Aperture vs. Lightroom. It is, unfortunately, an easy call…

No, iOS is not a prison
Why I don't give money to the EFF

Scott Bourne on Aperture:

Here’s Why I’m Seriously Considering A Permanent Switch To Adobe Lightroom « Photofocus:

Okay – in short – I’ve had it with Apple. Ever since Steve passed, the company has seemed to be off course – not financially – but in regards to vision. Even before Steve passed, we saw the Final Cut Pro debacle – turning one of the most successful professional video editing applications into a glorified version of iMovie. While I am often mindlessly called an Apple fanboy, I have routinely called the company to task when I think they have made a mistake. And this is going to be one of those times.

Looking at what’s happened to the Apple Pro Apps division – one has to ponder – Is Aperture next? That’s the problem. I don’t know. And nobody at Apple will talk about it. For years I’ve defended Aperture and Apple for making such a great project. I think that was the right decision – then. But as Apple has grown even more reclusive in its willingness to share its plans or talk to the media, they have forgotten that the people who aren’t getting the information are ultimately their customers.

I assumed we’d hear something about Aperture 4.0 by now. I was really confident in fact that there would be an Aperture 4.0 by now. I wrote an article not long back linking the timeline to releases and thought surely we’d have an answer by now. After all, Lightroom 4 is shipping and in every way it needed to, Adobe caught Aperture and in some cases passed it. But from Apple – not a peep.

Since I was at Apple at the time, I was one of the really early adopters of Aperture when it was first release. It was a “where have you been all my life?” moment.

Unfortunately, since that early release, Aperture simply hasn’t evolved nearly as quickly as photography has. When I made that decision to leave my project at Apple, one of the groups I wanted to explore going into was the Aperture team. What I got was this   thick, unexplainable silence. Ultimately, I didn’t stay at Apple, of course (a great decision for both sides).

What I didn’t know at the time, although I heard whispers, was that the Aperture team that pushed out 1.0 was — troubled. I later got to know the guy Apple put in place to fix things, although even if I knew the details of what went on in there, I wouldn’t say. The end result was there was a lot of restructuring and turnover in the team, the original 2.0 project was blown up and started over. And when Aperture 2.0 finally did ship, it was over a year later than it needed to be, Lightroom had shipped and had effectively lapped Aperture in terms of functionality, and Aperture 2.0 was, frankly, rather disappointing. When I took a look at Aperture 3.0, it was — okay — but even then, Apple still seemed to be behind the curve to Lightroom.

By that time, I’d given up waiting. I spent some time using Photoshop and Bridge, then shifted to Lightroom. Around the start of 2012, I heard a few tentative whispers about an upcoming Aperture release, but they’ve faded back out again. Adobe released the Lightroom 4 beta, and when I took a look and played with it, it was clear it was a huge step forward, and I gave up any thought that the Aperture upgrade was going to come out and convince me to change over to it. I say that as someone who is strongly predisposed to give Apple money, and not so motivated to give Adobe money.

But — Apple may have been the initial innovator here, but they fumbled it, and Adobe has taken the ball and run with it. It’s the technology leader, and it’s where the innovation is. Aperture? After the initial release, it’s never regained any of its momentum, and releases have always trailed Lightroom in timing and technology.

My expectation is that it always will at this point. If Apple had a chance to take on Lightroom and become the market and thought leader in this technology segment again, it’s long passed. I think it’s pretty clear Apple’s made the decision not to try; to me, Aperture 3 was a “let’s keep our existing user base happy” upgrade, not a “let’s get back in the game” upgrade. And the timing of upgrades (not aggressive) and the push Apple puts on for Aperture (basically, none), is a hint that it’s moved it’s priorities elsewhere.

I used to tell folks to evaluate both Aperture and Lightroom and choose the one they feel most comfortable with. Now, I tell folks to buy Lightroom. Aperture isn’t headed into “end of life” mode, but Apple has pretty clearly stuffed it into an eddy in a backwater somewhere, and it seems to be just kind of drifting. I don’t see any indication Apple’s going to change that.

So, if you’re a current Aperture user? What now? If you’re happy with it, great. I don’t think it’s going to magically disappear or stop working. At the same time, I don’t think you’re going to see massive improvements in Aperture, not of the kind of technology upgrades we saw in Lightroom 4. I can’t see any way Apple will “leapfrog” Lightroom, the best an Aperture 4 will be is a closing of the gap.

So if you’re someone like Scott Bourne, my recommendation is: start moving to Lightroom. It will take you a long time, but you can focus on new work on the new platform and worry less about migrating existing content. Start now, so it doesn’t turn into a project-by-crisis. And I’m as disappointed about this as you are about how Aperture ended up. it’s a perfectly nice program, but that’s not good enough, and that won’t change. And I say that as a person who at one point would have donated a finger or two to the cause to join the team building it.

The writing is on the wall, and has been since before Aperture 3 shipped: Aperture isn’t a priority, it’s not a battle ground where Apple is fighting to own the market, and it’s slowly wandering into obscurity and irrelevance. And if you depend on your tool and workflow to turn out the best possible images, then Aperture is no longer the solution. It’s not for pros or serious amateurs any longer, it’s for people who’ve outgrown iPhoto.

And here’s hoping Apple releases something next week that makes what I’m posting here look stupid. But I’m confident we won’t see anything like that out of the Aperture team at this point. Which is too bad.

(P.S. for what it’s worth, Scott’s comment about “ever since Steve passed” is pure flame bait, and absolutely incorrect. Aperture was seriously broken long before Steve passed, and Steve had his chance to make it a priority to fix, and chose not to. El Aura does a good job of kicking Scott in the knee for this comment, so I’ll simply point to that and not pile on further, but, Scott, sigh.)

(thanks to Duncan for the pointers)

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  • Allan Mc

    I have also been what many call an apple fan-boy perhaps -man maybe more accurate none the less a Macpro owner since days of powerPC right up until my ageing pro deceased late last year leaving me struggling on an also ageing PC laptop without my beloved Apple Aperture to hold my photographic hand.
    Trouble is ever since the iPad came along well before SJ passed I have been troubled by the lack of ProApp and Macpro progress coming out of Cupertino and like many other processional friends comments in various forums I have been teetering on the big decision to move over, I guess that says it all really, from logic to FCP and Aperture Apple have really been flagging behind whilst nurturing their commercial i markets and selling their reputation short in petty public bickering.
    but I equally hate the idea of bying into the messy Microsoft PC monolithic retro tower, that was until I discovered the HPZ1, and a light went on, windows 8 also looks pretty neat although you don’t see much of it working in proApps and Lightroom 4 definatly has the edge over Apperture now just as Premier Pro also betters FCP, then there is the disappointing iMac screens that with the whole idea of having to purchase and learn new apps on a relatively new platform have led to my delay in in the decision of purchasing my next workstation, but Apple have really just abandoned pro users and the silence is deafening whilst nearly all my colleagues no longer bet on Apples bearing pro fruit any more in future, and even when they do it is constantly disappointing despite retina displays, one can only be disappointed so much and Apple are no longer top of the professional creative heap, don’t times change.

  • Kodi Lane

    have you used lightroom 4, try moving a group of folders into a new folder, is soo slow.. aperture is soo much more beneficial. lightroom is bloated, and doesn’t even perform well, who cares if they added a new digit to the end of the name, aperture still outperforms.

  • M42

    Apple innovates? Apple is too busy suing everybody to innovate.

    • http://twitter.com/Sidequestnet sidequest.net

      blah blah herp derp

  • Brett Deriso

    I too appreciate your feedback. However, other than your observations about Apple’s priorities (or lack thereof) regarding Aperture development, this article is disappointingly short on specifics.

    As someone who has been a Lightroom user since version 1, I continually find myself toying with the idea of switching to Aperture, hoping that some of the more egregious missteps I saw in earlier versions have been addressed by now. To that end, you’ve confirmed some of my suspicions about Apple’s commitment to their offering. And while I’m also more that happy to reward Apple with my business when they get it right, I have to remind myself that they are a hardware manufacturer and OS company first and foremost.

    Still, I simply can’t overlook the one thing Apple got dead right with Aperture: total, seamless, transparent OS integration. Frankly, that has been sadly lacking from Adobe in every product they have ever produced. I rather like the idea of being able to pull media into any project And access my photo management system simply by browsing it in any file open dialog. Trouble is, I can’t uproot my entire workflow for one feature, no matter how big it is. I need some other meat to base that decision on, and I just don’t see any delineated here. I’m looking for something like the previous poster mentioned: a hit list -pros and cons, side by side. Not just the disgruntled grumblings of a former insider.

  • http://twitter.com/tparkerphoto Todd Parker

    I greatly appreciate your feedback. Very insightful, I must say. LIke you I’m someone whose far more predisposed to give money to Apple than Adobe. And probably like you I’ve built up numerous Aperture libraries, representing hundreds of hours of work. I’ve been a devoted Aperture user until a friend invited me to a Scott Kelby training session for Lightroom. Sitting in the audience I was somewhat of a naysayer. In my notebook I jotted down “reasons why Lightroom is better than Aperture.” I stopped writing them down after #28. We can only imagine what Apple’s rival program could have looked like should they have chosen to remain in the game. But serious photographers will waste little time mulling over this decision. Make the leap to Lightroom immediately. I type this with trepidation, about to push “buy now” in the App store. But I do so knowing its the right thing to do.