Aperture vs. Lightroom: The new digital darkroom

Making adjustments

When it gets down to editing your images, both Lightroom and Aperture provide an impressive set of tools. In general, Lightroom’s interface for working with those tools is better thought out and more conducive to experimentation than Aperture’s. That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same results with Aperture, but you’ll have to work a little harder to get there.

Perfecting the Shot With either program, you can easily adjust exposure, white balance, and saturation, and perform other essential editing tasks. You’ll access these tools from panes on the right side of the screen (see “Editing Tools”). Aperture also gives you the option of opening your editing tools in translucent floating windows called heads-up displays (HUDs), so you can eliminate the panes and maximize your image-viewing real estate.

Newcomers to digital photography will likely find Lightroom’s editing features more user friendly. Although Aperture’s PDF manuals provide lots of detail about using the program’s editing tools, looking at these tools for the first time on screen can be intimidating.

A unique feature in Lightroom is the Targeted Adjustment tool, which lets you click and drag within an image to adjust specific tones. You can use it with five types of adjustments—tone curve, hue, saturation, lightness, and gray scale. For example, to change the saturation of specific colors in a photo, you would select the Saturation panel’s Target tool and then click on an area that has the color you want to change. Click and drag upward to see the saturation of those colors increase; drag downward to decrease their saturation. It’s remarkably intuitive.

When it comes to eliminating small imperfections, Lightroom’s Remove Spots tool is easier to use than Aperture’s Spot And Patch tool. However, you won’t want to use either of them for much more than a few spots. For more extensive or complicated problems, you’ll probably need to move to Photoshop.

Editing Tools: When you click inside Lightroom’s Histogram pane (top) ( A ), you can directly edit tones within an image by dragging left or right. As you change the tonal parameters, the Histogram pane updates in real time. With the Targeted Adjustment option selected ( B ), you can click and drag on tones within an image to change their values. Although you can’t click and drag within Aperture’s histogram (bottom), it offers most of the same capabilities. The Levels pane ( C ) lets you adjust five tonal points—black, gray, white, and two quarter tones—in your image.

Saving Time When you’re dealing with dozens of photos from a single shoot, Aperture and Lightroom can help you save time by letting you copy adjustments from one image and apply them to others. Both programs let you choose which adjustments to copy; for example, you could choose to copy a photo’s crop and exposure compensation, but not its saturation change. Although both programs accomplish the same results, I much preferred Lightroom’s approach, which mimics the Mac’s Copy and Paste commands, to Aperture’s Lift And Stamp tool, which can be confusing and isn’t as flexible.

If you regularly make the same edits across multiple photo shoots, Lightroom and Aperture can save you some time here as well, by saving your adjustments as presets. Aperture saves separate presets for each type of adjustment—for example, one for exposure and another for color balance—while Lightroom can combine multiple adjustments into a single preset. However, if you create a lot of presets, you may find Lightroom’s approach unwieldy; the program saves all presets in a single panel. In the long run, I found Aperture’s per-adjustment approach cleaner and more practical.

Exploring Your Options Because Aperture and Lightroom store edits separately from an image, creating multiple versions of an image is easy.

Lightroom also offers History and Snapshot features that work together to let you create multiple views of the same image. The History tool lets you move backward through a sequential list of your edits so you can return to an earlier part of the process, while the Snapshot feature lets you save a sequence of edits so you can return to the results, even if you’ve already moved back in the image’s history and taken a different path. While these features are a nice addition, they can also be confusing, and it’s easy to get lost in a series of changes. I found that creating a virtual copy of a photo was a much more intuitive way to work.

Compensating for Hardware Lightroom also has a few camera- and lens-correction features you won’t find in Aperture. The Chromatic Aberration panel, for example, lets you fix the color fringing created by some lens and camera combinations, while the Lens Vignetting panel can lighten the corners of a photo that was shot with a lens exhibiting those defects. You can also apply custom color-calibration parameters to all the Raw images taken with a specific camera under certain lighting conditions, a feature borrowed from Adobe’s Camera Raw. Some users—studio photographers, for example—will find this feature useful; most people will never touch it.

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