Lightroom 4 and the death of Aperture | Not so fast...

Scott Bourne wrote a rather incendiary post last week about ditching Aperture for Lightroom. From such a devoted and important Aperture user, it’s the sort of thing that needs to be taken very seriously. Here’s an excerpt:

 

“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.”

I can’t argue with this. Aperture is once again in its all too familiar state of limbo and it sucks. Big time. It’s also tiresome and somewhat inexcusable for a tool that was once squarely aimed at professionals - something that no longer seems to be the case.

After retweeting Scott’s post, I had a long back and forth on Twitter with most tweets touting LR’s obvious superiority and deriding Aperture’s overall performance. Then over the weekend I was pointed to the following article which bemoans its sad demise. Aperture is now a dead horse.

But…

There’s a lot of talk of LR’s technological superiority and how the latest version essentially leaves Aperture in the dust, adding so many advances any hope of catching up is now a fanboi’s pipe dream. I’m not so sure.

What is clear is a change of orientation on Apple’s part. The writing was on the wall with the release of the $79 MAS version. They know most professional photogs have moved to Adobe - not all, but most. But I don’t think this necessarily means Aperture will be dumbed down or left to wither on the vine. Apple has never had much of a problem with underdog status.

The thing is: while everyone keeps harping on Aperture’s problems, the actual truth is that quite a few of LR4’s most public new features are things Aperture has had for years: books, video, soft proofing, maps. Soft proofing? In the fourth version of the app?

And while we often cite Apple’s slow raw support as evidence of Aperture’s coming demise, as far as I know this week’s Lightroom 4.1 update just added official (not pre-release) Nikon D800 support. Apple added this one last March. Now I certainly wish I had X-Pro1 support, but then I’m not so sure Lightroom’s current decoding of the sensor’s files could allow me to switch from the stellar JPEG engine.

Don’t get me wrong though: Lightroom 4 is impressive. Its image correction and improvement tools - NR, CA, distortion, sharpening - DO leave the current Aperture in the dust. No arguments here. The ability to brush in exposure is still something I dream about and now local WB? Wow. Pretty cool. And as far as Nikon NEF files go, I’m sure it has the upper hand: Aperture was never very good with NEF’s to begin with.

But the whole Aperture-is-so-far-behind meme is really starting to bug me. They’re ONE version behind. Late? A little, yeah. But it’s nothing new. Adobe and Apple have always been on very different roadmaps. Adobe always releases Lightroom in beta form which I believe is an incredibly smart strategy. Apple will never do that. This creates very different perceptions of the products release schedules.

And yet, here are things I can’t live without that may not be so obvious in a casual evaluation of Aperture’s current toolset:

  1. Up to five independent curves.
  2. Choice of linear, gamma, RGB or luminance for every curve.
  3. Duplication and brushes for all adjustment bricks (except exposure and WB).
  4. Tone targeting in brushes (LR does this but differently. Still, AP3 does have it).
  5. Gamma targeted Vignette tool. None of LR’s vignette modes create the same effect. And again, full brush support, which means any shape or midpoint.
  6. Full spectrum shadows, midtones and highlights Tint Wheels. Again, can be brushed in and duplicated for complex masks and color processing.
  7. Quick Brushes for even more adjustments (overlay, multiply, definition with additional options that in my book make it more powerful than Clarity’s single slider if you use it correctly).
  8. UI, organization and workflow.
  9. UI, organization and workflow.
  10. UI, organization and workflow.

Alright, I’m being snarky there. But honestly as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing in that list that screams obsolete or underpowered. There ARE the glaring omissions I mentioned above but… way behind? I just don’t feel that way at all.

If Aperture 4 fills the IQ gaps, adds basic correction tools worthy of their names (unlike today’s Noise Reduction which should more aptly be called Multiply Mush) and keeps refining the editing experience it’ll be fine by me. I don’t mind secrets if they ultimately deliver. And I certainly won’t cry about a price reduction - most Lightroom users should be thankful for that one too.

If on the other hand they head to Disneyland and create a skeuomorphic mess that breaks backwards compatibility and takes away what we currently have just for the sake of flash… That’ll be a whole other story and I might then have no choice but to jump ship.

Am I getting antsy? Absolutely, if for no other reason than this is a business tool I rely on. But while I trust Adobe to keep supporting their core business, I’m not so sure I trust them with the shape of that support in the future. I’ve been less than impressed by their behaviour and vision over these last few years.

I guess it’s what we call a rock and a hard place.

Here’s hoping for more than Mountain Lion this summer. Until then: breaaaathe.