Yesterday was pay day, and one of the first things that I did was to buy a licence for Adobe’s Lightroom. After many years – and tens of thousands of photos – I’ve decided that I’ve just had enough of Apple’s Aperture.

If you don’t have the time to read the full article, my reasons can be summarised as:

  1. Aperture has become far too slow to enjoy. On the exact same hardware, Lightroom is much quicker – even with much larger files.
  2. I’m not happy any more with the colours that I’m getting in photos after post-processing with Aperture. No such problems with Lightroom to date.
  3. I’m fed up to the back teeth of Aperture continuously crashing on me in recent weeks.

Aperture – The Digital Processing Pioneer

Apple’s Aperture is one of the true pioneers of digital photography processing, thanks to its introduction of non-destructive editing and extensive tagging and metadata support from the very beginning. I remember buying it at the same time that I bought my first MacBook Pro, because there was nothing else remotely comparable to it. Adobe had made Lightroom available as a free beta at the time in competition with Aperture, but it would be a long time before Lightroom could organise and manage any reasonably-sized collection of photos.

But how times have changed.

Aperture – Fat And Very Unfit In Middle Age

Today, I find running Aperture incredibly painful.

  • It has become very slow to open. This isn’t helped by Aperture frequently insisting that my Aperture Library needs upgrading – even though Aperture itself hasn’t been upgraded since the last time the library was opened, and sadly by the repeated repairs of my Aperture Library after the latest Aperture crash.
  • It has become very slow to run. Previews are slow to load from disk, and whilst they are loading the user interface frequently becomes totally unresponsive. Adjustments are slow to take effect, and it’s difficult to keep in a creative mindset when you’re waiting for software to catch up.
  • The regular background processing has been a performance pain ever since Aperture 3 was released, and I’ve failed to tweak the app’s preferences to put a stop to it. Everything seems to point to the preview regeneration that goes on in the background, but I can’t say that I’ve pinned it down categorically. If it thrashed both CPUs in my MacBook Pro, maybe it would be more bearable, but I’ve never seen Aperture taking full advantage of multi-core CPUs no matter how unresponsive it gets.
  • It’s having another of its crashing phases. Early versions of Aperture were unreliable, and would crash when switching to and from full screen. Then we had many years of relative stability, which sadly have come to an end this year for me. The last few versions of Aperture crash in ways I haven’t learned to predict (and so minimise / avoid), and after each crash, it can take several minutes for Aperture to repair the Aperture Library before I can return to editing photos.

In the past, I’ve thrown hardware at the problem. The MacBook Pro I use Aperture on was the top-end model of its day. The only reason my MacBook Pro has 8GB of RAM is for Aperture. My Aperture Library sits on a high-speed external RAID array connected via FireWire 800 rather than the slower USB 2 ports. I’m sure Aperture would benefit from an upgrade to the latest Retina MacBook Pro and its 16GB of RAM.

But I’ve reached the point where I’m getting fed up with having to feed Aperture’s voracious appetite.

It isn’t just me. My wife is also an amateur photographer, and she gave up on Aperture long before I did over the performance issues. She runs her Aperture Library off her internal drive (much faster than USB 2 or FireWire 800), and has a fraction of the photos than I do. Yet, she sees the same problems that I do.

Aperture – Off-Colour And Looking Very Unwell

Perhaps even more importantly though, I’ve decided that I’m just not happy with the results of post-processing photos using Aperture any more. In the last two years, something’s changed – something that I just can’t put my finger on – and the colours in my most recent photos that have been fed through Aperture just lack a tonal subtlety that I can’t find. The photos from our holiday in Northumberland show all the colour life that I could want, especially this shot of green ivy on the wall in Berwick Harbour, but shots like this one of Coad-y-Lan Lower Comprehensive School, Tyfica Road from earlier this year just don’t have it any longer. The exact same kit was used to take both photos, and they were processed and proofed on the same screens. The only difference was the version of Aperture used – and how much I no longer enjoy using Aperture.

I think that Aperture has to be a contender for the worst piece of software that Apple make today. And I’ve reached the point where I’m happy to abandon it and try something else. Especially after a recent demo of Lightroom put things into perspective.

Lightroom – Running Circles Around Aperture

One of the guys in the office is a budding professional photographer. One day, he was kind enough to bring in some kit that I was thinking about purchasing, but as we did some test shots to help me evaluate the camera and lenses, what really surprised me was watching him processing photos on his MacBook Air using Lightroom.

Apple’s MacBook Air makes a couple of important sacrifices in order to slim down enough to fit inside an envelope. Older models don’t have a lot of RAM, and they don’t have dedicated graphics chips for Aperture and Lightroom to offload processing work to. They have to make do with the integrated graphics on the CPU – and “make do” is putting it politely. And yet, Lightroom seemed to be running very happily despite these constraints, with its library stored on an external drive plugged into the slower USB 2 port, handling much larger JPEGs off a Canon 5D mk3 compared to the JPEGs off my Nikon D300s.

Slower computer for image processing. Slower storage. Larger files. Yet much faster to work with.

I’ve spent the last month using the free trial of Lightroom on my own MacBook Pro, feeding it JPEGs off my own Canon 5D mk3. The Lightroom library lives on the same external RAID array as Aperture. Because of the size difference between files from the Nikon D300s and the Canon 5D mk3, Lightroom should be slower, if only by a little. But the performance difference between using the two packages – Aperture and Lightroom – is substantial, with Lightroom remaining snappy to use and responsive at all times.

I’m much happier too with the results of editing inside Lightroom. There are a couple of differences in the controls – Lightroom’s Clarity control in particular has no obvious corresponding control in Aperture – but maybe because I can tweak each photo in real time, and I’m not having to wait for the app to show me the results of each change, I’m finding it much easier to bring out the rich colours that the camera is capturing.

There are other things in Lightroom that still haven’t caught up with Aperture yet – especially full-screen previews and editing – but the improvements in performance and editing have me enjoying my photography once more.

I’m Not Binning Aperture Entirely

I still have over 300GB of photos in Aperture – many of them still to be published – and I have no plans to try and export them into Lightroom. I’ll keep Aperture around for dipping back into my historical archive (which I’ll be doing throughout September for my wallpapers!), and I’ll keep updating Aperture in the hope that things improve over time.

But it’s been over a month now since anything new was imported into Aperture, and I can’t see that changing in the immediate future.

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