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Thursday, 14 February 2008 00:00

A RAW Deal Part 2

Back in March 2007 I wrote this article where I compared the RAW processing of Photoshop, Lightroom 1.0, Aperture 1.5 and Capture One 3.7. The results of that test was that Aperture produced the best results but that overall Capture One was the best RAW editor. The disadvantage of Capture One of course is the fact that it has no file management capabilities which led to the conclusion that, if you had a Mac, Aperture was the best choice if you needed file management as well as RAW processing.

As I concluded in my original article, the problem was that if you had a PC there was no one clear winner, if you only wanted RAW processing than Capture One was a clear winner but if you also needed file management you would have to buy Lightroom but would you want to 'suffer' it's RAW engine?

Since that original article was written Adobe and now Apple have released new versions of Lightroom and Aperture respectively. At the time of writing Lightroom is at version 1.3 and Aperture has just been released as version 2.0. So how do they compare now?

As in the first test I shall process the same image as before completely flat (by flat I mean as shot by the camera and turning off any RAW settings or setting them to 'As Shot' or zero) in each application and then again, but this time trying to achieve the best possible result with the controls available. First up was Lightroom:

lightroom13_flat.jpgLightroom 1.3 turns out to be largely the same as 1.0 in terms of it's ability to accurately read and interpret RAW metadata. This shot was actually underexposed in camera by 1/3rd of a stop yet Lightroom 1.3, like it did before, reproduces it at more like 3/4 of a stop underexposed. Again like before all the colours are very muted and flat. The main difference between 1.3 and 1.0 is in terms of the amount of detail. 1.0 suffered very badly in this regard but thankfully Adobe have addressed this so that now not only are unadjusted files processed with the correct amount of detail but there is now a sharpening control that actually does something unlike before!

aperture2_flat.jpgAperture 2.0 seems to continue the 'tradition' of 1.5 in not only reading and reproducing metadata accurately but by also out performing Lightroom. Aperture has correctly underexposed the image by 1/3rd of a stop and colours, even when processed flat, are natural and warm and there appears to be the same amount of detail as that produced with Aperture 1.5 and Lightroom 1.3.

Summary: In terms of reading and reproducing RAW metadata accurately Aperture 2.0 is the clear winner. However the improved sharpening and detail now being produced by Lightroom 1.3 is a noticeable and welcome improvement. How do they compare in processing?

lightroom13_processed.jpgLightroom 1.3 certainly has improved over Lightroom 1.0. Whereas before tones were extremely flat and boring 1.3 has given them more life. Tones are certainly natural but although the improved sharpening algorithm has ensured bags of detail the photo still lacks definition and 'punch' for my tastes. These were the settings I used: White Balance: 4400K Exposure: +0.42
Fill Light: 4
Blacks: 2
Brightness: +29
Contrast: +25
Vibrance: +10
Saturation: +10
Tone Curve: Medium Contrast
Sharpening Amount: 86
Radius: 0.8
Detail: 42

aperture2_processed.jpg Yet again Aperture seems to produce the better result. Tones are still natural yet warmer and brighter and the photo packs plenty of punch and definition. These were the settings I used: Boost: 1.00 White Balance: 4542K
Tint: -13
Exposure: +0.26
Sharpening Intensity: 0.78
Edges: 0.26
Chroma Blur Radius: 2.00
Auto Noise Compensation: Enabled
Contrast: 0.05
Definition: 0.05
Saturation: 1.10
Vibrancy: 0.12
Shadows: 4.7
I also used the levels control to set Blacks to 0.02, Grey to 0.47 and White to 0.92

Summary: For me it's yet another 'victory' for Aperture. Lightroom 1.3 has certainly come on a long way since 1.0 but it still seems to lag behind Aperture. Aperture 2 supposedly has over 100 new features compared to Aperture 1.5 the biggest improvement being in speed. Aperture 2.0 is much faster than 1.5! Speed was the one saving grace of Lightroom but now that Aperture have addressed that issue and continues to have superior file management and, as these tests seem to prove, better RAW processing if you have a Mac, why would you buy Lightroom?


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