I decide on Aperture over Lightroom? It was the ease of use, and overall feature set that brought be back to Aperture over Lightroom. The full frame mode is GREAT. I can flip through all the images and quickly rate and process the best ones checking for focus. The full RGB levels editor in Aperture is actually MORE flexible than Lightroom’s curves. HOW? The ability to adjust the “quarter points” on the levels graph allows one to emulate curves. It’s a little tricky to get used to, but after I figured it out, it all became clear. And, with the ability to adjust the red green and blue separate, I can do 90% of what curves can do. Lastly, I trust Apple as a company to make a clean sleek piece of software more than Adobe right now. Adobe is getting better lately, but they have always had a knack of making bloated software with 90s sensibility just because thats how they have always done it.

My hope is that as I become more comfortable with Aperture, I will allow myself to use it for more and more projects. As always, I’ll get back to you with any more updates.

If you liked the review and want to buy either packages, please use these Amazon links. Thanks.

Aperture 2.1.1

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  • I think you are using Lightroom ‘wrong’. What I mean by that is that Lightroom is not exactly meant to be all-in-one solution for photographic editing. As a matter of fact, Adobe themselves have said that Photoshop is intended as one step in the Lightroom workflow.

    Without getting too much in detail, for what you seem to be doing for your photos, Lightroom maybe isn’t what you should get at all. Lightroom’s strength lies in sorting and finding your photos (it’s a database, after all), and doing rough edits en masse. All the fine tweaking (like getting curves _just right_) are still done in Photoshop. For one practical example, Lightroom has only input sharpening (a tiny amount of sharpening that’s applied on ALL files), while Photoshop should handle the output sharpening (a variable sharpening, depending on the subject matter, size and target of your photo).


  • I think you came to the right conclusion there. I love Lightroom, having no option to go with Aperture due to my lack of a dedicated Mac, but it sounds like for what you are doing, Aperture might be the best choice.

    I use Lightroom primarily to organize and process my photos. I have a long list of presets that I use for everyday photos, and I find that the ability to go through, rank photos, and quickly color-correct or add basic levels to a batch of photos is desirable. Starting to do more batch work – on vacations, taking headshots for friends, or any other “client” work – makes this a great tool for me. Pre-proofing is a breeze – and then it’s easy enough to export full-sizes to work on in Photoshop to do some sharpening on the eyes, etc.

    There isn’t a product that combines all of the organization with all of the tweaking available in Photoshop – but I don’t know if I would want something like that. Unless they could magically make it run smoothly and quickly. Lightroom and Photoshop don’t play well together on my computer (need to upgrade), so I’d be out of luck if I had to run something that did everything they both do at the same time.

    (apologies for dodgy grammar in this comment)

    – Kelly Anne
    ( , )

  • I too would have appreciated full RGB curves in LR, but have found the same end results using the HSL/color/greyscale adjustments along with split toning.

  • I think you are starting to hit on the problem. Photographers are clammoring for a photoshop replacement. Photoshop has been taken over by graphic artists and has developed to serve them. Photographers only need a couple of tools and do not like the $700 photoshop price tag for the short list of things they do to photos. Both Aperture and light room need to get a couple more features to really replace photoshop in the day to day tool box of the average photographer. RGB curves is one of those perfect examples. I would expect to see Aperture gain these things first as Adobe wants to keep light room crippled just enough to force users to get photoshop.

  • I tried Lightroom and tossed it. Finally upgraded Photoshop and life is good.
    Henrik said he uses Lightroom as a database. I picked up Photoshop Elements before upgrading Photoshop and it is way better than Lightroom for organizing. And very easy to use. And cheaper.

  • Nick, I know people can get set in their ways, but the cross processed look can be done with levels as easy or easier than with curves. You don’t even need Aperture’s quarter tones.

    In Levels (Photoshop or Aperture) move the top midpoint mapping triangle to the right. Then choose the red channel and repeat; the same with the green channel.


  • When I hear people mention Adobe Photoshop or Elements as a photo library management software I’m left confused to the possible size or lack of with their work flows. Photoshop , for almost all visual professions, is a post production editing software. A powerful tool for final colour correct, contrast filtering and other adjustments. Imagine loading 300 RAW photos at 10MBs roughly each into photoshop for adjustments and comparison of exposure bracketing and such… you’re computer would mostly crash as photoshop would attempt to pull dedicated ram for each photo, 4GBs worth. Not to mention on a eight core Mac Pro opening those photos might take an hour. That’s where Lightroom and Aperture come in. While Lightroom is similar to Adobe Bridge which is a wonderful mid processor sorting system; Lightroom itself is lightning fast and can load one’s entire RAW library for sorting, and comparison immediately. Anyone that handles several hundred RAW files imported a week would be foolish not to use Aperture/Lightroom for their organizing. On a final note Aperture and Lightroom are both amazing at backing up one’s Library; my personal preference is that Lightroom’s backup process is more intuitive and easy to set up redundant backups, something I learned the hard way is needed to protect our work.

  • thanks for the comment blake. very helpful.

  • The biggest difference between Lightroom and Bridge is that LR is database driven making it much faster in dealing with files and using less memory. Great for sorting and organizing. I still can’t decide between Aperture and LR.

  • I see no mention of the fundamental strength of both Lr and Ap – their ability to create ‘virtual’ tiffs/jpgs whatever as opposed to real files. In any other workflow setup such as iView/Expression media and PS or Bridge and PS if you routinely create a 16 bit tiff from say a 1DsMk2 16mp file as a master/archive file it will be around 100mb, store this and create an 8 bit ‘working’version and thats another 50mb. Then make a couple of duotones, some cropped ones and the odd jpg, and that one 16mp file will have generated perhaps 250mb of data, all of of which separate versions you need to track. Multiply by 30,000+ images and thats a lot of disc space. Lr and Ap save that space and simplify the entire process of creating multiple images, cataloging and tracking them.

  • Hmm.
    I keep going around and around.
    I’m a big Apple fan but also know that Apple can be can have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to its products, witness the latest glossy (!!) MacBook Pro with zero display options for, er, y’know, PROs.
    Well, I’m now a year into attempting to figure out which is best for me, Ap or Lr.
    Is anyone out there using either successfully in a studio that has a server and all that?
    Can this be so difficult to pick one??
    Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope.

  • Thank you for your site 😉
    I made with photoshop backgrounds for myspace or youtube and ect..
    my backgrounds:
    have a great day and thank you again!

  • There are tons of information to be known about this. You made some great points that answered my questions.

  • Aperture is the worst program created ever. the end

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