Dollars and Sense: Adobe Lightroom vs Apple Aperture

by Chuck Toporek

One of the big announcements yesterday (well, okay, it's still "today" for me since I haven't gone to bed yet and it's obviously past midnight) here at Macworld San Francisco, was Adobe's announcement for and subsequent public beta release of Lightroom.

For those of you who haven't been playing along with this game, Apple previewed Aperture last Fall and released it in the first week of December 2005. Aperture and Lightroom are similar in that the applications are intended for use by professional photographers who have a RAW image workflow. So, we're talking about photogs who have big spendy cameras and have a need for keeping track of their digital RAW images. And since I'm not a professional photographer, I'll leave my assessment of the two applications at that.

Let's leave no doubt here folks: people are going to take sides. We saw this happen before with apps like Illustrator or Freehand, Dreamweaver or GoLive, and for you Unix folks out there, vi or Emacs. People will take sides and lines will be drawn in the sand and there will be shouting and name-calling over which app is better.

One thing is for certain, though, is that while I love what I've seen in Aperture, I can't run it on my Mac. I have an aging 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook as my work machine, and a Mac mini that I use for my personal machine at home. Neither Mac can run Aperture. (Insert heavy sigh here.)

That said, I downloaded Lightroom's public beta this afternoon and installed it on my TiBook later in the day. Um, there's your first clue: it installed. When I tried to run Aperture's installer on my TiBook (and on the Mac mini), I was told that my Mac wasn't capable of running Aperture. Lightroom not only installed on my TiBook, but it also ran on my TiBook. Granted, it was sluggish as hell, but it ran on my 3-year-old TiBook.

So while I can't consciously compare the two applications on what they do, I can make the following comment: Lightroom installed and ran without a hitch. Aperture did not.

While I like what I've seen in Aperture on my friend's dual G5 Power Mac, I'm not able to run it on my PowerBook. When people say things like "barrier to entry," this is one perfect example. By choice, Apple enforced some pretty hefty system requirements for you to be able to run Aperture. You needed a spendy Power Mac, preferably with dual processors, buttloads of RAM, a massive graphics card, a big hard drive, and hopefully a wide screen (or two) to use the application effectively. They also set the price of Aperture at $499, clearly out of the range of what your recreational photographer might be willing to spend on an application to manage their digital photographs.

On the other side of the fence we have Lightroom. By its own README file, it clearly states the following for its system requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.4.0 (Tiger) or higher

  • G4 or G5 processor (Yes, we will work on a PowerBook)

  • 512MB RAM (preferably more)

  • 1GB or more free hard drive space

Now, in case you weren't reading that carefully, please refer back to the second bullet item. Adobe took the first potshot at Apple. Lightroom will run on a PowerBook. Not only will it run on a PowerBook, but it will also run on a 3-year-old Titanium PowerBook with a 667 MHz G4 processor and 768 MB of RAM. Again, its performance was a little sluggish at times, but it ran!

So, while Apple might have been first out the gate with their digital RAW-management application, Adobe volleyed back and didn't just shoot one over the Mother Ship's bow, they had a direct hit. Adobe's public beta release of Lightroom today (er, yesterday) was, in effect, a shot to the heart of Apple, much like Apple's initial announcement and release of Aperture was a shot to the heart of Adobe.

The difference is that Adobe's Lightroom will run on pretty much any Mac that runs Tiger. Aperture does not, and that's a huge problem since Apple makes both the application and the OS it runs upon. Adobe isn't forcing me to buy a $3000-$5000 system to run a $499 application.

In this case, it really is a matter of dollars and sense. Well, at least to me.

So, who do you think will win this "war"? If you've tried both applications, let us know what you think of them; likes, dislikes, things you'd like to see in them, etc.


2006-01-10 02:04:02
Aperture vs Lightroom
I would not judge these applications on their "minimum requirements"

Apple sensibly stipulate minimum requirements to preserve an adequate user experience. Adobe allow their program to run on anything, but what of the user experience? As with everything, "minimum requirements" is a subjective thing, and will vary from user to user. Both programs are aimed squarely at "professional level users" and thus, I don't mark aperture down for having greater stipulated requirements. Both benefit from as fast, large and meaty a computer as possible.

One should judge the applications on functionality. Compare their speed, but don't compare minimum requirements.

For your home machines, use iPhoto, iView Media Pro, or some other program.

2006-01-10 04:05:31
Aperture vs Lightroom
Apple sensibly stipulate minimum requirements to preserve an adequate user experience.

If you take a cynical viewpoint of that, you could say that perhaps Apple were overly lazy developing Aperture when they stick such high req's on it. If that's true, then it wasn't very sensible ;-) But if that's the case or not we will never know. Either way from what I've seen of Aperture I can understand why it likes a lot of horsepower, but I also think it could run on less than what Apple says. And I think it's perfectly fair to compare minimum requirements.

I ran Lightroom on my mini (1.42GHz, 1Gb RAM) yesterday and it was okay. Obviously I cannot compare to Aperture on the same machine but I imported a bunch of RAW shots from my Nikon D70 and once the import was done (which was rather slow) it's performance was okay. I was impressed, I must say by Lightroom, and I think it'll be a good competitor to Aperture once it's released in a final version. And competition is good, I think ;-)

2006-01-10 04:50:12
Aperture will run on some PowerBooks
Just not yours!

From the specs at

One of the following Macintosh computers:

* Power Mac G5 with a 1.8 gigahertz (GHz) or faster PowerPC G5 processor
* 15- or 17-inch PowerBook G4 with a 1.25 GHz or faster PowerPC G4 processor
* 17- or 20-inch iMac G5 with a 1.8 GHz or faster PowerPC G5 processor

This includes my PowerBook that is over 2 years old.

2006-01-10 07:30:09
you said it "not for recreational photographers"
2006-01-10 07:33:24
Aperture vs Lightroom

I think that Apple will have to take serious note of the system requirements that Lightroom requires. For an application that costs more than $400 and can only run on Apple's high end machines will be hard to continue sellling.

I purchased Aperture, education version, but it will only run on 1 of the three systems I have. Won't run on my Mirror DP G4 w/ 1.25Gb of RAM or my 12" Powerbook. If push comes to shove I would rather purchase Lightroom in order for it to work on ALL my systems without further financial investment.

Lets hope that Apple makes some changes for the future of Aperture.


2006-01-10 08:12:31
Minimum Specs
I was similarly skeptical about the minimum requirements for Motion until I learned more about it.

Motion would not install on my iMac G4 at work, but it would run on my iMac G5 at home. At first I thought this issue was similar to needing a fast computer to use Photoshop or edit video or mix 24 tracks of audio with unlimited effects. But as I learned to use Motion I realized that the hefty system requirements were needed because the approach to compositing was so ambitious. The application is designed to be used in real time. (I've been trying to think of an analogy, but I can't think of anything like it. And there's no way to adequately emphasize the line 'designed to be used in real time.')

Like I said, it seems to work relatively well on my iMac G5 with 2GB of RAM, but that falls quite short of Apple's suggested specs. I think Motion would really like a G5 Quad, the best graphics card money can buy, and more RAM. Put in perspective, although Motion will run on today's computers, it will probably take tomorrow's computers to make it really shine.

In the end I was glad it wouldn't install on my G4. It wouldn't do anything useful anyway. And I'm glad someone is designing apps for tomorrow. After using Motion, I reckon 2010 is gonna be pretty exciting.

2006-01-10 08:49:55
Minimum Specs

A 3+ year old machine isn't gonna cut it if you have thousands of raw images that need to be worked on.

If you end up liking Lightroom, you'll end up buying new hardware anyway. It might be faster than Aperture, but not a whole lot faster. (Actually, it doesn't process raw files any faster; it's simply using a low resolution JPEG proxy when you view images.)

If you want to see how slow Lightroom's raw conversions really are (i.e., no faster than Aperture), just go into Develop mode and click (and hold) on a slider. The image will immediately degrade to a jaggy low-res image as you drag the slider around and will only update to a high-resolution image again after 5-15 seconds. And this is on my dual 2 GHz G5 PowerMac.

2006-01-10 09:16:33
Different goals
It's easy to understand the disparity in system requirements.

Adobe's goal is to sell software to the widest market they can afford to develop and test for. They can't afford to make Lightroom work on every Mac made in the last 10 years, but they can make it work on a lot of them.

Apple's goal is to sell Macs (and, OK, iPods). Aperture and Motion are designed not only to sell applications and showcase the Mac, and their system requirements are cleverly narrowed enough that if they induce the intended amount of lust in us, well, we all need to go out and buy new hardware.

Adobe is happy if you simply buy their application. In comparison, it was probably never Apple's intention to let you go with just the application. Apple's pricing plan is, if you're rich enough to drop $500 on a 1.0 version of a niche photo or video product, you just qualified yourself as a legitimate sales prospect for the other $10000 of hardware. The system requirements serve that goal.

Jan N Van BC
2006-02-07 15:23:45
Man, you are RIGHT-ON the this issue ... !!!
2006-06-05 01:10:39
I agree with Apple trying to sell Macs with their software but also you have to remember that Apple is coming out of a stalled processor dilemma and certainly doesn't want to support chips they've been trying to move away from for the last three years or so. Time to move on. I'm hoping in the next few years we won't see such stiff requirements for their software that is narrowed to only their newest machines. They seem to be doing what any software company does--develop for the latest and greatest due to time constraints.

I love Aperture, I have enjoyed it much more than Lightroom.

I think Adobe is using much more draconian tactics than Apple considering they could have put most of this into Bridge or Photoshop rather than create a separate program and charge for that in addition to the other programs. I wonder how much Lightroom will be when it is released.

There is no excuse for doing a new, separate program from the company that has the defacto photo editing program. And I thought Bridge was headed in the direction of Photo workflow program. Now I would have to buy yet another Adobe product to get serious photo work done? No thanks.

Adobe could have put many of the non-destructive editing features of Aperture and Lightroom in Photoshop a long time ago. You know they could! It was just a matter of the conceptual direction they were headed in.

I can't stand that Photoshop is still a program that forces me to scale my hardware rather than it scale the files for the hardware I have. Now that they have Lightroom I wonder if they will ever try to work that technology into Photoshop? Probably not, why charge $600 for one program when you can charge $600+ for two?

I'm sticking with Apple on this one. I will definately be ungrading my system every three years anyway so no loss there.