An Aperture User Tries Lightroom

Given the unfortunate news about Apple not actively developing Aperture anymore, I decided to try Lightroom while shooting in Svalbard. I’m trying to figure out if I should keep using Aperture for the immediate future and wait for Photos to be more fleshed out or to switch to Lightroom now and not have to migrate even more photos later (I have terabytes of digital photos from 12+ years of shooting digital cameras and scans of slides about 20 years ago managed in Aperture). The short answer is that I’m still unsure, I’m leaning towards sticking with Aperture, but some small changes to Lightroom (or lack of improvements to Photos) could make me change my mind.

Let’s start with importing and organizing. I have a project for each shoot in Aperture with sub-albums for each day, my favorite photos to show in a slideshow, my photos to share online, teaching examples, etc.. I could easily recreate this in Lightroom by making a Collection Set (like an Aperture folder) for the shoot and Collections (albums) for each day. As far as I could tell, importing is very similar between the programs, although I do like that Lightroom lets me control preview generation on import.

Lightroom Irk #1: When I’m importing my images, I can’t import directly into a collection. I have to import my photos and then drag and drop from previous import into the desired collection. Compare that to this Aperture import option, where I can set the project (or album) on top of where to store my files:

Aperture Import Destinations

Irk #2: I can’t see specific activity in Lightroom, just a generic progress bar.

Irk #3: Aperture quickly shows me thumbnails for all the pictures I’m importing, and if I want to see a shot I’m psyched about, I can go to it, and Aperture prioritizes importing it. Lightroom imports pictures sequentially, showing thumbnails as they’re imported.

It’s a little weird that there’s only an option for an audio alert when your pictures are done importing, but I got used to this, and it’s nice not being disrupted with a modal if you’re browsing photos and it finishes importing.

One big thing I love about Aperture is its fullscreen mode, and how it’s very fast to focus on your photos, make changes, and to move between them. I spent some time learning Lightroom’s interface and hotkeys before actually using it on a shoot, and I found that being in fullscreen mode with all of the panels minimized and using the hotkeys to switch modes (G for grid, E for a single picture, and D to go into Develop) gave me the fastest workflow with the most screen area for my photos. In Develop mode, I would keep the right panel with my develop options expanded.

Irk #4: There’s a lot of wasted space with Lightroom’s panels. I really prefer how Aperture has one panel on the left with tabs for browsing my library, seeing my photo’s metadata, and adjusting the photo. If I’m doing a keep/reject pass within a collection, I don’t care about seeing my other collections, I just want to see metadata. Automatically collapsing the panels helped, but I felt like I was moving the mouse around a lot. In Aperture, I can have a fixed panel, a HUD, or a mix of the two.

Have your HUD and a Panel, too!

Have your HUD and a Panel, too!

Irk #5: Metadata overlays in Lightroom are huge and not very configurable. In Aperture, I can create any combination of metadata to show, and it’ll display non-obtrusively along the bottom of the image or below the image. In Lightroom, I can only choose some preset options, and it displays in a huge overlay over the image on the top left. Seriously, compare these two screenshots. Yes, I can toggle it off/on quickly with the I hotkey in Lightroom, but I often take photos with slightly different settings and find Aperture’s way of display much better. Oh, and Aperture’s metadata will show ratings and labels information, without meeting a separate toolbar visible on screen.

Metadata in Aperture and Lightroom

Oh and while I appreciate that Lightroom gives me control during import over previews, I really took Aperture’s automatically-created quick previews for granted when quickly browsing through a collection.

When adjusting a photo, I found Lightroom fairly on-par with Aperture, although I keep reaching for the Recovery slider. I do like Lightroom’s ND filter options, though.

At first, cropping/straightening irritated me. In Aperture, I press G, and I can straighten a photo from anywhere (with a small grid). If I press C, I can crop a photo, from anywhere. In Lightroom, once I found I could enter crop by pressing R, and holding Command let me draw a line to straighten the image (moving the mouse outside the photo changed it to a rotate tool, which also let me straighten it), I was much happier.

I do like Lightroom’s history function for a photo, as it’s often nice to browse adjustments that way. The snapshot feature is also nice, although it’s doable in Aperture with versions.

Irk #6: While editing, Aperture automatically filters away rejected photos. I can’t figure out how to make Lightroom do that. This makes it hard when comparing a sequence, after you’ve rejected say 3/5, to flip between the remaining two.

Irk #7: Deleting rejects is confusing in Lightroom. In Aperture, I have a smart album that shows my rejects, and from anywhere, if I hit Command-Delete, I can delete the photo and its file. In Lightroom, Command-Delete within a collection only removes it from Lightroom and leaves it on the disk. If I go to a Collection Set, I can’t delete photos at all. To actually remove the file, I have to browse to the folder or to the All Photographs smart collection. Blech.

Irk #8: Aperture’s Browser filter is more powerful in how you can combine filters. There are options to AND and OR the top-level rules, and each rule has an is/is not-style option.

Want filters with that?

Want filters with that?

Irk #9: Why do some plugins (like Viveza) show up under Photo > Edit In whereas others that need multiple files to run (HDR Efex Pro) show up under File > Export With Preset?

Irk #10: Why aren’t stacks preserved when I copy an image to a new collection?

I will say that Lightroom’s key wording features seem much more powerful than Aperture (I’ll totally admit I could improve my keywording). With a little digging, I found solutions for nearly everything else that bugged me (configuring the grid view, Settings > Copy/Paste Settings is like Lift & Stamp). The Photoshop integration is also more flexible, although I haven’t taken advantage of it yet.

Having XMP sidecar files also makes me feel more secure—all my metadata is in a format that is more easily parse-able in the future than living within a private database. I’ve also wished Aperture could read new metadata from XMPs for a long time, as when I tried using a keywording service, they gave me XMP files back, which I can’t bring into Aperture.

I did not notice a significant speed win in Lightroom compared to Aperture, although I do appreciate Adobe’s speed in adding support for new cameras compared to Aperture.

All in all, I think Lightroom is totally fine, but I find Aperture faster and smoother. Photos v1 will replace iPhoto more than Aperture, but maybe v2 will replace Aperture. I doubt the Nik suite (which works fine with Aperture and Lightroom) will work with Photos unless Google updates it, and that’s a pretty big part of my workflow. I’m also really curious about the library in the cloud component, and if there will be an option to not use that for those of us with terabytes of images. Sigh. Why couldn’t Aperture just continue to be developed until Photos really is ready to replace it?