Aperture, Apple’s pro digital image workflow application, is now within the reach of amateur budgets. What does it offer the serious photo enthusiast?
“The Aperture 2 interface has been streamlined to the point where it’s a lot less complicated that many budget photo editors. That’s a good thing in our view.”
We are all used to using photo album software to keep track of our digital photos. Aperture 2 is Photo album software for professionals, except that now Apple has cut the price in half, it’s within the grasp of photography enthusiasts everywhere.
The professionals call it workflow, it’s about what happens from the time you download a card full of images to your Mac to when they end up on the cover of Time magazine, or, more realistically, in a wedding album, on Flickr, or in a .mac web gallery.
That includes things like comparing and rating images, stacking them into groups of similar shots, adding keyword metadata, making tonal and colour adjustments, producing online portfolios for clients, and searching for that one right shot from a library that runs into thousand, or even hundreds of thousands of images.
Aperture is designed to work primarily with your DSLR’s Raw files. It’s equally happy with Tiffs, Jpegs, PSDs and numerous other image formats, but its adjustment tools are designed to squeeze the best quality images from Raw data. Aperture doesn’t edit the Raw files themselves, but produces ‘versions’ from them.
The versions aren’t new images, but edit lists which are applied to the master file in real time to create the version preview. This means you can quickly create several versions of a single photo – a colour adjusted one, a black and white version, another with a sepia effect – without filling your hard disk up with endless copies.
The Aperture 2 interface has been streamlined to the point where it’s a lot less complicated that many budget photo editors. That’s a good thing in our view, just because an application offers sophisticated features and a powerful tools doesn’t mean it has to look like the control centre for a nuclear power plant.
Projects, metadata and adjustment tools have been consolidated into one tabbed Inspector panel and the main viewing window now has three view options; you can display the Browser, which shows all of the image thumbnails in a selected project, the Viewer, which displays a large preview of the currently selected browser thumbnail, or both.
A turn of speed
In this latest version, Apple has addressed several issues which were the cause of grumbles among existing Aperture users. Aperture’s past performance has been less than blistering. Apple has solved the problem by introducing a new Quick Preview mode which displays photos using the image thumbnail, rather than the high resolution data.
This is good enough for things like rating, adding keywords, searching and comparing images, it’s actually quite difficult to spot the display quality difference. But for making tonal and colour adjustments and retouching images you need to turn Quick Preview off.
Apple has provided Aperture with an extra turn of speed by optimizing its database, making searches of large image libraries much faster. It has also extended the search criteria to include adjustments so, as well as searching on the basis of keyword or other IPTC or EXIF metadata, you can now find all your black and white shots, or only those that have been retouched.
Aperture’s adjustment tools are not intended to replace those of a dedicated image editor, but rather to provide what most photographers need for most images, most of the time. You can round-trip images to Photoshop or any other image editing application if you want to.
For the everyday stuff, the starting point is Aperture’s new Raw Fine Tuning 2.0 converter.
It’s this that demosaics and interprets the Raw data to produce the RGB file. Most of this happens automatically, but there are controls for making adjustments to colour rendering and for removing moiré patterns and edge fringing.
Beyond that is a lengthy panel consisting of controls for adjusting white balance and exposure, enhancing contrast and definition, adjusting levels, adding detail to highlights and shadows and colour balancing.
New among these is a recovery slider on the Exposure ‘brick’ whose purpose is to restore detail in highlights that are apparently ‘blown out’ i.e. irrecoverably overexposed. Although this works well on mildly overexposed images we don’t think it makes the most of the potential for highlight recovery that Raw images offer. But, if used in combination with Aperture’s other exposure tools – the Exposure control and highlights sliders – you can achieve good results.
There’s also a new Black Point slider for restoring detail in the shadows. Contrast and Saturation tools have been moved to a new Enhance brick and joined by two new controls, Vibrancy and Definition.
Drag any saturation slider to its maximum setting and all the colours go off the scale, producing a Dr who-style effect. Vibrancy allows you to radically increase colour saturation without this happening. Colours that are already heavily saturated are left alone. It also leaves skin tones largely unaltered so you can boost saturation in portraits without turning everyone yellow.
Aperture’s Spot and Patch retouching tool, a basic clone tool has been revamped and renamed. The new Retouch tool has two modes, clone, which works like a conventional clone brush and repair, which copies only texture and preserves hard edges. This is actually pretty effective and makes the likelihood of having to round-trip an image for retouching a remote one.
It’s early days for this kind of application. Aperture’s only real competition in this market is Adobe’s Lightroom which, at its current selling price, probably won’t attract too many buyers who aren’t making their living from photography. At this price and with these features, Aperture is the best way for anyone who is serious about their digital photo collection to manage, organize and edit it.
Aperture 2.0 Info
Typical price: £129 (upgrade £65)
Fast and efficient
Excellent adjustment tools
Highlight recovery and keyword organization could use improvement
Verdict: For the price of a good quality camera bag, Aperture provides everything you need to organize, optimize and edit large digital image libraries.
More info: Apple Photos Website
- The Loupe tool, Browser and Viewer view with Adjustments Inspector
- EXIF metadata in the Metadata inspector.
- L-R original, full saturation, full vibrancy
- Aperture 2.0 has a smart head’s-up display for keywords
- Aperture’s retouch tool is a vast improvement on the one in version 1.5