A comparison: Adobe Lightroom vs. Apple Aperture

by Michael Clark

With all of the recent buzz about Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and its release today, the big question is how it compares to Apple Aperture. In tandem with Micah Walter on the Inside Aperture website I will be conducting a comparison of the two programs and how they stack up for my workflow. I'll just say upfront that my purpose is not to bash either of these pieces of software. They are both incredibly powerful and a cut above the rest of the RAW processing and image editing software programs on the market today.

For the next ten days, I will work with both Lightroom and Aperture to work up images from a recent stock shoot and draw conclusions as I compare how each program deals with a variety of workflow topics. I don't intend this to be a definitive comparison - just my thoughts on what works for me. I will post a few extra blogs this week as I work with both programs and present a wrap up article with my conclusions which will be published on the Inside Lightroom website on February 28th.


Just to give you a little background, for the last year I have been using Lightroom quite a bit and it is currently the heart of my workflow. I have worked with Aperture a little but I must admit I don't know it nearly as well as I do Lightroom. My initial impression of Aperture is that it seems overly complex when compared to Lightroom. The user interface for Lightroom is very intuitive and easy to use, especially coming from a Photoshop and Adobe Camera RAW workflow. By comparison, Aperture seems a little clunky because a lot of the interface seems to be buried in drop down menus but mostly because I just haven't spent as much time learning how to use the software. I'll admit I am biased towards Lightroom, but I'll try to overcome that and make a solid comparison with Aperture.

One thing to keep in mind as I compare these two programs is the type of images I shoot and the number of images I have to edit and process. I tend to shoot a large number of images (anywhere from 300 to 2,000 per day or per photo shoot) and I end up processing about 20 to 25% of those images. Since I photograph adventure sports, I usually have a lot of sequences shot at 5 or even 8 frames per second. For photographers that don't produce such a high volume of images then my analysis and workflow may be a bit skewed for your workflow.

As I go through and process my latest stock shoot of 800+ images I will be looking at quite a few different aspects of each program including the following:

Importing Images and adding Metadata
File/Folder Structure
Image Editing: Ranking and Rating Images, Stacking and Versions
Developing Images
Grayscale conversion
Exporting Images
Color Management
Spotting Images
Creating Web Galleries
User Interface
Final processed image quality comparison

This should be a fun week and I am looking forward to getting started on the comparison. I hope you'll check in regularly, and I look forward to reading your comments.

Adios, Michael Clark


2007-02-19 08:40:47
"My initial impression of Aperture is that it seems overly complex when compared to Lightroom."

well hopefullly between the two of you, we'll get some sort of balance in reporting.

2007-02-19 13:14:04
I'm looking forward to your findings. I've written a fairly through walk-through of LR here: http://blog.tc.dk/item/91 - including a link to this page.
2007-02-19 15:13:23
Spend enough time to really learn Aperture... I find it very fast to work in, primarily with keystrokes for moving around or adjusting the state of the UI. Having used both products significantly, I'm interested in your opinions... I don't think they're as similar as is sometimes claimed. Feature-wise, maybe, but they differ significantly in workflow style IMO, and to give Aperture a fair shake, you can't approach it from a rigid "this is how these kinds of apps work" viewpoint.

Thanks! Looking forward to it...

2007-02-19 20:41:29
Jeremey you raise a good point, both apps need to you "subscribe" to their way of thinking. For some, one app will seem easier than the other.
2007-02-20 02:23:58
Give it some time... I'm really interested as I'm about to buy one of these two!
Michael Clark
2007-02-20 13:30:43
No worries guys. I'll definitely give Aperture a fair shake. It is a sweet peice of software and has some really nice features. I think in the end whatever software you end up using depends a lot more with how you are used to working on your images and what software you have used in the past. The good news for consumers is they really can't go wrong here. And with Apple and Adobe in direct competition then both programs will improve going forward which is great for the end user!
mark Chilvers
2007-02-21 15:10:25
Hi Michael,
I am in a very similar situation to your self, while I mainly do portrait work I also do some extreme sports. Most of my experience lately is with Lightroom which I get on with quite well but don't yet know whether to shell out £100. I have a version of Aperture on my Macbook Pro but haven't read any manuals and didn't get on with it as well at first look. Obviously I also have Photoshop and a couple of other brousers. Really looking forward to hearing what you make of them both now that LR1 has been released, a truer comparison is possible. Good luck.
2007-02-22 15:14:37
I am very much impressed with the above situation.

Thank you:

2007-03-07 21:22:58
I have been using Aperture since it's release. I played with Lightroom in beta but at that stage it was no more responsive than Aperture. And that's the real kicker-- speed.

I lovvvveeeee Aperture except for one very important thing-- speed. Adobe has added some nice things to Lightroom to make it equal feature-wise. I like the extra functions in Aperture but speed is the real clincher. I can't believe the difference. Apple is really going to have to do something about 2.0 or Aperture is a dead duck. Or should I say G4 cube.

I like that Aperture is more free form. That gives the impression that it is more complex. Also, the different modes such as light table, web etc. add to that impression.

But at the core of each program is the simple organizing and processing of photos. Lightroom does it very efficiently on my Powerbook G4 even with adjustments heaped on it. Aperture suffers.

The tools are more responsive and don't come with an associated menu for each too. That makes a big difference.

No matter what you can say about Aperture though, it ain't gonna beat the out speed issue.