Those who know me will know I’m a bit of an Apple fan. Having bought an iPhone 3G back in 2008 I’ve become a firm believer in how well the different devices interact with each other and how simple everything is to run. As a result this household now has a complete array of Apple products from AppleTV to MacBooks, and with recent software updates photo editing, storage and display has never been easier.
Yes, iTunes is a bit of a beast these days and could do with simplifying. But generally speaking Apple’s software (and indeed operating system, be it iOS or Mavericks) does what it says on the tin and works very well for the purpose it is designed for. This fact extends to their Aperture software which I have been using since early 2011. Aperture is a typical piece of Apple software – clean, simple, and easy to use. The way it holds images and creates a library for them is simplicity in itself, and the editing tools work for me most of the time – some complex edits need to be done in Photoshop, but not that many. The biggest omission from Aperture is the lack of lens correction, but for most images this isn’t a big deal. It looks clean, it is easy to navigate and easy to publish from. I’ve got all my photos sorted and easy to find in Aperture, which looks like this – this is the Projects view where each day is sorted into its own folder.
Just recently though I’ve found myself using the Photoshop Raw processing more and more. Partly for the lens correction abilities, but also because it just seems that little bit better at dragging the details out of the original raw image. Switching between Aperture and Photoshop is not that easy because you cannot export a RAW file from Aperture into Photoshop – it sends a TIFF file across so you lose the ability to edit the raw data. I’ve been exporting the RAW file onto the desktop and editing it in Photoshop before saving the file and re-importing the edit back into Aperture. Not a big deal, but it adds a bit of faff to my workflow.
So with the thought in my mind that Adobe software does improve the quality of the editing I’m trying out Lightroom 5. Many of my photography friends use Lightroom and swear by it, some even swear in front of it I’m sure so I’ve installed it and copied all of my 2014 images across to have a proper play when I already have a rough idea of the outcome. That was the first problem before I even got to edit everything – Lightroom doesn’t manage the library – it expects you to. Lightroom is nowhere near as intuitive, clean or simple as Aperture either – it takes me an age to find anything but that should improve with time. The key thing for me is that it doesn’t look as easy to use, far too many drop-downs or hidden options. Below is a shot of Lightroom in Library mode.
As I say, nowhere near as clean. You can’t view an image in perfect full-screen. You sort of can, but it retains a border oddly and I can’t remove it. Publishing images on Aperture is a one-click process, highlight the image(s) and send them to Flickr or SmugMug. It seems way more difficult on Lightroom and takes much more time, the same with exporting – although I’ll admit I’ve found a slightly quicker way to do that now.
But for editing the image, once I’d moved into the “Develop” section and found the controls anyway, Lightroom is brilliant. It has the Adobe Camera Raw engine built-in, so the edits in Lightroom are the same as I’d do in Photoshop. I can bring out far more details in Lightroom than I can in Aperture, I can do the lens corrections automatically, the sharpening and noise reduction sliders actually work in Lightroom too. Big plusses there, and I can also send files from Lightroom directly to Photomatix and have the result returned to Lightroom. Bingo. There is a Photomatix plug-in for Aperture which does it in-house but it just isn’t quite as good as the main program. I posted two identical images on Facebook recently – one edited in Aperture, the other Lightroom – and the Lightroom picture was almost universally preferred – including by myself.
The final nail in Lightroom’s coffin for me is the ability to share images easily. Using Aperture all my devices (iPad, iPhone, AppleTV) are automatically synchronised with the latest images through iTunes. I don’t have to think about it, I have it set up in iTunes for each device and they just update. Not possible in Lightroom, iTunes doesn’t talk to it – I’d have to get iTunes to look in the folders and that is a receipe for disaster in my mind.
So where do I go from here? I love the editing power of Lightroom, but hate the complexity of the library (or lack thereof) and incompatibility with everything else. It seems far too complicated generally, too many hidden functions and cluttered displays although I’m sure this is a) a matter of personal preferences, b) customisable and c) I’ll get used to it eventually! I’m going to try taking some images and using Lightroom to edit them before using Aperture as my storage library, but that kind of defeats the object I reckon. The aim was to simplify my workflow, if my workflow has to include exporting to the desktop and back into Aperture occasionally well so be it. I think I’ll be waiting for Apple to finally release Aperture 4 and hope it is a significant improvement in the editing department, because as a library and a tool generally it is still well ahead in my opinion.