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Review of Aperture: Why version 1 of Aperture was a big disappointment...

I first saw Aperture demonstrated at the Apple Store in Manchester's Trafford Centre in mid-December 2005. I was immediately impressed with the way it was possible to manage and display photos, and carry out basic enhancements on them. Where the advanced features of Photoshop were required, you could seamlessly switch into Photoshop and continue working before returning to Aperture.

Especially impressive were features like being able to dynamically resize thumbnails, edit in full screen mode, run slide shows, rate photos and arrange them into 'stacks', adjust contrast and brightness using advanced controls, rotate and crop in one go, and much more.

The presentation was carried out on one of Apple's latest high end G5 Macs with a massive 30 inch studio display.

Having seen it I couldn't stop thinking about it and soon returned to buy my copy for 349 pounds.

It was only after I installed the program on my Powerbook G4 with 2 Gb of RAM that I began to see a different side of Aperture.

It installed without any problems and started up fine. I decided to import a photo selection and start working with it. I chose my Japan 2005 folder, quite a large one with over 5 Gb of material, 2088 individual photos. I use the 12 megapixel Fuji Finepix S3 which produces high quality JPG files at 4.2 megabytes on disk.

In iView Media Pro, it takes a few seconds to make a catalog from the 2088 photos. In Aperture, it took the best part of half an hour for the folder to import into the Aperture Library.

Once imported I started browsing the images. I was able to play around with the photos as I'd seen in the demonstration, but it all seemed to be taking a lot longer. Also the Aperture window, divided up into sections, was less effective on a smaller screen. The text was in small white lettering on a black background. I don't mind this personally, but there are usability issues here.

The ranking tools were easy enough to use, once you had learned the short cuts. I soon started to make stacks, expanding them and contracting them. The slide show feature was cool, and it was good to be able to browse through the photos in full screen mode. The loupe tool is a neat feature, allowing you to magnify the photo to one-to-one pixel ratio, and check for blur and focus. You can either hold it over a full size image or one of the thumbnails.

The next stage was to try enhancing a photo. Using the mini-icons at the top I accessed the range of options. I tried Straighten and Crop. They worked fine.

Soon it became clear how working in Aperture is different to working in Photoshop. Instead of making alterations to a unique copy and then saving at some point, in Aperture, the original remains untouched, and new versions are saved by the program as you go along.

This means that you never need to worry about losing your original files, that is, unless, like me, you are careful always to rename and save enhanced versions in a different folder.

The effect of creating a separate Aperture library in addition to the original files is to vastly increase the amount of data on your hard drive. So in addition to my 5 Gigabyte original Folder, Aperture had created an additional set of files, the size of which expands as you work.

With only a small range of enhancement tools available, and no layers, sooner or later you have to go into Photoshop and here the trouble really starts.

Highlighting the image, I selected 'Open in external editor'. It took around 15 seconds to open the file, which appears at full size with all the changes already made in Aperture.

Interestingly Aperture creates an extra thumbnail next to the original. This is the Photoshop version.

By default, the file opened by Aperture in Photoshop is 16 bits per channel, so before you can carry out any changes you have to convert to 8 bits per channel.

Relieved to be back in Photoshop I quickly carried out my standard enhancements and used Actions to create my usual set of web-optimized versions.

I couldn't have done this stage of the work in Aperture, as it has no actions, no text tool, and most seriously of all, no sharpen. And talking of sharpen, the larger sized images displayed in Aperture seemed to lack sharpness. I thought the originals were out of focus but when I used the Loupe tool, I discovered actually they were perfectly sharp, but Aperture was displaying them unsharpened.

Returning to Aperture I looked for more images to enhance, and noticed that the Photoshop file I'd created was still there. Investigating further, I discovered that each time one of my 4.2 Mb JPEG files is opened in Photoshop, the Aperture Library jumps in size by about 70 megabytes. This is because it creates a full size Photoshop version of the file you've opened, and leaves it there when you've finished with it!.

In the course of enhancing say 20 photos chosen from around 100 in the folder after an average day out and about photographing, the 20 Photoshop versions will cause the Aperture Library to expand by one and a half gigabytes. At this rate I would probably fill up my hard drive within a couple of days of working with Aperture.

Of course, the solution is to delete the Photoshop files from the Aperture library, but that's one extra job on top of all the others.

At this point it was clear that I could not continue using Aperture because of its two main problems:

First, it has to import and create a duplicate set of files to your originals, unlike iView Media Pro which simply generates a thumbnail overview. I prefer to work with the original files and folders in the finder, managing them and naming them myself. Importing files into a library duplicates the amount of hard disk space used.

When you're dealing with large numbers of image files as I do, this is not an efficient way to use precious hard disk space and processing power.

The more serious problem with Aperture is that it is setting out to be an image enhancement program, in addition to being an image organisation program.

My advice to the makers of Aperture is: Don't!

There is only one image enhancment program on the planet that meets my minimum requirements for professional quality image manipulation, and that program is Adobe Photoshop.

Aperture should stick to being a photo organisation program, and leave all image enhancement to Photoshop or others. The image display, ranking and management features are good and could be developed into something useful. But rather than tailoring Aperture to run only on the latest and most powerful Mac G5s, and a few other recent Apple computers, developers should slim it down so it can run on a wider range of machines.

This is effectively a beta version of the program, and I think that many users will not appreciate having to pay 349 pounds for the privilege of testing it. I didn't.

So I returned my copy of Aperture to the Apple Store. Even though software is not normally accepted back once the seal has been broken, they agreed to do so and were very courteous and sympathetic. They were keen to hear my comments and pass them on to the development team at Apple.

I'm now looking at the latest versions of iView Media pro, and of course will continue to use what is possibly, despite its quirks, the greatest piece of sofware ever written: Adobe Photoshop.

And I will, of course, continue to use my Macintosh Powerbook G4 running Mac OSX, still, despite its shortcomings, the best laptop computer and operating system in the universe,

Aperture Review Aidan O'Rourke published exclusively on the Aidan O'Rourke Portfolio Site www.aidan.co.uk

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Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-12-22

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