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. Hi. Im a 20 year old college kid who has been fortunate enough to get into photography as a serious hobby. I have been shooting now for about 4 years and have gradually been upgrading my gear. This fall my intent is to buy an imac for photography (and achedemic) purposes. Seeing that I have been getting into some photo-editing, I assumed that I would go ahead and buy Aperture at the same time as the computer. After doing some research, I have come to the conclusion that Aperature may not be my best option. After reading multiple reviews, such as this one, I have decided to go ahead and buy Adobe Lightroom.

  2. Thank you for the valuable observations on LightRoom vs. Aperture. I have been using Aperture since version 2, then upgraded to Aperture 3. Initially I stored files in “current location” option, but for some reason, I was persuaded to switch to the file vault option. Now I have a mess, some files in folders on my hard drive and others in the vault. I have also experienced the slow performance with Aperture. So now that my hard drives are full, I’m ready to switch. Your comments gave me the final push.

  3. D Bullick – I’m glad to hear you found this post useful. I don’t envy your situation; migrating from Aperture to Lightroom can be tricky. My advice is to make a detailed plan, take it slow, and double check everything as you go. Unfortunately, your Aperture adjustments won’t survive the transition, so for any pictures you’ve invested significant amounts of time developing, you should export full resolution TIFs. Best of luck, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

  4. Nat, appreciate your perspectives on photo editing software. I am a photographer of sorts and a long time Windows user. I have used and enjoyed MS Photoshop and MS Digital Image Pro…both of which are no longer available or supported by MS. What I specifically liked about these programs is my ability to expand beyond simple photo editing into a pseudo desktop publishing mode without the complexity of PS. I have found Photoshop too complicated for my head. Having that background, I recently switched to an iMac and am in transition. I went into it with a fervor and purchased Aperture 3 thinking I would have what I needed to replicate my work on the Mac. Not so! Before I take another leap and the associated learning curve, will LR 3 give me the ability to do simple edits and beyond without the complexity of Photoshop or is there a better path to follow?

    Also, because of what I described above, I still use both computers rather than fully migrating to the Mac. If I were to purchase LR3 could I just use the PC as an emergency backup?

    Thanks for your views and for taking the time.

  5. Oops, MS Photodraw

  6. I have been using aperture 2 for the past few years and I very much like the application, but I am at a crossroads where a decision has to be made. I am tired of my imac and the inability to upgrade something as simple as putting in a larger hard drive. Currently my library in aperture is close to if not over 20,000 images so making a change at this point may be next to impossible. I thought about going the hackintosh way of building a new computer, but for the same pricing I could have a fully capable PC. What does it take to make the move from aperture to lightroom while trying to avoid loss of all of my time with edits to raw photos?

  7. I am a professional digital photographer. I have used iPhoto as my means of organizing my photos, but I edit exclusively in PhotoShop (CS3, now CS5). I recently replaced my fairly satisfactory iPhoto ’09 with the 2011 version and was stunned to find that it can no longer handle the simple organizing process. I won’t go on about the bugs or problems, but it seems to be time to move on. Aperture 3 was recommended, but after reading these comments (and other web sites), I’m thinking that LightRoom is the way to go (I bought Light Room 3 at the PS convention in Las Vegas, so I already own that). My questions is whether I can easily transfer all my existing iPhoto libraries to LightRoom? Does Light Room interface with iLife (I need iTunes, Garage Band, iMovie, etc)? Does LightRoom handle the need for photo organization (keywords, dates, ratings, etc)? In short, is it a good choice for use as my main organizing application? Thanks. Al

  8. @Al Tucci
    Hi Al – thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. It sounds like Lightroom might be a good fit for your needs. You can simply import your Pictures folder into a Lightroom catalog and go from there. However, Lightroom will not recognize any adjutments you’ve made in iPhoto if you haven’t saved out those photos as new files (though it sounds like most of that would have been done from Photoshop anyway.) Lightroom can handle all you organizational needs; that’s one of the strongest compelling factors for using Lightroom. Lightroom offers limited integration with iLife, though you can specify outside programs as “External Editors” from within Lightroom.

  9. @Eric
    Hi Eric – Thanks for your comment. I fully empathize with you; migrating between computers and operating systems is never fun. As I mentioned in my orginal post, that’s one of the reasons I went with Lightroom over Aperture – you can use the same images and the same catalogs on both Windows and Mac.

    Unfortunately, migrating from Aperture to Lightroom contains a few caveats. For one, any settings you’ve used when processing photos in Aperture will NOT be maintained when those photos are brought into Lightroom. In other words, Aperture adjustments are different from Lightroom’s and neither application recognizes or respects the other’s settings.

    In a practical sense, what this means is that if you’ve finished processing photos in Aperture you need to export/save those files out as final rendered images. Whether your original captures are raw, jpg, tif or some other properietary format, in all case your best bet os to export full resolution, 16-bit, ProPhoto TIFs. Those new TIF files will have all your adjustments baked into the files, but of course, that’s not the same as having a raw file with your adjustments retained.

    I’d recommend that if you have certain files you want to keep in raw that you plan to reprocess them in Lightroom after you make the move.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.

  10. @Ron Roesler
    @Ron Roesler
    Hi Ron – thanks for your comment. In my work I’ve found that I can do almost everythign I want to fonosh processing a photo in Lightroom. I hardly ever need to use Photoshop any more. You can use Lightroom on both Mac and Windows. Please let me know if you have nay other questions.