Dollars and Sense: Adobe Lightroom vs Apple Aperture

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Chuck Toporek
Jan. 10, 2006 01:10 AM

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One of the big announcements yesterday (well, okay, it's still "today" for me since I haven't gone to bed yet and it's obviously past midnight) here at Macworld San Francisco, was Adobe's announcement for and subsequent public beta release of Lightroom.

For those of you who haven't been playing along with this game, Apple previewed Aperture last Fall and released it in the first week of December 2005. Aperture and Lightroom are similar in that the applications are intended for use by professional photographers who have a RAW image workflow. So, we're talking about photogs who have big spendy cameras and have a need for keeping track of their digital RAW images. And since I'm not a professional photographer, I'll leave my assessment of the two applications at that.

Let's leave no doubt here folks: people are going to take sides. We saw this happen before with apps like Illustrator or Freehand, Dreamweaver or GoLive, and for you Unix folks out there, vi or Emacs. People will take sides and lines will be drawn in the sand and there will be shouting and name-calling over which app is better.

One thing is for certain, though, is that while I love what I've seen in Aperture, I can't run it on my Mac. I have an aging 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook as my work machine, and a Mac mini that I use for my personal machine at home. Neither Mac can run Aperture. (Insert heavy sigh here.)

That said, I downloaded Lightroom's public beta this afternoon and installed it on my TiBook later in the day. Um, there's your first clue: it installed. When I tried to run Aperture's installer on my TiBook (and on the Mac mini), I was told that my Mac wasn't capable of running Aperture. Lightroom not only installed on my TiBook, but it also ran on my TiBook. Granted, it was sluggish as hell, but it ran on my 3-year-old TiBook.

So while I can't consciously compare the two applications on what they do, I can make the following comment: Lightroom installed and ran without a hitch. Aperture did not.

While I like what I've seen in Aperture on my friend's dual G5 Power Mac, I'm not able to run it on my PowerBook. When people say things like "barrier to entry," this is one perfect example. By choice, Apple enforced some pretty hefty system requirements for you to be able to run Aperture. You needed a spendy Power Mac, preferably with dual processors, buttloads of RAM, a massive graphics card, a big hard drive, and hopefully a wide screen (or two) to use the application effectively. They also set the price of Aperture at $499, clearly out of the range of what your recreational photographer might be willing to spend on an application to manage their digital photographs.

On the other side of the fence we have Lightroom. By its own README file, it clearly states the following for its system requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.4.0 (Tiger) or higher
  • G4 or G5 processor (Yes, we will work on a PowerBook)
  • 512MB RAM (preferably more)
  • 1GB or more free hard drive space

Now, in case you weren't reading that carefully, please refer back to the second bullet item. Adobe took the first potshot at Apple. Lightroom will run on a PowerBook. Not only will it run on a PowerBook, but it will also run on a 3-year-old Titanium PowerBook with a 667 MHz G4 processor and 768 MB of RAM. Again, its performance was a little sluggish at times, but it ran!

So, while Apple might have been first out the gate with their digital RAW-management application, Adobe volleyed back and didn't just shoot one over the Mother Ship's bow, they had a direct hit. Adobe's public beta release of Lightroom today (er, yesterday) was, in effect, a shot to the heart of Apple, much like Apple's initial announcement and release of Aperture was a shot to the heart of Adobe.

The difference is that Adobe's Lightroom will run on pretty much any Mac that runs Tiger. Aperture does not, and that's a huge problem since Apple makes both the application and the OS it runs upon. Adobe isn't forcing me to buy a $3000-$5000 system to run a $499 application.

In this case, it really is a matter of dollars and sense. Well, at least to me.

Chuck Toporek is a Mac technology geek and a senior acquisitions editor with Addison-Wesley, a division of Pearson Education. He is the author of three Mac books and one medical book, and he has written for MacAddict and Macworld magazines.