Migrating from Aperture to Lightroom

Aperture really isn’t getting shown much love by Apple. It lags behind even iPhoto in some regards and with large image libraries, even on decent hardware, it seems quite slow.

I really don’t think it’s going to be getting much more in the way of updates from Apple in the future so I made the decision to switch to Lightroom 3.

I undertook this knowing full well that quite a significant amount of information regarding my photos would be lost. Hopefully this writeup that details how I managed the switch will be helpful in your decision to stay or move and if you do make the switch, what you will have to deal with. This process will be split amongst a few posts to keep each post to a manageable size and allow you to jump directly to the section you’re interested in.

Benefits of Lightroom

For a start, Lightroom offers (I believe) a more user-friendly interface. It also seems to be a lot quicker when dealing with my modest library of just over 10k images totalling around 100 GB. Further to it’s library handling features, Lightroom makes it a lot easier to have multiple libraries – you could have one per client, one per year, one per project or anything else that you want. This makes it easy to keep track of images for separate purposes. Lightroom also acts a lot more like iTunes when it’s arranging your images – they are all stored in folders that are directly accessible from the Finder (or Explorer) whereas Aperture keeps images arranged in an Aperture Library, which is an OS X bundle, so it acts like a single big file in the Finder.

Lightroom also has a richer variety of available plugins for just about any imaginable task, such as exporting to various photo sharing sites, tweaking your images, creating web galleries etc.

Finally, Lightroom integrates a lot better with the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite – you can, for instance, select a group of images in Lightroom, right-click on them and go Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop or Merge to Panorama in Photoshop which will open up the selected images and run the relevant batch action on them.

Disadvantages of Lightroom

  1. It’s not Aperture.
  2. It can’t import anything from Aperture, except the basic RAW images.

To expand on the first point, I’ve been using Aperture for quite a few years now, I know it pretty well and I have a decent number of images managed by it. I know it’s user interface, I know how to do what I want to do in it. I know how to adjust my images and I know a lot of keyboard shortcuts. Lightroom is, obviously, going to be different to all of this. It allows you to do much the same things, using many of the same concepts, but it is different and will require me to learn some new software.

The second point however is what kept me using Aperture for the past couple of years when I did want to make the move to Lightroom. Not only do you either have to go through a very tedious export process in Aperture if you want to keep your folder structure, but you will lose all edits you have made to images, unless those edits have been done in an external editor and saved as a separate TIFF image or similar.

In the end however I decided that Aperture was going to be a dead end and if I had to make the switch sooner or later then now over the Christmas/New Year holidays was about as good a time as I could get.

In the end, not all metadata was lost – Aperture seemingly wrote some metadata back to some images. I haven’t looked in detail but it looks like Aperture wrote metadata (keywords etc) back to JPEG images but not to RAW images. I definitely lost every single of my adjustments – and this was not a surprise. Aperture and Lightroom both apply non-destructive edits to RAW images. What this means is that they never touch the original RAW image and instead they apply any adjustments you make to a list that is then applied to the image. You can step backwards and forwards as much as you like. You can undo any change that you make and you can go back and adjust the parameters of any of these edits as well. Due to the differences in the processing engines these two pieces of software use, I wasn’t expecting that there would be any way whatsoever of transferring this metadata from one app to the other. Even if it were possible to convey that, for instance, an image had had the contrast enhanced by 10%, this would likely have quite a different result in each of the two pieces of software.

With any images that I’d heavily retouched, the only way to bring them over as edited would be to export as a 16-bit TIFF.

Stay tuned for part two which outlines the procedure I used to migrate everything.

This article was posted by Kai Howells. If you liked this content and have any technical work in the Melbourne area, say hello via my contact form or give me a call on 0419 361 653 - I cover most of the greater Melbourne area and my rates are competitive.

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