Monday, 23 March 2009

Lightroom vs Aperture with 5D Mark II RAW files

For further photography-related information check out my compendium of tips.

I'm a huge fan of Adobe's Lightroom but since upgrading to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II I've become a bit impatient with the length of time it takes to move between shots in the develop module. Obviously Lightroom is having to work hard to render a 21 megapixel RAW file (which can be up to 30Mb in size) but, time is money, and I'm a busy man!

When moving from one file to another it takes Lightroom about 2 seconds to display the new histogram, after which some simple adjustments, such as to brightness and contrast, are possible and 4-6 seconds before the 'Loading' dialogue disappears, after which all adjustments are possible. It doesn't sound like a long time but when processing 500 shots from a wedding I may well move between shots over a 1000 times - this equates to an hour waiting for Lightroom!

This is with a reasonably powerful computer as well. I'm currently using Lightroom 2.3 on an Apple Mac Pro featuring two 2.66GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors, 9Gb RAM, a NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT graphics card, a 30" Apple Cinema display and running OSX 10.5.6. Not state-of-the-art any longer (the latest Mac Pro behemoth from Apple features two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors) but still a powerful beast nonetheless.

Obviously I could use one of the 5D Mark II's lower resolution settings (sRAW 1 uses 9.9 megapixels with files sizes about 15Mb) but this seems a retrograde step. The extra resolution of the 5D Mark II is a very welcome addition for wedding photography - it gives you much more flexibility in post-processing and allows you to print 'big'.

I read on the internet grapevine that Lightroom, unlike Apple's Aperture, was not able to fully exploit the powers of the Mac Pro so I downloaded a trial version of Aperture 2.1.2.

I found Aperture very accessible and much faster at moving between shots than Lightroom (it takes about a second). The significant drawback, however, is the time lag when applying adjustments, in stark contrast to Lightroom's real time response. I wonder if this is because Aperture is not fully rendering the RAW file initially? Anyway, the bottom line is that there's no way I could work with this limitation and so I'm sticking with Lightroom for the time being.

A couple of further observations regarding Aperture:

1. It displays flash exposure compensation information in the EXIF data. Wonderful! Why doesn't Lightroom?

2. Oddly, some EXIF data is displayed numerically - so rather than displaying 'flash did not fire' you see the number '16'. Not very helpful.

3. Highlight recovery seems better compared to Lightroom.

4. A 'Quick Preview' setting allows you to move between images with no delay. It would be good to see this in the develop module of Lightroom.

If you've got experience of using both pieces of software I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Check out my photography here: Kent photographer


Mark said...

I have no Aperture experience but I do use Lightroom and Bibble. The preview version of Bibble 5 is much faster that Lightroom, possible 3 times faster. It's faster importing and exporting the photos and my PC is several years old and not as fast as current models.

If the completed version of Bibble 5 retains these speeds it will become my first choice over LR.

I have no idea if if will handle the 5D mk II but the preview is free to try and might be something you would want to check out.

Kent Wedding Photographer said...

Hi Mark,

I'd not heard of Bibble but am downloading a trial of version 4.10 as I write this.

Many thanks for the tip.



Mark said...

No problem David.

4.10 is what I use most of the time and it is relatively speedy but version 5 is even faster. You can download it here:

Have fun!

Lens Master said...

is photoshop cs4 + bridge any good? i am undecided which raw editor i should go for...?

Kent Photographer said...

Before Lightroom I used to use Adobe Camera Raw, Bridge and Photoshop. It worked very well but, for me, was not as efficient as the Lightroom workflow.


Wedding Photographer said...

Hi Mark,

I had a play with Bibble 5 this morning. It certainly is very quick.

I found it a little clunky after the slick interfaces of Lightroom and Aperture but I'm glad to know it's out there.



Deniz Amet said...

Hey David,
There is a memory leak in LR2.2. You need to install the Beta 2.3 to fix. I assume this is also available for Mac, as I'm a PC user and had same issues until I updated. It's still slow, but not as bad. The issue does not seem to effect 1Ds MkIII Raw files - which is interesting....

David said...

Hi Den,

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I'm using version 2.3. I think the memory leak issue only affected PC users (and rightly so, with your reasonably-priced hardware!).



50mm man said...

the thing i didn't like about lightroom is it creates extra directories to store all the workflow files in. as i never seem to fully process all pics from a shoot/memory card i found this annoying. maybe i wasn't using it right?

i am now using cs4 + bridge and i love it!

JCB said...


I'm using a EOS 450D (well the Kiss X2 as its the cheaper import!) on my old school iMac G5 with 1.9Ghz PPC processor and 1.5GB of ram.

So with the reasonably sized raw files, Aperture sure seems to drain the power out of my mac, however I find the linked interface with the rest of the OS system much nicer to use compared to Lightroom.
E.g. Quickly taking a photo and e-mailing it to somebody without the need to open aperture, or even changing my background picture. I'd have to open Lightroom and then export the shot if I wanted to do that! :(
I have both on my computer and currently 99% of my photos are on Aperture so I'm sort of committed to using Aperture.
The one gripe I have with it is that Lighroom's GUI for exporting a web gallery seems superior to Apertures, or am I just using the program badly?

Lightroom is nice, however I find the preview screen and layout of Aperture much more simple to use and I can get to full screen mode where the picture actually fills the screen! Something which I can seem to do properly on Lighroom! :/

David said...


Yes, I have to say I found Aperture's interface very pleasing and Apple's software always integrates effortlessly together.

I've not exported web galleries using Aperture so am unable to comment on this aspect of its performance. Perhaps someone else has experience of using both Aperture and Lightroom to do this?

If it were just a little faster making adjustments to 5D Mk II RAW files I'd consider switching.