Back in June last year Apple announced they were retiring the much-loved Aperture in favour of a new program simply called ‘Photos’. At that time all we knew was that we would receive the new program as part of an update to OS X Yosemite but when exactly that would be remained a mystery. Well the day is finally here and after installing 10.10.3 a new colourful icon has appeared on my dock.

To give you a little background, at PhotoArk Adobe Lightroom has always been the go-to program for processing and converting our raw files into JPG’s. Like many processing tools Lightroom is an all-in-one package offering the ability to not only develop images but also to view, organise, share and create slideshows. That said we only tend to use it as a development tool and leave the organising to a simple file structure. Upon first look Apple’s new Photos app offers very similar functionality and works much in the same way Lightroom does; you have a catalogue that you import your images into; these are then grouped into Albums based on date and from here you can view/edit them.

id153 1Like most Apple programs Photos runs like a dream, the interface is incredibly responsive even when handling our larger 24-megapixel images. Adjusting images in the ‘Edit’ interface is equally as quick with very little delay previewing any adjustments made. This is a definite advantage of Lightroom, which has always been quite a slow and sluggish program even when using it as an image viewer. But what it lacks in performance it certainly makes up for in features.

When you fist open the ‘Edit’ menu in Photos you are presented with five options; Enhance, Rotate, Crop, Filters, Adjust and Retouch. The first is a one-click auto Enhance that will attempt to correct the exposure, balance the highlights and shadows, and make other subtle adjustments to improve your Photo. While it sometimes goes a bit overboard, generally it works pretty well and is considerably better than Lightroom’s equivalent that just seems to screw up your image! The rotate tool is fairly self-explanatory, however it’s worth mentioning you can only rotate counter-clockwise. If you want to rotate clockwise you have to hold the Option key and the rotate button will change. Next up; the Crop tool which features a handy Aspect function that automatically crops your image to 16:9, 8:10, 5:7, 4:3, 3:5, 3:2 and a square. You can also find the horizontal Flip tool here as well. Fourth in line is the Filters tool that provides eight funky filters from the more standard ‘Mono’ to the weird ‘Process’ that adds a turquoise tinge to your image.

id153 2Now for the interesting bit… Adjustments; upon first look you will only see a few tools available, including the very awesome ‘Light’ slider that when moved left or right automatically adjusts the Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Brightness, Contrast and Black Point in proportion, thus helping preserve detail and depth within your photo. This is by the far the best feature of Photos and I would love to see something like this implemented into Lightroom in the future, purely because it saves so much time.

Moving on, if your like me and want as much control over your image as possible then you will definitely want to click the ‘Add’ button in the top right corner where you can enable another dozen or so tools. These include Sharpen, Definition, Noise Reduction, Vignette, White Balance and Levels. One very nice touch is the ability to quickly turn off any adjustments made using a particular tool by simply unchecking it. Not only this but you can also set each tool individually to Auto letting Photos adjust the values to what it thinks is best for your image.

id153 3Adding these tools definitely make Photos feel more like a digital darkroom but for me it is lacking a few absolutely crucial tools like Chromatic Aberration, Geometric Distortion Correction and lens profiles. Offering all this and more, Lightroom definitely takes the lead if your serious about processing your own images.

The sixth and final tool is Retouch, which allows you to clone/heal spots on your images. Lightroom also offers this functionality and I have used it a quite a few times to great effect when processing my images. But the question is which program does it best? To test I grabbed a couple of images containing simple and harder blemishes and attempted to clone/heal them in both programs. I started with a nice easy one, a small pigeon sat on some concrete slabs. Lightroom had no problems at all cloning the pigeon out and matching the tone & brightness of the surround slabs. When reviewing the image and even zooming in on the zone where the pigeon was I found almost no distortion or blurring. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Photos, which produced a burred spot where the pigeon was. Switching to Clone mode produced better results with no blurring however the tone/brightness of the surrounding slabs is not matched making it quite easy to see where the pigeon once was. My next image is slightly harder one, I have included the results in this article so you can see for yourself. Again, Lightroom did a fantastic job whereas Photos left an obvious mark where the post was.

id153 4After performing these tests I decided to reprocesses some of my images in Photos to see how the results compare to those I did in Lightroom. On the face of it they appear very similar, but when zooming in I noticed a certain level of detail was lost on things like brickwork when compared to the same image processed in Lightroom. Strange… so to make things fair I grabbed the original RAW file and imported it into both Lightroom & Photos. Making no changes at all in either program I exported the images and compared them. The same results could be seen, a minor loss of details on those processed with Photos. On the left I have included an example; it may be hard to see on first glance but if you study the two images you will see it.

To conclude I would definitely recommend Lightroom over Photos if you’re serious about processing your own RAW files. But if you are new to the whole image processing thing and want to have a go without shelling out for Lightroom, Photos is the way to go. It’s fast and easy to use with a good set of tools to get you started. Alongside this Photos offers a solid viewing experience and a slick Projects feature for creating Books, Cards, Calendars, Prints and Slideshows. Perfect for those casual photographers wanting to organise and enjoy their family snaps.