UPDATE – I have tested the up-to-date Photo and it’s still the same engine and there’s no difference in use when comparing to the Beta version. Also 2015 Lightroom CC has been upgraded to use dedicated and supported graphics card. I noticed a little speed gain from my late 2011 Macbook Pro but that’s it. I still think Aperture is speedier. So this is to correct and update some of the stuff I said below.
A lot of you have been following me would know that I ‘WAS’ an active Apple Aperture user. I had been using this magnificent software since its inception many years ago. It served me well and speeded up my workflow dramatically. For years, Adobe and other software house had been playing catch up. I was proud, so proud in fact that I dared to say to anyone that Apple had a winning photography software and not just Adobe.
But everything changed when Apple decided to ‘abandon’ Aperture, and more importantly, us professional photographers. Steve Jobs was once very proud of the art communities and often related his keynotes to current photography, filming and music industries. So he decided to create a suite of professional softwares that many had adopted for professional use over the years. Yet, post-Steve era seems to have a different direction. Apple had once again decided to turn its back on software development and focused on ‘product’ designs. I guess that’s what makes the company money. No offense, I love Apple and still use the Macbook Pro and other ‘i’ products. But I just frustrated with their lack of afford in satisfying the ‘professionals’.
Last year, I made a switch from Aperture to Lightroom and I had never looked back. For over three years of ‘no-updates’, Aperture had become a dinosaurs in the RAW management world. When I started accustomed myself to Lightroom, I just realised what I had been missing for the past three years. Adobe’s RAW management software had become a powerful editing tool too! Even with Aperture, I processed 90% of my photos within the software and only the occasional images I would send to Photoshop for further touchups. But as my experience with Lightroom grew, I just realised how powerful it was by having almost all the features that I used in Photoshop! So now I processed 99% of my photos in Lightroom!
For the past year, we had no solid information or news about Aperture’s replacement so when Apple finally announced its latest app that is supposed to replace both iPhoto and Aperture, I was both excited and skeptical. I really would love to use my Apple’s photo software again because even Lightroom as more powerful, it still lags Aperture’s slickness and speed (yes Aperture still feels speedier than Lightroom!!). One of the reasons for Lightroom to ‘feel’ slow was because, especially for Macbook Pro users, that it doesn’t utilise the more powerful graphics card within the Macbook Pro laptops and rather going for the low power and slow integrated intel graphics chip. Rumors say that the next Lightroom update will bring the utilization of dedicated graphics card (but only limited to supported model…. oh well). So the performance gain is to be seen.
Ok, going back to my topic. A comparison between the three versions of RAW photo management softwares. As I said before, each iteration of these softwares usually come with enhance editing capabilities. Lightroom now can virtually rival Photoshop Element in terms of editing power. I particularly like the localised adjustment brushes, which to be fair, was also available in Aperture but it was, in some cases, virtually useless. If you have missed my previous comparison between Aperture and Lightroom, you can view it HERE. It showcases why I thought Lightroom was better (in terms of IQ and features).
So with the ‘come back’ of Apple’s newest photo app, I couldn’t wait to try it out and see if it is any better. Since Apple said that “Apple Photos app is the replacement of iPhoto and Aperture”. To me, it sounded a little weird, how could you replace a powerful professional software with a consumer application?? Am I missing something?? Ok… wait let’s have a closer look. Please note that I am not going to go through all the features because this isn’t a technical review as such. I will leave it to some better reviewers out there with better writing. I am only going to show you ‘my work’ and what I think about Apple’s latest offering, from a professional user point of view, just like my previous comparison blog.
First let’s go through the obvious – interface (or the lack of in Apple’s latest Photos app).
Why did I say that? Well, when you first open Photos, you will not see anything, no slider, no buttons, no curves… nothing. Its User Interface is so simple that it resembles the ‘look’ of iOS Photos. Umm… is that a good thing? I don’t know. Having used Aperture and Lightroom, I simply think this is too simple for my taste. It doesn’t look professional and more importantly, I have to ‘dig’ around to find what I want.
I also think the clutter-less interface benefit is that you have a BIGGER picture viewing experience. Lightroom, perhaps, is the worst in this department. It’s packed and confusing at times. I never like Lightroom’s interface. Even now. Aperture was simpler and easier to find what I want. More importantly, I can utilise Apple’s Full Screen mode. This is also a feature that Photos supports. So you can adjust with the use of the entire screen. You can view pictures in full screen with Lightroom but just not for adjustments or during ‘Development’ module.
Even after digging in and found all the sub-menus, you will still find that there is not enough adjustments for professional use. Features were also limited to iPhoto-like consumer level ‘plays’. The graphical ‘sliders’ was pretty intuitive and straight forward and some graphical sliders also makes it easier to understand ‘under and over exposure’. Umm… well, these are pretty low level stuff to be frank. So… I am not quite a fan just yet in terms of UI.
Now, have a look at features (or again… the lack of in Photos).
Right, yes, there isn’t much (at the moment). Perhaps Apple will improve in future versions and perhaps 3rd parties will start developing plug-ins for it. It looks pretty…. simple. Not something that I will use for professional work for sure. May be stuff that I got from iPhone?? Yes, it does link to your iCloud account and means that all the iCloud photos and videos will be automatically synced over so you can adjust, improve and all will be synced back to the cloud and across all your i-devices.
Not much to say about features and even the ancient Aperture has more to offer and it is unnecessary to mention about Lightroom because it will kill them both in terms of features.
Now, the crunch moment – Image Quality.
This is by far the biggest concern of all enthusiast, semi-professional and professional photographers. Is the latest app any better? From my previous blog, I could comfortably say that Lightroom produces much cleaner and more detail images from any RAW files, especially from Canon and Leica M240 (the two systems that I currently use). Aperture’s image engine was a little too old and because it only supports the older DNG format (works for M8 and M9 files brilliantly), it produces some horrible ‘patterns’ from my M240 and M-P files. Lightroom also has the best noise reduction feature too. I’ve tried different plug-ins for noise reduction and nothing seems to come close to Lightroom’s latest development. This is a thumbs up moment for Adobe!
Also, Lightroom produces a more detailed photos too. Somehow the Adobe Camera Raw engine is able to squeeze all the information out from the RAW file and interpret it in a much more eye-pleasing way. Aperture produces some very ‘mushy’ images, especially in the shadow areas. So while it may not look too much of a difference for a ‘day-light well lit and balance photo’ in both Aperture and Lightroom, a low light dark or high contrast scene can expose Aperture’s weakness.
But how about the latest Photos? Umm.. I am so sorry to say that it has inherited Aperture’s weakness… more like a clone because from the beta program that I am testing on, it produces virtually identical result. Photos has a slightly better noise reduction than Aperture but still trails behind Lightroom. Both Aperture and Photos will ‘mush’ the details together and then it becomes ‘lumpy’ and very unsightly when compare to Lightroom. I much prefer the abilities from Adobe’s offering to smooth out both chromatic and luminance noise. Photos also gives a smoother sharpening (this is actually slightly better than Lightroom!!) and much faster rendering than both Aperture and Lightroom.
With a good balance photo in day light, Photos can produce slightly better result than Aperture (due to the better smoother sharpening and clarity functions) and may be over Lightroom too, but a big may be. In any other situation, where noise can be an issue or when you need to put back the shadow details, Lightroom IS the current master. Neither Photos or Aperture can compete. Sadly. I have no ideas why Apple hasn’t upgraded (or did they?) the RAW engine? It’s like the camera, the Lens and sensor was the most important components of all. The software engine is the heart of the program. Without a good rendition and interpretation of the RAW files, they will just suffer no matter how good the features are.
With Apple’s current direction and effort in satisfying the consumer’s needs rather than professionals, I couldn’t see this latest offering is going to change the world of RAW management software. However, with the usual tight integration of anything Apple, it functions well and syncs and works seamlessly with iCloud and across all i-Devices. It also supports gestures from trackpads so you can rotate, pinch-zoom and swipes, which sometimes is quite convenient.
But as a professional, the above is not as important as to the only that matters most, image quality. Photos has pretty much the same engine (from what I can see from the Beta version), it’s still lagging behind others, let alone Adobe’s Lightroom. So the ONLY benefit for Photos, over both Aperture and Lightroom, is speed. It seems the fastest to load, preview and zoom. So if it is to improve in the future, with more powerful features and better RAW engine, then, perhaps then, I will switch back to Apple’s photo software. But for now, I will remain a Lightroom user, as it integrates well with Lightroom for iPad and it’s powerful feature list and overall a better IQ, I am simply not complaining, even though I absolutely hate the slow and laggy performance. Apple, your Photos app is more of a iPhoto replace and it’s definitely not the Aperture replacement that I am hoping for. Much more work is needed to get back to the level that other RAW photo management softwares currently provide. When that day comes, hopefully sooner, than I may come back.
Don’t get me wrong, Photos is a much better photo app than iPhoto could ever hope to be. Easy to use for consumers and powerful enough for all the beginners to get almost good results from bad photos. But for someone who is serious about making his/her top image to a gallery piece, you have to look elsewhere.
*Please note though, I am only testing the Beta version and the RAW engines may change upon official release (fingers crossed).
UPDATE – I have tested the up-to-date Photo and it’s still the same engine and there’s no difference in use when comparing to the Beta version. Also 2015 Lightroom CC has been upgraded to use dedicated and supported graphics card. I noticed a little speed gain from my late 2011 Macbook Pro but that’s it. I still think Aperture is speedier.
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