Jan. 3, 2006, 3:51 p.m.


As any serious amateur photographer or professional for that matter should know by now, Apple released their professional Photography Workflow and RAW Processing software late November last year. It is called Aperture and I do not recall any other photographical software product causing so much uproar in the community. Here is my take on it all...

First some background. Apple always had very strong marketing techniques and when they marketed Aperture whilst it was still on back-order it was no exception. They had the most beautiful video clips of the application in action - enough to have anyone drool for this application. It looked slick, and seemed to fill the missing gap between the camera and the output media.

Apple marketed it as a RAW Workflow system with Professional Project Management, Nondestructive Image Processing and Versatile Printing and Publishing.

This is where the troubles started. People started believing so much in this application as the be all and end all that they even convinced themselves they would be able to get rid of Photoshop. So when at last Aperture arrived, here is what the industry felt dissapointed about:

  1. Seemingly one large proprietary library into which all your precious RAW files dissappear in - to never be seen again.
  2. No network sharing of the library
  3. No Curves tool and proper noise removal algorithms etc.
  4. Inferior RAW conversion compared to ACR, Capture One etc.
  5. Huge hardware requirements.

The aforementioned points are only some of the issues that came up. It was so bad that many people demanded a refund from Apple (and got it too).

I saw some references on the web regarding an Aperture System Compatibility Checker. Intuitively I thought nothing about it since I was running a 1.8GHz G5, nVidia GeForce 5200 screen card and 1.5GiB RAM - more than enough for something such as a photo workflow application. Curious, I ran the checker. It failed. Why? My screen card was not up to spec. I went shopping for one and ended up with a brand new Dual Core 2.3GHz machine with 2.5GiB RAM and the built-in nVidia GeForce 6600 screen card. My first pain with Aperture.....

Early December my copy arrived from B&H In New York. I was obviously both highly excited and extremely anxious. What if I just blew $500? I want something that can replace my whole workflow. I do not want to jump in and out of applications - that is what I used to do but it is very tedious.

After installing it, I began playing with some projects. I immediately fell in love with the workflow and management features - especially the search builder and hierarchical tree organizer. The nondestructive editing is one of the best ideas I think of 2005. In my normal workflow I would have had the 8MB RAW file, work on it and eventually have a JPEG version for every version of the image (such as normal, black and white, sepia etc). This wastes disk space and clutters your workspace. The RAW file is very important - but you will never want to show it. Only the processed file. Nondestructive editing saves the operations you want to apply to the RAW image - whenever you need it out of Aperture the system applies the conversions and creates whatever file you want.

But I did not start this blog entry to write a review of Aperture. I wrote it to explain my disgust in people's unsubstantiated opinions. The bad publicity Aperture received almost caused me to cancel my order. I pushed through however. Fortunately. See - I think Aperture is the best workflow software for most photograpers and is the way of the future.

Yes it has some rough edges. Missing features. Slightly inferior RAW conversions. But THIS IS A 1.0 APPLICATION! Coming from a software development background - what Apple did with Aperture took at least a team of 10 developers about 1 year. At least. The features packed in the application is amazing. But people were blinded by the one or two big issues and neglected the rest of the application. Yes white balance did not work. Auto stacking was uselessly slow. Metadata updating was uselessly slow. Exporting of 8 bit images had terrible dark colours. Why do I write in past tense? Because 3 weeks after Aperture was launced Apple released v1.0.1 which fixed all four these issues.

About the missing features - yes I need an eye dropper. I need a working noise reduction system. Better sharpening controls. But I can live with it for now. And if I can't - I'll use Aperture's workflow features for now. I have indeed imported 50000 photos processed using ACR and Noise Ninja... Why not carry on using your usual RAW conversion if the issues are too big to ignore?

The point is that I feel Apple was unfairly bashed for a brilliant product. Was it released too early? In my opinion - no. As long as it does not delete your photos, you can most of the time work around issues. The faster Apple released it, the faster they could get feedback from millions of people. The crucial thing here is just that Apple needs to release incremental updates regularly and quickly - which they seem to be doing.

I am a happy Aperture user... So if you are considering buying it - if your workflow is important to you, if cataloguing your photos and finding them easily is important - buy it. You won't make a mistake.