Dodge and Burn – Lightroom 2 beta vs Aperture 2.1

Preface: this is a “sequel” to my previous article on the new dodge and burn plugin in Aperture, so it’s best to read that one first!

Here’s a quick rundown of my experiences with the new dodge and burn tools in the Lightroom 2 beta, and how they stack up to the same in Aperture 2.1. After a weekend of working with both tools, I’m still of very mixed feelings:

there are a few things I *really like* about Lightroom’s implementation, but in a lot of ways I feel they fall short. I used the same image as I did with my Aperture article for ease of comparison. Once again, here’s the original image:

Now Lightroom and aperture seem to approach the whole “brush based tools” paradigm in a very different way. Here’s the basic interface panel for the new tools in Lightroom 2 beta develop module:

Clicking the little “brush” looking icon brings up this dialogue. You’ll see the adjustment you want (exposure, which is essentially dodge and burn together depending on if you set a positive or negative value for the tool) and the standard size/feather/flow for the brush.

Note that as far as I can tell there is no kind of pressure sensitivity control when using a pen tablet as with aperture. You have 2 brush “presets” A and B and can switch between them. I usually keep one as a soft brush and one as a hard brush.

Another interesting feature is the “auto mask” which essentially tries to keep the adjustment you are painting within the boundaries of the area you are working in (by finding the edges and containing it within them). This seems to work fairly well on some images (that have clearly defined areas/regions, like burning the sky against a building for example) and not so well on others. Still a neat addition.

Now here we come to a fundamental difference between the Lightroom and Aperture implementations. While Aperture essentially has a “layer” for each adjustment (dodge, burn, saturation etc…) which you paint into, Lightroom uses discreet “point based regions” for each adjustment. To clarify: in Lightroom every time you make a “new” adjustment it creates a “point” which is a little white dot around which that brush stroke adjustment is based. This is essentially the anchor for the adjustment region, and you simply paint on the adjustment you want.

You can also switch to the erase brush with the same controls (feather, softness etc…) or simply toggle it by holding the option key (alt on windows I believe)

The interesting this is that once painting, each “pinned” region becomes just another adjustment on the image and can be changed/refined after the fact, by selecting “edit” and editing the adjustment – you can adjust the amount of exposure (dodge/burn) etc…

Now the annoying thing (to me at least) is the fact that there is no way of toggling the “overlay” of the brushed/adjusted area the way there is in aperture. When you hover over on the the “pins” it comes up with the area highlighted, but only while you are hovering over it. Sometimes you really want to be able to fine tune the edges of your adjustment area, and it is difficult to do this without having an overlay view. Hopefully this is something that will be implemented by the final release. I also wish they would make the overlay a color rather than just a translucent grey/white as sometimes it is difficult to see when brushing an effect onto a bright/white area.

As opposed to the Aperture paradigm of having a single adjustment layer with various intensities, here you are more likely to make multiple overlapping “point” regions, and adjust them individually after the fact. Unfortunately what I found was that this lead to a lot of “guesswork” for example when you want to lighten an area, first you have to guess how much exposure should be applied, then brush it in, then further refine it by adjusting the level, then if a “sub-area” need to be lightened/darkened more you have to create a new overlapping point region and again guess how much exposure is needed and adjust from there.

I give the win to Aperture’s implementation for ease of use and intuitiveness, but I can see the potential in having independently adjustable brush-edit regions.

Now after complaining about the implementation of the tool, I would like to point out the one incredibly awesome feature of Lightroom’s adjustments, that by itself may even be significant enough to swing the decision in it’s favor despite my favor for Aperture’s implementation:

that is the inclusion of the edits in the adjustment history for the image.

As mentioned before, Aperture creates a separate .tiff file from your master .raw when you invoke the burn and dodge tools. While not a huge drawback (it’s no different than roundtripping it to Photoshop for example) it adds a layer of complexity, as you are now essentially adjusting 2 images.

Lightroom on the other hand, makes the adjustments exactly the same as any of it’s other adjustments – meaning they they apply to the raw file, and are included in the history. Being able to step back and forth through the edit states of an image is just a fantastically useful feature, and a huge point in Lightroom’s favor.

In conclusion after using both tools for a short time now, I am really torn. I like apertures implementation overall better – it feels more natural and almost “painterly. I can definitely appreciate the approach of Lightroom’s implementation, but to me it isn’t quite “there” yet – there are a few annoying little details that make it less useful overall – the overlay is rather useless, with no toggling option and there really should be some kind of pressure sensitivity. It would also be nice to be able to label the “pins” to easily remember which pin went to which adjustment. I also really miss brush based blur and sharpening (both of which Aperture has).

Nonetheless, Lightroom gets big points for incorporating the brush tools into it’s standard workflow and history panel. This is simply an amazing feature which cannot be overlooked. If Lightroom can fix/improve the issues with the masking/overlay transparencies by the final release, it may still win out over Aperture. For now I reserve judgment – I will play with both and wait for the Lightroom final release 🙂


5 thoughts on “Dodge and Burn – Lightroom 2 beta vs Aperture 2.1”

  1. Great write-up! Though I haven’t used the new aperture yet (i was totally turned off by the nearly unusable slowness of Aperture 1.x on my 4GB Macbook Pro), I was curious to see the difference in implementation. I think adobe did a wonderful job integrating it without the need to create an additional file, but there are some shortcoming and you did a great job of covering them here.

  2. Thanks Ryan – The slowness of Aperture 1 was the main reason I wound up going with Lighroom in the first place. Now I’m faced with the Same dilemma All over again!

    I have to be fair to Adobe though – if past performance on lightroom beta is any indication I fully expect these tools to be much improved by the final release. They seemed to be really good about listening to feedback and implementing features based on user suggestions when it came to the v.1 beta->1.0 process.

  3. Ryan, as you’re also looking at Aperture, you’ve a Mac obviously. I have pressure sensitive painting on my Wacom with Lightroom, so I’m not sure why you’re not seeing it. Are you painting with 100% flow or a lower value? Maybe it’s hard to see at high flow values..

  4. Sean,
    what kind of pressure sensitivity did you see in lightroom? In Aperture, my wacom intuos tablet works great – the pressure controls the intensity of the brush, allowing you to brush lightly for a faint effect, and press hard for an intense effect.

    In lightroom beta though, the effect is pre-set when you create the “pin area”, and brushing with different pressures did not seem to change any of the settings for a given brushstroke. And in fact I wouldn’t think you *could* have a variable adjustment for a single stroke, since the settings for each “pin region” are fixed and adjusted holistically – to have a different “intensity” as with aperture would require the creation of another pin-region.

    If I am missing something, please let me know!

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