Approaching Lightroom

Last Spring Apple announced the expected, and yet altogether depressing, demise of the incredible Aperture. This photo organizing and post-processing application was one of the first purchases I made after begin given my first DSLR. I love it’s simplicity, clean lay-out, and speed. Aperture will probably work for another year or so before it becomes too unstable to use in newer versions of OS X, but I’ve been looking for migration paths for several months. I’ve dabbled with several options, including the OpenSource Darktable, but nothing really fit what I wanted. So this week I did what I long put-off doing.

I signed up for the Adobe Creative Cloud photography plan.

I’ve not been a fan of Adobe for several years. I find their products powerful, and yet extremely cluttered. A favorite saying of my friend Antoine is, “This is engineered, rather than designed.” That’s how I feel about Adobe in general, wonderfully engineered, but they generally have a user interface which is a bit of pain. Even with my negative opinion of Adobe’s tools, however, Adobe Lightroom is probably the simplest migration path from Aperture in terms of power and flexibility. The fact that I also get access to Photoshop is just icing on the cake1.

Let me give some first impressions on my Lightroom experience thus-far.

The migration

Adobe has very kindly created a Lightroom plugin to help users migrate from Aperture. User forums give this plugin mixed reviews, but I have to say I have been impressed with Adobe’s forum presence in response to reported problems. The techs seem knowledgeable, helpful, and actually present. This is something Apple could learn from.

Sadly, I was among the users for whom the plugin had problems. When I attempted to migrate my full Aperture library the plugin was unable to scan the library and report the number of photos present. I attempted to both rebuild and repair my library to no effect – the Lightroom plugin simply refused to accept it as input.

Undaunted, I decided to break up my Aperture library into smaller chunks. Thus, each year of photos got it’s own Aperture Library, and each was imported on it’s own2. While this was a lengthy process, I don’t hold it against Adobe at all. After all, they are reverse-engineering another vendor’s database with absolutely no help from Apple. The fact it works at all is rather remarkable. One annoying part of the end product is how Lightroom translated Aperture’s projects into collections. Instead of creating collections filled with the images (like “Williamsburg 2014”), Lightroom first created a folder with a project name, and then created collection on the next sub-level with the title “project images.”

Migrating did give me many errors, usually of images I thought I’d deleted years ago, but I haven’t noticed any major blocks of images missing in Lightroom as of yet.

The Features

As stated above, Aperture and Lightroom probably have the most comparable feature-sets of all the photo organizing packages out there. Each has it’s own areas of special interest, however, and it’s interesting to encounter how the different development priorities led down unique paths.

Aperture’s greatest advantage over Lightroom is it’s search features. Aperture can create extremely flexible searches of photos, based on an insane amount of options, which are easy to find and implement. Even more importantly, Aperture allows users to filter projects in the left library pane. This allows users to filter down what they might be searching for based on a sub-set of their projects. Sadly, Lightroom’s comparable “collections” offers no such ability that I can find3. Also, while Lightroom’s search capabilities are quite powerful, they are no where near as simple to create as in Aperture. It should be noted, however, that both searches are lightning-fast.

Comparing the Library panes in Lightroom and Aperture.
A comparison of the Library panes in both Aperture and Lightroom. The lack of a search field for this information remains my greatest annoyance with Lightroom’s workflow.

 

Aperture also benefits from Apple’s maniacal focus on the beauty of the end product. Creating a project or slide-show in Aperture creates true works of art. Lightroom’s slideshow module is underwhelming, at best4. Finally, with Lightroom I miss the integration with Apple’s apps, notably Keynote.

On the other hand, Lightroom’s photo developing features are truly amazing. Exposure, light-balancing, and tone control produce excellent results (though tone control is, perhaps, a bit too aggressive). Where Lightroom sets itself apart, however, is their ability to do lens corrections. Users can accept auto-detected profiles, or change them if Lightroom doesn’t pick up the lens appropriate for the given photo. When corrections are in place vignetting and lens distortion are compensated for. The results are terrific. Built-in leveling, vertical, and aspect ration corrections only sweeten the deal. I have always been pleased with Aperture’s adjustments, but Lightroom does all Aperture manages, and more. I’m enjoying exploring what all the buttons do.

I also appreciate Lightroom Mobile, an app which allows users to select certain collections to sync with a mobile device through Creative Cloud. While it’s not as automatic as iCloud photo stream I does transfer over any edits made on photos to the mobile app. This, along with an excellent interface5, make it a big selling point for me. I’ll probably use it to sync collections related to projects on which I’m currently working 6.

I also appreciate the “Quick Collection” concept in Lightroom. This allows for the creation of a temporary dumping ground for photos which may not be directly related, but are all needed for one project. The quick collection can collect the images, allow them to be exported or put into a new collection in bulk, and then erased. It compares to the “flag” option in Aperture, but I actually like the Quick Collection concept better.

Does it work?

I’m honestly not sure if I’ll keep up with my Creative Cloud solution beyond the return window. It’s workflow is so different than what I’m used to I’m not sure I want to bother using it. Still, I am giving it a fair shake. If I can figure out how to set up a work-flow which matches my needs, the power of the application is certainly compelling.


  1. Though after opening Photoshop once it made me really want to use the Excellent Pixelmator even more. 
  2. I tracked the problem to one project in my 2013 photos, which I had to import with a different method. 
  3. If I am mistaken, please let me know! 
  4. Of course, Adobe probably just wants people using Premier for those sorts of projects. 
  5. Seriously, the UI of the mobile app is extremely nice, why can’t the desktop app be as functional and beautiful? 
  6. And photos of my kids. 

2 Comments

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  1. Heh, your summary at the end was kinda out of the blue. It seemed like you were giving it a decent rating throughout the blog and then at the end panned it.

    I think you just need to give it more time. It’s the leading tool out there and has all the functions you’d ever need, even if the polish isn’t perfect.

    • Huh, I can see where you could say that, it really wasn’t my intent to pan it though. It’s just that I have a limited window of return and if I can’t figure out a way to enjoy a workflow within Lightroom’s setup I don’t want to keep paying for it. I really am trying to be fair to the application throughout the process, I’m just not sold quite yet.

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