Editor’s note July 2014: this article was originally written in 2013. Some of the features in Lightroom may have been upgraded for the CC versions, but the basic comparisons still apply.
It’s no great secret that Photoshop is the king of photo editing, but other programs are next in line to the throne. Two contenders—Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom–have made their bids. Lightroom has won the battle, as Apple has stopped support for Aperture. But, since the software is still out there, you might be considering whether to stick with the old Aperture or make the switch. Here’s a comparison.
I have always been an Aperture user, but all the raving reviews about Lightroom over the last two years have piqued my interest. I finally decided to give it a try last year to see how it compared to Apple’s product.
Aperture vs. Lightroom: what they both can do
At first glance, both interfaces look very similar. For starters, they both have easy-to-use slide adjustments for exposure, contrast, saturation, and so on. Aperture’s toolbar is on the left and Lightroom’s is on the right.
For basic adjustments, they’re practically identical, allowing you to change the image specification. Both preserve the color space, have cut and paste adjustments, allow area-specific editing, have a number of decent adjustment presets, and maintain the integrity of RAW files, that is, the programs are nondestructive. They also work seamlessly with Photoshop and even offer slideshow functionality.
How they differ
After some experimentation, the differences begin to appear. Aperture, being an Apple product, naturally has better Apple app workflow, and effectively integrates photostreams from iWeb, iMovie, and iPhoto. However, Lightroom has a much better community support, which means that there are more free presets and plugins. Lightroom also has customizable brushes.
The best way to examine the features (and difficulties) of both is to do an overview of the products themselves.
Many fans of the program claim that Lightroom has a more intuitive workflow, and from what I can tell, the basic adjustments really do seem to enhance the image in a much more effective way than Aperture can.
What Lightroom does better than Aperture
- Case-specific brushes (teeth, eyes, etc.)
- Customizable brushes
- Community support for presets/plugins
- Customizable slideshows
- Expansive HSL sliders (hue, saturation, luminance)
- Lens correction (instant chromatic aberration correction)
- Superior clarity settings
- Superior highlights/shadows adjustments
- Noise reduction that works
- Tagging and metadata input for image organization/location
The two things that stood out with Lightroom, within the first couple of uses. were the noise reduction and the clarity, but we’ll come back to that in the final analysis. First, we’ll give Aperture a chance to redeem itself.
As a long time user of Aperture, I know that it’s one of the easiest programs to use. The interface is uncluttered, and the file organization system is easy to understand.
What Aperture does better than Lightroom
- Apple integration (iPhoto, iMovie, etc.)
- Superior white balance adjustment
- Superior temperature adjustment
- Faster import speed
- Clean and simple interface
- Better price ($79 vs. Lightroom’s $149)
And the winner is…Lightroom.
I hate to say it, considering that I’ve waited this long to come to this conclusion. However, Lightroom outranks Aperture in speed, editing, and stability. Although it is true that Lightroom is on its fourth installment and Aperture is only on its third, I doubt that Apple will be able to come up with something advanced enough to change my mind.
Although Aperture’s import and rendering speed is about twice as fast as Lightroom, Aperture’s slow processing speed is much more annoying. When importing, it’s easy to step away and do something else for a while, but when I’m ready to edit, I don’t want to wait unnecessary amounts of time for a single adjustment to apply. In Lightroom, from what I’ve seen so far, results are near instantaneous.
The other big thing that has sold me is the noise reduction capabilities. In Aperture, the tool only blurs the selected area, but does little to eliminate the noise. In Lightroom, the noise reduction tool seems to preserve the clarity and do what it’s supposed to do: get rid of noise. Additionally, the clarity enhancements in Lightroom are far superior to Aperture. There’s hardly a comparison.
Yet, despite overwhelming evidence in Lightroom’s favor, I have one misgiving. As much as I appreciate the quality of Lightroom’s editing tools, I prefer Aperture’s interface. It’s much less cluttered. However, it’s probably not going to be enough to keep me from making the switch. Being able to eliminate noise quickly and efficiently may just override the slightly steeper learning curve, complex interface, and $149 price tag.