2009-12-22

Aperture vs Lightroom?

For the past 5 years I have been using Bibble Pro as my weapon of choice for dealing with RAW images from my SLR. Initially I chose Bibble for three reasons:
  • It was fast.
  • It was available on Linux, OSX and Windows
  • I liked the results
Speed is important when you shoot a lot of pictures. A typical afternoon at a race track or any sort of event results in 1000-1500 images. For a weekend I can easily end up with somewhere between 3000 and 4500 images. Most of these will be series of 2-4 captures of the same scene, so for each series of 2-4 images I usually am only interested in one capture. In my experience roughly 10% of the scenes I shoot turn out well. So per 1000 images I will typically end up with about 25-40 pictures that I want to use.

(Still, I keep the rest of the pictures because sometimes I go back and find pictures that didn't appeal to me at first, but which can be tweaked or "rescued" later).

This means that any delay of a second or more ends up costing me a lot of time in total waiting for the computer to respond. When I first go through all the pictures the app needs to be very responsive.


Bibble Pro

As mentioned before, BibblePro is fast. Very fast. Modulo some annoying batch thumbnail generation that never seems to do what I want it to do, it enables me to empty my camera and quickly start picking the pictures I want to go on working on and do some light tweaks while I am at it. Quite often I pick pictures and do 4-5 minutes of processing in the same go.

It also has some plugins I like very much -- such as the "Andy" plugin which emulates how different types of film and paper look. I have no idea how accurately it emulates various types of film, but to be honest, I don't really care because what counts is how the image ends up looking. Anyway, the "Andy" plugin itself is reason enough to pay the quite reasonable price for BibblePro and the price for the payware version of the plugin itself.

The problem with BibblePro is that they seem to be somewhat resource constrained. Currently they are working hard to get version 5 out the door (they managed to do it a few days ago) and thus version 4 doesn't have support for my compact camera (G11). While version 5 is released, cursory examination suggests that it won't be really usable for me until a lot of the things I love in version 4 are back and working. My completely unqualified guess is that BibblePro 5.0 will be usable to me sometime around Q2 2010.

With version 5 still having some way to go before it is done and Bibble 4 not supporting my G11, I have started looking at alternatives. Mind you, I have not given up on BibblePro 5.0 -- I am going to upgrade to 5.0 when it becomes usable for me if they keep the pricing as reasonable as they have so far. In fact, I would be willing to gamble that they will stay in business and pay the license fee for 5.0 now if they would let me and if it would help them.

I also find it odd that BibblePro has not gotten more press than it has. Given the atrociously bad offerings from Nikon and Canon for handling RAW images I have a hard time understanding why the press would bother talking about these pointless products and not highlight a gem such as Bibble.


Lightroom or Aperture?

Anyway the choice seems to boil down to Lightroom from Adobe or Aperture from Apple. My impression so far is that Aperture is faster and has a much cleaner, less cluttered interface than Lightroom. However, it seems that Aperture does not have a lot of forward momentum. While it does seem to tick the boxes for the sort of rapid workflow that I am accustomed to, it seems that it is somewhat light on image-twiddling features compared to Lightroom. Also, much of the apparent speed seems to be because of agressive caching and preprocessing -- which means it will use a lot more space and reviews I have read seem to indicate that the actual twiddling of image parameters does not produce the sort of immediate response I am after.

Lightroom is an Adobe product. I am not particularly fond of Adobe as a company. Some of their products are just getting more and more bloated and as a result getting less usable (such as Acrobat Reader). Other products follow a rather silly pricing scheme that does not take into account the fact that the world has changed. Photoshop is at least 4-5 times as expensive as it should be. Photo editing is not a niche market anymore. It hasn't been a niche market for some years now. Adobe need to realize this and I do have some hopes that their recent commercial failures will wake up their executives and prompt them to take another close look at the market they are in.
A digression, but an important one: Adobe being the makers of Lightroom does give me pause.

From what I can gather, Lightroom is a bit more sluggish than Aperture. It does not seem to be built for the sort of rapid browse-tweak-export type workflow I prefer. Tests done by others suggests that for a weekend worth of images I will probably spend 1-2 hours extra just waiting for the software to respond when processing a big batch of images.

On the other hand, you can do a lot more with Lightroom than you can with Aperture. The image editing features are deeper, which may mean that I won't have to resort to Photoshop to get some of the more demanding editing done. (Again, the fact that Photoshop is such a pig of a program means that I am reluctant to fire it up. If I fire it up, everything is going to grind to a halt -- even if I am on a dual CPU 3Ghz Mac Pro with 6Gb of memory. You don't fire up Photoshop to have a quick look -- you do so if you have a purpose). Having deeper editing features available in the program I use for browse-tweak-export will probably mean I will be able to do deeper editing on more pictures than what is the case now. Which might mean that I get better results and that in total I might actually end up saving some time compared to my current BibblePro workflow.


Conclusion.

Right now I am leaning towards Lightroom. Both because it has deeper editing and because it would appear that the team working on Lightroom has more forward momentum than the Aperture team. This seems to be the opinion of many professionals and hobbyists as well since the relative market share of Lightroom is increasing. I have no idea if people are switching or if Lightroom is just growing faster. Either may be the case.

And of course, when BibblePro 5 is ready, I will upgrade my Bibble 4 license. I sincerely hope Bibble 5 will get to where it needs to be within the next couple of quarters or I fear that they will become irrelevant -- which would be a shame.

2 comments:

  1. What I like about Aperture:

    - It is very good for precisely the task you are describing: Quickly browse and organize hundreds of pictures to find the few that are worthwhile.

    - I do not miss any editing features in Aperture. The reason for this is that if I do more than minimal editing (rotating, cropping, removing spots, whole image exposure and color adjustments, sharpening) I prefer to do it in Photoshop anyway. If you want to use Photoshop as little as possible, Lightroom might be a better choice. The editing features Aperture do have work great. I do not experience any of the editing delays you mention.

    - I prefer to view photos on my TV. This is made simple by the fact that Aperture integrates very well with iTunes, causing new images automatically to be synced to my Apple TV (after setting up the appropriate smart albums).

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  2. The question of how extensively you can use software like iphotoalternative.com for post-processing of photos, flat rate can not be answered. It is obvious that images in news media that claim to be of documentary authenticity have different demands than works in an art exhibition.

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