The Mac360 crew sports a wide range of interests. Alexis loves bargains. Jack is a relative newcomer to Mac. Carol keeps his criticism in check. Tera is technical. Ron and I prefer pro level applications; his technical, mine creative.
One of the least anticipated applications Apple has launched in recent years is Aperture; billed as a professional level digital image management tool.
Aperture is not competition to Adobe’s Photoshop CS, but is aimed more at the near professional and pro photographer.
Slowly, almost without fanfare, Apple is upping the Mac’s image as a professional tool.
There’s the hardware: Xserve, Xsan and high end PowerMacs so loved by the creative professionals.
There’s the software: Final Cut Pro, SoundTrack, DVD Studio, Motion, LiveType, Logic Pro. Packages that bring professional level tools to pros and near-pros.
For the Mac360 folks, Ron and I both work on Final Cut Studio; me for creative projects, he for technical post production.
As to Aperture, neither of us was totally surprised by Apple’s announcement of a professional level photo management application.
At first glance, it’s easy to say Aperture is just iPhoto on steroids. While that’s somewhat accurate, it also doesn’t allow for all that iPhoto does for the average digital hub user that’s not in Aperture.
It also doesn’t allow for all that Aperture does that iPhoto may never do.
As with Final Cut Pro is aimed at the video professional, Aperture is aimed at photographers, and requires professional Macs; PowerMacs and PowerBooks.
Aperture’s interface is similar to Final Cut Pro, Motion, and the other ‘pro’ apps. It looks great and drips with a slick display of tools that can be re-arranged on screen.
One complaint Ron and I share with Apple’s ‘pro’ applications is the small type used throughout. Chalk that up to age and the need for glasses or contacts.
Legibility is less an issue on smaller, 20-inch displays than the 23-inch displays we use. I can’t imagine how small Aperture’s text looks on a 30-inch display.
Aperture’s interface is Apple simple. Sleek and easy to figure out. You can rename files on import, and thumbnails appear automatically. The larger the screen, the more you can show.
Icon clickers may be disappointed that the import pane displays only in column view. I switch my view of Mac OS X to column view years ago so it’s not an issue with me.
The problem with column view is that it can’t be sorted, so naming your folders is important. Start with dates such as 2005_12_06 and life will be easier.
Importing is great in Aperture. Change file names, add ratings, add more metadata and keywords right at the import level.
Exporting is a different issue and EXIF data (the kind of info we really like when working with images at a pro level) is stripped. Not good.
To RAW or not to RAW. Good question. Near pro and some pro users stick with JPEG images because they’re easily manipulated at high quality and high res and can be moved around.
RAW is another animal and there’s still not a single specific RAW format. Aperture loves Canon RAW but pulls in RAW from Nikon and others.
So, Aperture works with RAW files in a non-destructive manner.
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Aperture has tools galore. If you’ve worked with Photoshop, you’ll appreciate that Apple has all the basic image processing tools in Aperture’s first version.
Except filters. That’s a little thin, depending on your requirements and experience with Photoshop which has so many filters it’s hard to keep track.
Other tools are worthy and have a similar look to the sparse processing tools found in the latest version of iPhoto.
Highlight and shadow adjustments are a favorite and the extent of control beyond iPhoto is pleasing. Fixing underexposed photos has never been easier.
There’s the standard red-eye tool; a requirement on any application dealing with photos. Aperture gives you more control.
Another favorite is the Aperture sharpen tool, though the control I was hoping for isn’t there. Yet. Since noise reduction is always a problem with some RAW images, noise also gets transferred when sharpening an image selection.
Looing good so far? Mostly. What’s not in Aperture?
That depends on your level of experience and requirements. The ‘everyone else has it just fine’ eyedropper tool doesn’t do RGB pixel info.
Aperture relies on Mac OS X Tiger’s built-in Core Image to manipulate some image elements. The hardware requirement shows when you begin stacking filters on a large image.
The slower the Mac, the slower the process on large images.
As to early version problems, there aren’t many but there are some. Pro-level photographers will have thousands of photos and a similar number of thumbnails.
There’s no ‘rebuild thumbnails’ to keep everything in sync.
I’m not a professional photographer who slaves over a hot keyboard and dreams Photoshop image manipulation late at night.
Really, really real pro photographers likely will stick with Photoshop CS and Adobe’s Bridge for management. The extensive library of Photoshop plugins alone make work at the high end easier and better than Aperture.
Aperture fits better with those of us who need photo management, photo manipulation, a built-in light table, and RAW, and love Apple’s pro applications, but don’t want the expense and time required to master the Photoshop family of tools.
In summary, Aperture is pleasing to work in because of a great layout and a basic array of tools. On the back end, pro users won’t like the RAW image conversion, lack of DNG support, and limited tools.
Is Aperture worth $499? That depends. If you don’t want to delve deeply into the Photoshop world, spend a few thousand dollars (and hours), then it’s a good start toward professional level photographic image manipulation.
Final Cut Pro wasn’t ready for prime time at version 1.0. Aperture isn’t either. But will be.
I like what I see but I feel the same as I did with the first version of Final Cut Pro. Almost there. Version 2.0 should be great.
Jack D. Miller
Apple is clearly positioning this below the Photoshop crowd and there’s plenty of us there.