Lighroom 3 & Aperture 3, new pictures from old images

The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.
—Ansel Adams

I’ve been playing with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and Apple Aperture 3 in an effort to decide which to purchase. To do this I’ve taken a collection of photos from the portion of my trip to Hawaii in 2009 while on Kauai and worked them over again. Previously I’d only actually used an old version of iPhoto to adjust them as I only had a Windows version of Photoshop, and frankly I’m lazy.

I like the results.

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 The first one is the new, much better performance. The second one is the JPEG as it came from the camera. In reality the first one probably a more accurate representation of the reality of the foreground. I muted the sky because frankly it was ugly. In person the sky wasn’t as Cyan as the JPEG depicts, but I was shooting in JPEG and now I don’t have the ability to recover any of it. I’m not saying I couldn’t get the same result in Photoshop, or close in iPhoto. The magic was how intuitive and expedient it was.

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I happen to have the current iPhoto, sadly not the forthcoming 2010… Don’t knock it, iPhoto isn’t bad for organizing family snaps. However, Aperture is better, but really not that much better. In fact it’s a lot alike, I do mean a lot. They even have the same geotagging and face recognition. They play on the same paradigms and everything… and if I cared about that I’d probably want to buy it.

However the face recognition doesn’t work very well, and frankly my camera doesn’t have a GPS kit because I’m too poor to afford Nikon’s as apparently it’s made of endangered condor eggs or something. Nikon didn’t see fit to enable the D90 to read from a standardized bluetooth serial NMEA GPS receiver. But that’s okay an iPhone can’t do that either.

What it really comes down to I think is that they might be designed for different users. I’ve noticed Lightroom seems to assume you also have Photoshop. For example the brush tool is kind of limited. However if you have Photoshop, Aperture’s simple edge detecting brush seems a bit pointless. No It seems Lightroom’s goal is to make cataloging thousands of raw images, and doing raw processing efficient, and effective leaving advanced editing to the more capable tool. Aperture is designed for people who may not have Photoshop, and more importantly aren’t interested in organizing thousands of files in separate libraries.

Indeed I feel Aperture is designed for the same people who buy a decent entry level DSLRs with a mid range zoom and shoots family events in JPEG. An example would be a person who is 21-33 years old and has a Canon Rebel XSi or Nikon D5000 with an 18-100+mm lens, they love Facebook and use the Internet to share great pictures of their lives with their friends.

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Ahhh good times.

Lightroom is designed for someone who is a professional, or a longer term, dedicated enthusiast. I don’t think that many professional photographers will be using Aperture, though Joe McNally does, and I just love his Nikon promotional videos.

I’m going to describe a potential enthusiast who I think it’s designed for… who is not me. They are 25-40 and have a Nikon D200 or Canon 40D or the new version, at-least, and if not a full-frame they’re saving for it, which is why they still have the old 40D. Seriosuly I’m basing that on research. Many of their lenses are older than their camera and cost more than their computer.

This is the critical part, this person actually goes places specifically to take pictures, rather than taking pictures at places they are. They shoot raw, unless the mess up, then they shoot small fine JPEGs and cuss a lot. They use Facebook, but prefer Flickr for sharing. However they display their best pictures on their actual walls, not their virtual ones. They know what a color profile is and hate that Facebook removes them.

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The Aperture, person wants to make a record of life, a nice one, the photos need to capture the moment, who was there, what they were doing. That’s why Aperture has face recognition and geotagging. It makes it easier to delete the photos of people they don’t like anymore, and find the pictures from that camping trip out at whatever lake that was. Good times to be sure, but they’re not as concerned about creating a picture and conveying a message or stimulating emotions (other than nostalgia) from their images; and being able to do that efficiently many many times.

They are mostly interested in the organization, and importantly they’re fixing mistakes and limitations. The tools in Aperture (to me) feel they’re planned out for fixing mistakes, rather than a work flow for creating things. That’s good, for those people. They might shoot raw, too, and they might want to convert to grayscale and they probably will do more of that as they advance. I’m not saying Aperture is limited, it’s actually pretty good, and does those things, it’s just targeted differently than Lightroom. It’s actually got a lot of features Lightroom doesn’t. However the way it works is geared differently, it’s not worse, just different.

You probably think I’m going to go on and on about how great Lightroom is now. I’m not, actually I’ve wanted to delete it a few times this week because the interface is bad and it’s failed to import things a few times and not given any errors. Frankly it seems buggy.

Oh and here’s a big version of the falls, and yes I used Lightroom for this one.

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Lightroom anticipates more advanced workflows, right from the get go. It’s designed knowing that you may want to work with raw+JPEG pairs in existing folders, maybe Aperture can do it, but it wasn’t obvious. Lightroom also seems designed for sorting your photos not as much by who’s in them but by your various metadata; what camera, what lens, dates, tags, etc. Another critical factor is the ability to have multiple catalogs accessing files from other places, leaving the precious and I might add well sorted originals where you need them to be. This makes it very easy for you to segment your media across drives, and handle backups gracefully. Also to backup your originals and modifications separately and to archive swaths of your life and not deal with it.

I can say, backing up my monolithic iPhoto library to DVDs to move it to my new machine was terrible. I couldn’t use the external drive because I had a permissions problem. It’s a long and thrilling story, ask me about it some time.

There is no shortage of professionals who take over one hundred thousand photos a year, how do you think an application that has to handle storing, sorting, loading, and displaying the thumbnails from years of work is going to do? It’s not going to be great, and who wants to see that stuff?

If they want to see photos from a shoot two years ago they can load them up.  They probably don’t want to scroll through their their entire photographic history and wax nostalgic about old family meals every time they go to edit a photo. Even as an enthusiast I don’t find it hard to take 500 photos in one day and keeping them all in iPhoto is getting old. Aperture seems to take the same highway.

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I’d say the Lightroom user wants the to app to fire up quickly, and to zip to the photos they want as fast as possible so they can  go to town making the picture they have in mind.

I anticipate the targeted Lightroom user is very efficient in their processes as well as, creative, intent and expert. They don’t want to just tinker around and see how fiddling with the contast will look. They want to progress through the basic adjustments then move through the steps to fulfil their creative vision.

Lightroom seems set up for this, you run down the side, get the exposure and general colors you want, then progress through fine tuning at various levels and then you do something with the image, export, share, print whatever.

That’s what I think anyways, and that’s why I’m going with Lightroom 3.

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