Quick Color Comparison: Aperture 3 vs ACR 5.6

I just did a test conversion with Aperture 3, Adobe Camera Raw 5.6, and the latest Lightroom. Lightroom and ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) were exactly the same with the output but aperture was a bit different. I loaded the DNG in each app and exported to JPEG. I did not do any adjustments at all because I wanted to see what would come out of each program. What do you think? Check out the two images below and tell me which one you like better in regards to color and contrast. The first image was shot with the Leica M9 and 35 Summarit at 2.5, ISO 640.

First, Aperture 3 using defaults

and Adobe Camera Raw 5.6. Lightroom’s output was exactly the same and I saw no visible difference

and one more…

Aperture 3 defaults – No fixes, tweaks or anything. Straight from SD card to Aperture 3 and then to JPEG.

ACR Defaults – no tweaks, no WB fixes, nothing. Just straight from SD card to ACR and then to JPEG.

So I do see differences in the color between these two. I see that ACR gives me a slight yellow cast and Aperture leans more on the reds. In the image above of my wife, the Aperture version is closest to reality but there may be a little bit too much red/magenta in the skin tones, but it’s close. It was cold out and her skin was getting a little red. Also, it appears that I see more detail and tones in her coat in the Aperture version.

The ACR version is a bit yellow with the skin. After converting maybe 30 files today with Aperture 3, Lightroom and ACR 5.6 I decided that I will be sticking with and purchasing Aperture 3. I love the interface and it has yet to crash on my machine. I also love how it keeps my images organized and has super easy export to Photoshop for the times when I need more post processing power.

Btw, Amazon is taking pre-orders if you want to upgrade…Aperture 3 Upgrade at Amazon


  1. Interesting – but I have a question. “Super easy to export to Photoshop” was mentioned as a “key feature” of Aperture (and it works for Lightroom too I suppose). If one already has Photoshop, why would you not just use Camera Raw, unless you are editing hundreds of photos in a batch at once?
    My workflow (Nature and Conservation Photography – maybe 60 to 100 photos in a session max) is to simply use Bridge to open the RAWs, then open in ACR for tweaking and PS when needed. The advantage – I don’t have to buy LR or Aperture. The engine inside LR and ACR is nearly identical, and once you get used to managing where you put your files when you open them, LR and Aperture simply aren’t needed. If you’re a wedding photog and doing 300 shots at once, yes, just for the management alone, but otherwise…If you already own Photoshop, why do you need more. If not, by all means choose LR or Aperture.
    Just sayin’

  2. I did some M9 raw file tests with Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3. Results were quite surprising, especially on skintones. This picture of Chinese girl was shooted in quite difficult mixed color conditions and the results were very interesting. I did only wihte balance correction for both pictures. I think Adobe guys has done much more better job with a new raw engine. This is the definitive reason for me to move using Lightroom, although I like Aperture´s UI a lot.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree on the magenta cast in the Aperture files. But then again: who uses these default settings? Even in Lightroom, I use a color profile based on the faithful picture style of Canon. And I only use this since I think it gives me a great *starting* point.

  4. You can use the noise reduction brush 🙂 I never realized so many people used NR during RAW conversion! I would not have missed it because I have never used it, ever. For me, no problem at all 🙂

    Even when I shoot ISO 2500 I do not use any NR as i feel it is not really needed, and if it were applied it would take away detail which is one of the strengths of the M8/M9. The detail it keeps at high ISO.

    As for the M9 firmware update should not be too much longer and it should make all M9 owners VERY happy 🙂

  5. Aperture 3 does not have the ability to apply noise suppression, perhaps because there is no specific profile for the M9? That is a big problem. I tried looking at a file from the Canon S90 and a slider called, “de noise,” appeared where it is not present with the M9.

  6. Steve,

    One question: as Apple still does not provide us with a M9 profile–would you agree that the result of your interesting experiment will probably be different with a dedicated M9 profile?

    A second thought: how can Apple optimize a profile as long as the upcoming firmware update for the M9 has not been released? May be this is the reason why the M9 was not included in the recent RAW update?


  7. Steve,
    On a side note, I don’t use neither the sharpening nor noise tools in LR. For that stuff I export over to Photoshop and use D-fine (or NoiseNinja) and Photokit Sharpener. I also don’t print from LR but from my ColorBurst RIP.

    When my M9 finally arrives I’ll download Ap3 and give it a run.
    Because I know Photoshop very well, LR never gave me any troubles. Coming from PS it’s very intuitively. There was pretty much no learning curve but instead I was familiar with it from the get go.

  8. Thanks for the info Harald. BTW, I did try LR3 but found it clunky and slow. I just do not care for the interface so I deleted it and then ended up downloading LR2 because it came with my M9.

    The Aperture version of this defiantly has a magenta cast but it was a 2 second fix. All it took was a nudge of a slider. Again, these were defaults so each one could have been tweaked to look MUCH better than they do here.

    As far as sharpness goes, I have an example I will be posting soon. It seems LR is more aggressive with sharpening and does put out a sharper file but Aperture 3’s output looks a bit smoother.

    I have been working with Aperture all day on some older M8 images in addition to new M9 images I shot yesterday. No complaints…yet!

  9. Yeah, I definately see a slight magenta cast to the Aperture image..reds look much more natural from Lightroom. It reminds me of the output I get from my DP1 + Sigma Photo Pro..which tend to have a magenta/cyan cast.

    Harald Benz made some good points, definitely try out the beta version of LR3, much much better raw conversions especially when using the “Camera Standard” preset compared to ACR.

  10. Good to hear your screens ok.
    And with the latest lightroom do you mean 2.6 or the 3 beta? Im not sure if theyr different though, as i still havnt installed 2.6.

  11. Steve, just downloaded the two shots of your wife to my computer and opened them up in Photoshop. My system is colour calibrated and i wanted to see them side by side.
    Your analysis is correct. Aperture does have too much magenta. Way too much in my opinion. Yes, your wife’s face was reddened by the cold but the snow shouldn’t be reddish at all. The magenta does also a number on slightly over saturating all other colours. Just look at the sky. Guess, Aperture does that on purpose to make pictures appear more vibrant and punchy.

    Indeed, the ACR version is a tad flat and yellowish. Too be honest, it appears a bit more neutral and would only need slight adjustments to look right. While with the Aperture version it could be a little trickier because magenta would need to be taken out which easily can open a can of worms.

    To be honest, it might be a good idea to do another comparison between Aperture3 and LR3b. The biggest difference between LR2 (ACR) and LR3b is that the newer version has a completely different RAW processor. It is way (!!!) better than ACR/LR2x ever was. There is a richness in the detail department that ACR/LR2x could never achieve.

    Having said all this, I’d like to add that the differences between Ap3 and LR2x seem to be very slight now. It comes down to personal preferences.
    Again, I’d like to see a comparison between Ap3 and LR3b just for kicks.
    cheers, harald

  12. I’ve been playing around with App. 3. and I’ve noticed that straight RAW conversion for my M8 makes skin-tones a bit more red than LR. I see a little bit in the photos you’ve presented here. The problem I’ve always had with LR is the closed database scheme. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to grab a project and work with it on another program without having to move through the Aperture workflow. I have noticed App3 is quite fast though…

  13. I’ve had much better results in Lightroom since starting to use the “Camera Standard” setting rather than ACR – works great for my Nikons and Leica. I’d be very interested to see the comparison re-run with Camera Standard applied.

  14. I don’t think color rendition should be the main concern when purchasing a raw converter. I’m using my own color profiles for LR that I’ve created with a Gr. McBeth color checker and the Adobe profile editor. It gives me much better skin tones while preserving the reds in the picture. What about high ISO grain rendering? How’s the look of highlight recovery? I don’t wanna go into pixel beeping, but one should also consider how much resolution can be extracted from the files (demosaicing).

    And the most important thing!!! Which app will allow you the fastest workflow!

  15. Steve, would it be possible of you to convert an image taken with one of the 35 mm biogons using Aperture? I wonder how much of the yellow tint in the zeiss line can be attributed to lightroom?

  16. just my 2 cents ….. don’t forget to create an aperture vault and to use it …. it saved my ass a few times.

    i love aperture 3 … i just whish it could use all the raw power of my mac pro which is not the case…. but it’s the same with lightroom

  17. Hey Robert, thanks for the heads up. I have not even gotten into any NR with Aperture yet but honestly, I never used it with ACR or Lightroom 🙂 Not a fan of NR but I am sure one day I may use it. I’ll give it a spin…


  18. Aperture 3 provides better more accurate skin tones and the overall visual design of the program is superior to Lightroom, particularly its use of the full screen. But Lightroom 3 appears to have much better noise control. In Lightroom 3 beta there is only the Chroma slider working. But only 15 percent is about all I need with Leica M9 images shot up to 1250 iso. Aperture has poor noise adjustments. It does not allow separate Chroma and Luminescence control. And it does a poor job removing the Chroma compared with Lightroom 3.

  19. Verners…well, let me go check my macbook pro screen….

    (steve leaves the office, heads to grab macbook pro)

    Hmmm, the yellow cast is WORSE on my MBP! Just by a slight amount though. I am looking at them side by side and I am AMAZED at how much better the images look on the IMac screen. Wow.

    Still, neither of these are “just right” so they would need to be tweaked. I do that anyway.

    BTW, my Imac screen has never flickered, and i do not see a yellow cast in anything other than my ACR converted M9 files. It’s slight but I notice it.

    I am 100% thrilled with the Imac and have been using it HEAVILY day in and day out.


  20. Hi
    To me at first it seemed as if the ACR looked more natural. This could be becouse of a bad screen at my workplace…
    I have red a lot about the 27″ imac screen problems and was wondering if yours is ok? The most common beeing screen flickering and Yellow Color Cast.

  21. These were meant to be direct OOC conversions from each program. No tweaks were allowed 🙂 Of course either can be tweaked to whatever you like so it really ends up being which user interface and management you like the best. I noticed for the past few months that I would always get a yellow-ish tone to my M9 images with ACR/Lightroom. That is no longer an issue with Aperture 3.

  22. One thing that you’ve missed steve is a couple adjustment presets that are quite handy for Leica M8/M9 users. One is “Fix Cyan Corners” – definitely aimed at M8 users, and quite effective I would add, and one to fix pink skin tones, which works well with the Leica’s too.

  23. Given that most photographers shooting in raw would do some form of colour correction wouldnt this tiny difference be all but meaningless ? The file organizational stuff on the other hand is neat.

  24. Steve,

    I agree with your analysis. Using the beta version of Lightroom 3 it appears to me the colors are a bit more like the Aperture treatment.

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