Choosing the right software for managing your digital photos is very important because you spend a lot of time with this tool. These days, with so many digital photos and videos on our computers, the task of managing all this digital media has become very complex. So having a good tool is very important for every photographer. Google’s Picasa and Adobe’s Lightroom have become the two main choices of programs for most photographers. While there are similarities between the two, both Picasa and Lightroom are very different as well. Read on about four fundamental differences between the two most popular digital asset management tools.
Picasa has a different purpose than Adobe Lightroom
Even after using Picasa a little bit, its purpose becomes clear. That purpose is to move users towards Google+ and Google services.
It is true that you can use Picasa completely independent of having a Google account. But when it comes to sharing media, everything in Picasa becomes easier if you have a Google account.
So, while Picasa is a great tool for organizing and managing your digital media, Picasa is mainly about sharing media using Google services.
Lightroom on the other hand has only one purpose and that is centered around you as the photographer. You as the photographer use Lightroom to get your photography tasks done regardless of trainer or Google or YouTube or Facebook or any other platform you want to showcase your pictures on. Lightroom provides plugin so you could actually explored all your photos to any of the well-known online services that are available. Picasa and the other hand has only primarily only one service in mind and that is Google+.
Even though I use Lightroom for editing my photos, I still go to Picasa whenever I want to email some pictures. Picasa’s integration with GMail is excellent and it is the simplest thing to use. Picasa also integrates well with Outlook or other desktop email client. Lightroom on the other hand gives you all the tools to prepare your images for email. But Lightroom doesn’t create the email with the images already resized, as Picasa does.
To summarize, Picasa is a master of media sharing, as long as you use Google services.
Processing raw photos with Picasa is fundamentally different than Adobe Lightroom
Every digital photo management program needs to first convert a RAW photo before displaying it to you. While this is fine for viewing purposes, when editing a RAW digital photo, you want your edits to be applied to the RAW image. This is why you shoot in RAW format to begin with.
However, Picasa only knows how to edit JPEG photos.
So how does Picasa handle RAW photos? Well, Picasa tricks you!
Picasa transforms every raw photo into a JPEG before showing it to you and before applying any photo editing algorithms to it. So instead of taking advantage of the added information in the RAW format, when you are editing a RAW photo in Picasa, you are in fact editing a compressed image.
Tricky isn’t it?
If you shoot RAW format photos, Picasa cannot and will not help you other than allowing you to view your RAW images.
Adobe Lightroom on the other hand handles your RAW photos correctly which means that it leaves them alone. Lightroom can also transform your camera’s file format to the open source DNG RAW format for images.
Image metadata management is quite different in Picasa versus Lightroom
Metadata is the key to organizing large quantity of data in general, and in particular it is the key to organizing your media with more dimensions(Read When folders are not enough).
When it comes to photography, metadata is best when embedded in the image file itself (for JPEG and DNG formats at least). When it comes to creating this image metadata Picasa and Lightroom are different.
Picasa has taken the minimalist approach. Picasa will allow you to see EXIF information, add keywords (in both IPTC and XMP formats) and geotags (in the right place in EXIF) using a beautiful integration with Google Maps.
This will cover 80% of world’s photographers probably and it takes care of the minimal set of metadata most people will ever use. Except when you need more.
Image metadata includes a lot more than keywords and geotags, and if you need to enter IPTC type of fields, then Picasa can’t help you. You need Lightroom if you want to add author, country, city, and any descriptions of your pictures.
If you need more metadata fields than keywords and geotags, then you must choose Lightroom.
Image editing algorithms in Picasa are different than Adobe Lightroom
Picasa has acquired Nik software some time ago and it looks like they have integrated Nik’s image editing algorithms into Picasa. For the most part, these image processing functions are pretty cool, but they are somewhat basic when compared with what Lightroom offers.
Adobe on the other hand is well known for its absolutely gorgeous image editing algorithms that span tens of years going back to the first version of Photoshop and other image processing tools. Image editing is Adobe’s “bread and butter” as they say.
Some of my favorite image editing functions in Lighroom are: highlights, shadows, blacks and whites (all with plus and minus controls), lens profiles for correcting lens problems (only if shooting RAW) and noise reduction. They are just gorgeous, especially when applied to RAW images.
Should you choose Picasa or Lightroom?
This is a hard question because it really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are shooting JPEGs and you only need basic editing capabilities (cropping, brightness, contrast, etc.), and you don’t need access to all the metadata fields, then Picasa is probably sufficient for you. Picasa, is also much easier to use when compared to Lightroom.
On the other hand, if you are shooting RAW photos and want to edit them, then your choice must be Lightroom.
The most important question to ask when choosing between Picasa and Lighroom is this: am I shooting and editing RAW digital photos?