Today I'm going to very briefly discuss two software packages that enable you to maintain catalogs of your photographs, and that provide fairly sophisticated image editing capabilities. They are Apple Aperture (hereafter AA) or Adobe Lightroom (hereafter LR).
First and far most, AA and LR are cataloging packages for individual images. In this age of digital photography, libraries of photographs can accumulate into the thousands. Managing these can quickly become overwhelming.
Both packages offer powerful cataloging tools that enable you to classify, sort and maintain your image libraries. This is really key. Before I started using these, I would have to search through directory upon directory to find the image I wanted. I found myself wasting way too much time looking for a specific image. Now, once the libraries are built, it's much faster to find what I need.
While other software, such as Apple iPhoto (for Mac) and ACDSee (for Mac and Windows) provide basic cataloging, the features in AA and LR are much more powerful. In addition, while iPhoto and ACDSee offer basic image manipulation tools, AA and LR provide professional level tools. Both AA and LR provide tools for cropping, color correction, retouching, and support for RAW mode for most cameras. [I note that iPhoto and ACDSee continue to improve, so both are stil viable options to consider if they fit your needs.]
What's the difference between AA and LR?
The main difference between the two is really tied to workflow.
LR is compartmentalized, and follows the workflow that would be typical when using analog media (film, chemicals, enlarger, photo paper, etc). In LR you import, catalog, develop, edit, export/print, and make slide shows and picture books. Each of these is basically a module designed to be roughly linear in flow.
In contrast to LR, AA is very free form, and similar to iPhoto; the user does whatever they want, at any time in the workflow. AA offers basically the same capabilities as LR, so the main difference is simply this workflow philosophy.
I should mention that both have fairly broad user communities, so there are resources, including presets and tutorials, for both. LR does have a larger community, though, and so there are more resources in general.
What about Photoshop or GIMP?
Importantly, neither package is a replacement for pixel-based editors like Adobe Photoshop (hereafter Ps) or GIMP, which have many tools the you won't find in AA or LR. In fact, for individual image manipulation (and for certain video and animation needs), Ps and GIMP can do anything that can be done with AA or LR, but offer more pixel-based capabilities. Anytime you need multilayering or masking, Ps or GIMP is a must. Also, even though you can do everything on single images with Ps and GIMP that can be done with AA or LR, it's often much more cumbersome; AA and LR take the low level tools of Ps and GIMP, and make them more user friendly and intuitive.
Also, neither Ps nor GIMP offer any kind of cataloging. They also don't allow easy manipulation of metadata in the image headers. This last point has become more and more important, as information packed into the image headers becomes more extensive.
In my, and most other's experience, you will definitely want to have both types or software. GIMP is free, but Photoshop is quite expensive. Fortunately, Adobe offers a slightly less powerful version, Photoshop Elements.
Which program is for me?
That's a tough question. Unfortunately, Apple has decided to stop providing a free trial version of AA. The software is fairly inexpensive (but still not cheap), and the lack of a try-before-you-buy version seems like a ridiculous move by Apple. This might not bode well for the future of Aperture. In sharp contrast, there is a free trial version for LR. This is, in fact, what enabled me to evaluate LR against AA, and ultimately change to LR.
There are many discussions of which package to buy. Most eventually come to two main conclusions:
Go with Aperture if you already have and use iPhoto. It's trivial to transition to AA from iPhoto. Also, go with AA if you want to make photo books seamlessly.
Go with LR if you prefer the linear workflow model, and you'd like the advantage of a very large community of professional photographers.
In the end, even though I already owned AA, I have switched to LR. For this old-timer, who cut his photographic teeth in a real darkroom with enlarger, chemicals, and paper, the LR workflow is more intuitive. In a little less than a day, I was able to build a catalog of my 10,000 or so images, and learn most of the features. Of course, there's always more to learn… That's what makes it fun.
Until next time,