Why I switched from Lightroom to Aperture

Read today an excellent article, “Why I use Aperture instead of Lightroom,” by Mel Ashar; it’s posted at the Aperture Expert blog edited by Joseph Linaschke. Ashar, a landscape and architectural photographer, provides a useful catalog of some of the reasons Aperture is a strong choice for photographers who use Macs. He focuses on the file-management advantages of Aperture that arise from the fact that Apple controls an entire file ecosystem, comprised not just of Aperture, but of iCloud and the file systems on both Macs and iOS devices (iPhone, iPad).

Now, notwithstanding the advantages Ashar enumerates, the consensus seems to be that, Aperture as a photo processing app lags way behind Lightroom. I disagree with the consensus. In fact, shortly after the public beta of Lightroom 5 became available, I started looking again at Aperture and this time I really gave it the old college try. To my surprise, I discovered that I liked it. I liked it a lot. So, instead of upgrading to Lightroom 5, I switched to Aperture 3.4. For the last several months I’ve been using Aperture almost exclusively. I’ve processed several weddings and a bunch of portrait shoots with it.

I want to mention here a few of the things I like about Aperture, perhaps to explain my contrarian decision to switch. My list is meant to add to the advantages already mentioned by Ashar’s article, so if you’re seriously considering Aperture, be sure to read that piece, as well.

Qualifications and disclaimers

(This is the lawyerly part of the article. If you’re impatient you can skip to the next section.)

Let me say up front that I’m not trying to sell you on Aperture. If you don’t use a Mac, it’s not even an option for you. Aperture is aimed at professional photographers who use Macs and shoot a lot of photos—say, pro wedding photographers. For most “normal” users, Aperture is overkill. I should say also that I have no relationship with either Adobe or Apple.

I’m talking about Aperture partly because it’s kind of overlooked these days, probably because, although it was released at about the same time as Lightroom and for a while was even regarded as the superior app (Aperture had soft proofing before Lightroom did), Lightroom has received more frequent upgrades. The big majority of pro photographers I know are Mac users. And most of them use Lightroom (and/or Photoshop).

I want to add that I have a lot of experience with photo-editing apps. Some of this comes from my work as a reviewer for Macworld/IDG, but most of it is simply a result of my interest in getting the most from my photos. I think serious digital photographers should have multiple tools at their disposal, because no one app does everything best, and different apps convert particular images a bit differently. In the past I’ve owned licenses for and worked a good bit with a large variety of apps, including: Photoshop, Bibble Pro, Lightzone, SilkyPix Pro, ACDSee Pro (during my brief apostasy to Windows), Raw Photo Processor, DxO Optics Pro, and of course less powerful apps like iPhoto and Picasa. Currently (mid-2013) I’m using Aperture for eighty to ninety percent of my work, but I am also using Photo Ninja, Snapseed (more on my iPad than on my computer), Acorn (my Photoshop replacement and I love it), and the amazing Nik plug-ins for Aperture, especially Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro.

At a glance, Aperture’s UI looks pretty similar to Lightroom’s (and everybody else’s, for that matter). Aperture’s advantages aren’t really capable of being demonstrated in a screenshot. They’re matters of usability, which means they have to do with how I do things, how easy it is for me to figure out what I should do, and how quickly I can accomplish what I want to do.

A dozen or so things I like about Aperture 3.4

I tried to find a way to organize these points logically, but I gave up. So I’m just going to list them more or less randomly. The executive summary version of what I’m about to say is: After getting to know Aperture pretty well, I have found that:

  • Aperture’s user experience appeals to me more than Lightroom’s did (and I liked Lightroom’s), and
  • I’m even happier with the output I’m getting from Aperture than I was with the output I got from Lightroom. 

Now, details.

1. One of the first things that caused me to look at Aperture again last spring is the realization that Aperture has more and better book creation options. I’m a wedding photographer whose work is all aimed at providing beautiful, high-quality, long-lasting albums for my clients. I created a couple albums for brides in Lightroom using Blurb and they were okay, but not really as nice as the default Apple album you create in Aperture. And Aperture has a number of book publishing plug-ins that allow you to use higher-end publishers like GraphiStudio, Queensbury, and others. I’m finishing a book now right in Aperture using GraphiStudio. I suppose that many Lightroom users use Photoshop for this sort of thing, but I can do everything right in Aperture.

2. Aperture seems a more coherent, better integrated tool. This is undoubtedly a matter of personal taste but I never much liked Lightroom’s seven distinct working modes (Library, Develop, Maps, Books, Web, Print, Slideshow). I never used Map mode, for example, although ironically I have discovered that the Places view in Aperture is so easy that I do use it. I never used the Web or Slideshow modes in Lightroom. I did create a couple of wedding books for brides using the Lightroom 4’s Books mode and the Blurb publishing service, and it worked well enough, although it’s not terribly different from the book-creation process in Aperture and, as I said, Aperture has more and better publishing options. When I first started using Aperture it seemed a bit chaotic, compared to Lightroom’s very compartmentalized user interface. But now that I’ve been working with Aperture almost exclusively for many months, it makes sense to me and I’m impressed at how how everything seems to cohere.

3. I like that Aperture lets me making basic process adjustments and edit data without switching modes. In Lightroom, while I was working in Develop mode on an image, I often had the urge to give it a keyword or a caption or a title. I had to switch to Library/Loupe view to edit metadata, then switch back to Develop to edit. Or conversely, I’d be going through and rating images and simply want to make a quick crop. In Lightroom that would require leaving Library mode/Loupe view to use the crop tool. Then back to Library/Loupe to continue keywording, etc. Much simpler in Aperture. Working Aperture’s Split View with the Info tab visible, I can still tap “c” and make a quick crop. Even a more substantial edit like, say, changing to black and white treatment, simply switches the Inspector tab to Adjustments without altering the way I’m viewing my image.

In Aperture, I can crop an image and make other processing adjustments even in Split View while reviewing images for rating, adding captions, keywords, etc. This requires switching modes in Lightroom.

4. While I’m at it, let me say that, even after half a decade of doing it Lightroom’s way, I never really got used to the way Lightroom’s crop tool works. In Lightroom’s crop mode, you don’t move the crop rectangle, you move the image “behind” it. I’m sorry, but this makes no sense. I mean, the crop tool appears to be placed on top of the image. And the mouse pointer hovers above everything. So why does it make sense to Adobe to reach through crop tool to slide the image around? No other tool works this way. If you want, for example, to fix red-eye, you don’t get a red-eye removal tool in the middle of the screen then move the image around behind it until an eyeball is underneath it. The crop tool itself doesn’t work this way the rest of the time: If you want to adjust the size (coverage) of the crop tool in Lightroom, you grab the corners of the tool and move them in or out, even though in theory you could zoom the image in or out instead. It’s crazy, and I make this adjustment more than almost any other. In Aperture and just about every other program in the world, you move the crop rectangle. As God intended.

Note. Does Photoshop’s crop tool work like Aperture’s? It’s been so long since I last used Photoshop I can’t remember. 

5. Aperture retains deleted files in its own Trash can, so it’s harder to lose a file if you delete it accidentally. Lightroom moves deleted files directly into your Finder’s Trash.

6. Aperture has an actual blur tool. Using negative clarity in Lightroom doesn’t begin to do the same thing. I use the blur brush in Aperture for smoothing out small wrinkles in backdrops.

7. In Lightroom, you have “Clarity.” Aperture distinguishes between Definition and Mid Contrast, which seems to give me a little more control. The Clarity slider in Lightroom is a wonderful tool, but I never really understood exactly what it was doing. And it’s dangerous. Apply too much clarity and your images start to look weird.

8. I prefer Aperture’s options for white balance adjustment based on skin tone, neutral gray or color temperature. Of course, Aperture also provides the standard white balance options based on shooting conditions (daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, flourescent, flash) but I don’t use these often and I think it’s smart of Aperture to put them under the Effects menu.

9. It’s nice to have both curves and levels tools. I haven’t fully sorted the levels tool out but it’s clear that it does something different and potentially useful. Because Aperture has a mid contrast slider, I seldom use the curves at all.

10. Aperture’s one-click Retouch tool is amazing. To remove a blemish or some small unwanted part of a photo, especially if there is not a like-sized area nearby that can be used as a model for replacement, Retouch in Aperture is much easier than using the Spot Removal tools (clone or heal) in Lightroom. Of course, Aperture also has clone and heal.

11. I really like that, in Aperture, I can provide location info and a description for a project. This is, I guess, super-meta-data: info about the project that isn’t tied to any specific image file. I only discovered this a short while ago but now I’m adding map coordinates to many of my projects and, when it seems useful, I’m even adding notes about where a wedding took place, etc. No can do in Lightroom.

12. It may seem like heresy or ignorance to say this, but I prefer Aperture’s sharpening tools. I own and have read Fraser and Schewe’s Adobe-centric Real World Image Sharpening. In fact, I’ve read it a couple of times. I don’t like to admit how stupid I am in public but, honestly, the main lesson I got from that book is that digital image sharpening is a really complicated problem. Alas, that didn’t help me much with the mystically interdependent sharpening options in Lightroom (sharpening amount, radius, detail, and masking). The Raw sharpening and Edge Sharpen tools in Aperture are a little less complex, in fact, almost make sense, and in any case, seem to do as good a job as Lightroom’s. And they don’t make me completely switch over to the ugly left (Photoshop) side of my brain.

What I miss about Lightroom

So, those are some of the things that make Aperture 3.4 work better for me than Lightroom 5. Do I miss anything about Lightroom? Yes. Lightroom’s “Watermark” feature is more flexible and easier to use than Aperture’s. I miss Lightroom’s Quick Collection—an easy way to select images from multiple sources. Of the new features in Lightroom 5, the one that I most wish I had in Aperture is perspective correction—although for that, I switch now to Photo Ninja. Lightroom has somewhat better built-in tools for making custom black and white conversions, but that doesn’t matter to me too much personally since I’ve started doing my serious conversions in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.

But I don’t miss any of those things enough to upgrade to stick with Lightroom. I do hope that Aperture provides us with a version 4 upgrade sometime soon. An Aperture Pro X app that has an iPad version plus a few other improvements would be exciting.

ADDENDUM JANUARY 5, 2014. Notwithstanding the points made above, I’ve reluctantly given in and purchased Lightroom 5. Update here.


8 comments on “Why I switched from Lightroom to Aperture

  1. Great article and I feel the same. I think Aperture is indeed overlooked, lots of Pro Photographers have being very vocal about its potential demise. I think its actually the opposite. Although it was created with the Professional photographer in mind, it became easy enough that any advanced amateur can use. I believe that more and more people are outgrowing iPhoto and moving to Aperture.

    I used Lightroom in several occasions. When it first came out, I wanted to see what Adobe was going with it. Needless to say that I found it terrible. Same reasons you outlined above and Boyer on his article. Then my camera came with version 3 and I installed, didn't use. With my latest camera, it has been a struggle since Apple does not support (yet) the raw format and Lightroom that came with it does. After playing with it again for a few months, back to Aperture shooting RAW+JPG and doing a roundtrip for important images. A real pain, but way less severe than the pain of using Lightroom.

    I completely agree, the cropping tool of Lightroom is the weirdest thing I ever used. Makes no sense at all. Perhaps their analogy is an enlarger easel where you set the size and proportion of the picture you will enlarge and move the paper underneath. It is horrible. However, the is one tool that I like better on Lightroom: straighten tool. IMHO drawing the line and having the program adjust to that is much easier that rotating and trying to make the horizon match the grid.

    Lets see what Apple is preparing for us on the next version. I think it will surprise a lot of people. We will see.



  2. After the personal information debacle at Abobe over the past few weeks, I decidedly cancelled my Creative Cloud subscription and am moving back to Aperture. They released 3.5 today, and I expect another release with the Mac Pro. I can't wait!

  3. Pillguy: My info at Adobe was compromised. I hope everything is okay. But this sort of thing seems to be able to happen to anybody. In any case, Adobe's carelessness (or whatever it was) with account data doesn't really say anything about whether Lightroom is better or worse than Aperture. As for me, I recently decided to upgrade to Lightroom 5. So I'm actively using BOTH Lightroom 5 and Aperture 3.4.5.

  4. Great article William! I was an Aperture user until about 4 months ago and have had some major issues with Lightroom and now I’m thinking about switching back for a number of reasons. The fist being performance, I can’t believe how unreasonably slow LR is. I am working on the best Mac Pro and I sometimes feel like I’m working on an old Windows Vista machine. The second is the Creative Cloud, I will not pay a monthly fee for any software platform, just simply ridiculous!! The last being the lack of future support unless I pay for the Adobe subscription. I wonder if this will be the death of Adobe? I'm not a pro photographer but I do design and maintain my vacation rental website and we need to have good images to spark interest in our homes in Joshua Tree. I spend a ton of my free time enjoying the outdoors and love taking pictures but don't enjoy viewing them in LR because of the poor performance. The opposite is true about Aperture, I really enjoy viewing my images with Aperture.

  5. Thanks – an interesting article, which will make me take another look at Aperture.

    I switched to Lightroom a while back because Aperture, though I liked it, was just becoming ridiculously slow, and Lightroom was much snappier. I've also really come to like the develop module in Lightroom. But I must have another go and see if Aperture has become any faster in my absence!

    The one other benefit of Lightroom, as I see it, is that if the day ever came when I switched from Mac to Windows, I could take everything with me. But that day may never come…

  6. A very interesting article. I made the switch myself from Lightroom to Aperture. I wish there had been more tutorials around at the time about the best way to actually migrate images (raw masters and edited jpegs) into Aperture. I am just now discovering that Aperture has a very useful feature in the Import dialogue to locate and import the corresponding raw files to any jpeg. This means I can import both my original raw files and the adjusted jpegs I created in Lightroom and keep them both linked in Aperture.

  7. After 5 weeks of forcing myself to use a Lightroom daily, today I uninstall it and go back to Aperture. Slow on a decently spec'd i7 Mac, cumbersome to use, same commands show up in 2 different places depending on what “module” you're in, modular and slow to change vs Aperture, just plain ugly interface, renders on Fuji and Nikon lack “air” and dimensionality, more work in post.

    People look at features and update frequency and miss the fact that after all these years of neglect, Aperture is still a better app.

    Yes I am aware Aperture is discontinued. An expensive decision as it means a new fully spec'd custom build Mac to get me the 10 years it will take for Adobe to catch up.

  8. Aperture was never a better app than Lightroom, that's why Apple lower the price, and Adobe Lightroom didn't, also the lack of support and respect from Apple to the Professional costumers are just astonishing, Final Cut Pro files are not compatible with the Final Cut Pro x, and now Apple is discontinuing Apple Aperture, Professionals that spend thousands of dollars to buy Apple three times more expensive hardware, that invested hundreds in software and plugins are presented with this lack of care from Apple, Bugs on Aperture are there and seems to be there forever now, I use Macs for 20 years now, but this is not the quality Apple it once was, today Apple is an awful investment to do!

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