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Lightroom 3 and Aperture 3 – Is it time to switch? – Updated

Saturday 20 March 2010

What a dilemma…

First of all, let me explain. For years I have used Photoshop to process my digital photos. Quite simply, it has been the best, albeit not always the most intuitive, method of processing. My roots, however, are as a darkroom practitioner developing black and white RC and fibre-based papers to archival standards as well as colour prints from slides using traditional and Cibachrome processes. In other words, I have a bit of a history but have found that the work I did in the darkroom all those years ago has allowed me to better understand and take advantage of things like colour temperature, colour balance, burning, dodging and , more importantly, layers and masking.

When Photoshop evolved into CS with Bridge and Camera Raw the ensuing improvements in productivity, efficiency and quality for digital photographers was astounding, especially with the most recent 5.x Camera Raw. So now, all my raw images are processed and quite neatly organized in folders by year and by shooting date – YYYYMMDD-DescriptiveTitle – and visually as jpegs in iPhoto. I can find just about any photo in my collection of thousands within a few key strokes and the popping in of a DVD.

TMI – right?!? Perhaps, but it’s important to aware of my journey to this point of considering whether or not to adopt Lightroom or Aperture as my primary agent for processing photos. No doubt, many readers have faced the same dilemma or may be facing it now. Or perhaps you’re trying to decide whether or not to upgrade from iPhoto or Photoshop Elements. I realize that “my system” of Bridge-ACR-Photoshop (although much less of Photoshop with recent improvement in ACR) works well for me right now, but I’m curious to know if there are any additional efficiencies and/or image quality improvements available through the use of Lightroom or Aperture. So for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been both apps through their paces. This coincides with my teaching of a Digital Darkroom course that encapsulates best workflow practices that can be applied to any app for digital editing.

It didn’t take me long to realise the most significant of shortcomings of both Lightroom 3 and Aperture 3. It is, perhaps, the most compelling reason for me not switching previously. I don’t mean to be negative right off the bat, but I don’t want to bore you with the same descriptions everyone else writes of how wonderful the editing features are (and they really are!) only to leave the problems to the end. So here goes…

The deal killer for me is quite simply the complete lack of perspective and lens correction tools – neither Lightroom 3 nor Aperture 3 have them. Now, I don’t shoot a lot of buildings that require “Free Transform”, “Perspective”, “Skew” and the lot, but I’ll be damned if I spend the money on a high level “Pro” app that doesn’t have it when it’s built into the $99 Photoshop Elements!! This goes for Lens Corrections as well. We all have wideangle zooms that would benefit from a little barrel distortion correction to straighten out curved horizons or sidewalk curbs that are near the top or bottom edge. These problems come with even mid- and high-end zooms – so why does the professional photographic community need to rely on a consumer app like Photoshop Elements to correct for something that fundamentally should be correctable from within Lightroom or Aperture.

What I love about both apps are the following:

  • having a visual Library or Catalogue of images right at my disposal without having to switch to iPhoto (which I currently use for my visual library since it is free and, actually, quite powerful)
  • seamless and efficient development of images using easy to create and save presets – something ACR is lacking
  • the previews that are provided when I hover over certain selections (e.g Presets)
  • full screen edit modes with few or no distractions
  • great spot removal

What is surprising is that 95% of the editing I now do is within Camera Raw 5.x (not the one that comes with Photoshop Elements as it lacks some key controls like Adjustment Brushes, Gradients and Snapshots). I really only go into Photoshop now for  initial lens distortion corrections and perspective and some healing brush work that can’t be done in ACR. I also use it, from time to time, to create more striking on-screen and web photos with hairlines, titles and white, matt-like borders around images. But this is a more “graphics” use (as opposed to photo processing) something that PS was designed for.

Could I live without Photoshop CS4? If Lightroom or Aperture included the deal killers I’ve identified – quite possibly. However, I still might miss the Actions within Photoshop that allow me to quickly create the hairline, title and matt borders around photos for on-screen presentations as well as quick jpeg sharpening and a few other things. I can also do some pretty neat things with art filters. But for straight photography, Lightroom and Aperture are almost there. Of course, I could always make the switch to Lightroom or Aperture and keep a copy of Photoshop Elements on hand for the transformations I still use. But what to do about the actions… hmmmmm.

UPDATE

Okay – so I’ve figured out how to output jpegs with a hairline, title and white border – at least in Lightroom. Aperture doesn’t have quite this capability. (Surprisingly, Aperture doesn’t have quite the finesse – unusual for an Apple app – it will put a caption or title underneath, centred but only in black type).

Cooper's Hawk

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    Tuesday 24 August 2010 2:01pm

    Terry,

    As far as I know LR3 has perspective and lens correction tools indeed (my Nikon D80 and 18-200 G DX lens are part of it), but another RAW converter ‘DxO’ is greatly praised on many sites. Do you experienced it ?

    Starting anew ‘from scratch’ with an iMac i5 (still working on the beautiful PowerPC G4) soon, I still wonder what’s the best workflow: importing RAW/JPEG files first in iPhoto to organize them, then from iPhoto into Aperture3 and/or LR3, then into DxO for its correction tools, and ultimately back into iPhoto/Aperture/LR?

    • Tuesday 24 August 2010 9:07pm

      Hi Peter,
      You are correct about LR3’s Transformation controls – perspective and lens corrections are now possible with the final version of 3.x.

      As far as workflow is concerned, what you are suggesting seems to have too many steps to be practical over the long haul or with 1,000 images in a shoot. I love iPhoto, but not for what you are suggesting since both Aperture and LR3 have superior organizational capabilities.

      I’ve heard DxO has some great tools, but again, its yet another step which, given the power of LR3 and Aperture is perhaps not necessary. I’m a bit of a minimalist, primarily because I’d rather spend my time photographing than moving files between apps.

      My recommendation is to pick either LR3 or Aperture or DxO. Really learn well the one you choose – push it to the limit. Go to another app only when it’s absolutely necessary and save your time for more shooting or showing.

      –Terry

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