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Aperture 2, A Look at Apple’s Pro Photo Workflow Application | B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
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Aperture 2, A Look at Apple's Pro Photo Workflow Application

Review by Jim Fisher

Aimed at professional photographers, Aperture is Apple's answer to a complete digital workflow. The software suite allows you to import, organize, edit, and output photographs. Although pros will still need to use Photoshop for heavy lifting, Aperture features integrated tools for level, color, and exposure adjustments. Any adjustments made in Aperture are completely nondestructive, preserving the integrity of your original digital images.

Unfortunately, Apple passed up the opportunity to call the latest iteration of the software "Aperture f/2." Still, the software boasts over 100 new features, including a completely revised interface. Aperture uses a project-based workflow for management. All of your photos exist in a single library, which is broken up into sub-libraries called "Projects."

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The Aperture 2 Interface

Interface and Workflow

Individual projects can have multiple albums, smart albums, light tables, photo books, and web projects associated with them. You'll be able to make nondestructive adjustments to an image from anywhere within the program. Notice a dust spot when doing the final proof for a client's photo album? Make the change right from within the album layout page; the change is applied to all instances of that image in the project.

Images can be imported from memory cards, via USB tethered shooting, or from files. When importing from existing files on your Mac, you have the option of leaving the files in their current locations and having Aperture reference them, or copying the file into the Aperture library.

The Aperture interface gives you multiple views in which to work with images. Selecting a project shows all the images contained within. You can quickly cycle via three views in the project window -- a thumbnail view, a single image view, or a hybrid view that contains a "filmstrip" of thumbnails underneath the selected image as shown above.

Once you have images in a project, you can begin to work with them as you see fit. You can start by making adjustments to images, by ranking images, or by creating albums. Aperture does not lock you into a linear workflow: the software adapts to the way you work, not vice versa.

Click to zoom
Adjustments available
in Aperture

As a RAW convertor, Aperture holds up pretty well compared to its competition. You'll be able to work with color levels, white balance, exposure, contrast, sharpness, cropping, and many other common image adjustments. Even though the software has an integrated clone stamp tool, you will probably find yourself working with images in Photoshop for fine detail work and advanced editing.

Edits done in Aperture can be quickly undone via check boxes. You'll even be able to save presets for common adjustments. If you feel you may have over-processed an image, you can quickly uncheck a group of sliders to remove their effect. One downside to this approach is the fact that some tools are grouped together. You can't uncheck a Black Point adjustment without also unchecking a Brightness adjustment they are both part of the Exposure pane.

Smart Albums are one of Aperture's strongest features. You'll be able to use them to filter images by star rating, EXIF data, keywords, capture date, and many more attributes. They are a great way to help you keep projects organized. Create a Smart Album to display all of the images rated as 3 stars and above in a project to give you a quick overview of the "keepers." If you add keyword tags to images, you can locate all the images that feature the bride in a wedding shoot, or those tagged with the name of a specific model from a studio shoot.

Click to Zoom
Smart Album Settings

You can even create Smart Albums on the library level. Want to see all the images in the library that were taken with a particular lens? Create a Smart Album for the task. The album updates automatically when you add more images to the library, making it a truly powerful tool for image management.

Apple Integration and Output Options

Capturing and post-processing an image are only means to an end. Professional photographers need to deliver quality prints to clients, and enthusiastic hobbyists may choose to display some of their better work in web galleries.

The software offers many choices for output. You can create a Light Table within a project, which allows you to create mockups of photo arrangements. The Light Table can be useful if you are printing multiple photos on a large sheet of paper, or if you are creating a mock-up for a magazine or book layout.

Click to Zoom
Laying Out a Photo Book in Aperture

You'll also be able to create full-fledged photo books in Aperture. The software has a predefined layouts that can be used to quickly create memory books for clients or a printed portfolio of your best work. Once you've finished designing a book, you'll be able to print it on your own, export it as a PDF for client proofing, or order a professionally printed copy via the Internet.

As an Apple product, Aperture plays well with Apple devices and services. Aperture creates web photo galleries using the .Mac service. You'll be able to sync an Aperture library with an Apple TV, iPhone, iPod, or an iPod touch. Users without the .Mac service will be able to export web pages and web journals as HTML files for upload to a standard web host.

Caveats and Quirks

As powerful as Aperture is, it is not without its flaws and quirks. Photographers expecting an all-in-one solution for every situation will surely be disappointed. The program cannot perform horizontal or vertical flips of an image; those must be performed in an external editor. Apple states that the Moire control can help to remove purple fringing from high-contrast edges in RAW files, but I found that a trip to Photoshop was still necessary to remove it in some situations.

Apple has caught some flak for the length of time it takes them to add RAW support for the latest and greatest cameras to OS X. The Nikon D3 and D300 were on the market for about three months before they were supported in Leopard. Previous versions of Aperture relied on OS X's integrated RAW processing.

Aperture 2 divorces itself from this dependence; it features its own internal RAW convertor, which should hopefully lead to shorter turnaround times for camera support in the future. Its support is not perfect, unfortunately; as of this writing, it does not support reading the lens identifier for RAW files created with the Pentax K10D's latest firmware, which has been available for over six months.

The Lens Model should read
FA 31mm Limited f/1.8

These shortcomings may be addressed in time. Apple has opened up Aperture 2 for plug-in development. Although the folks at Cupertino have yet to release a Software Development Kit, the software has the potential to be as extensible as Photoshop. Third-party developers will surely swoop in with enhancements to the software when the SDK is made available.

Aperture is also incompatible with Leopard's Time Machine backup. Apple recommends that you exclude the Aperture library from backups. The application has a built in "Vault" feature that is designed to allow you to backup your library. However, it is not as easy to use as Time Machine as it requires manual intervention.

Conclusion

Aperture 2 is a robust photo management and post-processing application. It has an extensive feature set that may be daunting to new users, especially advanced amateurs who have outgrown iPhoto. Thankfully, Apple has published some very informative tutorials on their web page. They have also made the software available in a fully-functional demo version. The demo is a free download from Apple's site, and will function for thirty days. This gives you plenty of time to get comfortable with the software and make a purchasing decision.

If you find that you aren't comfortable with Aperture's interface, you may also want to consider Adobe's LightRoom application. Conceptually similar to Aperture, the software offers a more defined linear workflow and a very different interface. It is also available in thirty-day trial form from Adobe's web site.

At the end of the day, you must work with what suits your needs best. Professional photographers can easily shoot tens of thousands of images a year. An efficient post-processing and management application is an essential tool: not only to keep files organized, but also to get finished products in the client's hands in an efficient manner.

Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to emailfeedback@bhphotovideo.com