Migrating from Lightroom to Aperture 3.

Posted by in Aperture, Aperture How-To, News, Photo Editing

This is a subject I thought about for a bit before I wrote about it, and before I decided on how I was going to migrate my files.  There are several ways to do this migration, each way has its own advantages and drawbacks. Unfortunately, there is no way to bring your non-destructive adjustments from Lightroom in to Aperture. This means you must export your edited Lightroom virtual copies to TIFF, PSD or JPG before you import them in to Aperture 3. I recommend that you export to PSD if you are a Photoshoper. If your 3rd party pixel editing application will not support PSD files the use TIFF.  Both PSD and TIFF support 16 bit images and use lossless compression, JPG on the other hand will degrade your image quality.

Here are bullet points for different migration methods that I considered. I am sure there are other ways to do the migration, but these are the ones I thought about.

  • Day Forward. Day forward is to stop using Lightroom and start using Aperture 3. This method you leave your data in its current format and if you need to edit something you go back to Lightroom and edit there.  The downside to day forward, is you must keep Lightroom running and continue to have a way to keep it running for as long as you need to edit your files.  This is not a good option for me as I don’t want to figure out how to keep Lightroom 2 running when Apple ships a new version of OS X and it may or may not be supported; powerPC users know this pain.
  • Import as you go. Import as you go is like day forward but when you need a project for a file from the project you import that file into Aperture 3.  The biggest disadvantage to this method is you loose your workflow momentum. There is nothing worse than being in the zone editing away, then have to jump though hoops you did not want to jump though to find and migrate some old photos. Again you need to keep Lightroom working longer than you should.
  • Full import. Import all your Lightroom catalogs into Aperture 3, all at once, make it a day-long project or two. The biggest disadvantage to full import is you loose all your nondestructive edits on your files, if you don’t export them to PSD, TIFF or JPG first.  Because all my major edits were done in Photoshop not Lightroom, I choose the full-import migration method. Full import is the method I will be l be discussing in this post.

Before we dive right in and import our photos we need to prepare our Lightroom catalogs for migration.

  1. Backup your files, if you loose something don’t come crying to me. I went and purchased an additional external hard drive to store my new Aperture 3 libraries on, so I was saved the trouble and time of backing up. WHAT! no backup?  I have a time machine backup of my catalogs and reference masters, plus I have every RAW file on DVD. Purchasing a new external hard drive just gave me the suspenders to go with that belt.
  2. In Lightroom Catalog preferences turn sidecar files. This will save the metadata, and keywords on your photos.
  3. [Optional Step] Export all your edited photos to JPG, TIFF or PSD. JPG will be smaller but will loose quality, don’t do it. PSD files are larger than your raw files, start at 3 times and working their way up from there, but don’t loose any quality. Tiff files are about the same size as PSD, and unless you have a application that doesn’t open PSD files I would not bother with them.

There are a lot of similarities between Lightroom catalogs and Aperture Libraries, but there are a lot of differences as well.  In Aperture 3 you can choose to have managed or reference libraries, Lightroom only support referenced catalogs. A managed library in Aperture 3 takes care of all file management for you and puts all you photos one nice and neat package.  With reference libraries all your master files are left up to you to manage anyway you wish.  I prefer to let Aperture 3 manage my files for me, I don’t want to be bothered with file management, I’ve got photos to take.   If you need to get to your master files you can always “Show the Package” in the finder and see all your wonderful master files stored neatly by date.

Here are some key points of how my Photoshop Lightroom 2 catalogs were stored:

  • The catalog files were stored on my internal drive, for speed.
  • The photos were located on a external Firewire drive, for the storage space.
  • The majority of my photos were stored in DGN format. For the files that were not converted to DNG, I told Lightroom to make a sidecar file in the catalog preferences to save my metadata and keywords. Aperture 3 supports DNG files so I did not bother converting them to PSD.

Here are the steps for migrating your Lightroom catalog to Aperture 3:

  1. Ensure that your backup is correct and complete. Don’t try this without a backup.
  2. Open the applications folder and get info on Aperture 3 and set it to 32 bit mode.
  3. Create a Aperture Library.  If you had more that one catalog in Lightroom I would recommend that you keep your Libraries setup the same way.  Create these libraries on the new external hard drive.
  4. Turn off faces in preferences. This will speed up your importing.
  5. Prepare our screen so you can see both Aperture 3 and the finder view of your Lightroom files.
  6. Now drag and drop your Lightroom folders into Aperture 3.  This will create the projects for you and import the photo in to those projects.
  7. Once your files are done importing Aperture will begin processing your files and create thumbnails.  Exit Aperture 3 and restart it, this will restart the processing and Aperture 3 will process your files faster.

Here are some answers to questions I have been asked about why I moved from Lightroom to Aperture 3.

What I miss about Lightroom?

  • Its integration with Photoshop, I liked the fact that the PSD files was not created until I saved the file in Photoshop. I liked opening files in layers and photo merge.
  • DNG files, I like the idea of a standard raw file, but I still kept backup of all my NEF files on DVD.

What I don’t miss about Lightroom?

  • Its interface.
  • Speed, I find Aperture faster for importing and faster to browse my files.
  • DNG files, I don’t miss the speed penalty on conversion.
  • Unmanaged files.

Why did I go though the pain of migration? I did so because I like the overall experience of Aperture 3 better, and I believe that using Aperture 3 will give my clients a better product.

I can’t and will not take any responsibility for the safety of your files. All I can tell you is this is method  that worked for me. Good luck with your migration, and please let us know how you did in the comments.

Bill Debevc