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Apple Aperture 1.1 Review

| Apple Aperture 1.1 in Other Software
Aperture v1.0 was among the first all-in-one RAW workflow solutions that incorporates both image management features and RAW image processing in one package. Now updated to version 1.1, Aperture promises to provide state of the art RAW processing, along with the organisation and editing tools found in the previous version. In this review Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at the main features and how it stacks up against some of the competition.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Aperture 1.1 is the first Universal Binary version to be released, this means that it will run seamlessly no matter whether your Mac is a PowerPC version or one of the newer Intel-based Macs, with no need for any software emulation. The advantage for users of newer Intel Macs should be clear when it comes to speed.

The minimum hardware requirements are as follows:
  • One of the following Macintosh computers:
    Power Mac G5 with a 1.8-gigahertz (GHz) or faster PowerPC G5 processor
    iMac with 1.8GHz or faster PowerPC G5 or Intel Core Duo processor
    MacBook Pro
    15- or 17-inch PowerBook G4 with a 1.25GHz or faster PowerPC G4 processor
  • Mac OS X version 10.4.6 “Tiger” (or later)
  • 1GB of RAM (2GB recommended)
  • Display with 1280-by-854 (or higher) resolution
  • One of the following graphics cards:
    ATI Radeon X600 Pro or X600 XT
    ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition
    ATI Radeon X850 XT
    ATI Radeon X1600
    ATI Radeon 9800 XT or 9800 Pro
    ATI Radeon 9700 Pro
    ATI Radeon 9600, 9600 XT, 9600 Pro, or 9650
    ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 or 9600
    ATI Mobility X1600
    NVIDIA GeForce 6600 LE or 6600
    NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL or 6800 GT DDL
    NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT
    NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500
  • 5GB of disk space for application, sample projects, and tutorial
  • DVD drive for installation
Aperture uses a lot of system resources and requires a powerful machine. For testing, Apple supplied me with one of the latest Intel-based Macbook Pro laptops, complete with a 2GHz dual core processor and 1GB DDR2 SDRAM.

The list of cameras supported by Aperture has also been updated for version 1.1, and now supports the following:

Canon EOS 1D, EOS 1Ds, EOS 1D Mark II, EOS 1D Mark IIN, EOS 1Ds Mark II, EOS 5D, EOS 10D, EOS 20D, EOS 30D, EOS D30, EOS D60, EOS 300D, EOS 350D, PowerShot G5, PowerShot G6, PowerShot Pro 1, PowerShot S60, PowerShot S70
Nikon D1, D1H, D1X, D2H, D2Hs, D2X, D50, D70, D70s, D100, D200, Coolpix 8400, Coolpix 8700, Coolpix 8800.
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, DiMAGE A1, DiMAGE A2
Leica Digilux 2
Panasonic DMC-LC1
Olympus E1, C-7000, C-8080 Wide Zoom, E-300
Pentax *ist D
Sony DSC-F828, DSC-V3

In use
RAW workflow consists of three major stages, transferring your images, optimisation of colour, contrast and exposure, and finally exporting the batch of images.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Connecting a memory card reader, camera or starting Aperture yourself opens the welcome screen. From here you have a few simple options to help organise your photos into Aperture libraries.To do this, simply select the correct option from the welcome screen.
The files are not accessible outside of Aperture once imported, which unnerved me a little. Copying your files to the computer, then importing them seems like a more sensible approach, then at least you have your files available to back up just in case the worst happens.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Transfer
Previews of all the images stored on your card are generated swiftly allowing you to pick and choose what to import. At this stage you have the option to rename your files, select which image library they will be added to, and add to the IPTC information associated with each file. This is useful if you intend to send your images to a stock library, or sell them through an agency.
Once your files are copied, you are ready to start optimising your images.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Optimisation
5 Controls for adjusting your images are located on the left-hand side. All the most common features are covered in Aperture 1.1 in pretty much the way you would expect, or would be familiar with, if you have used other image editing applications. There are a few quirks and additional features, which I will highlight here.

This resides above all the other tool panels and is where your exposure information is displayed. Either a luminance or composite RGB histogram can be displayed, giving you all the information you need.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1RAW fine tuning
Here you make adjustments to how the RAW processing engine within Aperture does its job. If you have a particular favourite combination of settings, a custom profile can be saved.
The Boost control produces a similar effect as applying an S-shaped curves adjustment to an image, increasing contrast and colour saturation. I find setting this to between 0.50 and 1.00 suits me best.
The Chroma Blur tool is handy for a bit of extra control over image noise levels. By adjusting this you can reduce the amount of chroma noise present in an image, without reducing detail in the luminance channel. Once familiarised with this tool it's very effective.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Exposure
Four sliders provide control over exposure compensation, saturation, brightness and contrast. The exposure compensation range can be adjusted two stops above and below what the image was shot at, which is fairly typical.
The three coloured circles allow for quick and precise colour adjustments. Simply select a black, grey and white point in your image and Aperture does the rest. These values can also be set manually, although that is a much trickier process.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Levels
Five different types of exposure information can be displayed and viewed in the levels palette - luminance, composite RGB, red, green and blue can all be selected from the channel menu.
As well as the usual black, white and grey points you will be familiar with, Aperture adds in two quarter-points on the levels display. There is no curves tool in Aperture, which I missed. You can get similar results from these quarter-points, but it took me some time to get used to before I was getting results I was happy with.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1White balance
White balance controls are kept simple in Aperture. Two sliders, one for colour temperature and one for the hue provide all the manual control you need.
A dropper tool sets the white balance automatically when a neutral area is selected from the image.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Loupe
When editing in Aperture your RAW files are opened at their full resolution. To take advantage of this, Apple have provided the loupe tool, which comprises of two circles - one shows where you are selecting from, and the second larger circle shows an enlargement at its full resolution.
This is not only great for checking sharpness, but can be used in conjunction with any other tool which requires you to select an area of the picture. RGB and luminance values are displayed in the loupe, which is new to version 1.1. This for helps you evaluate the best area to select for white balance.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Side-by-side display
Aperture allows multiple images to be viewed side-by-side and edited as a batch using the Lift and Stamp tools, or independently.
This is useful for when you have a series of similar shots for example, when bracketing or using continuous shooting, and you want to pick the best one.
To apply settings across a range of images, simply use the Lift tool to capture the settings and then the Stamp tool to apply them to a group.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Light-tables
The light table view allows you to load a selection of images for viewing, so that you can see how they will look together.
Images can be resized and moved around on screen, plus each light table you create is saved as part of your image library, so it's always there for you to return to for reference.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Export
When editing in Aperture, you are never actually altering the original data captured by your camera, instead you alter a set of instructions.
When it comes to exporting an optimised image, you can export as many versions of the same file as you like, whether it be JPEGs for the web, TIFFs for print, as a html gallery or even straight into an email attachment ready to send.
Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Aperture already has many preset options that cover most common scenarios. Each of these presets are also customisable.
One feature I particularly like is the ability to automatically watermark your images with a transparent .psd file when exporting for the web. Within this option you can assign the placement of the watermark and its transparency.

Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1Ouput comparison
I have used the image to the right to compare the output produced by Aperture v1.1 to that of two other popular RAW conversion solutions, Capture One Pro and Adobe Camera RAW.
A Nikon D200 set at ISO400 with a 180mm f/2.8 lens was used to take the image.
Default noise reduction settings were used when processing the images.
100% crops of the areas marked by the green squares are shown below for comparison.

Aperture v1.1 Capture One Pro v3.7.4rc1 Adobe Camera RAW v3.4
Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1
Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1
Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1 Apple Aperture 1.1  Review: Apple Aperture 1.1

In my previous review of Capture One Pro version 3.7.4 I had to call it a draw between that software and Adobe Camera Raw for reproduction of fine detail. Aperture definitely matches both of these for the amount of detail reproduced.
When it comes to control of digital noise Aperture also performs well here producing a smoother image than Abobe Camera RAW, but not quite as smooth as Capture One. The Chroma Blur tool would help here, and with a little fine tuning it could match that of Capture One.

When Aperture v1.0 hit the shelves, criticism was levelled at it for its lower than average RAW processing performance. Since then Apple have worked hard to improve the RAW processing engine. When the improved image quality in version 1.1 is coupled with the already established list of features, it makes for an excellent RAW workflow solution.

In summary the positive points of Phase One, Capture One PRO are:
Apple Aperture 1.1Multiple edits on each file.
Apple Aperture 1.1Improved RAW processing engine.
Apple Aperture 1.1All in one design.
Apple Aperture 1.1Loupe.
Apple Aperture 1.1Boost control.
Apple Aperture 1.1Comprehensive list of output options.
Apple Aperture 1.1Speed when used on an up-to-date machine

The negative points:
Apple Aperture 1.1No curves control.
Apple Aperture 1.1Files not accessible outside of Aperture libraries.
Apple Aperture 1.1Too demanding for older Macs.
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