I have come very close to making a final decision in the matter of Lightroom vs. Photos. This is important because for the next few years I shall be building and refining my catalogue of photos dating back to about 1975. I will spend a great deal of time cleaning and improving images using one application or the other, as I do not have time to do this twice. Last night I had more-or-less settled on Lightroom, which is a costlier option than Photos. But do I still feel the same this afternoon….
Let me explain my dilemma: like all iPhone/iPad/Mac owners I can use Photos free of charge. I can store all of my photographs, whether they were taken on iPhone or other digital camera, and view them on any Apple device, including the big screen via Apple TV. I can store scanned photographs, negatives and slides. I can catalogue them, give them keywords, geotag and date them, recognise faces and put them into albums. I can improve them, especially the older ones, so they look their best. I can share them with friends, make books and slideshows, and export them in lower resolution, like to this blog post. So why do I pay for and use Lightroom, and should I continue?
The issue has come to a head because I have over 9,000 images, plus about 3,000 more scanned during lockdown that are sitting in folders on my hard drive. It will take me at least a year to visit each photograph, give it a rating, add keywords, add a location and clean up the image. I can then make photographs available to friends and family and put together a few books for myself and as gifts.
Clearly, I only want to go through this process once. I do not want to spend ten days processing 500 photographs in Lightroom, only to ditch Lightroom and start all over again in Photos. I need to make a decision sooner rather than later: Photos or Lightroom?
How do they compare in terms of functionality and price? I will have Apple devices for the foreseeable future so I will always use Photos, but is that the best place to store and enhance my entire photo collection?
First of all, how much does each option cost? Photos comes with every Apple device and is free. So far so good. Lightroom is £8.99 a month, which is not much to pay but I need to take into consideration that in just over a year from now I shall be a pensioner, so may not be able to afford it.
Photos is not strictly free if you have a large collection of images and you want to back them up to a cloud, with the added bonus of being able to view them on any device from anywhere on the planet. Apple provide 50GB of iCloud storage free as part of your Apple ID. So, if I take a snap on my iPhone it pretty much instantly appears on my iPad, Mac and Apple TV thanks to the magic of the cloud.
The cloud is very helpful but optional. I store all of my original photographs from any source – iPhone, camera, scanner – on my Mac hard drive. It is easy to export images from within Photos by selecting the photos you want to keep, clicking the File menu, selecting Export and then I always choose Export unmodified original. In this way I always have the original photograph stored in my Photos Original folder on my Mac.
Ideally I would like to store my entire library in the cloud as well as on my hard drive, in which case the 50GB provided free by Apple is grossly insufficient. It is easy and relatively inexpensive to upgrade this allowance, to 200GB for £2.49 a month and to 2TB for £6.99 a month.
So, how does this compare to Lightroom? Well, in a nutshell Lightroom is more expensive. The software is £8.99 a month compared to £0 for Photos. Lightroom provides 1TB of cloud space included in the price, so a better comparison would be £8.99 for Lightroom with 1TB storage compared to £6.99 for Photos with 2TB storage.
Convenient though it is you do not actually need cloud storage at all, so if you are happy with the minimal amount free from Apple the price comparison returns to £8.99 for Lightroom and £0 for Photos.
Pricing therefore provides a compelling reason to go for Photos rather than Lightroom. But price, as they say, is not everything. What about functionality?
Well, I have to say that Lightroom and Photos are so similar it is untrue. You have to look quite hard to find something – anything – that one will do and not the other. Both have all the features most people are likely to use, like brightness, highlights, shadows, contrast, noise reduction, definition and so on.
In the paragraphs below I explain a few differences: Lightroom does star ratings, Photos does not. Lightroom can ‘dehaze’ and Photos cannot (although it can – and brilliantly – with an add-on). Photos is brilliant for geotagging and changing dates/times, Lightroom is awkward.
The ability to give a photograph a 1 to 5-star rating may seem rather unimportant, and I am sure it will be for some users, but I have found it very useful indeed, especially when I want to quickly find my best images. Lightroom provides the opportunity to give a star rating to each photo. Photos provides only a ‘love’ option, which is rather like having only two stars – none or one. Over the years I have developed a system that intuitively works for me. Essentially a photograph will get only one star if it is a poor quality image, but I want to keep it in the library because it is the only image I have of that person, event or subject.
Most of my photos are three-star. These are good quality photographs with an interesting subject. Four stars are for very good photos and five, which is rare, are for excellent photographs both in terms of their photographic or artistic quality but also subject matter. That leaves two stars which I usually use for photos that are definitely worth keeping but which are not very good compared to other photographs taken at the same ‘shoot’.
There are one or two controls that are ‘sort of’ missing in Photos, the most important for me being ‘dehaze’. This works well in Lightroom but ironically there is an app which is integral to Photos that, more often than not, is actually better at dealing with haze than Lightroom: DxO OpticsPro for Photos. I cannot express just how good this app is – certainly a 5-star rating from me. The only problem is that, at the moment at least, it does not recognise the Apple ProRAW format ‘.dng ‘, whereas Lightroom does. How odd is that? Lightroom even has a choice of Apple RAW or Adobe RAW filters for DNG images.
I suspect that if DxO updates OpticsPro for Photos the balance would tilt away from Lightroom and towards Photos, and this alone might cause me to sacrifice star ratings and reluctantly give up Lightroom. We shall see.
This image is a screenshot of the toolbar in DxO Optics Pro for Photos, which I can recommend very highly for anyone using Photos.
It works with most images but really comes into its own with RAW, although at present it does not work with Apple ProRAW, which is odd considering it is a Photos add-on.
Without you having to do anything at all Optics Pro applies optical corrections based on your camera. You then have the option of changing the white balance, which I rarely need to do.
Smart lighting works very well and is pretty much applied instantly.
Noise removal is brilliant and I always set this to ‘Prime’. This tool radically improves images taken at high ASA. For example, my Sony camera tends to prefer 6400 ASA for low-ish lighting, such as the images I took at night in Las Vegas and on a hazy day overlooking Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Lightroom cannot even touch this tool, unless you are highly skilled and have a lot of time.
The final tool is Clear View, and this is, if anything, even more amazing than Noise Removal. Photographs I have taken looking down into Furnace Creek and facing the sun had a great deal of haze and I was ready to write them off. This tool made me save them and improved them so much they have become some of my favourite photographs from my USA trip.
So, whilst Photos does not have a ‘dehaze’ slider as Lightroom does, adding DxO to Photos provides – in my view – a better and easier-to-use solution.
Both applications enable you to record the location at which a photograph was taken. This is not usually needed for photos taken on an iPhone but I certainly like to record the location of photos taken with my digital cameras or that I have scanned. There is no doubt in my mind that Photos is hugely superior to Lightroom in this respect.
Entering location information can be a bit of a nightmare in Lightroom, whereas they are a breeze in Photos. Also, the maps within Photos are very good indeed.
Linked to location data is time and date. Not that long ago I spent a few weeks in the United States, principally New York, Minneapolis and Las Vegas. Most pictures were taken on my Sony mirrorless camera in RAW but some were taken on my iPhone. I often take ‘reference’ pictures on the iPhone simply to record the exact geographical location of images taken on my Sony.
When I returned home I learned a simple truth: my iPhone photos all had the correct date and time as well as location, as the phone adjusts itself automatically as you move from one time zone to another. My Sony photos had no location data and the time – and sometimes date – were wrong as the camera was set to London time.
Changing the date and time of photos taken on the Sony from within Photos was effortless: you just type in the location or drag a line across a picture of the world to the right timezone. Doing this in Lightroom is very difficult indeed and incredibly time consuming – so difficult I did not even bother. I downloaded all the Sony RAW images to Photos, got them geotagged and time-corrected, then exported them for import to Lightroom. How daft is that?
If I give up Lightroom, and it feels as if I will in the not too distant future, I would also have to give up the very simple but very effective ‘My Portfolio’ website that is integral to Lightroom. I would be sorry to see that go.
This is something I have not mentioned before and which in some ways is more of a luxury than an essential. I like it because it is clean, simple, easy to use and it is very easy to upload photographs from within Lightroom to what is, after all, a simple website. To see what I mean, my Adobe portfolio can be seen at colinjournal.myportfolio.com
Apple does not have an equivalent of this. Perhaps the closest it gets is Shared Albums where it is easy to share photographs with any person or group of people of your choosing.
There is really very little to separate Lightroom and Photos in terms of functionality, at least for me as an amateur photographer. They are both excellent. The differences are so minor that relatively unimportant things like star ratings and geotagging become seemingly important.
If price is all that matters Photos is clearly the winner, but only if you exist in the Apple universe of course. As for functionality, I am going to carry on using Lightroom for the time being because I like the interface – and the star ratings of course. And I have Photos anyway, which costs nothing so I might just as well carry on using it.
HOWEVER, I have spent a number of days already working on my photograph collection in Lightroom; improving them, giving them keywords and star ratings and adding location data. I do not want to go too far down this road if I decide to finally ditch Lightroom, save £8.99 a month (I will be a pensioner in a year!), and start all over again in Photos…