Apple Aperture 3 vs Adobe Lightroom 2

When I first started working with digital cameras, I depended only on Windows Explorer to organize my photos. It was horrible! I had to do everything myself, from folder naming to sorting and file naming, and  if I ever needed to find a specific photo all hope was lost because Windows 98’s “search engine” was a joke. Windows XPs was no better, even with that silly animated dog.

Flash forward many years later. Apple figures out that people have lots of files but hate organizing them, so they release database applications but for media folks. iPhoto came into my life right when I got my first digital SLR. It was a life saver. The application, while being light years ahead of my do-it-yourself windows explorer days, was far from perfect – but they had the right idea. All we photographers needed was a robust database application that was compatible with the way we think and see. Sadly, iPhoto wasn’t quite as compatible with Photoshop as it should have been or with large photo collections and files.

RAW files kept getting larger, my collection ballooned up to over 90,000 images and the megapixel count kept going up. At this point I was using a Canon 20D and iPhoto was pushed beyond its limits into an unusable mess.

Then one day, Aperture came along and, at what felt like the same time, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Both of these applications felt new in the sense that they solved old problems using new, faster solutions. Today, they are both very similar and just as powerful, but people still ask me which one I think is better. The short answer is: they both rock. The long answer, well keep reading:

Aperture 3

Things I love about Aperture:

  • Amazing layout for viewing all of your images – Apple really did an amazing job with the layout of all the tool sets and having images across two monitors. In fact, they did just as good a job with single monitor users as well. Their best feature on this however, is their full screen mode. I love it.
  • The integration with iTunes /Apple TV and my PS3 – I love being able to share my photos. With Aperture, even though I shoot RAW files only, I can still sync them to my iPhone. I can stream them to Apple TV devices and more importantnly (for me anyways) I can stream it to my PS3 on my HDTV. Viewing an image on a large display is extremly important when planning to make larger prints. I need to be able to view the image at the actual size but I don’t have the patience to export to jpeg and transfer to a USB stick to view it. I wish Lightroom could stream my RAWs to my devices.
  • Multiple Libraries – Before, it just had one library file that kept all of your images. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, except when you have tens of thousands of files. Now with version 3 I can have multiple library files and toggle between them with little effort. This also makes backing up images much easier. I simply create a library file for each quarter of the year, and back them up taht way. This allows my application to always run fast, and not be drowned out with old images that I, more than likely, won’t be needing again for a while.

Things I hate about Aperture:

  • A single library file contains all your images! While this might seem like a good idea for easy backups, it is also really scary. If that single file gets corrupted, I lose everything. Not good.
  • It runs much slower than Lightroom – Aperture used to be the slowest program on earth, but now it’s natively 64-bit and I have a higher end mac so it runs faster than ever. But, Lightroom still runs even faster. Noticeably too, especially when I want to do other things at the same time. Deep in an Aperture session I find that my computer becomes unusably slow if I dare open up something as simple as a new web browser to catch a facebook break.
  • Faces – this useless feature does not belong in a Pro App. It only serves to slow down my entire workflow by forcing me to figure out a way to disable it every time I launch the app or import new photos. If I forget to, and the app runs slowly, it’s usually because Faces is running in the background doing useless work.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2

Things I love about Lightroom:

  • Unmatched integration with all the Adobe applications – Adobe really made a very seamless experience in jumping around from Lightroom to Photoshop to After Effects to Flash and Dreamweaver and such. Each application knows the other one’s files and settings and does so with ease. I love this.
  • Seamless PC / Mac switching even when usig the same library – Since this program runs on both PC and Mac. And the photos are organized as is in a basic folder structure, I can hop on to any PC with Lightroom, plug in a USB drive containing my photos and keep working on what I started originally on a Mac. I like this because I dual-boot Snow Leopard and Windows 7 all the time, and when I get the urge to work on something new I don’t have to switch back.
  • The way it handles your library – I love the fact that, like iTunes, all your photos are organized in separate folders automatically by Lightroom. All you have to do is catalog and name, and it does the work. And unlike Aperture, there is no single file that contains it all. Sure this makes backing up photos a little more time consuming, but I feel safer knowing that I have thousands of separate files vs just one.

Things I hate about Lightroom:

  • It lacks native Facebook / Flickr integration – I know there are plug ins for this, but they feel disconnected from the app and throw me off when using them. Aperture now has this built in and it is amazing for sharing photos quickly and efficiently.
  • Dual screen support is strange – Aperture handles dual monitors much better than Lightroom. Instead of extending your workflow into the second one, it feels like another instance of Lightroom is on the second screen. It doesnt feel like i’m using one app. I hope this is much improved in the upcoming version 3.

So in the end, like I said before, they both rock. Both are great programs so whichever you choose don’t feel like you chose the wrong one. I end up using Lightroom almost exclusively now. I tried out the Aperture 3 trial to see if I would switch back to it, but in the end Aperture still needs to fix a few minor things. But of course at that point Lightroom 3
will be out and this vicious cycle will never end.

If you’re still on the fence, try them both out first. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has one and so does Apple Aperture.

-Update: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
is out now! I’ll be picking it up and revisiting this comparison soon. Stay tuned.

This entry was posted in Photography and tagged , , , , .


  1. Aran July 11, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    I’ve learnt that the aperture library file isn’t really a file. It’s a package. So although in Finder it looks like a single file, you can open in via finder to reveal folders and files within it. Similar to how your app files are.

  2. Klaas Visser May 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    “•A single library file contains all your images! While this might seem like a good idea for easy backups, it is also really scary. If that single file gets corrupted, I lose everything. Not good.”

    It’s not a single file, it’s a package. If you right click on the library file, select “Show Contents” you’ll see all the files that make up the library – this will also allow you to drill down to retrieve masters outside of Aperture, if the library is damaged

  3. Thomas Boyd May 7, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Um, you don’t have to have Aperture manage your images in it’s a single library file. You can tell it to reference images in your own folders on a hard drive.

    You can turn the Faces feature off one time in the preferences.

    There are many ways to speed up the performance of Aperture. Many users who take the time learn the app say it’s as fast as LR3 at some things and faster at others.

    So, that’s two things about Aperture you hate, but you were wrong about both and the third thing you hate is because you have it set up incorrectly.

    Not a helpful article.

    • Kamel Perez May 7, 2010 at 8:26 am #

      True. But those tweaks and extra setup steps needed to make the app as fast as LR shouldn’t be necessary. Lightroom users get a fast experience at first launch without having to fiddle with settings.
      I’ll try some tweaks for aperture and revisit this subject in the future.

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