Head to Head: Aperture and Lightroom

Over the past few months, I have become more and more interested in photography, and more specifically, organizing the hundreds and hundreds of photos I’ve taken. However, each time I head out for a Digital SLR filled adventure, I find myself feeling more and more disorganized. Dozens of pictures for a family birthday party and night out with friends still sit on my SD card, waiting to be imported. Why, you ask, have I neglected to do this? I don’t know where to put them!

Sure, many Mac users love and live for iPhoto. However, for me, it feels like a step back. This is why I’ve looked at moving upwards to a prosumer piece of software, like Aperture or Lightroom. In this screencast review, we’ll take a look at the latest features added to these photography library apps.

Watch the Screencast Review

Aperture 3

Aperture builds upon one of the best photo management software on the Mac. However, I personally haven’t become familiar with it until recently. With the release of the iLife ‘09 software suite, Apple has introduced facial recognition and geo-tagging features into iPhoto. With Aperture 3, these features are brought into the more professional world.

Main Aperture Window

Main Aperture Window

Unlike pervious versions, the transition and barrier to entry for using Aperture 3 is much lower. The software offers several options for viewing, and flipping through your photos, as well as using the ‘Loupe’ to zoom in on parts of photos.

Aperture 3 also has a very nice Full Screen mode. I found this most useful when using my Macbook Pro without an external monitor, as it hides away the toolbars and thumbnail browsers until you mouse over them. It really allows you to fully immerse yourself in the photos.

Aperture in Full Screen Mode

Aperture in Full Screen Mode

In iPhoto your photos are grouped into ‘Events,’ but in Aperture, they are called Projects. I found it very easy to merge Projects, rename and organize them – features that don’t seem as apparent in iPhoto. Aperture 3 also brings in the hover-over-to-view technology introduced in iPhoto’s Events screen. Scrubbing through Projects is nice, but can be annoying if your Projects are filled with hundreds or thousands of photos.

Aperture’s Metadata tab allows you to easily see what camera and lenses you used for the shot. It even allows you to display the autofocus points over the image, and display the one used for focus. You can also set up presets for stamping your photo’s metadata with your name and contact information.

Metadata

Metadata

While no replacement for Adobe Photoshop, Aperture does allow you to remove red eye, straighten a crooked photo, or crop down the picture. It also brings in the ability to use Brushes to touch up your photos. For instance you can add a blur, smooth skin, or adjust contrast/saturation/noise.

Also new, Aperture brings in iPhoto’s fancy slideshow features, and the ability to export them as High Definition movie files, ready for upload or to be burned on a DVD.

I really enjoyed using the Faces and Places features. Faces was extremely easy to use. It even worked well on our family pets! However I did find it bringing in statues and paintings as possible matches – which I guess is to be expected. Places worked well, even if you don’t have a GPS enabled camera; apps for your iPhone can be used to match up GPS logs, or you can manually assign places. The only slightly annoying part was having to choose a landmark if you lacked specific GPS data. This doesn’t work well if you don’t have a landmark that is in the system nearby.

Faces

Faces

Geotagging

Geotagging

In short – Aperture is a great upgrade and easy transition if you’re an existing iPhoto user. It allows for more advanced photo editing, and scales with your photography habits.

Lightroom 3 Beta

Lightroom 3 (currently in beta) was released prior to Apple’s Aperture 3. However it is still in public beta. Unlike Aperture, it is more workflow structured, in a kind of pipeline system. It also has the ability to ‘roundtrip’ a photo through Photoshop for further editing.

Main Lightroom Window

Main Lightroom Window

Lightroom offers similar layout features, but also offers a nice ‘compare’ feature that allows one to compare two similar photos. Adobe’s software also allows you to filter images in a similar way to smart folders.

In the ‘Develop’ option, Lightroom allows you to make similar adjustments as Aperture: red eye correction, cropping, straightening, and even masking. Lightroom also features the popular Brushes feature from its pervious version.

Virtual Photo Development

Virtual Photo Development

Slideshow and print options are also dedicated portions of the Lightroom process. The Web upload options are bit more expanded, including the capability to send photos directly to Flickr – something that was not included out of the box with Lightroom 2.

A nice feature in Lightroom is the ability to export a complete online web gallery, without having to write one line of code. Aperture’s MobileMe gallery feature is similar, but requires a MobileMe account, and can’t easily be linked directly up to your personal website.

Web Export

Web Export

I really did enjoy editing photos with Lightroom, and appreciated the option to send a photo directly into Photoshop for further fine tuning. The design of the application isn’t very Mac-like, but isn’t terrible. Plus, Lightroom is also available for Windows, and does not ‘hide’ your photos inside a proprietary Library format like Aperture. Instead it opts for plain folder based storage of photos, with a Lightroom Catalog file.

Wrapping Up

I really enjoyed using both pieces of software. Aperture is great if you need something more powerful than iPhoto – and their facial recognition is really fun. Lightroom was very, very stable for a beta, and offers a more open format for both organizing and sharing your photos. There wasn’t any Facebook integration, geo-tagging or facial recognition, but if you really have a need to work with Photoshop, Lightroom will be a better fit.

Both pieces of software are great, but they are on the expensive side. Aperture is available from Apple for $199, ($99 if you just need an upgrade) and Lightroom can be purchased from Adobe for $299 ($99 upgrade).

Do let us know which you prefer in the comments!