B&H First Look: Aperture 3


When Apple released the first version of Aperture back in 2005, the industry took notice. By combining professional-grade photo editing with an extensive file management system, the software became an instant hit with smaller studios and photojournalists. Back then, almost all editing was done in Photoshop. Creating individual layers to control shadows, mid-tones, and highlights was industry standard.

Add RAW conversion to the mix and the destructive nature of working on an original file -- it's easy to see why the bloated import/convert/copy/edit/convert/copy/export workflow wasn't going to be self-sustaining. Digital imaging was supposed to help speed things up, not slow them down.

In the consumer market, Apple had done very well with iPhoto. The app shipped with every new Mac and offered users a simple way to edit and organize their digital photos non-destructively. Philosophically, the first release of Aperture would do the same thing, but with extensive RAW support and a more professional set of features and backend services. Fast forward to 2010 and Aperture 3 continues the Apple tradition of tight hardware and software integration. The Mac has come a long way over the past 5 years -- Intel processor adoption, 64-bit coding, and numerous improvements in mobile and desktop graphics performance. Many of Aperture 3's new features and services are informed by these advancements in Apple's computer and OS development.

Using Aperture

To import files into Aperture, just plug in your camera or memory card over USB or FireWire. If you've collected images in folders on your computer or an external drive, you can import these as well. Images can be previewed at full-resolution, and you can choose to import only the files you want or you can select all. Aperture allows you to start working with your content even before you finish downloading. Exposure settings, lens specs, and camera copyright information are copied along with your original files. You can even add keywords to individual shots or batches of images during import. The original files are stored in the location of your choice -- on your Mac, external hard drives, or in the original folders. Added bonus: Aperture can also import and manage moving images from the latest video-enabled DSLRs.

Aperture 3 utilizes the same Faces and Places organization as iPhoto.

If you're coming from iPhoto, you'll love the new Aperture 3 interface. The software launches as a single scalable window with the Library managed on the left side. Just like iPhoto, your images are organized by Photos, Faces, and Places. Projects replaces Events and offers a more flexible way of organizing content. The tiled interface responds to skimming and scrolling just like in other Apple programs.

Next to the Library tab, you'll find Metadata and Adjustments. These are similar in look to the previous version of Aperture. Under Metadata you're greeted with the camera, lens, and exposure information of a selected image. Expansive subsets of image data are also here for convenience. Here you can add captions, keywords, ratings, GPS, and copyright updates to your photos. This tab heavily informs the search paradigm within the software. The more specific the information you provide, the easier it will be to search your Library.

The Adjustments tab provides a comprehensive set of tools for editing selected images. Changes in Exposure, White Balance, and Levels and Curves can all be applied non-destructively. The latitude of uncompressed RAW files makes it easier than ever to recover highlights and open shadow detail. Creative Color Effects and Black and White alteration can be performed here, as well. Apple provides a number of helpful presets, but you can also create and save your own.

The idea behind keeping your editing tools in one place along with an easy-to-use organizational system is smoothing the workflow. Aperture 3 transparently does the work of a RAW importer/converter, an editor, and a file management system.

What's New?

Apple boasts that Aperture 3 has over 200 new features. Here are some of the stand-outs:

 New Brushes allow you to paint in highlight, open shadows, and much more with simple slider controls.

 Brushes: One of the most requested features since its launch, Aperture finally gets an awesome set of adjustment brushes. You can use these to brush in or brush out almost any type of effect. Whether you're painting in highlights or customizing a vignette, these make working with an image so much more efficient. The best part? The effects of individual Brushes can be adjusted using a set of simple sliders. Paint over a trouble area and pull your slider for the desired effect. This provides all of the advantages of working with individual adjustment layers without having to deal with a compositing program.

Aperture 3 offers simple single track editing of photos and HD videos.

HD Video Support: More and more these days, journalists are asked to create rich content featuring photography and motion video. Aperture provides a simple set of tools to build slideshows with photos and HD video from the latest DSLRs. Editing on the single track timeline is simple and intuitive. Need a soundtrack? Aperture allows you to extend the audio from your video clips under slideshow photos. You can even add music from your iTunes library. Basic titles support all of the fonts on your Mac. Though not as robust as Final Cut Studio, Aperture 3's video capabilities are enough to keep working photographers nimble in the increasingly hybrid world of professional photo and video.

Expanded Plug-ins: Plug-ins make creative software great. When you want to do something that your software can't do on its own, plug-ins can provide the feature that you want -- and typically do it at a reasonable cost. For example, when I'm working with files that need up-resolution, I often turn to the Genuine Fractals. This plug-in is available for a variety of programs including Aperture. Billboard sized image from a 35mm DSLR? Done. Barrel distortion, image noise, and chromatic aberration can all be greatly improved with 3rd party know-how.

Plug-ins are also available for publishing. Popular custom printers like GraphiStudio and Couture Book now offer layout and ordering within Aperture 3. Many wedding and fashion photographers have employed these products for years. The plug-ins make it possible to layout and order a book right from the Aperture interface.

Expanded Web Sharing: By enabling one-click publishing to Facebook, Flickr, and MobileMe, Aperture 3 has a much better handle on the social networking aspect of modern photography. Wanna update a wedding client's Facebook Event page? Gotta share some new baby portraits with your in-laws? Whether you're a pro or photo enthusiast, being able to update and manage web-based libraries from a local application is awesome. If you make changes to content in Aperture, the images will automatically be updated on web when you connect to the internet.

Library Merge/Sync/Switching: If you're a mobile photographer, chances are that you carry a laptop and have a desktop back at the office. Aperture 3 makes it easier than ever to keep all of your work up to date with Merge and Sync functions. Let's say you're shooting a job overseas. On the plane ride home you can begin the edit on your laptop. When you get back to your studio, simply drag your mobile library to the one on your desktop computer. Aperture automatically updates both libraries with the most recent project/image acquisitions and edits.

If you work with multiple libraries on a single machine, Aperture now provides fast switching on the fly. There's no longer the need to close and reopen the application. This is particularly helpful for photographers who want to separate personal photography from for-pay projects.


Aperture 3 is an excellent software choice for photographers who want to edit and organize with maximum efficiency. I was surprised at how much more responsive this iteration is over previous releases. The interface and tools are also much friendlier. Brushes, video editing, and advanced (yet extremely intuitive) library organization really give the competition a run for the money.

In its time on the market, Aperture has managed to increase functionality while simultaneously simplifying the interface. It's hard to imagine, but even with its hundreds of new features, Aperture 3 is actually easier to use than its predecessors. If you can work with iPhoto, you can work with Aperture. Flexing true 64-bit muscle and leveraging the latest hardware advantages, Aperture 3 is excellent product for both working professionals and serious image makers.

Aperture 3 is available as a stand-alone application or an upgrade for existing Aperture users. The application requires a Mac with an Intel Core 2 Duo or better processor. The software requires a minimum of 1GB of RAM (2GB for the Mac Pro). For optimal performance, 4GB is best. The application uses 1GB of disc space (7GB with the Sample Library). Mac OS X 10.5.8 is required, but 10.6.2 or later is preferred.

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Having extensively used Aperture 1.5 on an older MacBook Pro, when I ordered a new MacBook for travel, I had Apple preconfigure it with Aperture 3.

After my first 2 week trip, initial evaluation = Nice Experience!  The expanded functionality is convincing me to upgrade the older version -- and I may not be using PhotoShop as much anymore either.