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Aperture v. Lightroom v. Photos

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Introduction

First off, I feel a little awkward doing a comparison like this. In my head I keep hearing a 1950s boxing announcer with a yesteryear twang in his voice... "In this corner, weighing in at v3.5.1, Aperture. In this corner...." and so on. This is not an exhaustive list of features. I won't delve into the minutia of each and every item. I'm not interested in doing that either.

This is a planning tool for me, a method for me to weigh my options beyond Aperture. My approach to this comparison is looking at both Lightroom and Photos and gaging how it will suit my workflow. Do they have an equivalent capability? Will my workflow need to change? How drastically? What must I consider when migrating?

The features I list are from an Aperture point of view, since that's the tool I know today. The features I list have shaped my workflow. The workflow is use today is not gospel – it is ever changing. What is important is the workflow supports my photographic goals.

It's the stuff I care about and have shared in Effective Aperture Workflow. Since many of you have bought my book, why not share what I'm thinking? The migration from Aperture is gonna happen. If this helps you in the least, it's worth the share.

Updates:
2014.07.26: Added Books and Slideshows to Other table

Decisions Without Data

Let's be frank. When it comes to the new Photos for OS X, there's a lot of "???" entries in the tables below. That's the crux of the problem right now. Nobody outside of Cupertino knows what Photos will bring in 2015. A whole ton of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. The FUD. 

It's the FUD that's got most of us Aperture-heads (myself included) in a tizzy (some are freaking out like this lady). Despite all our modern advances like reality TV and striped toothpaste, our brains are still very primitive at the core. A situation arises and we want to act. Immediately. Fight or flight. Bucking those instincts, watching and waiting, then making a decision is tough. Real tough.

It's gonna be a long 6 months. Maybe more.

I do want to see what Photos turns out to be before migrating. Not because I'm in love with Apple. Not because I dislike Adobe. It's because I want to migrate once. In the next 6 to 8 months, I'll probably take another 3000-6000 pictures – relatively low. Migrating an extra 6K photos is in the noise.

Disclosure

I have never used Lightroom. I have never downloaded it. Not because I dislike Lightroom or Adobe. I've just never had to. Aperture has suited my needs. I've seen plenty of people use Lightroom. I've read a bunch about it. I've watched a lot of videos. It's a capable program. As Aperture has been and will continue to be until my migration. These are ultimately just tools. A means to an end, and that end being a great photo.

What's in the tables below is based on what I've learned thus far. As I learn more, I'll update this page. If you know more about a Lightroom feature or hear more about Photos and want to share, contact me

File & Version Management

FeatureAperture 3Lightroom 5Photos 1
Managed LibraryYesNoYes *
Referenced LibraryYesYes (Catalog)???
ProjectsYesYes (Folder)???
FoldersYesCollection Set (?)Yes *
AlbumsYesYes (Collection)Yes *
Smart AlbumsYesYes (Smart Collection)Yes *
StacksYesYes**???
File RenameYesYes???
Export/Merge LibrariesYesYes (Catalog)???
* Unconfirmed. Likely since supported in Aperture and iPhoto.
** Lightroom stacks are context sensitive vs. global in Aperture. Not supported in Collections.

By and large, my organizational goals can be met. My use of stacks may need to change. The big ticket item here is the ability to start a new library/catalog on a mobile system and merge it into the studio later. That's a major part of my workflow. 

Migration notes & thoughts:

  • I already run a referenced library and Aperture makes it easy to switch between the two. Getting originals out of Aperture and into a new tool is doable. Not a technical problem, just work.
  • Stacks I already have in Aperture may be a problem.
    • iPhoto doesn't support stacks. Unknown if Photos will pick this up or stay the iPhoto route.
    • Lightroom's handing of stacks is different. Since metadata checking for stacks in Aperture is weak, there's no good way I can think of to tag photos in such a way that I can rebuild stacks in Lightroom. Auto-stacking in Lightroom may help with some, but not all, of my stacks.
  • Albums and Smart Albums into Lightroom will probably be a manual re-create. A one-time cost. Annoying, but no technical hurdles. Just work.

Metadata

FeatureAperture 3Lightroom 5Photos 1
Color LabelsYesYes???
Star RatingsYesYesYes *
FlagsYesYesYes *
Keyword GroupsYesYes???
GPS TaggingYesYesYes *
Metadata ViewsYesYes **???
Custom Metadata FieldsYesNo???
* Unconfirmed. Likely since supported in Aperture and iPhoto
** Lightroom 5 has metadata views, but no way to create custom views.

Basic rating, flagging, and keywording won't be a problem. Big ticket items for me in this group are Color Labels and Keyword Groups. I use labels to track each version of a photo through my workflow. Right now, I effectively use 7 labels (including no color). Lightroom supports only 6 labels (including no color). We'll see what Photos will bring, if anything, since iPhoto doesn't have color labels.

I can deal with this. My least stringent workflow step is Stack and I could fold that into another step... probably as I'm rating since that's the time I'll visit every photo in a shoot. 

Migration notes & thoughts:

  • For Lightroom, Keyword Groups won't be a problem. Over on Aperture v Lightroom, William Beem already worked out how to migrate keywords from Aperture in a way that imported photos will pick up the right hierarchy. No technical hurdle, just work.
  • For non-IPTC metadata, like GPS or Custom Metadata Fields, I can either convert these items to keywords prior to migrating or store them into IPTC fields I don't use. Some experimentation with exporting Aperture originals with the XMP sidecar may help for GPS. No technical hurdle, just work.
  • Custom Metadata Fields will depend on the destination tool. With Lightroom, they may not be necessary. Lightroom has the concept of "private keywords" that are not exported when sharing images. That the main reason I use custom fields in Aperture – to track things I don't want exported with an image. With Photos, it depends. It's likely the underlying database is similar to or the same as iPhoto/Aperture. However, just because the database is the same doesn't mean the tool needs to read and express all the fields in the table. Time will tell.

Metadata Management

FeatureAperture 3Lightroom 5Photos 1
Import PresetsYesYes???
Metadata PresetsYesYes???
Batch Change MetadataYesYes???
Adjust Date/TimeYesYesYes *
* Unconfirmed. Likely since supported in Aperture and iPhoto

A metadata preset on import is a way of life for me. As are metadata presets for tracking items like plug-in usage and social media shares. As I've reigned in my library, batch changes are less necessary.

Photos needs to step up here for it to be viable for workflow and goals.

Migration notes & thoughts:

  • Considering the section above, the ability to batch change metadata across photos may be needed during the migration. Having that feature will make migration easier. Doable without it, however increases work tremendously.
  • I don't expect presets to translate across the tools. Creating them is a one-time task during migration. I have maybe 25 presets max. It won't take long to recreate them in a new tool. There is also probably a way to copy metadata presets from one system to another (ex: studio to mobile). I found old references circa 2009 to doing this with file copies. Worst case, create them twice. No technical hurdle, just work.

Search & Filter

FeatureAperture 3Lightroom 5Photos 1
Library Wide SearchYesYesYes *
Advanced FilteringYesYes **Yes *
Create Album from FilterYesNo???
* Unconfirmed. Likely since supported in Aperture and iPhoto
** Lightroom does not support filters on DAM-data (ex: photo has been shared, adjusted, etc.)

PetaPixel reports that Apple has "mentioned plans" for Photos for OS X to have "professional-grade" image search. Not exactly a slam dunk. We'll see what that means and if it's on par with Aperture and Lightroom. I need reasonably good granularity for sorting and filtering, both ad-hoc and for saved smart albums/collections. 

Migration notes and thoughts:

  • I use filters and smart albums in Aperture to track photos through my workflow. Each photo gets a color label as a visual cue, and I use smart albums as a sanity check. For the sanity check, I try not to key on the color label and use other metadata instead. This may not be possible in Lightroom if there's no filtering to answer the question "has this photo had adjustments applied?".

Core Adjustments

FeatureAperture 3Lightroom 5Photos 1
RetouchYesYesYes*
White BalanceYesYesYes *
Chromatic AberrationYesYes???
Noise ReductionNo**YesYes***
White & Black PointsYesYesYes*
Lens CorrectionNoYes???
* Unconfirmed. Likely since supported in Aperture and iPhoto
** Technically Aperture has this feature. But it's so weak it's asymtotically approaching useful.
*** Unconfirmed. Likely since it was demoed during WWDC (and iPhones are very noisy in low light)

There's no doubt in my mind that Lightroom is well ahead of Aperture when it comes to post-processing. The Develop module is top notch. Both tools can produce wonderful final images. From what I've seen, Lightroom makes it easier. Be that as it may, I use plug-ins for most of my portfolio-grade work. Aperture is my DAM and beyond snapshots, my post-processing happens elsewhere.

What is crucial for me is a core set of non-desctructive adjustments. The basics. White balance, black & white points, etc. Any uplift I get from Lightroom or Photos, I'll take. Photos needs to provide a chromatic aberration adjustment. I've lived without lens correction for so long, it's not gonna kill me to keep doing so.

Migration notes and thoughts:

  • I am assuming adjustments won't translate to a new tool. Definitely true for Lightroom. I'm not banking on Photos – there's been enough differences in how iPhoto and Aperture view a common photo library. As with custom metadata, just because the information is in the database doesn't mean the tool will express the information to the user.
  • I expect to need to export both my original images and my adjusted images. Then import them into a new tool. If I can figure out how to automate stacking the two together, even better. Auto-stacking photos with an identical capture time might work if the tool chain supports that.

Other

FeatureAperture 3Lightroom 5Photos 1
AppleScript BindingsYesNo???
Customizable HotKeysYesNo???
Share to iCloudYesNoYes *
3rd Party Plug-insYesYesYes **
iDevice WorkflowsNoYesYes ***
Wacom TabletYes ****Yes???
Books & SlideshowsYesYesNo
* Unconfirmed. Likely since supported in Aperture and iPhoto.
** PetaPixel reports Apple is planning for "professional-grade... 3rd party extensibility"
*** Unconfirmed. Although isn't seamliess Mac/iDevice integration the whole point of Photos?
**** Wacom support exists for Aperture, but is weak compared to other DAMs and plug-ins.

The big item for me here is the 3rd party plugins. onOne and Nik are mainstays in my workflow. According to PetaPixel, Photos has plans for "professional-grade... 3rd party extensibility". No word on what 3rd parties are signed up to produce Photos plug-ins.

For suites like onOne and Nik that run on Mac and Windows, it may be a longer time. A cross-platform suite abstracts the OS in a thin layer and keeps the bulk of the code base platform agnostic. Software architecture 101. I see where a company like MacPhun gets onboard quickly – they are Mac only. All upside.

AppleScript bindings are a nice-to-have. Aperture support is nice, and I've written several tools to fill gaps Aperture can't do natively. The main ones I use now are for expanding keywords and automating exports. These are utilities to streamline work. If a new tool needs new script development or a different kind of automation, that's fine. No technical hurdle, just work.

Same idea with keyboard customizations. A convenience. With OS X Mavericks, the keyboard mappings System Preferences offers might be an option.

Sharing directly to iCloud would be a delighter. I use this in Aperture as my outbound sharing to iDevices. It's nice. It's convenient. Not a decision driver.

The Wacom tablet is a wild card. I've gone back and forth on getting one... I probably will. Nik and onOne support the Wacom. Aperture's support is weak, which has prevented me from getting one earlier. If my DAM has support for it, that's significant uplift.

Books and slideshows are out of iOS 8 Photos as reported by 9to5 Mac. I am working under he assumption this translates to OS X Photos as well. I occasionally used the books module in Aperture, so it's not a make or break decision point for me.

Summary

There you have it. Summed up, my must have's are:

  • Export and merge of libraries/catalogs for taking portions of my photos on-the-go
  • 3rd Party plugins, I need onOne and Nik 
  • Metadata presets, especially during photo import
  • Advanced, granular filtering and searching capabilities
  • A chromatic aberration adjustment

Lightroom can do all of the above. If Photos falls short, and doesn't offer a "wow" factor that makes me reconsider my workflow, it's a deal breaker.

Some other major decision swayers are color labels and keyword groups. Those are core parts of my workflow today. I'll consider workflow changes if necessary. I expect some level of change. The less I need to change, the smoother the transition.

Wild cards are Wacom support and advanced adjustments. If both Lightroom and Photos end up being morally equivalent on all of the above, if one offers more advanced native adjustment controls I'll lean that way. As for Wacom, if my DAM supports it, great. I can use it more and get more value for my money.

As I said earlier, in the end these are tools. Tools help us do a job. It's the job – making a great photo – that's important. I'll use the tools that works best for me to get me to my end game. I really have no emotion whether I have an Apple solution or an Adobe solution. For now, I continue studying.