Aperture Vs. Lightroom Vs. Everyone Else

by Micah Walter

I was surprised to see the results of a survey conducted by Info Trends and posted on the blog of Adobe’s own John Nack. The survey, (which I wasn’t able to find at the InfoTrends website) claims that out of 1026 professional photographers in North America, 66.5% are using the Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in, 23.6% are using Lightroom, and 5.5% are using Aperture.

Before I get into what I really think these numbers mean, I would like to point out a few things about the survey. Obviously, since I haven’t seen the “actual” survey results, I really can’t say much for sure, but I will do my best. First of all the sample size is pretty small at only 1026 photographers, and having the region limited to North America could certainly say something about the results. The other main point that I think Nack overlooked was the definition of term “professional.” Both Aperture and Lightroom are billed as pro level applications, but I am sure that a large portion of their respective users range anywhere from serious amateurs to hobbyists, to semi-pros and more. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that a large portion of Aperture users fall into that new category of “pro-sumer.” Man, I hate that word!

That being said, Nack did mention the fact that Lightroom and Photoshop are both Mac and Windows applications. My other big peeve is that the survey is attempting to determine how many people use these applications for “RAW” processing. I happen to know that Aperture does much more than RAW processing (yes, Lightroom also fits this bill) and in fact I know many people who use Aperture to edit and manage their point-and-shoot Jpeg libraries.

So, aside from this being a far from conclusive report, what else can we really take from it? Well for one thing, there is definitely a HUGE need for some evangelism here! My personal belief is that software like Lightroom and Aperture are really the way of the future. The concept of non-destructive image editing is so important to preserving our artwork and history that it really needs to be talked about more.

When I was in college we had a whole department devoted to the preservation of imagery. They dealt with things like ultraviolet light and acid-free storage containers. It was all in the name of preserving our historical documents that we photographers like to call photographs. Now in the digital age we have different issues. Trying to figure out how to deal with file formats and storage media was one thing, and we still haven’t quite got it right, but the actual treatment of the files and how they get stored, backed up and organized is also a huge hurdle we face with digital media.

So why is it that 66.5% of these North American Professional Photographers are using Photoshop as their main RAW processing device? Does that mean that they are using the Finder to edit and organize their shoot? Or perhaps they are using one of the other image management applications like PhotoMechanic or Extensis Portfolio, or iView-Media Pro (oops, I meant to say Microsoft Expression Media).

Personally I think it is all about a willingness to try new things. I am one of those people who is fascinated by the next latest and greatest “thing.” I update my software as soon as it comes out, and I experiment with just about every imaging application out there on the market today. Yes, I do have a copy of Lightroom installed on my machine, and yes I do read the Lightroom version of this same blog, but for me it has always been Aperture. I’ve written extensively about my opinion of the two apps, but I have never really talked about how much I believe programs like Aperture AND Lightroom are so important compared to the old Finder-Photoshop workflow.

So how can we band together and evangelize this stuff? Obviously there is a small rift between the Lightroom and Aperture users, but to me that’s essentially the same as Canon Vs. Nikon, or Ford Vs. Chevy, or boxers vs. briefs. It’s all personal preference when you get down to it.

What we really need is a community of “photographers.” Not just “professional” photographers, but EVERYONE who uses this stuff. We need to get together in some way and make the world understand how important it is to preserve their digital imagery. If we don’t, years from now, we will wind up in the same boat we did with film--millions of digital shoeboxes filled with who knows what.


2007-11-02 08:25:48
Micah -- You read my mind! Excellent post. I am NOT a professional, but I snap a lot of pictures. I migrated from iPhoto just in the nick of time and can do so much more with my photos, including getting cropped, adjusted and off to soccer parents and cross-country coaches -- and tagged easily to I can find them years from now. And Apple has made it soooo easy to pick albums to be downloaded to my iPhone and Apple TVs. Having my latest photos right there in my pocket or only few clicks away makes it all very fun.
David Anderson
2007-11-02 08:57:34
One reason I'm frustrated with Aperture and now possibly have to switch to other solutions is that Apple are so frustratingly slow in bringing in support for new Cameras in RAW.
2007-11-02 09:05:33
I agree. There is a good amount of lag time for new RAW formats. This is partly to do with the fact that Apple builds RAW support into the OS. On one hand this is good because any Mac app can take advantage of the RAW support at the OS level, but on the other hand it does take time to wait for an OS upgrade just to get support for a new camera.

But, in the same vein as my artice, I think that we are facing a huge HUGE problem when it comes to all these proprietary RAW formats. DNG tried to fix that, and it is doing a decent job, but it still isn't perfect. Just look at what happened with the Leica M8 DNG format. Even though it was a "DNG" universal format, Aperture/Mac OS didn't support it for a while because underneath that layer of DNGness, there was still a proprietary format that needed support. If it is going to be truly universal, a DNG file must be able to work in any imageing application that does in fact support DNG, period!

2007-11-02 10:20:17
I would not be surprised if the majority of pro photographers are indeed still using Adobe Camera Raw - most people fight tooth and nail against any change related to their work. Also, of the small handful of people I know that prefer Lightroom, most of them picked it basically because the tools were familiar to them - just like Photoshop.

Aperture's interface is powerful and intuitive, and I love it; but not everyone has the patience (or perhaps they just don't have the time) to "learn something new". Lightroom is a great app, and I'm sure a lot of people would pick it over Aperture even if they gave both apps a fair trial - but I don't think most people that have tried both really give Aperture the time and attention necessary to intelligently make the decision.

Thomas Pindelski
2007-11-02 10:20:24
It does not help that Apple's marketing focus for Aperture is on 'professionals' when it's likely that serious amateurs constitute a far greater potential audience. So the advocacy really needs to come from Apple not a handful of enthusiasts, IMO. Far more effective with Apple's marketing clout. All Jobs has to do is flash up a few Aperture screens in his next keynote (maybe when v2.0 arrives?) and the product will sell like hot cakes.

As for the survey data, they are deeply flawed, not comparing like with like. Last I checked you could not use Aperture on a PC, as you point out.

2007-11-02 10:23:32
The problem for Aperture would be alleviated if it read DNGs as DNGs, and didn't reject them if it doesn't support the original raw file (wasn't that what happened with Leica, not a problem with DNG in general). At a stroke, Aperture would support many more cameras and build on Adobe's initiative/development effort.
2007-11-02 10:25:44
"As for the survey data, they are deeply flawed, not comparing like with like. Last I checked you could not use Aperture on a PC, as you point out."

The article was about raw converter what pros use. Those pros are no less relevant because they use Windows.

2007-11-02 10:28:43
I will try and post a follow up piece about the Leica DNG issue. Let me try and get the facts before I say much more.

Thomas and Travis,
One of the best things that Adobe did was to release Lightroom as a public beta just as Aperture hit the market. Free always seems better even if it was a far from complete beta app. Adobe's choice to do this resulted in them winning some loyalty and when they came out with 1.0 all the beta testers were hooked...


Don O'Shea
2007-11-02 10:30:25

I am not a pro, but as one who travels and knows he probably will not get another chance at capturing many sights (and sites), I regard the images I take to be an extension of my memory. I want to retain and assemble a record of our trips.

One of the places where you would think that non-destructive imaging would be discussed is Popular Photography & Imaging. I am not too sure how I got a subscription, but after a few issues I was not too sure what planet the magazine was published on. In those issues, Aperture and Lightroom was discussed in a column (not a feature) on image archiving in a single paragraph. But no discussion of non-destructive storage to speak of. There is usually one image processing article an issue, usually Photoshop, and, to my knowledge, nothing on image management. Perhaps the "popular" in the title is where the emphasis is.

Then, when the magazine offered a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 as a prize for a contest, I gave up. What serious photographic publication considers a camera without an optical viewfinder as worthy prize? I canceled my subscription.

Matthew Brown
2007-11-02 10:56:30
Personally, I think that Aperture's delay in supporting new cameras isn't too bad, since it's generally about the same amount of time that it takes for new product issues to be fixed in production and a fixed and better firmware to be available. Being too early an adopter can hurt, after all - and the price might drop in the interim, as well.

In most cases I feel the need to have a new camera the moment it comes out is an unhealthy gear addiction.

That said, there are a lot of gear addicts out there, and lots of bad publicity to be gained by being slow in updating.

I think part of the DNG issues is that while it's a universal format, Apple still needs to work out the best RAW decode parameters for each camera. It seems to me that Apple doesn't want to have a generic DNG converter that might not have ideal parameters for a camera. Maybe that's a good choice, maybe not?

Ed Fladung
2007-11-02 12:14:15
"there is definitely a HUGE need for some evangelism here!"

good call here, Micah, I believe that SBOD and performance issues aside, the two biggest issues for Aperture are evangelism and educational programs aimed at prosumers. When Aperture came out they aimed it squarely at high-end professionals, which also happens to be the toughest crowd to please and the last to try new software. Lightroom got this point right and aimed it squarely at prosumers who thrive on new, easier ways to do things. I'm 100% sure when Aperture 2.0 gets here, we'll see a heavy push at the prosumer level with a robust eductional/promotion component.

Regarding the idea of saving originals, unfortunately, I suspect most photogs back up to standard dvd, which has a shelf life of what? ten years. after that, the plastics starts yellowing and the disc deteriorates. i'm at a loss for how to properly store my digital files.

random bob, a.r.c.
2007-11-02 13:16:09
I don't find Aperture's small lag in support for new cameras that bothersome. If you're getting a new camera every time one hits the shelves, I think that's another issue entirely


That said, yes it could be better. And I don't think that OS-level support for the RAW formats should necessarily be tied to OS updates, either. They've done it before, just released what essentially was a RAW update. They could just do those when necessary.

Michael Riedel
2007-11-02 14:36:21
Another thing is Apple's stance in the educational software licensing for large schools that teach photography. Adobe has a really good licensing arrangement, at least in our case, but its difficult and very expensive to do the same # of seats from Apple. If they made it really easy/cheap for the schools to get and maybe gave an even bigger discount to students enrolled in photography programs, they might really get the ball rolling with the emerging photographers.

I think the 66% comes from the fact that many of the established shooters don't have time to learn anything new and only grudgingly use the PS solution because they have been forced into a non-film world, a world where we no longer just send the film out to the lab, but are now expected in many cases to be the lab as well. Many times photographers only view the files just to make sure the light, focus, and exposure are correct, and possibly print out "Polaroids" for the art director to stick in their mock-ups. then the entire shoot is shipped of on hard drive with the client. So they really have no need to manage the files after the shoot.

Michael B.
2007-11-02 15:28:19
Like, fjglynn you read my mind. - Great minds think alike! I also want to know the percentage of mac users in the poll - obviously is more than 5% - but I certainly know of a few photogs using LR on the Mac.

As for the DNG issue: First it takes a while because Apple needs either a camera themselves or a bunch of files from the camera and the correct interpretation of the files. Apple's RAW.plist file includes all the parameters of how to interpret than file- then there is another binary files that has the codes to read the actually formats.

The second issue is the way that Aperture knows what to do. It can read a DNG from any camera if converted properly and if that camera's tag and settings are added to the RAW.plist file.

Of course this gets down to the really issue: The reason the cameras have different formats is because the manufactures want to make sure the color is accurate when he camera outputs it, because it saves them time when writing firmware- they know their oen format better than the DNG format. Oh and because you might buy their raw converter instead of Adobe's or Apple's.

Though I think there really needs to be 2 DNGs one for CCD and for CMOS sensors as the capture color differently and thus would make it easier to interpret color values. 2 formats may not be ideal but it's better than, the um…uh,I trying to count here…20 some formats I can think of- and I'm sure there's more.

Oh and Micah I'd like to see that article.

2007-11-02 16:09:33
>First of all the sample size is pretty small at only 1026 photographers,

It's way more than enough - so long as the sample is drawn representatively, you could draw conclusions with as few as 100 photographers. People often think bigger samples = more accurate results. This is not necessarily the case, a proper sample of 100 will kill a poor sample of 10,000 etc.

Other thoughts,

1. Aperture is slow on upgrades - since LR came out they added Clarity and more and these are cool new features.

2. Give LR or Aperture to a new user and the learning curve on LR is (in my opinion) so much faster - it's intuitive, and easy. Aperture is not Apple's best GUI in my opinion - LR seems so much better geared to instinctive use. As a result I find myself using Aperture less and less these days. I find this a shame as I am a big Apple fan, but I can't evangelize Aperture over LR - no way.

3. That said, I do agree LR and Aperture are very much a Canon - Nikon type of thing. Both are state of the art and both deliver so it comes down to your own choices. It's very much a case of "Who cares - what can you do with it?" (It's like saying to an author that you liked his book and then asking what brand of typewriter they used)

2007-11-02 16:23:58
I love Aperture, but I think Adobe does a better job of supporting more and new cameras.
2007-11-02 23:36:14
I think it also has to do a lot with hype. Adobe with the NAPP has done a great job hyping Lightroom. Aperture has nothing like that.

I do believe Aperture has more precise and complex edit and correction tools but the software still top heavy even in my brand new MAC PRO, so much that I have began to use LR because is so much faster. I hope that Aperture 2.0 changes all that, otherwise, it will remain the under dog instead of the top dog.

2007-11-03 02:46:53
"I think it also has to do a lot with hype. Adobe with the NAPP has done a great job hyping Lightroom. Aperture has nothing like that."
Are you having a laugh? Apple's never been famous for its ability to hype, has it?

(Besides, do people take NAPP seriously?)

Anyway, getting back to the Photoshop vs LR/Aperture theme, it is early days and there is a big feature gap between the DAM adjusters and Photoshop. To shift the percentages again, DAM adjusters are going to have to allow photographers to do many more things that they still do in Photoshop. For example, selective adjustment - that'll come soon and LightZone and Nikon Capture NX have shown two ways to do that with metadata. But then there are tasks like correcting converging verticals, perhaps lens correction, and allowing photographers to do unethical pixel editing tasks like removing extraneous details. Those going to force both products towards competition with Photoshop and demand development resources. The question is, does Apple want to devote the resources to that kind of fight? When all it's got to gain is the minority of photographers who use Mac? When even among Mac users, who might be expected to be prejudiced towards Apple, LR has double the users? And when it is probably unwilling to port Aperture to the PC and gain market share and economies of scale for development? When the main competitor on the Mac can port code from Photoshop?

David Medina
2007-11-03 14:33:39
Gio, I am not talking about Apple hype but about Aperture hype. No doubt Apple is very good at marketing their products.. just look at the ipod and iphone. But do you remember the hype that was around when Lightroom was about to ship? Every Aperture user, everyone, that I know have changed from Aperture to Lightroom. The truth is that Adobe is kicking Apple's but in this one.

Adobe has kept people talking about LR... and talking good. Apple has allowed themselves to fall into a "conformable" second. Except for this blog, you don't hear anyone talking about what is going on with Aperture. Almost make you feel that Apple has abandon Aperture.

You may not take NAPP seriously, but have you been at a NAPP convention? I think people take them very seriously. Scott Kelby is one of the PS and LR top seller writers.

How many books are out there about Aperture? Books done by celebrity photographers? None that I know and I have about everyone.

Aperture has nothing like that. No "NAPP", no "Aperture" magazine, very limited Aperture book that really shows you how to make the most out of the program... NONE!

2007-11-03 14:36:07
>When even among Mac users, who might be expected to be prejudiced towards Apple, LR has double the users?

Your point is spot on. I really don't see Aperture being anything more than a niche product, but LR is, IMO, going to be a major hit for Adobe.

Fazal Majid
2007-11-03 16:25:51
It's not hype: Lightroom simply is a (mostly) better product than Aperture.

I have been an Aperture user from day one, but I now use Lightroom primarily. Aperture still has a nicer UI (not modal, can handle two screens, can deal with ultra-large panoramics), but Lightroom is snappier, more stable, handles keyword categorization much better (Aperture keywords are a pathetic joke) and handles RAW formats that matter to me that Apple will never support (Canon D30 and Epson R-D1).

Aperture pushed Adobe to get Lightroom out of the door. Hopefully Lightroom pushes Apple to do better with Aperture 2.0. For starters, they need to give up their proprietary roach-motel strategy and get fully on board with XMP.

2007-11-03 18:11:02
David, I guess as a European I find NAPP's style rather alienating, rather trivializing like seeing the news flash by on ad-infested US TV and wishing for the BBC's depth. Scott Kelby vs Martin Evening?

But I guess you are right. Apple couldn't keep the launch hype/spend going, and doesn't have the digital photographic establishment on its side. It may also go against their culture to be as open as Adobe about future developments, and they're going to have to play by others' rules if they want people to migrate their work into Aperture (ie read and write XMP, update DNG file previews). I suspect that may be harder for Apple to understand or justify financially.

George Mann
2007-11-03 19:55:46
Good article and discussions. I am a long time Mac user (over twenty years) but I do not believe that Apple understands what professional or high end amateur photographers really need, and maybe never will.

Apple developed (and marketed) Aperture for two (very bad) reasons.
1. Final Cut was immediately so successful in the film and video industries that they thought they could easily do the same for professional photographers (who like using Macs).
2. To compete with Adobe. Apple should have aquired adobe a long time ago but instead has always had this very intense love/hate relationship thing going on.

The lack of support for new RAW formats is a very big problem, Apple may not be able to figure out a way to deal with it in the future. The lack of a significant user base will stall future development of the application. And as already stated the lack of a good grass roots evangelistic effort is a serious mistake.

My last point may seem silly but if Apple was really serious about supporting professional photographers, I think they would make some effort to produce an iPod for photographers. (the failed iPod Photo does not count)

Greg Zenitsky
2007-11-04 09:40:02
I truly believe Aperture to be the better program for many reasons. Smart Albums alone are a huge feature advantage and the Sharpening tools are much better than Lightrooms. However like many, I have struggled with the less than robust performance issues in Aperture vs Lightroom and now experiencing what I consider a very serious issue with my Leopard install (Aperture thinks about 1500 of my jpgs are corrupt and crashes the app everytime; Lightroom reads and displays them just fine!) Lightroom is starting to look better all the time.

Greg Zenitsky
Lee's Summit, MO

2007-11-04 23:02:37
I was a big fan of Aperture - well, I still am. But I use Lightroom for work, and at home most of the time. But there are some things about Aperture that are heads and shoulders above Lightroom. The UI is better, especially when narrowing down the photos I might want to use. The modal difference too, not to mention multiple monitors.

But where Lightroom kicks Aperture's butt is in metadata. I work in a department where I have to put my photos in an Extensis Portfolio database so that more people in the department have access to the images. And in the company, an Artesia Teams DAMS is where photos finally end up.

So, portability of metadata is important. That's the biggest failing of Aperture. Being able to input metadata into Aperture and have it translate to Bridge/Photoshop and Portfolio. The names of the fields are different, and a whole different set of fields are supported. Why would they not EXACTLY match the names of the fields as they are in Photoshop? What is so hard to understand about the need for such portability of metadata?

I hope it's not like Apple doesn't understand that. But so far the Aperture team gives metadata lip service and that's about it. All the while Adobe's team has eaten their lunch on that topic. And Apple seems to be blissfully ignorant of the fact.

The other thing is Curves. Or some equivalent that works similarly. All the tweaky things in Levels might approximate what I can do in curves, but it is counter-intuitive to all the years I've used Photoshop - since May of '92. (Let's not even talk about clarity and vibrance, ok?)

So, the Aperture team has some catching up to do. I would love it if they did. I really like the keyboard combinations that Aperture has compared to Lightroom. By a mile. I like the way most things work in Aperture. But for getting real work done, in a multi-user environment, Lightroom works better. In fact, I could dump them both and use Bridge if I didn't spend as much time traveling.

As for statistically significant populations, a true random selection will give accurate numbers with a population of 400 or more. Unfortunately, in spite of the claim here by another poster, a population of 100 is incapable of giving statistically significant numbers, period.

2007-11-05 02:59:02
"I hope it's not like Apple doesn't understand that (metadata). But so far the Aperture team gives metadata lip service and that's about it. All the while Adobe's team has eaten their lunch on that topic. And Apple seems to be blissfully ignorant of the fact."
The product manager was formerly PM for Extensis Portfolio which had one of the better implementations of XMP while he was there, long before Aperture was designed. Eric may want to write out metadata for other programs, but it's more surprising that Aperture is so poor as reading XMP metadata, as that would have been a sure fire way to help people migrate into the program.
2007-11-05 13:42:38
Not the greatest of news for Aperture in this discussion - clearly each of us has our own needs, and few feel all their requirements are being met (which to be fair is a big ask if no two users are exactly alike). Despite that, this topic has confirmed to me that my drift to LR is not an isolated experience. One day i might come back to Aperture (did someone say V2.0?) but for now, I'm going to stick with LR and PS when required.
2007-11-05 13:55:34
I feel the same way as most of people...I like Aperture and its strengths, but some of the hw requirements and metadata constraints are really starting get me thinking. I'd like to stay with Aperture so I'm hoping that v2.0 will really address concerns we have. Part of me is hoping that the long time between updates and versions mean that a lot of work is being put into its development and not that the people and resources got robbed by iPhone and Leopard development...
2007-11-05 18:52:01
I've been a professional photographer for 20 years in a large still life studio and since the advent of digital photography Photoshop has been the staple product to use. It is no surprise that lightroom is popular and coupled with the amount of PC prosumers out there these numbers seem right. I give alot of talks at camera clubs and by far away lightroom is the most popular. I use Aperture for all my photography outside of work but use Phase One pro at work. Most studio photographers that I know use the program that came with their digital backs. Phase one, Leaf, sinar, ect. (Interestingly enough fashion photographers who use Cannon shoot to Phase one pro.) Aperture is completely closed off to the high end professional, except leaf,because it can't read the raw file . This may change going forward but for now aperture can't fit into high production workflow.
2007-11-06 01:21:50
Good comments here - thanks to one and all, been an interesting read
2007-11-08 09:06:03
I think a lot of people are waiting for Aperture 2.0. I am one of them.
Therefore I wanted to share this video:
Scott Hampton
2007-11-21 05:29:32
I read the article that you're referring to the other day. It seemed a bit unfair, and the comments didn't seem to truly reflect honest evaluations. Also, the report is supposedly a subscription-based report or something, so we can't "see" it as the author could.

So far, I've found that the photographers that I deal with at work primarily use Capture One and use Photoshop for the heavy lifting. And, as a poster mentioned below, they ship the CR2 and TIFFs out to the print house to do the CC, cloning, and more. Perhaps that's a group that should have been sampled: the printers?!? Someone else mentioned that the "pros" grudgingly go to new stuff and stick with what they know. I agree.

I also agree that Apple could really step up their marketing and promotion. They seem to take a laid back approach and expect their target base to just jump on board. It works, in some instances, but it would be great to see more of a push.

I've never used LightRoom, but respect it's power. But that's me. Will I try it? Probably not. Photoshop? Undisputed longevity champ. I use it, but I don't like it. ACR: I like the simplicity, but hate the way it interprets for me and I don't like the tone curve much. Over the years I've lost the desire to stay totally with Adobe stuff. I used iPhoto for much of my work (for the DAM) because it provided what I needed, even with it's limited CC tools.

I'm not a "pro" (just WHAT is a pro, anyway? LOL), but I'm a very skilled photographer. I'm not even bothering to say amateur. My exposure, color, saturation, composition and such are generally dialed in with a minimum of fuss needed. That said, I rarely need any heavy lifting.

With Aperture, I can do what I want and need quickly and easily. I'm on a 20" iMac Intel Core Duo with 1.5GB RAM. Not the snappiest machine, but I get my work done without a sweat. See, I don't need a lot of post work. I shoot, upload, edit to select and alts, CC the best, output web galleries, and I'm done. Next project, please.

Oh, yeah. Version 2? I'm waiting for it, too!