Aperture 2 vs. Lightroom 2 - Keywords

A2vLR2_Keywords.jpgAfter much clamoring from loyal readers here is another installment of Aperture v. Lightroom round 9.7. I will try to tackle key-wording (is that a word now?) as quickly and painlessly as possible. First off some quick bottom line kinds of things and then some details. Both applications are so far and away better than older tools that we won't even bother to compare them. If you are using either of these and not tagging your images with keywords you should be ashamed of yourself or something. Aperture introduced some ground breaking features with it's release way back before Lightroom was around. The problem with Aperture is a "what have you done for me lately" kind of problem. Aperture hasn't really added, fixed, or refined a whole lot in the keyword department since version 1. Lightroom on the other hand has taken all the really cool things that Aperture had and added a bunch of really useful goodies of it's own. So the bottom line here is that Lightroom wins this one hand's down at the moment. I know you were not expecting that to come from me if you have been reading along with this series, maybe I am just so enraged because after 354,891 requests by myself and other photographers Apple can't seem to give us one little tiny freaking check-forking-box to include the entire keyword hierarchy when exporting image versions. Enough of that, here are some more details for those that may not use these every day.

First keyword hierarchies - both applications support creating and modifying hierarchies of keywords. For the uninitiated this is an awesomely powerful feature. You can put keywords like rose, petunia, chrysanthemum, etc, under the keyword "flower", which you can then put under the keyword "plant". By doing this if you tag an image with the keyword rose and only that keyword rose when you do a search for images with the keyword "plant" or "flower" that image that you tagged with "rose" will show up as well - get it? I cannot explain how useful this is, you really need to experience it yourself - for one thing it makes keywording your images about 3000 times faster and more effective. All you do is add really really specific keywords to your images and they inherent all the more general keywords above that specific keyword in the hierarchy. You don't even have to bother thinking about it before you start keywording. Both applications allow you to manipulate and modify the keyword hierarchy anytime you want. Example - import a bunch of images of let's say boats. add all the kinds of boats. Pearson, Hunter, O'Day, Hobie, whatever. When you are done if you don't already have a general keyword boat just make one and maybe a sail keyword as well. Drag the sail under the boat keyword, then drag all of the specific kinds under sail - done now you can search on boat or sail and Lightroom/Aperture will find all of the boats you just tagged with the specific kind of boats - cool. That is where the similarity ends in terms of keyword hierarchies between Aperture and Lightroom. Aperture does all this wonderfulness withing Aperture itself but only embeds the specific keyword when you export images and choose to embed the metadata or create an XMP sidecar. You can do crazy stuff like running scripts that smash the entire hierarchy into each of your images based on the specific keywords but that sort of defeats the purpose. Lightroom on the other hand will export the entire hierarchy for each specific keyword, but wait there's more, for each and every keyword Lightroom let's you specify whether or not to include the parent keywords and…. whether to export it at all.

Comparing the ability to assign keywords both Aperture and Lightroom have similar features. You can pretty much type each keyword in and if it does not exist both applications keep track of that for you. You can select directly from a list that is searchable/filterable. Both applications allow you to copy assign keywords more than one at a time by using one image as the model and then applying those keywords to as many images as you want. Lightroom also allows you to assign a "shortcut" to a bunch of different and unrelated keywords, Aperture does not have this but personally I have found this useless.

Both applications allow you to import and export the whole keyword scheme, if you use more than one computer to do work this is absolutely essential. It also helps if you work with an agency that has standard keyword definitions or with a team of photographers. Aperture has the ability to lock the keywords in order to avoid unintentionally adding nonexistent keywords, Lightroom does not. This is really not a big deal given that the Lightroom interface promotes clicking buttons to add keywords vs. typing them. If you stick to consistency in your work-flow by clicking buttons when you intend on using an existing keyword and typing one when you intend on adding a new keyword you will be fine. Removing keywords is easy in both applications but the user interface to do this is better in Lightroom (that is Lightroom 1 - Aperture 98,767 on the UI front) I have no idea why Apple made this so bizarre in Aperture.

One last feature that Aperture does not have and Lightroom 2 introduced is keyword synonyms. This is the ability to associate a bunch of words with an "official keyword" that mean the same thing and are treated the same when searching. This is another amazing feature heck you can even put words in a different language here. Really good if you are a stock photographer and need to tag images with a million specifics that mean the same thing. Again you can tell Lightroom that the synonyms should be exported if you want - this is a huge deal - wake up Apple get your forkin' act together and stop giving Aperture users ridiculous things like "All Project" view so we can have a screen that looks like iPhoto isn't that nice - give us the keyword features that Lightroom has - SOON.

The only thing that I can say about Aperture here is that again it wins in the user interface department with a couple of minor exceptions. Aperture is just elegant and pretty all the way around. Lightroom - especially the dialog boxes to manage some of the keyword functionality are clunky, cumbersome, and downright Windows 3.1'ish.

Score a big win for Adobe Lightroom 2 versus Apple Aperture 2 when it comes to keyword functionality.


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