Aperture 2 Review

Apple’s launch of Aperture in 2005 quickly won the hearts of many professional photographers. Providing a single application to import, manage and offer basic processing for their photos, it was a godsend, saving photographers hours after a photo shoot. But then Adobe launched Photoshop Lightroom, which was cheaper and ran more quickly, although it had a less well-designed interface. Now Apple has launched Aperture 2, which the company says was developed in association with an advisory board of professional photographers. Version 2 is certainly
a dramatic overhaul.

The most striking improvement is that Aperture 2 is much faster than its predecessor, thanks in part to an optimised database running behind the software. A new user interface makes it more appealing to first-time users, and over 100 new features means it significantly leapfrogs Lightroom in functionality.

Instead of imposing large feature palettes on both sides of the screen, version 2 streamlines them into a single heads-up display (HUD). The HUD has three tabs: one for dealing with how images are stored, one for adding and editing metadata, and one for making image adjustments. Pressing ‘w’ toggles between the different tabs. The metadata support is excellent, allowing users to create multiple presets that can be applied en masse to groups of photos (and at the import stage). Users can fully customise the keyboard shortcuts, but using the
default ones alone can massively speed up work.

Stepping through recently-imported photos used to be slow because the software would keep pulling up the full resolution pictures. Now in the quick preview option the software uses JPEG previews that are ideal for on-screen use. The high quality RAW files produced by digital SLR cameras, and favoured by professional photographers, normally contain JPEG previews. As photos are imported, the software uses those previews initially, and then replaces them by creating its own in the background.

Owners of the latest cameras will be pleased to hear that Apple has added support for more cameras – as well as and Adobe’s DNG camera files. There is also now a feature to stop you importing duplicates.

Direct import
Studio photographers can skip the importing process altogether. This involves hooking up a camera to an Aperture-running Mac – the photos then go straight into Aperture as they are taken. Apple says that Nikons widely support this, and some older Canons do, though the very latest Canons are using a proprietary protocol and Apple has not yet been able to get them working.

Browsing photos stored in Aperture is now simpler. Users can choose to examine them in three different views, and pressing the ‘v’ key on its own cycles between each of these views. One shows a page of thumbnails, one shows a single photo at a time, and one has a photo taking up most of the screen and a filmstrip along the bottom. The left and right keys move between photos. An ‘All Projects’ view lets users jump through their entire catalogue of photos. This is fast even with several hundred thousand photos stored on the system.
Aperture excels at keeping photo collections organised. Photos can be stored in projects that are grouped together in nested folders. Smart folders bring together images based on a query.

Aperture 2 integrates very effectively with other applications. Photos stored in iPhoto can be easily accessed thanks to an in-built iPhoto browser. On Mac OS X Leopard systems, programs such as Mail, iMovie, and Keynote provide a media browser that display Aperture photos. Photos can be published to an iWeb photo gallery, with clients given unique usernames and passwords to inspect a photoshoot. It is a shame, though, that there is no built-in support for Yahoo!’s Flickr, and while web albums can be exported, there is no FTP uploader incorporated into the software. Exporting photos more conventionally has been improved: exporting is now done in the background; in previous versions, it could easily have locked up the program for hours.

Users of printers with 16-bit printer drivers from Canon or Epson will benefit from 16-bit printing support. There is also a built-in photobook-printing feature for creating lasting bound mementoes, which will be especially useful for wedding photographers.

Hide and seek
Photographers with large catalogues will find the search facility a godsend. It is now possible to search according to the adjustments that have been made (in addition to more conventional searches, such as by metadata or keywords). Searching by adjustment enables photographers to find, for example, all photos in a project that have been turned black and white. Nothing else on the market does this, and it is possible because Aperture does not save multiple versions of a photo, just a list of instructions about what has been done to the original master. This also means the software is very efficient on disk space.

While a photo retouching package like Photoshop is still needed for high-end image manipulation, especially compositing, many photographers will find themselves rarely leaving Aperture. A new retouching brush makes sure of this, allowing users to clone or repair their photos. The repair mode cleverly works
out, based on pixels nearby, what users are likely to be trying to remove. It also has a “detect edges” option, preventing the tool from running, for example,
off a person’s neck and onto their shirt. Users of pressure-sensitive graphics templates will find that the software adjusts the size of the brush according
to pressure.

Cropping photos has been improved: holding down the Command key displays three vertical and three horizontal lines, allowing cropping to be made according to the photographers’ rule of thirds. Increasing the exposure of photos is often necessary, but can do damage by removing detail from very bright areas: a recovery tool rescues those areas that are over-exposed.

There are other new tools which speed up enhancements. A vibrancy tool increases saturation without affecting a person’s skin colour. A colour dropper lets users pick a colour in their photo and then alter that colour’s luminosity or saturation, useful when needing to make a sky look brighter. A vignette feature subtly darkens the corner of photos. This is ideal for drawing people’s eyes to the centre of a photograph and adding atmosphere.

OUR VERDICT

Before Aperture 2, there was a case for choosing Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom, especially if not using a particularly high-powered machine. Photographers working under both Windows and Mac might prefer Lightroom’s cross-platform compatibility. For everyone else, Aperture’s new feature set, speed boost and intuitive interface make it the compelling purchase.

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