I just upgraded from a point-and-shoot to an interchangeable lens camera.

I was wondering if I should also consider Aperture or Lightroom rather than Picasa, but I don't have a good idea of what Aperture or Lightroom can do that Picasa or iPhoto can't, so I wanted to ask.

I'd like something simple and quick and easy to understand, rather than complex and time-consuming.

Ideally I'd like a tool that automatically scans my hard disc (or, more precisely, scans folders I choose, recursively) and keeps it in sync with the library, like Picasa does, and unlike iTunes or iPhoto, which require me to manually add folders or files to the app, and then delete them from the app when I delete them from the disc.

But my main question is: what can Aperture or Lightroom do that Picasa or iPhoto can't?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Many of the advantages listed in the answers are found also in your camera maker's own raw-processing software, and it is free. Give it a try. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2013 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, Esa, and sorry that I forgot to respond till now. I thought that bundled software usually manages one photo at a time, and doesn't have powerful filtering and grouping options (Collections, Smart Collections) like LR? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2014 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been making panoramas and I find it very nice to manually process only one image and then save those settings into a file and then set the program (Sony's Image Data Converter) apply this settings file and export them in JPEGs for all of the images in that set of panorama. I sit and watch TV while computer works through the set. Last panorama I did had 38 photos innit. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2014 at 20:33

3 Answers 3


Lightroom gives you a lot more control over the processing of your images. You can finely tune vignetting (add and remove), curves, sharpening, split-toning, adding clarity, removing chromatic aberrations, powerful noise reduction, de-warping (lens distortions and perspective) "selective editing" (e.g. change the saturation/luminance of one color only, or of one area).

As opposed to Picasa which only does desaturation, it's really powerful when it comes to black and white, you can finely control each color separately, as if you were using color filters on your camera (as was often done when using b&w film).

Lightroom is also extremely efficient a recovering details in the shadows and in the highlights. From a RAW file, you can go from a totally white or black picture, to something decent. Recovery is something where Picasa falls short. And when you have a really nicely composed shot, it's nice to be able to fix some lighting mistakes.

Lightroom has a lot more features when it comes to printing, making slideshows and galleries, and most importantly organizing large sets of pictures (tags, metadata, flags, stars). It is extremely convenient when selecting/deleting shots out of several hundred pictures after an event/photoshoot.

When it comes to editing, you also have a lot more options to check your work: dual views to compare images (while selecting the bests), and before/after views to check while editing. You can also have several edited version of the same picture (I often have a b&w version and a color).

The most useful feature to me in Lightroom that Picasa lacks (afaik), is settings synchronisation. I can work 5 minutes on one picture, and copy/paste (sync) the parameters of a picture to 150 others. So I can edit 150 pictures all at once, sync white balance across all the shots in the same lighting environment. And, when you start seeing a pattern in how you setup similar parameters for most shots you make, you can decide to create a reusable preset of parameters, which you can then apply to all pictures when you import them, and then tweak each selected pictures later for finer details (or special case where the parameter might not match this specific picture). If your workflow in Picasa seems slow, it's time to switch to Lightroom.

Lightroom records the history of all changes to each picture, so you can come back to them later, and revert them easily.

You can definitely setup Lightroom to "watch" folders and add pictures to your catalog as you copy them to your Pictures folder. For deletion, I prefer to select and tag all the keepers, and filter out the rest in Lightroom, which has an option to completely delete them (both from the catalog and the hard disk). I shoot RAW+JPG so this comes handy as it deletes both files at the same time (and they only appear once in the Lightroom catalog).

A few years ago, when I started photography, I loved Picasa. And I still do. I recommend it to anyone starting out photography. When you reach the limitations of post-processing of Picasa (mainly in terms of fine control, recovery, parameter synching, and b&w in my case), then give Lightroom a chance -Aperture has similar advantages I'm sure.

Lightroom will take more time to master, but it's definitely worth it when you're an amateur photographer who wants more control and has a huge collections of images (since I got my first DSLR, I've taken more than 100k shots, and I've got close to a TB of images, which I'm appreciating more and more as I learn to master the fine art of post-processing (analogous by all means to printing in a dark room, with an enlarger).

To summarize, if Picasa works for you right now, don't switch.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1! Excellent answer! Saved me the time of writing it! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Oct 7, 2013 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do find Picasa limiting, to the extent that I don't bother editing photos. Yours is the best answer answer to this question I've found anywhere -- it's detailed and broad, too. Thanks so much. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2013 at 4:27

In addition to the answer @max provided, an important feature of Aperture and Lightroom offer, is non-destructive editing. Basically, Aperture and Lightroom never make changes to your original images, but store the steps made to achieve the changes. See it like a 'recipe' to produce the changes; Aperture and Lightroom apply that recipe 'real-time'.

Advantages of non-destructive editing

Non-destructive editing has many advantages, for example;

  • because your original files are never touched, it's always possible to revert your changes. This means you can experiment with all settings without worrying that you'll mess up your important pictures.
  • you can create multiple versions of the same picture, with different changes/filters applied. Extra versions don't take up disk-space (well, very limited space), because the image itself doesn't have to be duplicated; only the 'recipe' to achieve the results (your filter-settings) need to be stored for each version.
  • a side-effect of non-destructive editing, is that all steps taken (all modifications) are stored and can be changed at a later stage. If you started 'tweaking' a picture (for example, changed saturation, added sharpening and cropped the image) and continue working on it a week later, you can resume where you left off; all changes are 'there', you can change them, revert them, anything (even, for example, remove or change the cropping)
  • because changes are not applied to the image itself while working on it, applying/reverting filters successively does not result in loss of quality. Other software ('destructive' editing) will save changes to the (original) image. When editing JPEGs, JPEG-compression will be applied each time the image is saved, causing quality-loss with each save.

So, if changes are applied real-time, it will be slow!

Yes. Viewing images with a lot of filters applied may be slower, however, Aperture (and, I guess Lightroom) does create cached previews for your images.

If changes are applied within Aperture/LR, I can only view them Inside Aperture/Lightroom?

Right again! If you want to 'share' your images with other people, you need to export them. During export, all your changes are applied and exported to a copy of your images. Again; your original images will not be modified.

You can compare the 'export' step as 'developing' your negatives and printing your pictures.

Aperture or Lightroom?

Being an Aperture user myself, I cannot really help you make that decision. Aperture is cheaper than LR and purchasing it on the Mac App Store, will give you a license for every computer connected to your Apple-id. Adobe is currently promoting it's 'Creative Cloud' licensing, which requires you to keep paying to keep your software running (something to keep in mind).

Feature-wise, I know that Lightroom has more features regarding lens-correction that I hope will be added in a future version of Aperture as well. Since it has been a while that Aperture has received a big update, rumors are that an update may be coming.

If you're currently using iPhoto, then Aperture may be a good choice; Aperture and iPhoto can share the same 'library'; which means that changes made in iPhoto will be visible in Aperture as well and vice-versa. This will also allow you to keep working in iPhoto for your daily tasks while you're learning to use Aperture.

Hope this helps! Good luck in making a choice :)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Both Picasa and iPhoto are also non-destructive editors. This wasn't always true in the history of iPhoto, but in both pieces of software currently it is. Picasa NEVER touches your originals, it stores the changes in the Picasa database, very similar to how the Lightroom catalog works. iPhoto works a bit different as it opens the original and saves a new file for each change you make, but again it is non-destructive. Have a read if you are interested: support.apple.com/kb/PH2531?viewlocale=en_US \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Jan 14, 2014 at 19:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ More information about how Picasa is non-destructive: support.google.com/picasa/answer/11021 "Picasa is designed to keep your original photos safe when you save your photo edits. This is done by creating a new JPEG file that's a copy of the original with your edits applied. The original photo is never altered, but depending on how you save the file, its location on your hard drive may change." \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Jan 14, 2014 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt thanks for adding the additional info on Picasa. I havent used Picasa much (tried it, but wasn't really my thing), just added my knowledge of Aperture to assist the OP. I was aware of the inner workings of iPhoto with regard to keeping the 'original' master stored when editing. Compared to Aperture it does make a copy of the file (as you mentioned) which isn't as efficient as storing the 'recipe' and applying filters 'real time' \$\endgroup\$
    – thaJeztah
    Jan 14, 2014 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lightroom is currently licensed stand-alone, and still has the version upgrade price of $80 (which is damn good). While you do get access to Lightroom with a full Creative Cloud subscription, use of CC is not required to use Lightroom. Additionally, so long as you are not using the app simultaneously on multiple computers, it is possible to use the same license on more than one device. I have LR on my desktop, laptop, and Surface Pro, and I've never had any problems using it on any of them...however I only have it open on one of them at a time. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jan 14, 2014 at 20:57

It sounds like for your needs you may be better off with Picasa. The main advantages that Lightroom and Aperture give you is that you have more complex options for cataloging and keywording your files. This adds a lot of complexity to the system though, so unless you need the added functionality of Aperture or Lightroom, then it's probably not worth the added cost or complexity yet.

If you start running in to limitations of Picasa though, then it might be time to consider something like Lightroom.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I have run into Picasa's limitations a long while ago -- I essentially do no post-processing, because I found little useful adjustment I could do in Picasa. Maybe that means I need more powerful software like Lightroom. But I will keep your comment about complexity in mind. Thanks, AJ. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2013 at 3:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KartickVaddadi - probably try a demo then. Just be aware that functionality and simplicity rarely go hand in hand. Simplicity can often be counter-productive to efficiency when dealing with things that are inherently complex. (This is, for example, why most consumers prefer the iPhone and most techy types prefer Android.) Lightroom does make a good balance (in my opinion) of making things easy to do while being powerful, but it does mean that there are a lot more options and things to learn. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Oct 15, 2013 at 13:17

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