With Apple announcing that it is stopping development of its professional photography app, Aperture you may be wondering where to turn. In this round up of photo editing software we look at the best apps for professional photo management on a Mac.
Adobe Photoshop dominates the professional photo-editing market for the Mac and most would consider it the obvious alternative to Aperture. However those not wishing to now pay the monthly dues for Creative Cloud membership, or have no need of Photoshop’s power and complexity, can look to many alternatives for their photo fixing. Luckily there’s a plethora of quality standalone photo tools out there, with the best of them taking full advantage of the power of Mac OS X Mavericks and Yosemite.
There is a new photos app on the Mac: read about Photos for Mac here.
- How to move your photo library from Aperture or iPhoto to Photoshop Lightroom
- Everything you need to know about Apple's decision to kill Aperture and iPhoto
- How to move from iPhoto to Photoshop Elements
- iPhoto review
The applications gathered here tackle the basic digital photo workflow – ingest and asset management, correction and editing, output and sharing – with varying degrees of apertusuccess. It’s important to buy with your needs in mind, not just an eye on the cheapest product. Some applications are nothing more than glorified image libraries, while others concentrate purely on photo-editing, with no catalogue facility. Organisation of photos and image correction are essential, but having the tools to be more creative can also be rewarding.
See also: Photo editing software reviews
Some photo applications can take advantage of the camera's support for the RAW file format or the ability to shoot bracketed exposures for High Dynamic Range (HDR) images. Working with both HDR and RAW image processing offer much greater creative potential, but they're not essential for producing a decent snap.
You're as likely to be shooting through the lens of a smartphone as a digital camera these days, so image adjustment tools become important to enhance noisy, dark or squint photos. Many applications also offer preset adjustments that mimic old film for example, or add mood.
For the image-editing process, the key word to look for is 'non-destructive'. All adjustments that you make, with most of these applications, are actually simulations or script-based instructions acting on a virtual copy. The original image is completely preserved, with the changes are only committed to a new file when it is exported, printed or shared.
A new feature we're beginning to see among photo apps is the ability to take your catalogue mobile, linked to an online version that can be accessed by a smartphone or tablet. Many of the applications also offer the ability to create high-quality output in the form of slideshows and printing, sometimes even integrating with an online book publisher. There are also tools that will organise your images by facial recognition or time and place the photo was shot, and only provide that quick fix your photos need before sharing with friends and family. Accordingly you'll find levels of social media interaction is another differentiator here. However almost all the applications let you send photos to Facebook or Flickr.
More advanced tools will take advantage of the Mac's graphics capability to accelerate image processing, while there's also a move to use the new Retina display or High DPI of some external monitors for pixel-perfect photo editing.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 offers most of what you'd need from a darkroom and asset manager, handling a range of common still image, RAW and video formats, and using Photoshop or external applications when heavier editing is required.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 12
Photoshop Elements 12 keeps to the two-pronged workflow – importing, sort and image files in the Organizer, with the Photo Editor for manipulating and enhancing images, including RAW formats.
Apple Aperture 3.5.1
There's much in common between Aperture and its Adobe rival, Lightroom. Both are professional photography apps that offer support for very high resolution Retina displays and handle RAW image processing particularly well.
Apple iPhoto 9.5.1
Corel AfterShot Pro
AfterShot Pro builds on the foundation of Bibble 5 software, so it enjoys an advanced RAW workflow – such files appear in Thumbnail view very quickly and the application applies adjustments with welcome speed.
CyberLink PowerDirector Ultra 5
It may now offer HiDPI support, but PhotoDirector 5 hasn't changed much in appearance and workflow. It's more powerful though, with a 64-bit rewrite and improvements to RAW and JPEG image processing, allowing for faster import, export and image previews.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a freely distributed image editing application. Some criticisms in the past included the need for X11 developer tools to actually get GIMP onto your , but now all you need do is drag the GIMP.app from a downloaded DMG file into your Applications folder.
Pixelmator 3.0 FX
Pixelmator is a tool from the off, with the File>Open... dialog box giving you a choice of iCloud or hard disk as the location to browse. This version has also been rewritten to take advantage of Mac OS X Mavericks and a new imaging engine, with the company claiming up to a 2x speed increase when working with complex compositions.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Let's start with the freebies. It's often compared to Photoshop, but obviously at zero rather than high cost, GIMP should be celebrated for being such a sophisticated open-source and cross-platform offering. The editing toolset is unique, but useful, and with its layer support it can be a fine compositor. However it's not got anything in the way of asset management and is painfully slow in places, so if you need to do professional work fast, be prepared to splash some cash.
iPhotos correction tools still seem stuck in the past. Even the free GIMP offers better editing, and although it can handle RAW, this isn't iPhoto's strong point. Instead, asset management, particularly Faces and Places are great, and the output options are of a high quality.
Although Adobe's two-solution workflow is a bit of a pain, Guided Edits, Content-aware tools and one-shot adjustments, textures and frames set Photoshop Elements up above the likes of iPhoto, while offering similar levels of consumer tools like facial recognition. The mobile album workflow is also a step in a good direction, but the package just loses out to some of the more professional apps here.
Corel's AfterShot Pro is a very good package with strong promise and RAW support, it but does feel like it's lagging behind the likes of Pixelmator in the tools category, while cataloguing isn't a strong point. Nevertheless it's definitely worth a look, particularly if you work a lot with RAW files.
Pixelmator gets a point for being so Mac-friendly and up to date – and another for being such great value too. It's a very good editing, RAW and compositing tool, though it loses out on a top spot due to a lack of organisational utilities.
Lightroom and PhotoDirector are quite similar 64-bit beasts. All offer Retina display or HiDPI support, all offer RAW processing, adjustment presets and organisational helpers like Stacks in a similar library structure. PhotoDirector and Lightroom make more of Lens Profiles and seem more cutting edge than Aperture right now, however Lightroom just pulls ahead of the CyberLink package, thanks to its wider file support, proxy editing and all-round productivity.