Evaluating a Switch to Adobe Lightroom 4

I have been a long time user of Apple's Aperture. I originally tried Lightroom and Aperture (the first version of each) and simply found Aperture to be better for my workflow and needs. As both products have matured, I decided it was time to evaluate the two side by side again, and see if that still holds true. There are a couple of things that prompted me to look at Lightroom again, and I'll explain each as we go.


  • Development Path and Updates
  • RAW Processing
  • Organization and Workflow
  • Summary Thoughts

Development Path and Updates

This section is purely speculative, especially given that Apple is known for maintaining rather tight lips about any development path or details for unreleased products. However, there are a couple of things that have me a bit concerned about the future of Aperture, and those concerns fueled my decision to look into Lightroom once more (mostly as a precaution and to have a backup plan, but also to give it an honest shot at impressing me).

First and foremost, I should make certain I mention that I absolutely abhor iPhoto, which means that some of my opinions will be rather biased. I also despise Photoshop, Flash, and the general "software bloat" that I feel Adobe falls prey to, though the same can be said of many companies. With this understanding of the innate bias for or against some aspects of what both companies deliver in mind, let's get to my concerns about development on these two applications.

Apple has made a fairly consistent push toward the concept of easily-accessible, yet powerful, application design. This is most recently obvious with the redesigned experience in Final Cut Pro X as compared to previous versions, but those who know their Apple history will know that this has always been an underlying theme with pretty much every area in which Apple competes (just look at the various refinements and iterations of OSX, for example). While I'm very supportive of this concept, I have concerns about what it may bring for the future of Aperture. Current trends seem to indicate that Aperture and iPhoto are moving more and more toward a convergence of sorts, wherein one or the other could easily become the dominant framework for a new, unified application (and my bet would be that iPhoto would be the framework within which Aperture's feature set would become integrated, not the other way around).

So why is this a concern? Well, quite honestly, I simply have no need of a lot of the features that have been touted as "major features" that have been introduced over time. For instance, I do not care about the Faces feature, and I thoroughly despise the integrated library approach that iPhoto uses (thankfully, Aperture still allows you to set up a folder hierarchy where the images are stored, and referenced by XML files within the Aperture library). Hopefully I'm just overreacting a little based on the lack of any major updates to Aperture in quite a while and am reading too much into the ability to open libraries back and forth between iPhoto and Aperture, but the concern was planted in my mind and caused me to evaluate what tools I should continue to use. It doesn't help the issue at all that Apple maintains such secrecy over the development path intended for Pro Applications, especially when this is something I rely on when I do contractual work.

On the other side of the fence, Adobe has been working pretty hard to show that Lightroom 4 is a response to user's concerns and issues that plagued Lightroom 3. Thus far, Lightroom does not suffer from the same "bloat" that I feel other Adobe applications suffer from, and with Adobe's primary focus being professional application development, we at least have an idea of what path Lightroom will continue to take.

RAW Processing

I'm sure there are a number of detailed breakdowns somewhere on this topic, as I've seen it referenced by a number of other people. Honestly, I don't care about the technical details, but I do care about the appearance of the photos that I edit. In practice, I've seen better quality exports from Lightroom 4 than from Aperture 3. I'm pretty sure this will be addressed if / when Apple updates Aperture, but the difference in what I'm getting from each application today is of far more concern to me than what might be the case in some uncertain time in the future. With RAW processing, Adobe simply has the upper hand at the moment. Given that I'm evaluating the change now, it means this alone has me swayed further toward the Lightroom camp than I might otherwise have been inclined.

Organization and Workflow

This used to be the really major point that made me a devout Aperture fan. I felt more at home with the hierarchical structure allowed within Aperture, where I could set up categories, include albums and other projects with each category, and then if I needed to further isolate something I could use tags. Quite honestly, as I've adopted the use of organizing via tags through other applications, the same organizational structure is pretty easy to recreate in Lightroom. I can create folders and collections that handle my primary workflow, and use tags to isolate / find images I need or want to separate out for publication. Further, the publishing services in Lightroom really streamline my workflow from an export / publish perspective (this could be a post in and of itself, which is not my goal here... if you have specific questions about my workflow let me know and I'll either create specific posts or just respond directly to you!).

Summary Thoughts

All of the original complaints I had about Lightroom have been resolved (and honestly, they could have been resolved in version two and I wouldn't have known). I still like Aperture, a lot. I'm finding myself maintaining two libraries as I evaluate these applications again for my use, and honestly I'm spending more and more time in Lightroom. Once I figured out an easy way to sync photos from Lightroom to an iOS device, I simply haven't gone back into Aperture. I'm torn, because I really do like the simplicity that Aperture offers (and the familiarity with the adjustments) as opposed to figuring out how to achieve the same effects in Lightroom, but at the same time I definitely prefer the final image coming out of Lightroom better than what I'm currently getting from Aperture.

I'll be continuing to run both for a little while, and hopefully the next major revision of Aperture will leapfrog Lightroom and make the decision simply a matter of staying in the Apple camp.