Aperture from Apple is one of the first of a new generation of all-in-one RAW workflow solutions that incorporate both image management features and RAW image processing in one package. In this review, professional social photographer, Mike French takes a look at the main features of Aperture version 1.0. The review will be updated with a comprehensive look at Aperture's RAW processing abilities upon release of Aperture 1.1, due out by the end of March.
Aperture is the recently released professional photography software from Apple. It is to iPhoto what Final Cut is to iMovie and presents a mouth watering set of current capability. It retails at approximately £299 + VAT and is only available on the Mac.
Aperture does have quite demanding hardware requirements. It will run on Powerbook G4s (1.25GHz or above), iMac G5s (1.8GHz or above) and the newer G5 PowerMacs (1.8 GHz or above). It does require 1GB or Ram and recommends 2GB or above), and also has a set of graphics cards listed in the requirements.
That said if you are buying a new Mac specifically for the purpose, or have a reasonably new machine capable of volume image editing then Aperture should run. As with all software though you should check the requirements with your specification to ensure compatibility – Aperture does have a checker that will not install the software if you do not have the minimum.
Aperture is currently released on the Power architecture, and therefore will run under emulation on the new Intel Macs. Version 1.1 which is due out very soon (end March) will be a universal binary version and will run native on both architectures. Version 1.1 will have some enhancements and I propose to give an overview of Aperture in this review and dig deeper in a second review once I get v1.1 via free software update.
I am running Aperture on my Quad 2.5GHz PowerMac with 500GB of internal disk and 4.5GB of RAM. I’m also using a 23” Apple cinema screen with a secondary smaller LCD screen.
Aperture boots rapidly in a matter of seconds and presents you with a welcome screen of import functions (iPhoto, folder or camera), a quick tour or to proceed to the application. This can be switched off which I did soon after first use. However, if you have your photo library currently stored in iPhoto then this could be a good first step.
For the purposes of this review I edited a recent wedding consisting of 319 images. The wedding was shot in RAW on Canon 1D/1Ds cameras. My workflow involves an initial copy into a folder structure, which I performed outside of Aperture. I then imported the files into Aperture’s library that took a little under five minutes. Aperture runs with its own library which is not accessible outside of the software, similar to iPhoto. So if you import directly into Aperture you will need to export items out to view them in the Mac OS. This makes perfect sense if you use Aperture as you only image viewing and editing software but is a marked change from the Adobe products, which just view existing directories of files. This library has to be on one logical disk and so I recommend that you put your Aperture library on the largest empty disk you have. You can of course run multiple libraries, but this might not be optimal particularly if you want to search for images. Aperture does have a neat backup feature called “Vault” which can automatically back up your images to multiples drives – certainly important for many of us who sometimes forget to backup every critical image.
Once you have your images imported and look at the Aperture interface it is very intuitive. Instantly recognisable is the library structure, thumbnails, main image area, some basic editing tools, a histogram/exposure/levels/white balance palette and a metadata area. Most users of Adobe Bridge, Capture One or one of the manufacturers tools such as Nikon Viewer or Canon DPP should have no trouble picking this up.
Aperture allows you to create multiple types of view on a specific project – books, web galleries, smart albums, light tables neatly grouping them together – but only ever maintaining one file.
There are some additional features on this interface that set Aperture apart from many of the aforementioned products:
Loupe: Just as it is in the real world the Loupe allows you to view sections of your images at 100% as you pass the loupe over your image. I found this useful for checking areas for critical focus (such as the eyes) without having to zoom in the entire image and then scroll around.
Light Table: The ability to place a selection of images onto a light table (large screen area) and resize them individually and lay them out as you might in an album, or as a pitch against a brief. This is invaluable for the early stages of album design – particularly when producing coffee table books.
Books: Create photo-books from within Aperture. Again from within the interface create a book based on your selection. Select themes and layouts and then order direct. I assume that these are either the same or a variation on the iPhoto books.
Stacks: Aperture can stack images that were taken within a specified time frame (eg 1.5 seconds). Particularly useful if you want to select an image from a burst of shooting. For me, ideal for confetti shots when I usually machine gun the shot and then select a particularly good expression, confetti shape, or a clear view of the eyes/face. I can also see where this would be invaluable in sports work. You can manually select stacks or let Aperture auto select.
Lift and Stamp: The ability to quickly copy recipe items or the entire recipe from an image hat has been adjusted to another, or set, of images.
Aperture also does some of the things you would expect to be able to do from other tools:
Rate images: Assign a rating to your images from unrated through to five stars enabling you to separate keepers from a shoot, competition shots, or gallery images or whatever separation you decide.
Web Gallery: Enables quick creation of a web site using a selection of the images. You can use one of a set of pre-built themes, and options on number of rows columns etc. This can be exported or published to a .mac account if you have one.
Slideshow: display a slideshow of the selected images on screen
Softproofing on screen: Proof your images on the screen, as they would be displayed on different media.
Metadata/IPTC fields/Keywording: for all you that prepare stock images or are tagging images with data such as IPTC fields for wiring or just simply adding a copyright message Aperture allows you to do this in a format similar to Photoshop or one of the digital asset management tools such as iView or Extensis Portfolio. However, Aperture also allows you to quickly classify images from 14 quick buttons on the bottom of the interface. Having tagged your images you can then search for images of a specific type when responding to stock requests. Or for simply just quickly trying to find them without browsing through projects.
Simple image adjustments: rotate, straighten, crop and red eye, levels, exposure and white balance. Note there are no curves to be found in Aperture v1.0
It is however the fact that Aperture can produce multiple versions of a RAW file without creating the derivative files until you require them, which is possibly the most interesting feature. The recipes are stored and associated with the RAW file, very small because they only contain the instructions to be applied to the RAW file.
This feature could well significantly reduce the amount of data you have to store on your machine, and also the number of files you need to handle. Critical to this though is the RAW conversion engine, which many other reviewers have criticised. I don’t have enough experience with it to make a final judgement and as this is an area I expect to be improved in Aperture 1.1 I will not make comment until I have had chance to evaluate this fully.
Finally it is worth pointing out that Aperture is not a replacement for Photoshop. It certainly overlaps functionality in Bridge, and the recently released beta of Lightroom seems to compete more in certain areas but Aperture works hand in hand with Photoshop. Aperture is for image management, rating, keywording, design, and output – Photoshop is for complex image manipulation.
In summary the positive points of Aperture are: Ability to perform multiple edits on one file and the process them all. All in one design. Loupe. Stacks.
The negative points: Current RAW conversion limitations (to be resolved in version 1.1). Have to import images into the Aperture library.
I’m very much looking forward to the new v1.1 due out in the next 10 days, and hope that it not only fixes some of the issues raised here and elsewhere but addresses the challenge issued by Adobe Lightroom with its beta programme.