I’ve been using Apple Aperture pretty much since its initial price drop (with version 1.5) and while I have tried Adobe Lightroom from time to time I never got comfortable with the workflow in it.
The End of Aperture & the beginning of something new
Last year Apple announced that they were going to discontinue Aperture and iPhoto and bring out a new, unified, photos app called Photos. This new app looks a lot like their app on iOS but will have more advanced features on the Mac, inheriting some capabilities from both Aperture and iPhoto. While this will be great for a lot of users, this is not a good solution for the mess that is my photo library.
I have almost 100,000 images in total spanning from around 2000 to the present – already in way too many Aperture libraries because the main library got too big to handle. Photos takes away some of the organization capabilities that Aperture had due to projects so I don’t feel comfortable putting my whole library into it.
The alternative: Adobe Lightroom
So the other alternative is moving to Adobe Lightroom. Adobe was quick to announce that they were working on an Import Tool for Aperture (and iPhoto) users to move their libraries more easily to Lightroom. The catch though: You need to be a subscriber of the Adobe Tools to use it, simply buying the stand-alone version of Lightroom won’t get you this plugin.
Since I needed to update my Photoshop version anyway (I was still using CS3) and Adobe decided to keep the special deal for photographers around long term (Photoshop and Lightroom as one subscription), I bought that and began familiarizing myself with Lightroom.
This happened just before my vacation to Madeira, so I decided to not import my Madeira pictures into Aperture but use Lightroom full time for this for the first time to really get a good sense of working with it. Since it was a vacation (yay) I also had time to read – which meant I bought the excellent Lightroom book by Scott Kelby and read it cover to cover. I cannot recommend it enough when starting out with Lightroom! It helped me a great deal in coming to grips with the differences in how to work with it compared to Aperture.
Importing the past
So now I had my new photos in there but what about the old ones? In October or so Adobe released a first version of the import tool. It imports your images with the star ratings and tags intact (stacks do not get transferred). To get your adjusted images across you have to generate high res previews in Aperture of those images (smart albums to the rescue!) since Lightroom cannot import the list of adjustments you made (they use completely different processors), so you have to import a “final” version of the adjusted version you had in Aperture – but of course you also get your original RAW or JPG version of the image.
Sounds peachy, right? For small libraries it is indeed this simple. But the problems started with my multiple libraries and with the behemoth that is my old master library (750GB of images). The easy part: Multiple Library import – the Aperture import in Lightroom generates a collection set called “Aperture Import” – this will give you an error if you import a different library. Simply rename the collection set and you can import another one. Problem one solved.
The bigger issue was a rather unspecific error message on my big library. The first version of the plugin imported about 30% of the library ok and then it just stopped and didn’t do anything anymore. In the newer version apparently they check for whatever it is that caused this issue before the import (setting up the import takes around 10 minutes for my big library due to that) and doesn’t let me import.
Breaking my library down into smaller pieces
Since there hasn’t been an update for the plugin in a couple of weeks (maybe Lightroom 6 will bring a new version) I decided to try again – with the same result. So I finally broke down and started breaking the big library apart into smaller pieces. In Aperture you can chose a Project or a Folder of projects and export them as a new library. So I started exporting my main folders (I am still in the process of this).
In the process I realized what some of the issues were:
* I had some RAW files I had imported before Aperture supported them, it never realized it supports them now
* I had some images that it didn’t realize it had anymore, they were black with an exclamation mark and also do not export in Aperture.
Aperture Export App for harder cases
The library with the first type of images did not import into Lightroom, even though I could export the originals from Aperture just fine… For this case I bought Aperture Exporter on the App Store, a small utility allowing you to export all images in a library to folders with their meta-data and more advanced options on how to to the versions for adjusted images. I applied this to that library and then imported from the folder into Lightroom.
For the second type I ended up deleting them from the Aperture library. Because, really, what do you want to do with them? Those smaller libraries imported much quicker which is also a nice side effect of all of this since I have to have to external drives plugged into my laptop to do all of this.
Like I said, I am still in the process of doing this but I am hopeful to get everything over this way. But then I realized something else: due to the multiple failed imports (and maybe also due to my unwieldy Aperture library chaos of the last 10 years) I had multiple copies of images in my Lightroom library. Not just the adjusted versions I created on purpose but also a lot of duplicates of the RAW images!
Duplicates – Duplicates for everyone!
For this I bought another Lightroom plugin called Lightroom Duplicate Finder 2 which does what its name implies: it searches your Library for Duplicates. It is very fast about it (which I did not anticipate) but unfortunately – or thankfully, depending on your viewpoint – it does not delete the images. It simply flags them and creates a smart collection with all versions it suspects of having duplicates so you can mark one of them as rejected (which is way faster than deleting from the collection, just hit x – there is a command to delete all rejected images). You can also customize which fields it should evaluate for duplicates. My current selection gave me 30,000 images to go through… So this will take a while unfortunately but after that and some general house cleaning in Lightroom (generating collections and adding tags to images I never tagged) I should finally have a coherent library again that is useable!