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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2007-04-25

Pushing Pixels: Aperture and Lightroom - What's the Fuss?
By Reed Hoffmann, BluePixel

I'm sure that all of you have heard about Aperture (from Apple) and Lightroom (from Adobe). Some of you have certainly used the beta of Lightroom (which was scheduled to ship starting February 19, with an initial price of $199). And I'm also sure that some of you have bought Aperture. For those who haven't had hands-on experience with either of them yet, the question I hear most frequently is, "What are they?" It's a good question, since I don't think even Apple and Adobe are sure what they are yet. Download tool? Image management system (with strong metadata features)? Editing package? Print and web gallery tool? All-in-one?

Aperture was introduced in the fall of 2005. At the time it was priced at $499 and described by Apple as "the first all-in-one post-production tool for photographers. Built from the ground up for professionals, Aperture offers an advanced RAW workflow, powerful compare and select tools, nondestructive image processing and versatile printing and publishing." The initial version required a tremendous amount of horsepower to run, My G5 dual 1.8 GHz tower wouldn't even run it because the video card wasn't up to the job. The PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz would, but slowly. Despite all that, there were some great user interface features. The fact that it could collect all of your images and let you work from a single Master file was also appealing.

Shortly after Apple's debut of Aperture, Adobe got into the act with the announcement of a similar package, Lightroom. Breaking with tradition (and most likely in an effort to keep users from getting too strong into Aperture) Adobe soon released a beta version, which, not surprisingly, was Mac only. Since then a Windows beta has also been released.

Over the last 18-months both programs have undergone major changes. Aperture's experienced the largest improvements, in both speed and image management. It's also dropped considerably in price, down to the current level of $299.

What are Apple and Adobe trying to do? It's simple - they want to bring photographers into their software "camp" and keep them there. As more photographers discover the power or RAW and make that their format of choice, workflow becomes more complicated. While these programs will work with JPEG and TIFF files, where they shine is in handling RAW files.

What most people will see as the strength of these two programs lies in two areas: file management and batch processing of RAW images. Both make the process of adding metadata (what we often refer to as IPTC or XMP), sorting, comparing and organizing images much easier. What many of us have been doing for years with Photo Mechanic (www.camerabits.com).

The other big deal with these programs is the ease with which they let you apply global changes to a group of RAW images. Often referred to as batch processing, you can select a small or large collection of images and add or change caption information, white balance settings, color space, contrast, sharpening, resolution, color changes, format, etc., then have that done to all in the group.

There are some downsides. Neither program at this time allows you to make selective changes to an image during editing. In other words, if your image is perfect, no problem. But if you want to darken just the sky, or lighten a face, or apply selective sharpening, you can't do it in Aperture or Lightroom. There are rumors that the release version of Lightroom will allow this, which would be a very big deal.

The other downside is if you shoot in RAW format and want to take the file generated by your manufacturer's camera (CR2 for Canon, NEF for Nikon, etc.) and open it into that manufacturer's raw processing software (Canon Digital Photo Professional or Nikon Capture NX) to get their color processing or unique features, you can't. Currently, both of these programs force you to run a conversion of the image from the original RAW format into a TIFF before opening it into another application. Doing that, or course, defeats the whole purpose of opening it into the manufacturer's software.

Are either of these programs the perfect solution? As with many things digital, the answer is "it depends." Everyone's looking for a silver bullet for all their digital imaging needs. We're not there yet, and may never be. I always tell people that I try to find the best tool for each job. For me that still means Photo Mechanic for download/organize, Photoshop paired with manufacturer's RAW software for editing, and iView MediaPro for cataloging and database.

I'll continue to watch both Aperture and Lightroom, and if they grow into applications that fit my workflow (speed and quality paramount), I'll consider adding them. Once again we're reminded that the only sure thing about digital photography is that the landscape is constantly changing.


(Reed Hoffmann usually writes about digital issues for Sports Shooter. A newspaper photographer for over 20 years, he's now a partner in Blue Pixel (http://www.bluepixel.net), a company that specializes in digital photography, training and workflow consulting. If you have an idea for a good column, please write him at rhoffmann@bluepixel.net.)

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