Before I start, let me make a few disclosures in the interest of fairness:
1. I am an unredeemable Apple-zealot of the worst kind
2. I was totally convinced by Apple’s marketing and pre-ordered Aperture and new hardware to run it on
3. I assumed that Aperture would be up to the level of Apple’s other “pro” apps (FinalCut, Motion, Logic, Shake etc)
4. I was very, very wrong.
5. I am just some guy, I am not a “journalist” and I don’t much care about being objective. This “review” discusses Aperture’s merits and faults from my own point of view only.
6. I have had a digital workflow strategy since the early 1990s, I know a thing or two about what I’m talking about – but there are plenty of smart people who may disagree with me, and that’s fine.
Gentle reader, please read on – but be warned that there are some harsh words and strong feelings to follow…
A little bit about the history of this product – Apple announced it to _huge_ fanfare at the NY PhotoPlus expo in late October, 2005. Several well-known and well-respected photographers were tapped to give testimonials about the product. Those who attended the expo came back raving about it, many windows-users were so impressed that they bought new quad-proc G5s on the spot just to use Aperture. Yeah – it made a big splash.
It was touted as being “designed for/by professional photographers” and as being an app that would revolutionize the photographic workflow.
Then it shipped, late November. And that’s when the trouble started – nearly every pro who got his or her hands on it has been having problems.
So – to start with, let’s examine Apple’s claims about the product. These are direct quotes taken from Apple’s Aperture Website
1. “Designed from the ground up for professional photographers”
This might be true, but it is hard to believe because many features and limitations were inherited from iPhoto. It even has iphoto-style applebooks and iphoto’s red-eye tool, neither of which are useful for pros.
2. “the first all-in-one post-production tool for photographers”
Surely it was intended to be this, but currently it cannot deliver quality output, so much post-production needs to be done in other applications. It is also not capable of handling cataloging or archiving of images – another critical post-production task.
3. “Aperture makes RAW as easy as JPEG, letting you import, edit, catalog, organize, retouch, publish, and archive your images more effectively and efficiently than ever before.”
Aperture handles a few steps very well – specifically importing and selecting the good images. It is ok at organizing images, but since it doesn’t respect existing metadata and isn’t capable of writing metadata to files, it makes this organization somewhat pointless. It lacks even the most basic of retouching tools, so that line is pretty much a lie. You _can_ generate and publish webpages with it, though the templates are limited and ugly. Archiving isn’t really possible, because Aperture isn’t capable of keeping offline images in a catalog – this is a major problem for pros who generate terabytes of data every year – we need to be able to move some images to offline archives, while still keeping a record of them in our catalog.
4. “From capture to output, you work directly with your RAW files, never having to first convert them into another format before viewing, adjusting, organizing, or printing them.”
This is simply false. In order to edit files in Photoshop (more on this later) you are forced into a conversion to 16-bit AdobeRGB TIFF. And organizing steps do not occur on the raw files – Aperture writes metadata to an external library rather than (correctly) writing it to the files themselves – thereby making this organization incompatible with any other application.
5. “the most powerful image processing in the world”
Well, they’re entitled to their opinion. Aperture’s processing engine may well be powerful, but it is low-quality. Aperture’s output is vastly inferior to other converters such as ACR and C1Pro
6. “Aperture is fast — whether you’re working with RAW, JPEG, or TIFF images.”
If you are running on the latest hardware, this is true. But Aperture all but requires a high-end video card such as the ATI x800 in order to run properly at all. Even a high-end dual G5 with a lesser videocard will crawl. And you can forget about running Aperture on a G4, even if you can install it, it will be extremely sluggish.
7. “It also supports the Adobe DNG format.”
This is a lie. Aperture only supports DNG files if they originated from cameras that it already supports. That’s not what DNG is about, and not how it works in any other application. Aperture’s DNG support is crippled at best and fraudulent at worst. Either way it misses the whole point of the DNG format – universal raw files.
8. “Aperture’s color-managed workflow and flexible design tools will help you easily create stunning prints, customized contact sheets, elegant books, and web pages as beautiful as the images you capture.”
First off, Aperture’s color-management is weird and weak. You can’t specify the working space, nor the rendering intent. You also can’t output to a RIP. As for “flexible design tools” – it’s as if they didn’t even try the app before writing those words. The design tools are limited, inflexible, and amateurish. This is a real shame because to my mind this was one of the most promising possible features of the app – I wanted to use it to make wedding albums, promo materials, and collage-style prints. None of these things are possible with Aperture. It allows no control over page size, and limited control over layout. It is also not capable of exporting layered PSD files for more complex editing in Photoshop.
9. “Round-trip Photoshop support Aperture lets you launch directly into Adobe Photoshop with a single-click. There, you can take advantage of Photoshop’s strong compositing and layer effects, and when you’re done making modifications, simply save the file.”
Ok – there are a LOT of problems here. First and to my mind most egregious – despite the claims of “you always work on your raw files” – you cannot open them in Photoshop – Aperture’s “round trip” starts by forcing a low-quality TIFF conversion. This is a big problem, as it means you can’t use ACR for your conversion or edits, nor can you use smart objects.
Next up – Aperture doesn’t respect photoshop layers or transparency.
And last but certainly not least, Aperture will _overwrite_ files without warning if you reopen them in Photoshop at a later date.
So much for “non destructive editing”, eh?
10. “Manage thousands of projects: organize flexibly, enjoy deep metadata support, powerful search.”
Nope – can’t do it. Aperture will strip metadata from exported files, and won’t respect metadata that is input from other apps. It also won’t correctly write metadata to raw files. (Worse yet Apple acknowledges this problem but claims it is “as designed” in a smug tech-support doc)
Ok – so there are some problems. Is Aperture actually good at anything? Yes. And this is what is so frustrating. Aperture’s core feature – displaying and editing raw files quickly in order to wheedle down an event to the best images – this is done extraordinarily well. In fact, if it were not for the draconian nature of Aperture’s library format, and its inability to write proper metadata, Aperture would be an excellent tool for sorting and organizing images.
But, sadly, that’s about all it’s good for currently.
To add insult to injury, Aperture does not come with a user manual, neither printed nor electronic. That’s right, you heard me – it costs $500, requires a substantial hardware investment, and _doesn’t include a user manual_ (edit: There have been some complaints about this point, because Aperture does in fact ship with a slim (223 pg) “Getting Started” book which contains a small amount of information. However, it is no substitute for a user manual (nor does it claim to be one,) as evidenced by the fact that Apple has the nerve to make a manual available for purchase for $30 (worse yet, they offer three “teaser” pages as pdfs, to try to entice people to buy an instruction book for a $500 application!))
In order to be usable, Aperture needs a number of major problems addressed. Such as:
1. Ability to open raw files in external editor
2. High-quality sharpening and noise reduction (independent chroma/luma controls, for instance)
4. White balance presets
5. Accurate click-white
6. Correct handling for layered psd
7. Correct handling of DNG
8. Support for offline archiving of images (or at least a way to export to iView for archiving)
9. Ability to print “picture packages”
10. Custom page sizes for light table and book tool
11. Export LAYERED psd from light table
12. Keylines and shadows for contact sheets, light table and book tool
13. Improved raw conversions – no more artifacts, accurately read camera WB
14. Support for camera calibration (like ACR does)
15. Vignetting control
16. CA control
17. Improved TIFF export
18. Ability to specify working space, format and bit depth when opening externally (currently forces AdobeRGB/16bit/TIFF)
19. INCLUDE A MANUAL
20. Improve stability
21. Allow other apps to access the library
22. Allow me to put the browser on a second monitor if I want to
23. Communicate with your users, tell us what’s going on
24. Oh yeah – remember the whole “non-destructive editing” concept? Well Aperture should be non-destructive too, it should let me access my untouched raw files with the converter of my choice, it should respect existing metadata, and it shouldn’t corrupt my layered PSD files.
(editing to add some more points that have been raised)
25. Eyedropper for RGB readouts
26. Ability to change image size when printing on a roll
27. Ability to span exported projects across multiple DVDs
28. Variable zoom levels (and standard shortcuts for zoom)
29. “Sticky” interface elements
30. Coordinated scrolling when zoomed in compare/multi modes
31. Metadata presets (so you don’t need to type in all the info each time)
32. Adjustment presets (like ACR’s dropdown)
33. Interface customization (so you can put elements where they are useful, or get rid of them if they aren’t.)
34. Hire some really knowledgeable people to build workarounds, start some troubleshooting support groups, share knowledge freely to let people know that you care and that you’re listening and that you want this to be a good, usable, professional product.
A lot of excuses have been made about this being a 1.0 release. That’s absurd – that’s Microsoft-thinking. Apple has a reputation for good design and excellent, usable software. They blew it here, in a huge way. Apple’s users deserve an apology, and an explanation of when/if they can expect their investment in this software to pay off.