Aperture Vs. Lightroom: Day 1 - Lightroom's Library Module

by Micah Walter


Today at around 11 a.m. I headed off to photograph the local Carnival celebration in Portsmouth, Dominica. Portsmouth is the second largest city in Dominica, though it is not really a city, but more of a fishing village. I had thought about going down to Roseau, the capital of Dominica, and where the larger Carnival festivities would be taking place, but I changed my mind and thought it might be more interesting to shoot something local. After living in the area for over six months, I figured it would be kind of cool to focus on the same locals I see every day.

After a short mile and a half walk, I was in Portsmouth. The weather was just holding out, with a few light rain drops here and there, and mostly overcast skies. For something like this I like to pack light, and so I brought only my Canon 20D, an EF-S 10-22mm 3.5-4.5 lens, and my 70-200mm IS 2.8. I have a small Domke bag, which I like to use for street work, as it can hold the 70-200, and a flash if I need it. I can also stuff my wallet, extra batteries and memory cards in there with out a problem. I find this simple kit (sans flash for today) works out great for street work, as it is lightweight and indiscrete.

Once I made my way down to town, I just followed the music. The town looked like there had been a huge party there the night before. Carnival goes from Sunday until Tuesday and the biggest parties are at night. I quickly found the party, which consisted of a large tractor trailer pulling a flatbed with a band on top, and a crowd of locals dancing all around. It was quite a sight. The Portsmouth locals had dispensed with the standard Carnival costumes and were basically just following the truck through the streets, dancing in its wake.

I spent a while photographing the dancing and eventually the truck operators decided it was time to call it quits. They promised to come back later in the afternoon and the crowd dispersed. After a while I walked back home and took some shots of a few fisherman on the beach.

Once I was home it was time to start playing with my new toy, Lightroom. I started up the trial version and inserted a memory card. Just as quickly as my machine recognized the card an import window appeared asking me how I would like to handle the import of images into Lightroom.

I had spent some time with the beta version and was pretty familiar with using the import panel, but it has changed since I last played with it. The options are fairly obvious, and seem pretty intuitive. I had to make a few decisions with regard to how Lightroom would rename files, and organize the images into folders, and that was about it. I also had the option to set up a Metadata preset. This is a really nice feature and I decided to go ahead and create one that I could continue to use throughout this project. I still prefer the IPTC power of PhotoMechanic by Camerabits as the ultimate batch metadata handler, and I really wish both Apple and Adobe would take a few hints in this regard. For instance, why do I need to enter the date the pictures were taken in the IPTC area? With PhotoMechanic I can simply tell it to copy over the camera's EXIF date and I'm done. This seems like a pretty obvious and necessary feature to me.

I directed Lightroom to store all of my images sorted into folders by date, and I placed them in the Lightroom folder in my Pictures folder. Later in the week I plan to experiment with moving these images from place to place using the finder. But for now, they are sitting in one spot.

Lightroom organizes things a bit differently than Aperture. One of the major differences is that Lightroom doesn't use Projects to hold images. Instead the images are first referenced by where they exist on the hard drive. In the Library module in Lightroom you can quickly look at your shoot by using the folder panel to find your images. You can also create as many Collections as you would like, which are sort of akin to Albums in Aperture. With these collections you can ultimately organize your library in any way that you would like.

I haven't really decided the approach I like best. When I first began using Aperture, I was a little thrown off by the Project concept, but now I really like being able to export an entire project, metadata, masters and versions, and everything as one single package file. This is a nice feature that is totally absent in Lightroom, or at least I haven't found something similar as of yet.

One nice feature in the Library module of Lightroom that jumped out at me is the Metadata browser. I can quickly search through my entire archive for images taken with a particular lens, a certain camera (by serial number even) or a myriad of other metadata. This is pretty nice, but I am not sure what type of usage it will see in the field. So far it is just sort of fun. I do like having the browse by date feature available. Aperture really makes that a hard thing to do, by having to create a query every-time you want to find images from a particular date. One thing that would be nice in Lightroom would be the ability to customize the Metadata Browser so that I could browse by whatever I wanted and not just the prepackaged fields.

This brings me to my next point. The search function in Lightroom seems a little lacking. Aperture's query HUD has all the bells and whistles I can think of and works very much like a search would be performed in the Finder. Why can't I add additional search criteria in Lightroom? It's true, I can perform a text based search and then add filters to that result, but that's about it. It's not too impressive when compared to Aperture's query HUD and the ability to create Smart Albums.

Another basic element that I have found missing from the Library module is some type of parallel to Aperture's Vault system. Scratch that, I found it. Lightroom does have a built in backup system, where you can have it automatically save a second copy of your images to a separate location on import, and you can have the program automatically back up its database periodically. But it isn't quite as intuitive as Aperture's Vault system. It took me a while to realize it was even an option, and it really only allows for a single backup, though I am sure there are ways of getting around that limitation. I should say here that I have never been a huge fan of Aperture's Vault system, but at least it is easy to set up and seems to work. If it had some sort of scheduler I think it would make a pretty decent system. Lightroom on the other hand, has the scheduler, but trying to figure out how to get it all set up is a bit complicated, and in the end I just decided not to worry about it and rely on my own backup software to achieve the same result.

Well, after a few hours of playing with Lightroom I can say this: I really like it. The interface is pretty nice, and it seems to be zipping along at a pretty decent pace on my MacBook Pro. So far it has been pretty intuitive. I still don't know how to lift and stamp metadata, and I miss hitting F for full screen mode and a laundry list of other Aperture features I have gotten used to, but overall it has been a pleasure to work with on the first day.

I even managed to create a simple web gallery of images from today's shoot. The Web module looks like a real shining star for Lightroom and I can't wait to investigate it further. To check out today's gallery go to http://www.micahwalter.com/oreilly/day1/.

Tomorrow I am headed out on a boat ride to a "Secret Beach" here in Dominica. We will be leaving at 8 a.m. and will be back before noon. I will then take a lunch break and head back to Carnival for more festivities and hopefully some better light.


Frank Gregorek
2007-02-19 16:30:43
Micah: The LR Metadata Browser only reflects 6 pieces of metadata (lens, camera, creator, date, file type and location), not the "myriad" ypu mention in your article. Aperture's Query HUD contains many more search items.
Chris R
2007-02-19 17:15:51
"Aperture really makes that a hard thing to do, by having to create a query every-time you want to find images from a particular date."

That's what list view is for (control+L) where you can quickly re-sort by date, lens, or a myriad of other criteria in aperture.

2007-02-19 17:39:50
Yep, I think I overstepped with "Myriad," but as for List View, while it does let me sort via a number of crtieria, and quickly, I still can just click a particular date and get all the images. Just something I think would be nice.
Jim N.
2007-02-19 19:14:56
Hi Micah,

Thanks for doing this comparison. I used LR betas until Aperture 1.5. With 1.5 I was able to run it (albeit barely!) on my iMac G5 and have switched over to Aperture since.

I'm confused by something you mentioned above:
"For instance, why do I need to enter the date the pictures were taken in the IPTC area? "

I've never done this in Aperture, as it pulls the date from the data in the card. Were you referring to LR there, or both LR and AA?

2007-02-19 20:06:23
Ah, yes, I should explain. The date and time stamp set by the camera get written to your EXIF data when you take a picture. This date and time stamp i snot the same as the IPTC field called Date, (or Date Created in Aperture). For most, this wont make much of a difference, but if you need to send exported images to a client who relies on IPTC fields, the date and time form the camera's EXIF need to get copied over to the Date field in IPTC.

With PhotoMechanic you can easily set the software to do this while you import the images, or at any other time. As an example, PhotoMecahnic can also do things like add the F-Stop and Shutter speed to your Caption field. This is one of PhotoMechanics most powerful features and why it still has a spot reserved in my dock!

2007-02-19 20:38:31
this is great reading while I get beachballs in Apreture to export images. GRRRR.
2007-02-19 23:06:03
...as it is lightweight and indiscrete

Shurely some mistake? Didn't you mean 'lightweight and discreet'?
Tijl Kindt
2007-02-20 02:56:56
"... and I miss hitting F for full screen mode ..."

F *should* get you into full screen mode. Pressing F once gets you into a maximized view, while pressing it twice gets you into real full screen. At least on my windows cd it does. I love it :D.

Lifting and stamping metadeta is done in the library with the 'Sync Metadata' button. Select the images you want to synchronize (including the one you want to copy from), click the image you want to copy from to make sure it is the 'most selected' image. Now click the 'Sync Metadata' button and make sure that all the metadata fields that you want to synchronize are ticked. Click OK.

2007-02-20 03:07:50
Thanks for the tips guys. I also see that Shit-Apple-F hides the panels during full screen mode. Very cool. The lifting and stamping or "syncing" looks pretty good too. More soon...


Oh, sorry about the mistakes, yes I meant discreet, unobtrusive, less obnoxious, smaller. I also leave the vertical grip at home for this...

Allan White
2007-02-20 10:04:17
In my time with LR, Weapon Number One that it has over Aperture is still its RAW engine (ACR). Grain looks better, gradients are smoother, images look more film-like (ok, that last one's pretty subjective). I would kill to have some kind of vignette control in Aperture (plug-in, perhaps?). There's also finer controls for color > B&W conversion in my opinion.

I'm committed to Aperture for organizing my billions of pixels for now, but I wish it did as good a job as ACR for image processing.

D. Kasaj
2007-02-21 05:59:20
As I prefer shooting in low-light, with open apertures and high ISO settings, I am absolutely disgusted with ACR's processing of Canon RAW files. Even Aperture does a better job, and it's still not my preferred meants to output.
However, I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to post your experiences, and to say I am highly interested to see where this article series is going.
Allan W.
2007-02-21 11:39:42
Hearing more on this topic of the RAW engine, it's interesting to hear about issues with higher-ISO processing. Clearly there's a lot of subjective preferences in this regard.

Dave Girard (aka BEIGE) had some interesting side-by-side comparisons with Capture 1, LR, and others: http://arstechnica.com/reviews/apps/lightroom.ars/7 . No clear winner after several images.

Chris K.
2007-02-22 08:40:02
Reading your comments about sorting shots by lens type, I was motivated to set up a series of smart albums in Aperture to sort by focal lengths corresponding to my lenses. I quickly realised this was an excellent way to help me make a choice of a new lens I have been dithering about for ages inasmuch it shows me where a significant hole is in my line-up. Also it shows me that I have been neglecting a very useful lens I have already.

Before doing this I had not quantified my needs and they are quite a bit different from my gut feel.

Richard Earney
2007-02-22 12:04:53
You can create your own metadata panels in Lightroom - see http://regex.info/Lightroom/Meta/
2007-03-19 00:39:28
I read the article in arstechnica. Is Lightroom really better in RAW image quality?