‘The Gloves are Off?’ redux

Sean McCormark writes The Gloves are Off? on his blog which comments on the Lightroom -v- Aperture debate, which has begun again with the release of Aperture 3.

The Aperture ‘camp’ has certainly been raving about the new version and as part of the mix has been dishing it out to Lightroom. But there seem to me to be some fundamental issues with the two apps which are less mentioned.

Aperture is Mac only. I am a Mac user through and through, but I recognise that enough photographers use a PC in some way, shape or form to make Lightroom a more useful tool since it is cross-platform.

Aperture and Metadata. Aperture has changed the way metadata is written to files in version 3 and David Riecks of Controlled Vocabulary has written about this issue.

Aperture and Quality. I am not convinced from my use of the trial version that image quality is up to the level of Lightroom 3 Beta, let alone what might be released when Lightroom goes release.

Aperture and updates. This is perhaps the biggest issue for Aperture users; how they are treated. Over the last few months there were rumours of either a new version of Aperture or that the product was going to be canned. Of course, this being Apple, there was no word either way. If it had been the latter, then users would have been left with a decision about sticking with 2.0 or migrating (which is not for the faint hearted). When Aperture was released then it was of distinctly ‘beta’ quality. Users had issues over speed (especially with the Faces feature) and an update had to be made.

This is not to say that Lightroom doesn’t have issue with releases – they have had two or three where there had to be a rushed update, but their policy tends to be to put out a Release Candidate for the wider public to test and check that all is OK.

There is also the issue of camera support. With Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw/DNG Converter there are at least 4 updates a year to cater for new cameras, and mostly these are release promptly either as ‘supported’ or ‘final’. Users will always protest that there is a small delay between their getting a new camera and it being supported, but the delay is rarely that long. For Aperture users that is not the case. Camera updates are sporadic, they are system level so it means that the updates have to go through full system grade QA, which takes longer. And many cameras don’t get supported for months at a time. While the general rule of thumb ought to be that you don’t buy a camera which is not supported by your software of choice, that will only wash for a short period.

DNG support is a major advantage for Lightroom users. Support is full, whereas Aperture’s is partial. DNG support allows for backward compatibility for the early adopters who are facing the lack of updates for a new camera with older software.

Sean has written about interface differences and that will always be a personal preference. I am a big fan of Lightroom’s interface, others are not. Use the shortcuts, modify the interface to your preference and I’m sure either one will meet your needs. But you really have to learn those shortcuts in both apps to get the most out of them.

Aperture has done a lot of catching up with 3. But then again it needed to! It does have some features which are the envy of Lightroom users, Books, Places possibly the Light Table (but to me that is from the days of film and not a modern digital metaphor), some aspects of the new Brushes and Backup. But Lightroom’s speed, stability, relative openness, Printing Module, Develop Quality, Graduated filters, Adjustment Brushes, Organisational/Storage capabilities and, in my case, the Interface.

As Sean points out, competiton is good – it will drive the software from all the vendors to new heights (this includes Capture1, Bibble, Nikon Capture and maybe even Canon’s software (!)) and that can only be a good thing.

But a user has to be pretty convinced about a piece of software (or hardware) to make a radical leap especially when the next release (of Lightroom in this case) is coming soon.