Five Aperture Features That Are Better Than Lightroom

As promised in the previous post, this week we’re going to take a look at five Aperture features that are better than Lightroom. I got a lot of feedback in comments, e-mail and on Twitter about the last post, so don’t hold back on this one. Let’s get to it.

1: Digital Asset Management

A number of people commented that Lightroom is better at photo development, but Aperture is better at digital asset management. I agree. Here are a few reasons why Aperture takes the lead in this category.

  • A choice of managed or referenced libraries
  • The ability to create Vaults – archive backups of your photos and metadata if you use Managed imports
  • More file types – Aperture provides asset management for audio files
  • Create Stacks anywhere – Lightroom can’t create Stacks in Collections (still!)
  • Changing Libraries is easy – Lightroom makes you re-launch the app when you change the Catalog
  • Faster importing
  • Faster image browsing using Quick Preview
  • No modes. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing and switch to another mode in order to see what’s in your Library and use it

One of the features I truly love about Aperture’s library management is the ability to import and export Libraries. For example, I can create a Library on my MacBook Pro while traveling an do some work. When I get home, I copy that Library file from my MacBook Pro to my iMac. Then I open Aperture with my Travel Library and import the new Library as a project. That’s it.

Technically, Lightroom has the ability to import and export a catalog. What it lacks is the ability to keep the photos associated with that catalog and move them just as easily. It’s a bit more complicated, there are more options to consider, and it isn’t as fast or fluid as the same operation in Aperture.

2: Slideshows

Lightroom has slideshows. Aperture has slideshows you can control. You can manipulate timing, transitions, frames or use some of the included themes. Aperture provides better use of color and type for your slideshows. You can change the aspect ratio of your slides to fit a standard TV, HD TV, your computer or iPhone.

You can import your music from the included royalty-free files, your iTunes playlists, Garage Band or files you included in Aperture itself.

Aperture simply gives your far more controls to present your slides in a creative and entertaining manner than Lightroom.

3: Maps

I’m going to give Aperture the edge here because of its interface and usability.  I’ve had some notable problems with usability of Lightroom maps and the display of embedded GPS information. The good news is that it works. The bad news is that Adobe doesn’t make it easy for you.

Apple gets usability, and it shows. Aperture returns real-time results as you type a location in the search field, Lightroom doesn’t. The fields on Aperture’s display are a bit easier to notice and navigate than on Lightroom.

Lightroom still uses Google Maps and probably will for the foreseeable future. Aperture now uses Apple Maps. Despite having quite a débâcle when introduced, they’ve become much more usable. I find the quality of satellite imagery depends upon the location you’re viewing. When looking at satellite images of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the clarity in Lightroom is better than Aperture. When I searched for sites in Cuba, I got better results from Aperture.

Both have good quality maps, but the part that tips Aperture over the top for me is the ability to use maps for organization and searching.

4: Facial Recognition

Aperture has it, Lightroom doesn’t. This feature started out as a rather resource-intensive feature that I originally thought of as a marketing gimmick. Now it’s actually a useful tool, particularly for managing my portraits and events.  I don’t have to go tag names on every photo of a person before I can do a search. Now I can tag one photo and Aperture will update to find the rest. No worries about missing a shot of the model I want to find in a Library filled with tens of thousands of images.

I think this is one of the under-utilized stars of Aperture and I’m surprised that Adobe hasn’t created something similar for Lightroom.

5: Mac OS Integration

Just as Photoshop integration was a “gimme” for Lightroom in the previous post, Mac OS integration should be a “gimme” for Apple. Yet, it’s incredibly useful and I think even more so than the Lightroom/Photoshop connection.

You can access your digital assets in Aperture libraries from pretty much any application that uses Apple’s standard Finder tools. Where you have to launch Lightroom to get at its resources, Mac OS understands how to communicate with Aperture Libraries and lets you withdraw photos and other resources without opening Aperture as a parent application. It’s that same integration that works for pulling iTunes media into slideshows, mentioned above.

iPhoto and Aperture now share the same library format. If you want to graduate from iPhoto to Aperture, there’s no need to go through an import process. Just open the Library file in Aperture and you’re in business.

Want to share a photo in Twitter? Hit the Camera button and select Media. You’ll see your Aperture and iPhoto libraries right there. Again, no need to launch the program just to get at your images. The integration works easily in any application that can use photos.

Buying Decisions

Which is more important to you, an edge in photo development tools or an edge in digital asset management? For those of us who have an use Photoshop, I tend to recommend Aperture as a digital asset management tool. It’s development features are pretty capable, but that’s offset by the ability to use Adobe Camera RAW with your Photoshop software. Photoshop can’t help you with better asset management, though.

If you’re the kind of person who only uses one app for everything, Lightroom may be your choice. It can manage your files (unless you want audio) and process your images. The slideshows aren’t as good, there isn’t a light table, and it’s slower. Everything is a compromise, though. If you want an all-in-one tool, it’s likely not going to be best of breed at everything – from Adobe or Apple.

Do you agree with my thoughts, or do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments.


  1. says

    I think for the most part, at least for the pro, semi-pro and enthusiast, number 1 is the most important and I totally agree with you.

    I’m not sure 2 thru 5 are really a big deal, at least not to me, but I could see that being important to someone who just likes taking a lot of photos. These are generally the types of things Apple likes to hype (for the general consumer).

    • says

      Thanks, Paul.

      The other points all work their way into my own experience. I know that maps aren’t something that everyone uses, and most people don’t use Facial Recognition. Just the same, I’ve found them to be pretty powerful tools that speed up my workflow. Whenever possible, I shoot with a GPS to embed location data in the photos. Sometimes finding the shots on a map is much faster than other queries.

  2. Ric says

    … and this is why I primarily use Aperture. It’s strengths coincide with my needs. Yes, Lightroom’s adjustments are quite good, but Aperture’s adjustment capabilities is better than many people give it credit for, particularly its curves and levels bricks (which are better than Lightroom’s equivalents IMO). The bottom line is I need Aperture’s strengths every day. I only need the few superior aspects of Lightroom once in a while, at which point I just pass the ball to Photoshop or whatever. Seems like a good compromise for me. So what do you need, day in and day out? That seems to me to be the real question. Anyway, good summary of strengths and weaknesses. Thanks.

  3. Andreas Netzmann says

    From my experience Aperture has a massive performance benefit compared to Lightroom (4) and the UI is a lot more customizable. I switched to Aperture when Aperture 3 came out and don’t regret it. If Aperture 4 just adds (automatic) lens correction, especially for Chromatic Aberrations, I would be totally satisfied.

    • says


      Honestly, I’d be content with either one for local contrast adjustment. Both allow you to brush-in contrast, levels or curves to make those changes. Both also let you have multiple areas of selective adjustment.

  4. Marc Pecquet says

    I’ve really liked Aperture since day one and have upgraded regularly. Everyone in my photoclub uses Lightroom (except me) and I always thought it sounded more complicated than Aperture. I don’t use Photoshop, which I have and think is more for graphic arts designers. And I travel with different computers, so managing librairies is very important. So net/net, I am a very satisfied Aperture user and yes, I would like more enhancements for lens corrections etc, but as an avid amateur, I’ll stick with Aperture ! I never thought faces was usefull, but your article makes me want to try it.
    As for Automtor, I still can’t figure it out !

  5. Steve Ma says

    Thank you William. I’m an enthusiast photographer, a late comer to the Aperture vs Lightroom debate. I own 5 Macs (from Snow Leopard 10.6.8 to Lion), and a i7 desktop Windows 7 with top-notch hardware (and TBs of storage) configured for Flight Simulation. I don’t use iCloud, and though have Dropbox, don’t like to store photos in the cloud, so as to avoid increasing cost of subscription fees if too much is stored in the cloud. I only started to use iPhoto (on a Snow Leopard laptop) about two months ago, so I don’t have much stored there. I don’t intend to upgrade the Mac 10.6.8 to the latest Mac OS (too many migration issues). I’m at a critical juncture of Aperture vs Lightroom. In your experience,

    1. If I buy Aperture now through the MacAppStore, it appears the current version – 3.5.1 – is for OS 10.9. What is the latest Aperture version that found would support Mac OS X 10.6.8, and how to I obtain it? Alternatively, if I don’t want to upgrade to 10.9, would you know what is the oldest version of Mac OS X that Aperture 3.5.1 is compatible with?
    2. Given my myriad of OSs (and various versions of the Mac OS), what’s your recommendation regarding Lightroom?
    3. If using LR, can I easily transfer my photo-editing work from my Win7 desktop to Mac OS Lion laptop for on-the-go work, and transfer back when back at home?
    4. I like iPhoto’s ability to convert a slideshow to a movie, to play on iPad for presentation. How would you manage with LR?

    Thanks. Your passion on this A-vs-L topic is also mine.

    • says

      For your first question, I checked Apple’s site for Aperture. The tech specs say that Aperture currently requires Mac OS X 10.9 or later. In other words, it’s relying upon features in the current OS. Lightroom is more forgiving. Adobe’s site says it will work with Mac OS X v10.7, v10.8, or v10.9.

      For your second question, Lightroom is your only option if you are unwilling or unable to upgrade to 10.9. Also, it’s your only option for your third question if you need to work with Windows and Mac platforms. Aperture is Mac only.

      Finally, I’m quite unimpressed with Lightroom’s slide features. Stick with iPhoto if you don’t get Aperture.

  6. Simon says

    I actually have no idea about Aperture, and my opinions are based on my experience of iPhoto (Aperture’s little brother), so my opinion should be taken with a pinch of salt. For starters, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Apple’s hardware products and I wouldn’t use anything else at the moment, but I have to say, iPhoto is the biggest load of useless software ballast I could ever dream of (is that being too strong?). As I understand, Aperture is basically just an upgraded “paid for” version of iPhoto. If that’s the case, I just can’t imagine why anyone would want it.

    On the other hand, Lightroom 5 is just great for all my photographic needs and is really easy to use. I will admit though, if you move a file or folder or rename one, then Lightroom loses track of where the original file is, which can be a bit of a pain. They don’t get lost or deleted, it’s just the link can get broken. Yes, it’s slightly more work and I have to set up a decent hierarchy of folders that make sense to me, but it’s a small price to pay, I feel anyway, to have more control over and more responsibility for my images.

    With the Apple product, at least with iPhoto anyway, every time I carry out some form of change to the image, the computer creates a whole new file. Some photos, I have five or six (or ten) almost identical duplicate images. Trying to figure out which is the original is a real pain. Consequently attempting to clean out the original files from the library is also a nightmare. Apple don’t even want you to know where the original files are kept. Good luck in trying to remind yourself where the original image folder is without Post It notes or having to Google it every time. Don’t even get me started on how slow it makes the computer run. With every scroll of the mouse, the beach ball of doom just spins away. And this is a product Apple make for themselves to integrate seamlessly with their own hardware?! It’s a joke, iPhoto is just horrible… Aperture is created by the same engineers, can it really be a quantum leap better? I will NEVER take that risk.

    Lightroom 5 on the other hand, I actually really look forward to opening and using. I’m not one of those photographers who brag about how many thousands of images they have, so I can’t comment on it’s abilities to manage a huge number of files. I do have around a thousand large raw files, though, which it handles with ease. I have made extensive adjustments on nearly every photo there and Lightroom allows me to do it all non-destructively. As far as I know, there’s only ever the one original raw file (and I know exactly where it’s kept) and however many adjusted images I want to specifically create. I decide, not Apple…

    I also use Photoshop CC but I often don’t need it, and probably could actually do without it, except sometimes I want to do something specifically creative. Other than that, Lightroom does it all. I don’t care about facial recognition and I don’t care about creating little flags of where I took the photo (although Lightroom does that too).

    I just want four things really. I want:
    – my photos to look the best they possibly can, with the technology that’s currently available,
    – to have control over my own folders, what’s in them, and how many files are in there
    – the software to run smoothly and
    – the editing workspace to be a pleasing environment to be in.

    With that in mind, it’s Lightroom all the way for me.

    • Marc Pecquet says

      I know William has answered via e-mail (why not here) and his points are all right on. What he didn’t mention – but discussed in previous posts – is that Aperture is capable of “managing” many times the numbers of pictures iPhoto does. At 25,000 pictures, I had ample problems with iPhoto that kept on crashing. Since I moved to Aperture I “manage” over 250,000 photos (each 25mb) on external drives (backed up x3) and don’t bother with Photoshop which I no longer need…

      • says

        Hi, Mark. Actually, my answer was in a new blog post, not by e-mail. It’s there for you to read on a post called “Aperture is not iPhoto.”

        Good point about how Aperture manages a large photo database much better than iPhoto.


  1. […] received a comment this weekend on my post called Five Aperture Features That Are Better Than Lightroom. It really caught my attention. Instead of just replying in the comments, I decided to write a new […]

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