When I posted my three-way RAW converter comparison yesterday, I pitted Lightroom 5 against DxO Optics Pro 9 and Capture One Pro 7. A few people have pointed out to me since then that I didn’t include Aperture. I thought at the time that three was enough, but now I wish I’d squeezed Aperture in too!
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So I’m doing a follow-up Aperture vs Lightroom post today . I’m not going to do all four RAW converters side by side, I’m just going to compare it with its chief rival, Lightroom. I’m using the same format for the tests and the results, so you can still make comparisons with yesterday’s images. Don’t forget to click on the images to see full-size versions.
Just to clarify, I’m not comparing all the editing tools in these programs. I simply want to know which gives the best results straight from the box with the software’s default profile for that camera. DxO Optics Pro and Capture One Pro are powerful but specialised tools (though Capture One Pro now does image cataloguing), and I see Aperture and Lightroom as the main rivals in the all-in-one image cataloguing and editing market.
01 Colour rendition
I found yesterday that Lightroom’s rendition of blue skies was slightly more cyan than the rest, and it’s the same this time when it’s compared to Aperture. Otherwise, the colour rendition is very similar.
02 Highlight recovery
I was disappointed by Lightroom’s performance in my previous test, and it doesn’t compare that well with Aperture here. Aperture has recovered subtle detail in the brightest parts of the clouds in this overexposed image, but Lightroom has been unable to do the same. I was careful to recover as much detail as possible, but this was as far as I could go before the highlights became off-white and the transition to ‘blown’ areas became even more obvious. It was a tall order anyway, and Lightroom has, I’d estimate, recovered about 1EV of highlight detail, but Aperture has done slightly better.
03 Detail rendition 1
On the other hand, Lightroom has produced sharper fine detail. Aperture’s default sharpening level seems quite low, and although Lightroom didn’t do too well agains the other two in yesterday’s post, it comes out the winner here. The number on the boat’s cabin is much more clearly defined.
04 Contrast and saturation
I do think Lightroom’s default conversions look quite flat, and the more I compare its images with those produced by other RAW converters, the more I feel it introduces a slight red cast too.
The differences between these two images are quite subtle, but I think the Aperture version (left) has stronger contrast in the dark tones, better saturation and cleaner, more natural colours.
05 Detail rendition 2
Up close, the detail looks almost identical. If you look closely, though, it becomes apparent that the Lightroom version, right, is very slightly crisper. Aperture, though, is delivering slightly better contrast and saturation.
06 White balance
I’ve found it hard to fault the white balance rendition of any of these RAW converters where I’ve used the ‘As Shot’ setting. Here, the software uses the settings embedded by the camera. If you start making adjustments manually, significant differences start to appear – but that’s a whole topic in itself, and I’ll save that for another post.
I’m a bit disappointed by Lightroom’s overall rendition here, though. The picture lacks contrast and saturation compared to the Aperture version, and that rich twilight sky has come out very flat.
07 Detail rendition 3
This shot was taken at ISO 1600 on a Nikon 1 compact system camera. This has a 1-inch sensor, so the noise levels are medium-high. The Aperture version (left) controls the noise well, but the fine detail isn’t particularly sharp. The Lightroom version (right) is sharper, but the noise is actually quite bad. I’ve felt for a while that Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (they’re the same thing) is quite noisy, and this bears it out. On balance, I think the Aperture version holds up best.
I didn’t want to get drawn into any comparisons between image-enhancement tools, but distortion correction is now a basic feature of many RAW converters, including Lightroom, Capture One Pro and DxO Optics Pro 9 – but not Aperture. For architectural shots like this, Lightroom has a clear advantage, correcting barrel and pincushion distortion and perspective issues like converging verticals. You can see the difference between the uncorrected Aperture version (left) and the corrected Lightroom image (right). Aperture depends on external editors for this kind of correction, whereas Lightroom has it built in.
09 Detail rendition 4
The fine detail comparison delivers the same results as the previous images. The Aperture rendition is less noisy but also less sharp; Lightroom delivers slightly greater sharpness but a lot more noise.
I prefer the overall colour and tonal rendition of Aperture RAW conversions. I think its images look punchier and more natural. Up close, though, it’s apparent that Lightroom’s conversions are a little sharper – though its noise levels are surprisingly high, and you’ll often see noise in low ISO shots taken with large-sensor cameras. Its in-built optical corrections do give it a significant advantage over Aperture for some types of photography, though.
To be honest, though, I think neither can really match up to DxO Optics Pro and Capture One for ultimate quality.