Lightroom vs. Aperture… again

Since Apple released Aperture 3 a few weeks ago lots of folks are debating the pros and cons of Lightroom vs. Aperture. It’s natural for folks to want to take sides, and pick one program over the other. It’s equally unlikley that most people will be able to effectively use both products, which supports the need to choose one.

I’ve casually used and kept up with Aperture updates since it was first released. After all, I’m a huge Mac fan. For twenty years I have passionately preferred all things Mac to anything Windows.

When Aperture 1 came out, it was a time of dramatic change in photography, when digital cameras were starting to become more popular than film. Clearly, new software was needed to support the new digital photo workflow. Though other software had been produced in attempts to deal with this (Adobe Camera Raw and Bridge, Capture One, iView Media Pro etc.) Aperture really represented a significant improvement in the photographer’s workflow. (And this was before Lightroom came out.)

I still love most Apple products and always stay current with what they are up to. In several ways, Apple is well poised to change computing as we know it – as they have done several times in the past. So I never count Apple out – even in the case of Lightroom vs. Aperture.

When it comes to the important and difficult choice, then, of what software to use to process our digital photographs, when clients, students and people in the general public ask me why I prefer Lightroom over Aperture, here’s what I say:

1. Platform independence: true, I believe OS X is a superior operating system to all flavors of Windows (even 7, which doesn’t suck). That said, I think it’s a big mistake to limit your work to using Macs only… and Aperture currently will only run on a Mac (and a new, fast one at that). I myself use both Mac and Windows every day in my work, and being able to use Lightroom on both platforms is a huge advantage. Maybe someday, the majority of people will be using Macs (we can only hope) but until that day, platform independence is essential.

2. Company focus: Adobe is the undisputed champion in digital imaging software. I trust their products completely and they have led the way for two decades. Though there will always be little things that we wish Adobe would add or improve, there is no doubt that the people working for Adobe are the best and brightest in the business. Conversely, Apple contunues to show it is really a hardware company. That happens to have some really kick-ass operating systems, oh, and the industry leading video editing program ;-)

3. Workflow: there are some really crazy, frustrating things about working with Aperture. One example is the Image Vault concept. This is very much like the approach taken by the horrible iPhoto, and serves no purpose other than to ensure it will be difficult to migrate away from Aperture in the future. I myself have helped a number of people through the extremely painful and nervewracking process of moving from Aperture to Lightroom. On the other hand, Lightroom’s handling of files is simple and unobtrusive. You could safely use Lightroom for all your photos for the next few years, then switch to something else, essentially without a hitch. Not so with Aperture.

These three points illustrate the main reasons why I believe Lightroom is still the way to go. The list could go on and on; other folks have already talked about Lightroom’s superior noise reduction, processing algorithms etc.

One way that I agree Aperture outshines Lightroom is the interface itself. Lightroom is designed to let you easily get the interface “out of the way” while you’re working; there are lots of cool tools to work directly on your photo, with only the photo showing on the screen. However, Aperture’s interface is clean, elegant and beautiful, providing the kind of experience where you might not want to get the interface out of the way.

Unfortunately, for me (and I believe the vast majority of photographers) the interface itself is not a good enough reason to choose one product over another.

I hope this article helps you understand why Lightroom is the better choice. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions on this topic.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Nat,

    I am an iMac user but I gave up on iPhoto after about 18 months as I watched it get slower and slower to open as the library grew. I opened a new folder in Documents for my photos and have uploaded all new photos there sine then. I also moved all my photos out of iPhoto in that same folder. I have dozens of files and realize that I need some software to help me manage the photos and make it easier to find them

    I will be moving to a new iMac shortly and it was my intention to purchase Aperture with the new machine. As I read reviews and user comments, I have become less inclined to do that. I have also started investigating Lightroom 3 and found your blog and the ensuing comments of great interest.

    I notice that Adobe refers to this product (If I am looking at the same product you are discussing here.) as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3. Does that mean that Photoshop is part of Lightroom and if so, to what extent?

    I have been using Photoshop Elements 3 for years and been very happy. I have become very used to tools such as Clone, Healing Brush, Dodge and Burn along with Image Rotate, Skew and perspective, not to mention the selection of filters. None of the videos or reviews on Lightroom I have seen mentions anything about these sorts of adjustment tools. Are they included in Lightroom or do I need to get PSE and use it as an external editor to supplement Lightroom?

  2. Bob,
    Lightroom is a parametric editor, which means it performs image adjustments using text-based (metadata) instructions. Photoshop and Elements are pixel editors; they perform numeric adjustments directly to pixel values. Lightroom excels in image management and organization as well as applying “develop” adjustments to enhance/optimize the majority of your photos. You can fix image distortion, apply dodging and burning, and do basic retouching in Lightroom. However, there may be times when you need something that Lightroom can’t do. FOr example, ths use of layers and masks is still specific to Photoshop. For this reason, I recommend also having some version of Photoshop available… and in fact, the combination of Lightroom and Elements is very powerful and may just give you all the tools you’ll need to perfect all your photos. Don’t let Lightroom’s full name mislead you, though… Adobe Photoshop Lightroom does not come with Photoshop or vice versa; they are completely separate programs.

  3. Nat,

    thanks for this post!
    You’re absolutely right about iPhoto. I’ve been using it for some years now. My library has grown up to 14k images. Now my MBP is out of storage and I need a new solution. LR3 seems like to be the preferred solution around the web, but what really still puzzles me is how the pictures are actually viewed in LR3. What i loved about iPhoto is the simplicity in which you can see your pictures. With the events, albums and so on. it is just really nice to get a short view of nearly all your pictures. How does this work in LR3? For example when I am looking for a picture I don’t exactly remember when I shot it. Do I need to browse through all my folders (which would be a bit of a pain) or is it similar to iPhoto where I can work my way through the albums really quickly….
    thanks for your answer!

  4. raphy – thanks for your comments. In Lightroom, you Import the pictures to view them (same as iPhoto) and when viewing them you’re actually seeing previews rendered by Lightroom. The original files on the hard drive are read “by reference”; the pixel data are never modified. Lightroom has loads of features that make finding and sorting your photos incredibly easy. You can use any and all photo metadata to filter and sort photos in Lightroom. Finally, Lightroom Collections allow you to group your photos any way you want, regardless of how the files are actually organized on the hard drive. I’m sure you’ll love Lightroom… good luck!


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