Adjustment brushes and presets
Expert tester and pro photographer, Ian Farrell takes a spin around Apple's 3rd instalment of Aperture.
Most Mac users will know that Apple has two photo editing applications – iPhoto and Aperture. The first of these comes preinstalled on every Mac, is packed with undeniably cool features, and is easy and good fun to use. The second has always been a more serious, sensible affair: Aperture’s interface is minimalist and grey – no colourful, cartoon-like icons here. It offers numerous ways to edit Raw files indestructibly with powerful tools; iPhoto has more friendly controls that seem to say “Play with me! You might like it!”
That’s how it’s been for ages: iPhoto for amateurs; Aperture for professionals. Until now that is. The latest release of Aperture (version 3) is targeted firmly at existing iPhoto users. The interface is less daunting and almost cheerful in places. Features like Faces and Places, which use face recognition and GPS technology to organise images, are straight from iPhoto 09. You can also share pictures on the internet via Flickr and Facebook straight from the application – no plug-ins required.
This isn’t to say that Aperture 3 has nothing to offer the advanced enthusiast or professional, it’s just that even Apple’s marketing for this release is focused almost entirely on getting the beginner or amateur to upgrade from iPhoto (free) to Aperture (£169).
An Apple executive told me recently that there are over 200 new features in Aperture 3, but before we get stuck in and look at some, it might be helpful to quickly recap over what Aperture does. At its heart, it’s a database that stores images, and allows them to be edited non-destructively. This means that you can make 20 edits to a photograph, then go back and change the first one in the sequence without affecting any of the others. Adjustments are stored as instructions in the database and applied in real time to the images in real time. It’s an efficient and highly creative way of working.
Aperture also allows you to keyword your photographs and organise them in projects, folder and albums. You can search thousands of images according to all manner of critera (rating, keyword, location, date, camera model, etc) and output them in different formats, from simple JPEG and TIFF files to websites, slideshows and on-line prints and photobooks. All this functionality comes at a price, though: you need a fast computer to run Aperture, and lots or RAM.
Apple Aperture 3: What's new
Faces and Places are two new ways to organise your images, although we’ve seen them before in iPhoto. Faces uses face-recognition technology to identify people in your pictures. When the application has found a face, the user tags it once with a name. Aperture then applies this tag every time it finds that person in another photograph.
In our real world tests using Aperture 3, Faces took quite a while to find all the faces in a library of just over 8000 pictures, and it then took a while to tag them all with names too. It’s then possible to choose a name and see all pictures containing that person. Or at least in theory. In our test a large number of pictures (some only landscapes!) confused the application (“Laura may be in these pictures”). If you have the time to spend on Faces, then I can see the technology being useful, but it seems it does need training.
Places organises pictures according to where they are shot, obtaining this information from either a GPS device, an iPhone or by the user entering information by hand. Neatly, a set of GPS coordinates is translated into a real place name by a database in Apple HQ, so 51.508˚N 0.0993˚W turns into the Tate Modern in London. You can then pull up all pictures taken in a particular location with a couple of clicks, and refine this search by time, camera, rating, etc.
Apple Aperture 3: Adjustment brushes and presets
Aperture 3 now allows pixel-by-pixel editing using its new non-destructive brushes. These are like layer masks in Adobe Photoshop, allowing the user to brush in or brush away adjustments. Automatic edge-detection can be turned on and off, and works well where there is enough contrast to clearly define an edge. Aperture 3 also supports graphics tables for fine-control work.
Most adjustments can be applied this way, including the new Curves and Chromatic Aberration tools and the Skin Smoothing brush, and the only problem is when Aperture’s performance sputters – which it does regularly on big files. The brush has a tendency to stick and then skip ahead. Frustrating when trying to carry out fine-detail work.
With all this comes a new look and feel. Controls are generally bigger and less cryptic. Full-screen view is much improved too, offering a path navigator for finding images quickly, and a view that lets you see your whole library at once. A neat touch is the vanishing Adjustments head-up display: just hold down Shift while dragging an adjustment slider, and the HUD disappears so you can see your image.
Users may now work with more than one Aperture Library without resorting to workarounds. Previously you would have to hold down Option while starting-up the application to force the creation of a new library. Now you can use a command in the file menu without closing Aperture.
Another welcome addition is Adjustment presets. While it’s always been possible to save presets for individual tools, it’s now possible to group these together. Apple have already supplied Cross Processing, Black & White, Toy Camera and a number of quick fixes, but you can also make your own presets, and swap them with colleagues. In fact, search for ‘Aperture 3 Presets’ and you’ll already find a few.
Something we’ve not really seen in Aperture yet is support for the growing number of video-enabled DSLRs out there, but this is now here. Aperture 3 can catalogue HD video footage in the same way as still images, and even allow you to trim clips and add multilayer soundtracks. When combined with the new slideshow functionality, which has been rebuilt from the ground up, the results are spectacular. Most impressive.
The Light Table and Photo Book design parts of the application stay roughly the same, although it is worth pointing out that Apple are now allowing a number of third party book manufacturers to offer products too. This is currently being aimed at the social photographer, with big names like GraphiStudio and Queensbury allowing pages designs to be put together in Aperture. We can’t wait to see where this goes, and hope to see companies like Blurb being incorporated too.
Apple Aperture 3: New features. New look
With all this comes a new look and feel. Controls and text are generally bigger and less cryptic. Full-screen view is much improved too, offering a path navigator for finding image quickly and a view that lets you see your whole library, not just one image. A neat touch is the new vanishing Adjustments head-up display, which gives you an uninterrupted view of your full-screen image. Just hold down Shift while dragging an adjustment slider, and the HUD will disappear.
Users may now work with more than one Aperture Library without resorting to workarounds. Previously you would have to moving the existing library, or holding down Option while starting up the application, to force the creation of a new library. Now you can switch using a command in the file menu without closing Aperture.
Apple Aperture 3: Performance
The quality of the Raw conversions from Aperture 3 is much improved thanks to a new processing engine. Gone are the strange coloured artifacts in specular highlights and noise reduction seems much better too. Speed of performance is a more variable affair, though.
Aperture is a hardware-hungry application, and as such you’ll need a good machine to run it, with a good graphics card too. The program draws on your graphics card’s power to help it out, so if you have one of the newer breeds of MacBook Pro laptops that has different graphics card options then make sure the faster one is switched on.
Some adjustments seem to require more power than others. If you apply adjustments like Definition to an image, and then add a couple of edits using a brush, Aperture’s speed drops frustratingly. Our advice is to make sure you have plenty of free disk space, as much memory as possible, a good graphics card and no other applications running in the background.
Apple Aperture 3: Verdict
This is a welcome update of Aperture, but I can’t help but think ‘about time Apple’. It’s a shame there is little in the way of real innovation here: we have seen the more amateur-targeted features (Face and Places) before in iPhoto, and the features that will appeal more to the professional and advanced enthusiast we’ve seen before in Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom has offered users adjustment brushes, presets and a sophisticated slideshow system since version 2. It’s a much faster program too, and new features are being added al the time as the version 3 beta progresses.
That said, there is much to like in this update of Aperture. It’s more creative than its rival and is a hugely intelligent approach to organizing your pictures. If Apple can sort out the poor speed issues, then Aperture 3 will be a thoroughly capable workflow solution for the photographer of all levels.
Apple Aperture 3: Pros
Faces and Places are welcome additions to already powerful organisational capabilities
Non-destructive adjustment brushes to apply effects selectively
Full screen mode much more usable
Excellent photobook design and slideshow modules
Apple Aperture 3: Cons
Speed of performance issues
Most new features already on offer in iPhoto or Adobe Lightroom
|EASE OF USE
||£154 (inc VAT)
|Name of system
||Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air, iMac or Mac Mini
||Running Mac OS X v10.5.8 or 10.6.2 or later
||1GB RAM (2GB required for Mac Pro)
||DVD Drive for installation
||1GB free hard disk space
Apple Aperture 3 costs approximately £154, or £69.99 as an upgrade and is available to buy from Warehouse Express:
Apple Aperture 3