Now, when I zoomed into each image side by side at 100 percent in Photoshop, I found that they're pretty much identical in sharpness, noise, and shadow detail. Even the color rendition is very close, as you can see in the image below.
For the first test with the cowboy image, I tried reprocessing the image in Aperture in every way I could to eliminate the artifacts and the crunchiness but it never got any better than the sample presented here. I don't know what finally happened with the cowboy image produced by Aperture in the first test but with the second test, the high quality of Aperture's RAW processing was just as good as that produced with Lightroom. And in my other comparisons, I've found no fault with the latest version of Aperture (1.5.2) and its RAW conversions.
I want to reassure you that I didn't try to set up Aperture to produce poor results in the first test. I have nothing against Aperture so I have no agenda here. And as I said in the beginning of this comparison, I'm not trying to bash either application. Both Lightroom and Aperture were using the same file referenced on my hard drive so the file is not corrupted or anything like that--just in case you're wondering.
Still, seeing this one hiccup from Aperture throws up a red flag as to the ultimate image quality it can deliver on a consistent basis. I remember early on Aperture had some RAW processing issues, but I thought those were all in the past. I wouldn't take my results as gospel, but I've worked with a lot of RAW processing software applications (ACR, Nikon Capture, Capture One, etc.), and have never seen anything like the results in the first tests. Hence, I don't know what to conclude. I do know that if I was using Aperture, I'd be on the lookout for poor image conversions.
If you know how or why this might have happened, please post a comment at the end of the article.
Converting color digital images to Black and White is a huge topic. In fact, my business partner is writing a 285 page book on that very subject in cooperation with Adobe right now. While I'm sure you can get similar results in Aperture, the before and after mode of Lightroom is the hands-down best color to grayscale method I've ever seen or used.
I normally create a Virtual Copy in Lightroom, then switch to the Before and After mode as in the image below. This allows me to see the colors I'm adjusting in the black and white counterpart.
Lightroom has really got me excited about doing black and white photography again and I find myself converting a lot of images to black and white. If you like black and white photography, then you'll love Lightroom!
Both Aperture and Lightroom have easy to use Export dialog boxes. I found it strange, though, that in Aperture I had to set the color space, resolution, and file export type in the Image Export Presets. It's not a big deal but it'd odd that you have to go somewhere else to deal with that. I suppose once you have all your presets in place, you just choose the one you want to use in the export dialog box and this becomes a non-issue. In Lightroom, all of the settings are set in the Export dialog box and just as in Aperture, you can create Presets that let you choose your export settings with one click.
One of the other issues I've found is that Aperture can't function while exporting images; whereas in Lightroom, you can export a batch of images and continue working while the export process keeps churning away in the background. This may not seem like a big thing, but if you process a lot of images, it can become a major issue fast.
In both applications, spotting images is eerily similar. The controls in Lightroom are fairly advanced and intuitive for both the Heal and Clone tools. They just take a little getting used to. Aperture's almost the same. There's no clear winner here. For extensive spotting and image repair, the best place to go is Photoshop. I think this is a great feature though in both applications because it lets you stay in the application for minor repairs like the occasional dust spot.
I applaud Aperture for having multiple sharpening methods built in. I really appreciated the Edge Sharpening tool and found it very easy to use. Lightroom doesn't have as many sharpening features, but it's a known quantity, and I do my standard capture sharpen (20-25) in the Develop module and deal with the rest of the image sharpening in Photoshop.
I've spent the last eight or nine years getting a feel for how Photoshop sharpens images and I know the general numbers for how much to sharpen given an image's size and resolution. Plus, I have my custom sharpening actions set up in Photoshop which essentially create Edge Sharpening. With Aperture, all of my knowledge is out the window so I'd have to take the time to figure out the art of sharpening in Aperture from scratch.
Creating Web Galleries
Web Galleries are another area where both of these applications excel. My only gripe with Lightroom is that there's no sharpening applied to the images as a web gallery is created. For that reason alone, I still use Photoshop to create web galleries. I'm sure Adobe will update the web module to take care of this issue shortly and that will solve the problem. Otherwise, I love the way you can create custom web galleries and upload them directly from within the software.
Aperture seems to have some really nice web galleries as well. I like the understated look of the web gallery options in Aperture and it appears that Aperture applies some amount of sharpening to the gallery images, which is very nice. It doesn't seem to have the variety that Lightroom has in terms of the preset web galleries but I like just about all of the Aperture web templates for their simplicity and clean design. Sadly, I couldn't find a method for uploading web galleries to my web site. Aperture allows you to upload to a .Mac account but I don't have one and I'd prefer to upload to my own web site. To do that, I'd have to export the web pages and upload via my FTP software. It's a small thing, but Lightroom saves a little time by having the FTP upload work with any web site.
In my opinion, the Print module in Lightroom is the weakest of the modules because it lacks a method for soft proofing. And while there are some sharpening presets, it also lacks the fine sharpening control that's found in Photoshop. So it's no surprise that I find printing with Aperture a lot more powerful since it has soft proofing and more advanced sharpening control.
I confess I didn't have enough time in this assignment to really explore how Aperture deals with printing. I'll try to take a look at this and compare it to Lightroom in a future blog post. My suspicion is that really high-end fine art prints will need to be printed from Photoshop. At least that's where I do the majority of my high-end printing because of the control inherent in Photoshop.
Lastly, how do these two stack up in terms of speed? Right off the bat I'll say this depends on your computer. I noticed I had to wait around more with Aperture (the spinning ball of death) but had little waiting when using Lightroom.
On my MacBook Pro, Lightroom and Aperture took about the same amount of time importing images. In the image editing process, I found Aperture to be much slower than Lightroom. I was constantly waiting for Aperture to load images into the Loupe tool while Lightroom cranked away with 1:1 previews. And as I said above, I had the annoying spinning ball of death with Aperture way more often than I would have expected. With Lightroom, I had no delay in the editing process or in the develop module. While exporting, I found that Lightroom took anywhere from one third to one half the time that it took Aperture to export the same images. In terms of building web galleries and exporting them, Aperture was a bit faster than Lightroom.
Overall, Lightroom was much faster, but if I had a super fast MacPro and 5 or 6GB of RAM, I bet that would speed up Aperture. Of course, Lightroom would feel like it was on crack cocaine if I was using that same computer.
Before you go ballistic, realize these are my opinions. I've spent a week comparing two very complex software applications. I feel at this point I have a pretty good feel for them both--at least enough to draw a solid conclusion for myself and my work.
A big part of why I chose Lightroom in the first place, and why I will continue to use it for my workflow, is because I came from using Adobe Camera Raw, so I'm comfortable with the sliders. I prefer Lightroom's simplicity of design and its user interface. I also have my images organized methodically by geographic location so at this point, I don't need much help from software to keep track of my images. I'm sure that will change as my hard drives continue to fill up, but I'm confident that Version 2.0 of Lightroom will have some sort of archiving and cataloging solution when it comes out a year or two from now.
Another big reason I choose Lightroom over Aperture is the issue of speed. It works faster and it works on all of my computers. The fact that I already know the software to some degree having come from ACR means I don't have to learn a whole new way of dealing with my raw images. As a professional photographer, this point cannot be underestimated. I simply don't have time to spend two whole weeks learning Aperture inside and out when I can learn pretty much everything about Lightroom in a day or two.
I have clients to deal with, assignments to shoot, process and get out the door, and most importantly invoices to keep track of. Digital photography has cut into my time behind the camera because I'm now at my computer dealing with images. This may sound like a rant, but I'd much rather be out there shooting images than learning about new software. And that amigos, is the real reason I choose Lightroom over Aperture or anything else for that matter. It allows me to concentrate on photography again!
I hope this comparison has helped you decide for yourself which of these programs will work best for you and your work. I think the real test is to download both trial versions and try them out.
If you'd like to see how I use Lightroom and my entire digital workflow, you can purchase my workflow on my website at:
Lightroom vs Aperture Blog Posts by Michael Clark
Aperture vs Lightroom Blog Posts by Micah Walter
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