Aperture Vs. Lightroom: Day 3 - The Develop Module

by Micah Walter

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The more I use Lightroom, the more I am beginning to love the program. I think I made that same statement when I first started using Aperture about a year ago. Maybe it has something to do with it being the "new toy" in the room, or maybe I just like the look of the two square icons in my dock (LR and Ps). I really can't say what it is, but one thing is for sure, Lightroom is growing on me.

Today I had a good time reading all the comments from my previous post. I stuck my foot directly in my mouth when I wrote that you can't create multiple Versions in LR. When someone kindly pointed out to me that it is possible, I realized that I am getting just as much out of this process as my readers are! You really can't beat that. One of my favorite things when teaching students about photography is that moment when they start to take over and teach me.

So, for today's post, I thought I would do a little clean-up and add a few comments having to do with the Library module, and then move on to the Develop module. I added some more images to my Library this afternoon and imported the salvaged pictures from my trip to Les Saintes last weekend. As it turned out, I had a few images that I thought were worth looking at, so I am going to be using these for today's post.

One of the things that has often bothered me about Aperture has been how it handles Metadata once my images are imported. Aperture has some pretty nice tools and a well planned out Metadata panel ( I love the bottom controls for displaying IPTC, EXIF and other info, and the multiple metadata views) but it has never been very intuitive for me when it comes to batch editing metadata.

Now before you all jump all over me and explain to me how to do a batch change or a lift and stamp, let me just say, I know how to do it. I just don't think it is very intuitive. In other words, every time I want to do a batch change to, lets say, the IPTC City field, I have to think for a second, and remember what I need to do to make it happen. Then I have to reassure myself that what I am about to do is in fact what I am supposed to do, and then do it. If I am using the lift and stamp tool, I need to make sure I uncheck the things I don't want lifted and or stamped, and if I am using the Batch Change feature, well, I just don't like having to go through the steps of bringing that option up every time.

With Lightroom, they have dealt with batch metadata changes in a way that makes perfect sense to me. I select a range of images, find the field in the Metadata area, and change the value. Once I hit return or tab, the change is made to all the images I have selected. My only gripe here is that if I hit tab, I don't get the next field highlighted and ready to edit. Often times I want to batch change metadata on the fly to a range of images, and I want to just be able to tab through the fields. I don't want to have to open a special dialog box; I just want it to work. I hope I'm not asking too much here!

As I mentioned in a previous post, having EXIF variables available for entry into IPTC fields would make the whole process sing-- that and being able to tab to the next field. Okay, that's it.

Let's move on to the Develop module. I think this is going to require a couple of posts for discussion. Lightroom's Develop module, in a nutshell, is awesome! The ability to add presets and have them readily available in the left side panel is a really great thing. I do miss the Aperture style Loop tool, but somehow I think I could learn to live without it. It's a nifty feature, but a little over-engineered, in my opinion. The whole Snapshots feature (which I have yet to really discover) is a great idea. I have always wanted something like this. It makes me feel like I'm back in the darkroom, making test prints and being able to go back and see if I went in the wrong direction at some point. It can really be a great learning tool if used correctly.

The History and Copy and Paste functions are right where they should be and are reminiscent of how I used to do things in Photoshop. There is a ton of stuff to look at in the Develop module, but it's pretty clearly marked and easy to find. In the right-hand panel I have everything I could potentially need. I'm still getting used to all the sliders and what can be done with the histogram and curves box, but I can say so far that they are incredible. I am also really digging the Before and After compare tools. They seem to make perfect sense to me so far, and they really do work.

I find when I begin to work on an image I sort of go down the right panel sliders and see what happens. I'm pretty sure this is a bad way to adjust images as the sliders aren't meant to be used step by step, but so far it has worked pretty well. Usually I start by dragging the Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light (very cool) and Blacks sliders and then I head down the list. In Aperture, I typically have a routine that I follow as well, and I veer off this routine depending on the image at hand. It took me a while to develop my skills in Aperture, and I am sure it will take me some time to do the same in Lightroom.

I must say here that I was brought up on Curves and Levels in Photoshop. My professors used to tell me that everything the sliders can do can be done with Curves alone. I used to believe them until I wanted to do things like Shadow Recovery and Fill Light effects. These surely can be done with Curves, but it takes some serious know-how and patience. So, I am migrating back to using sliders. I mean, there are even sliders right there in the Curves box in Lightroom! Now I have a plethora of ways to manipulate the image--perhaps too many.

I am especially fond of how Adobe did the HSL, Color and Grayscale sliders. I like things to be all in once place and easily navigable. I think Lightroom has nailed it here.

There has been lots of talk around the web about Lightroom Vs. Aperture in terms of RAW processing. I think it is pretty hard to tell which application does a better job. Many say Lightroom creates a more natural feel and something similar to a film look, while Aperture lovers have been impressed with how Apple's CoreImage processor handles high ISO pics (well, they weren't at first). The thing is, it can be really tough to do a side-by-side comparison because the controls are all different, and you are really comparing apples to oranges. I think the answer is basically, "whatever works best for you." So far with Lightroom I have been pretty satisfied with how my images have been developing. But, I must remind you, I am new to this application, so they aren't perfect yet!

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Above you will see a screenshot put together in Photoshop and reduced to fit the format of this blog. Now, I am not really a side-by-side bench testing kind of guy, so they aren't very scientific. The idea was to go through the typical workflow I use when adjusting an image. I started by manipulating an image from the original RAW file in Lightroom. To be honest with you, I basically just played with the slider controls until I had something I was pleased with. I did this in fullscreen mode on a gray surround. I also looked at it with the Lights Dimmed mode turned on and made some final tweaks.

The image on the right I worked up in Aperture following a similar workflow. I wasn't trying to make them match but rather, simply trying to end up with a good result after beginning with the original RAW file. I then did screen shots and compared my work. The Aperture version, which I edited in Full Screen mode, is slightly more washed out, but I did leave some detail in the background. It's hard to see, but it's there. Overall, I thought they both looked pretty good, and very close, side-by-side.

Tomorrow, I am planning to dive into more detail about the Develop module. Who knows, I may even talk about ACR vs. Apple's CoreImage. Yikes! Please do keep the comments coming, and if anyone out there has a technical explanation of the difference between Lightroom's Recovery slider, and Aperture's Shadow and Highlight sliders, I'd love to hear about it.

Click here to see today's gallery.

22 Comments

David Medina
2007-02-21 18:59:43
So far, I think you are facing my same dilema deciding which one is better. Both programs process RAW quite well. But Lightroom Develop module is awesome while Aperture organizational skills are superior. I love the whole Project concept in which you can keep everything well organazied. And the lightable is an incredible tool.


One tool that Aperture has that I haven't found in Lightroom develop module is the ability to adjust color cast in the highlights, midtones and shadows.


I also like Lightroom rountrip feature better than Aperture. If I go back to PS for a second time with a PSD file it creates a new master, while LR gives you the option of creating a new one or edit the same one.


By the way, I haven't found any difference between the highlight recovery and/or Fill betwenn both applications.


Looking forward to tomorrow.

Daniel Mendez
2007-02-21 19:10:05
before even looking at the description of what image had been created by what tool, I felt that the photo on the right looked so much better and not so dark. In other words, I thought the Aperture image was better.
I guess if you wanted to get a darker image out of Aperture, you could have toned down the effect more.
Frank Gregorek
2007-02-21 21:10:17
Also thought the image on the right was a better rendition and sharper.
AlexK
2007-02-21 22:05:12
Micah says -- I must say here that I was brought up on Curves and Levels in Photoshop. My professors used to tell me that everything the sliders can do can be done with Curves alone. I used to believe them until I wanted to do things like Shadow Recovery and Fill Light effects. These surely can be done with Curves, but it takes some serious know-how and patience.


No, they cannot, since curves/levels are global adjustments, whereas FillLight (or highlight/shadow if you're in Aperture or Photoshop) are local adjustments, based on the brightness on surrounding pixels. So you have good reason not to believe your professors.


DavidM says -- I also like Lightroom rountrip feature better than Aperture. If I go back to PS for a second time with a PSD file it creates a new master, while LR gives you the option of creating a new one or edit the same one.


Actually, Aperture does not do that, at least not in 1.5. If you re-open a PSD file, no new master is created, and all PS layers are preserved intact.


On a separate note, after one afternoon with Lightroom, what really rocks for me is (1) Lightroom's greyscale conversion tools, (2) targeted adjustments, and (3) especially the combo of 1 and 2. Wow! I want to see that show up in Aperture (which is what I am using right now, and I am too lazy to switch). The only thing I really seriously dislike about Lightroom is that it is more modal, and does not have a fullscreen editing mode. (Oh yes, and stacks are displayed much better in Aperture, especially in the filmstrip, but that's obviously fixable.)


Nice review so far, keep it coming!


2007-02-22 00:11:14
Thanks for responding to yesterday's comment, Micah.


OK, here's a tip for you. In Develop, hold down Cmd (Ctrl on Windows) and click the Sync button so it switches LR into Auto Sync mode (same method to switch it off). Now, when you make a Develop adjustment, it immediately applies to all selected images. Otherwise, you have the same do-it-sync-it routine like Aperture's adjust it, then Lift & Stamp. I leave LR in Auto Sync mode - it's so much faster. If I don't know what's selected, a quick F6 toggles on the film strip.


Gio

Andy
2007-02-22 00:50:13
The image on the right is significantly better, in my opinion. I decided that before looking to see which program had created which image.
Jay
2007-02-22 01:36:09
Stop it. I don't want to leave Aperture but Lightroom is sounding seriously interesting! (although I liked the right image best as well)
Reggie Tidwell
2007-02-22 04:44:33
I also prefer the image on the right. Does Lightroom have dual monitor support, yet? I don't see it advertised anywhere. That was my problem with the Beta. Spoiled by Aperture's excellent use of two displays.
Micah
2007-02-22 04:48:48
Not to let the cat out of the bag, but if you look in the bottom right corner of the right hand photo you might see a little clue as to which photo was done in Aperture.
Jim N.
2007-02-22 05:38:44
I actually liked the image on the left better. I thought it was more rich/less washed out. I'm an Aperture guy, if for no other reason than it's a 'Mac app', which the LR betas I used definitely were not. But: LR has a definitive signature, I think. A friend of mine has an iBook G4 and can't use Aperture, so she used LR betas for a while. I could always tell when she edited a photo in LR vs PS. It just looked a certain way, much like the image on the left. If that's the 'film look' Micah mentioned then I'm buying it!


Completely subjective, of course. YMMV. (And I'm still not switching from Aperture!)

David Medina
2007-02-22 06:53:55
Lightroom as of yet does not have a dual screen mode. maybe keeping with their simplicity mindset.


One weakness LR has is the backup/vault feaure. Is not as good as Aperture. The library data base has to be backup manually.


I just went trhough a Lybda.com training on LR and they mentioned the "photobinder" feature from beta 4,1 was still in LR 1.0. But I cannot find it anywhere on LR 1.0. I love the fact that I can in Aperture export a whole project from my laptop to my desktop.



I do love Aperture organisational skills. But Lightroom Develop module keeps me looking that way. Maybe want I wanted to hear from the review is that I can do in Aperture HUD everything I can do in LR develop module. That would ease my "anxiety".


Daniel Mendez
2007-02-22 07:32:53
It looks like the LR image is missing pixels at the bottom of the image. Is that how it was exported or was it your screenshot?


>> "Not to let the cat out of the bag, but if you look in the bottom right corner of the right hand photo you might see a little clue as to which photo was done in Aperture." You could press 'y' to remove this for future comparisons.


Like David mentioned, seems like the Aperture HUD can do everything in the develop module, although the develop module looks nice. Oh yes, dual monitors is so nice in Aperture.


I think this healthy competition will make Aperture 2 even better! :-)

ian
2007-02-22 09:09:03
I've downloaded the LR trial to follow these articles and I must say, I am impressed with the speed of LR among other things.
I agree with other comments, Apple has to recoginze some of the advantages of LR for Aperture 2.0.
John
2007-02-22 11:19:46
Regarding image comparison, I think image on the right is better (and I don't think it's washed out) more because preserving background detail was the right choice for this particular image, less due to darker vs. lighter, film look vs. digital, etc.
John
2007-02-22 11:23:38
Mica,


In this section, it becomes unclear which app you're referencing when. Please clarify. Is it LR throughout or both in parts? Thanks.


"Once I hit return or tab, the change is made to all the images I have selected. My only gripe here is that if I hit tab, I don't get the next field highlighted and ready to edit. Often times I want to batch change metadata on the fly to a range of images, and I want to just be able to tab through the fields. I don't want to have to open a special dialog box; I just want it to work. I hope I'm not asking too much here!


As I mentioned in a previous post, having EXIF variables available for entry into IPTC fields would make the whole process sing- that and being able to tab to the next field. Okay, that's it."

David Medina
2007-02-22 11:35:01
I agree with Daniel. The competition between Adobe and Apple will only benefit us. We have to incredible tools in Aperture and Lightroom. They will only get better as time go by. '


I was listening to a Lightroom training and the trainer was boasting about all the new LR cool feature. I realized that all the "nice new cool features" he was talking about were from and the result of Aperture. Now is Apple turn to see what kind of cool features from LR can incorporate into Aperture. The result? Better apps for us.


Be careful of the "the grass is greener in the other side" syndrome. No doubt LR is cool and a great program. It looks nice and work great. But, there is no need to switch if you are using Aperture 1.5. It is, after all, one of the most complete and flexible workflow software in the market.

Richard Earney
2007-02-22 12:15:37
PhotoBinders were dropped for v1 of Lightroom as they didn't work well enough. To import from a (say) laptop, then you have to set the Laptop's Lightroom to write XMP data and then bring the photos over.


I am assured it will be a better process in the future

Micah
2007-02-22 13:14:04
Hey all, great discussion going on here today. John, to clarify, yes I was talking about LR in that case. I'll try be more specific in the future. Richard, this is one major issue for me. Not being able to easily (and I am sure there are more than a few ways to do this) transfer from Laptop to Desktop, or other Library is a major problem. I hope they fix this soon.


AlexK: Let me be a little more clear. Back in my college days when digital photo was just beginning to find its way into the classroom we were all about Curves and Levels as opposed to the Brightness and Contrast sliders because we were certain it was better to have more control and not leave anything to "Interpolation." Interpolation was a big nast buzzword back then, and now it has sort of made its way into our hearts. The Recovery tool for instance I am sure uses some pretty cool image processing to bring the highlights back based on a mix of the clipped info from the RAW file and how you have the image currently adjusted (I am just guessing here). But to be fair, this is not local editing, this is still a global edit. The entire image is being processed, but the areas that fit the critera of the slider are the only areas that have any effect. A local edit to me would be somehting like a spot and patch or burning/masking type thing.


Regardless, I still think you are pretty much right in that you cant replicate the Recovery tool with Curves. Well, maybe part right. I think if you knew what you were doing you could get pretty close. In otgher words, instead of clipping the highlights in the first place, you could just use the Curves to produce the right tone (localalized to the highlight region).... blah blah blah, I think I am getting to deep into this one...


As for all who picked their fav image from the two above... thanks for picking! I hop eyou all understood that it wasnt meant to be a shootout in this case. I am mostly interested in how all the different variables lead me to a result. There is a ton of user error going on there. But, I have been told I work up my images in a very similar way to how I cook my dinner. A little of this, a little of that... oops a little too much... fix it with some of that... perfect!


Thanks to all who commented... keep em coming..


2007-02-22 22:17:49
Micah: ah yes, you do seem to have a lot more history with digital than I do. I waited for quite some time before I finally ditched my lovely film cameras (sigh). I agree with what you say; I certainly do prefer the extra control of a curve that I specify, versus one that's constructed from two numbers (brightness + contrast).


As for terminology, I suspect my engineering background is showing through to a detrimental degree. :-)
By "local edit" I meant an edit that is not the same everywhere in the image, even if the entire image is affected. Like, this really dark corner of the image you brighten a lot, whereas this less dark one over there you brighten somewhat less --- i.e., the transform applied to a pixel is a function of the local surroundings of the pixel (and thus not a "global" constant). In contrast to a curve, where each pixel gets the same transform, as specified by a curve.


I now realize that in the context of LR/Aperture, this is maybe not the best choice of terminology, since we're often talking about "global" in the sense of affecting the entire image, versus "local" in the sense of allowing the photographer to select an area to edit (i.e., masking of some form). I definitely want Aperture/LR to add that kind of "local" edits in the future (be it with painted masks a la Photoshop, regions as in LightZone, or "magic" as in Capture-NX's U-point).

Jacob Rus
2007-02-22 22:48:13
One thing worth considering with people choosing which image they prefer is that on Windows/Linux (with 2.2 display gamma), both images will look significantly darker than on a Mac (with 1.8 gamma).
Will
2007-02-23 18:55:31
Micah:


It really upsets me when statements such as yours are made. Is it not obvious to you as it is to many of us, that it's always easier to produce a comparable product to one that has already been created! Adobe had no choice but create a product that is percieved to be better. I've beta tested Lightroom and what I saw was a product that works real hard at reinventing the wheel. Regardless of what you, Adobe or anyone else has to say, Aperture was there first and it is an incredible product. No,it's not Photoshop and it was never intented to be. I see Aperture as a product that works in harmony with Photoshop. And let's be real, Photoshop is not the only game in town. For me, the bottom line is doing what works best for me. I use no less than 4 plug-ins at time to complete an image. These plug-ins are designed and work well with Photoshop. Which for me is no different than what Aperture does in terms of organizing my files. It does what it does so incredibly, I see it as a thing of beauty. Is it perfect, no. Is it getting better and better at what it does? Absolutely!
Adobe on the other hand beta tested lightroom over and over. They had to produce what they did given all the feedback they recieved. It reminds me of car companies who play the "I'm better than you" game when all they're doing is taking each others products stripping them down and determining how, if at all possible, to make thier products better.
Adobe dropped the ball here and are trying to play catch up. Aperture is an awesome product that works and works well. And better yet, it will only get better. If I were Adobe, I'd move on and be VERY CONCERNED that Apple does not come up with it's own version of Photoshop. If they do, and I hope so, I will be first in line to get my copy as I was one of the first person to buy Aperture. Apple, Steve and the boys have got it going on and I am right there with them.
The techno-babble you guys engage in I guest is okay for what you do. As for me and my peers, we're simply seeking the best products to make it as accessible as possible to make a living. Right now that's Digital Cameras, Photoshop, Aperture, and Epson printers...the rest I'll leave to guys to debate, debate, debate, debate.......

KGG
2007-03-01 10:35:20
Wow, and I thought I was an Apple fan. Anyway, great series Micah. Aperture doesn't run well on my dual 1.8GHz G5 PM, so Lightroom it is. And, I agree that LR is very intuitive. I really like it.


As for the Snapshots feature, Nikon Capture has had it for a while. Great feature. I hope Apple adds it for all the Aperture users out there.


Cheers.