[This comes from a response I was typing up on a Flickr discussion forum, in an “Aperture vs. Lightroom” discussion–as I wrote, I realized I had a lot more that I wanted to talk about than just the comparison between those two programs, so I decided it would fit better here than there.]
I need to try The Gimp sometime. I auditioned a trial version of Photoshop CS3 a while back, and found it to be WAY more program than I’m ever likely to need. Plus there’s the expense of it–not only the high initial sticker price, but even the cost of the individual upgrades is more than what I typically pay for brand new software applications. Clearly, I’m not the target market for Photoshop CS. ;)
As for the difference between Lightroom and Aperture, I’d call it a tossup. With both of them, their strength is more in the realm of organization than anything else. Neither one of them offers a fully functional curves tool, for example. Last I checked, Lightroom’s curves tool was limited, and Aperture didn’t have one at all. I consider a fully functional curves tool an essential basic adjustment tool for RAW images, meaning it’s not something a person should have to pay $600 for—and really, the only reason Apple and Adobe leave it out of their programs is to avoid cutting into the marketability of the all-holy Photoshop, hallowed be its name.
This leads into my primary objection to these two programs–why should I pay $300 for an intentionally crippled piece of software? I’m just not going to do it. If they want to combine organizational tools and image editing tools into an all-in-one package, I think that’s great, but they should do it right and not put some artificial limit on the software. This is actually Apple’s problem more than Adobe’s–Adobe can rightly claim that Lightroom fits right into their product line, so if you need more capability, just pick up a copy of Photoshop, or even Photoshop Elements. What’s Apple’s excuse? Well, for them, it all boils down to not wanting to piss off Adobe. That’s it, the sole reason that Aperture doesn’t have a full feature set. Why should I pay $300 for that? (I also suspect that someone at Apple must have said, “Well, a curves tool is just too hard.” No, it’s not. The challenge with the tool is understanding the concept, and then practicing a little. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not only quite easy, but preferable to other methods, which is why I rant about it so much. But I forget—Apple users can’t be expected to learn anything complicated, can they? Like, for instance, how to use a tool that’s based on simple concepts that every school kid learns in the fucking seventh grade.)
For the time being I’ve settled on Silkypix Developer Studio, which I like. The Mac version is a little Windows-y, but it works. It can be slow, but there is an option to turn off the heavy number crunching to speed things up when you need to. I don’t find it useful as an organizer, so for now I’m stuck with my own kludged together workflow involving manual exporting from iPhoto and other tedious expediencies.
Other interesing programs I’m likely to get, eventually, are Capture One (by PhaseOne)–this was a pretty simple application which rendered really superb, beautiful colors, but it also had some issues when pointed at folders full of NEF files, so I decided to avoid it for now. There was also a lot to like about Nikon’s CaptureNX, which I’ll probably get, eventually. It’s a weird, quirky program, but extremely powerful, and actually pretty cool.
One big issue is color management. I found the two brands which seemed to handle this the best were, not surprisingly, Apple and Adobe. The others have some catching up to do.