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Aperture 1.1--Apple Listens

by Scott Bourne
04/18/2006

On April 13, Apple made good on its promise to deliver Aperture 1.1, the Universal Binary version of its groundbreaking professional photo workflow software. The update is free to all existing Aperture owners through the Apple Software Update menu.

There are plenty of reviews of Aperture 1.0 out there, including my own, so I won't repeat them here. Instead, I'll concentrate on the features in Aperture 1.1 and its new compatibility with the Intel Macs.

The changes in Aperture can be broken down into three groups:

  1. New features
  2. Universal compatibility with PowerMacs and Intel Macs
  3. Bug fixes and reliability improvements

What's New

The first thing you'll notice is that Aperture uses a new Library structure. Upon opening the program for the first time, you'll be presented with a warning that advises you that once you convert your image Library to 1.1, there's no turning back. I made the conversion, and it was fast and flawless.

There are new RAW adjustment controls in the Adjustments Inspector and Adjustments HUD that improve the quality of RAW decodes via custom tuning of parameters. Most noticeably, you can control contrast (using the new Boost tool) and sharpness, as well as color noise reduction (using the Chroma Blur and Auto Noise Compensation tools) from the RAW decoder. And each of these is specifically tuned to your camera if it is supported by Apple.

figure 1

And to quash the cry for a real-time color meter, Apple gave us a new Color Meter tool that quickly and easily samples any area of an image for RGB, CMYK, or LAB color values. You can use this as a stand-alone tool or as part of Aperture's Loupe tool. Photoshop users who like to sample specific color ranges will feel right at home in Aperture due to this new tool.

For those who never felt comfortable with Aperture's printing parameters, the new version has updated image resolution controls. You can specify output resolution in dots per inch (dpi) when exporting images or sending images to an external editor, such as Adobe Photoshop.

And Aperture 1.1 has increased the maximum size of images displayed in the Browser. You can resize the display of images in the Browser up to a maximum of 512 pixels in height or width.

Several new cameras and their accompanying RAW formats are now supported by Aperture, most notably the popular Nikon D200. And Aperture provides optimized support for a number of cameras on the list. For a complete list of the cameras now supported by Aperture, including those with optimized support, go to http://www.apple.com/aperture/raw/. This list is regularly updated as Apple adds support for new formats.

Universal Compatibility

Aperture 1.1 runs natively on both Intel-based and PowerPC-based Macintosh computers. I tested it on both an Apple G5 Dual Core PowerMac with four gigs of RAM and a new MacBook Pro 2GHz model with two gigs of RAM. I've seen Aperture run on a PowerBook, and there's no denying that it runs much quicker on the MacBook Pro.

Apple claims Aperture 1.1 delivers significant performance gains on both PowerPC-based and the new Intel-based Macs providing photographers with desktop level experience on the new MacBook Pro. It also claims four times faster processing on a MacBook Pro than a PowerBook.

While I have no sophisticated test equipment available to me, I'd say that Aperture runs at least twice as fast as it did before when it comes to certain functions like Lift & Stamp or building Smart Albums. And it may indeed match Apple's claim of four times faster. There's no denying the application feels more responsive. And it needed to run faster than it did upon its initial release. Apple says the new Universal Binary version is optimized for use on a laptop, and that's great news for professional photographers who work in the field.

Bug Fixes and Reliability Enhancements

Related Reading

Photoshop CS2 RAW
Using Adobe Camera Raw, Bridge, and Photoshop to Get the Most out of Your Digital Camera
By Mikkel Aaland

Apple says it has improved overall reliability, performance, and compatibility. Based on my tests, that claim is mostly accurate, although it looks like some problems still remain. I'll get to that later. Let's start with the improvements I have noticed.

One of the biggest changes is that you can now import and export Photoshop PSD files with their layers intact. This is a huge deal to Photoshop junkies and one of the legitimate gripes that the early negative reviewers pointed out. In my tests, round-tripping to Photoshop always kept layers intact.

And another area of grave concern to some users was Aperture RAW decodes. Now, you have the choice between decodes of your existing Aperture files using the 1.0 decoder and the newer version found in 1.1. I think the way Apple implemented this change was pretty slick. I was concerned that I'd have no choice but to switch existing files to the new decoder, but I don't.

Judging the quality of the new decodes is highly subjective. From what I've seen in the few short days I had to work with the new version, Apple has decided to more closely mirror the decodes one would get if using Adobe's Camera RAW decoder. That's probably a good idea from a marketing standpoint, but plenty of professional photographers use more expensive third-party decoders because they don't like the Adobe Camera RAW approach.

I found that the new decodes offered better shadow detail without losing their ability to retain good color. In fact, I think Aperture's RAW decodes tend to be truer in color than those I get out of Adobe Camera RAW.

You can now export EXIF metadata with TIFF files and 16-bit TIFFs. Both of those are important to some photographers, me included. There also have been improvements in the search scope, onscreen proofing, histograms, cropping tool, Query HUD, Book Layout Editor, Vault backup system, Light Table, Slideshows and AppleScript support.

Images tend to load more quickly and sliders don't behave erratically. The bog-down points are still there, but they've been greatly reduced. Depending on your machine and the amount of RAM you have available to Aperture, you'll find 1.1's performance anywhere from acceptable to very good.

There is one new bug. Aperture product manager Joe Schorr has admitted that a bug in the white balance tool crept into the code stream right before 1.1 went gold, and accordingly the white balance tool is not reliable. Indeed, in my test, Aperture set whites to a magenta cast, so you'll just have to eyeball the whites until Apple gets this fixed. They are working on it.

Miscellaneous

Along with the new version, Apple has published a slew of new support materials. You can download a new and improved manual and other support materials at the following addresses.

Also note that new Automator actions for Aperture 1.1 are available for download at http://www.automator.us/aperture/. (NOTE: You may find that your previous Automator actions have been broken by the new version so be ready for a little experimentation.)

And One More Thing

One of the big changes (and one that wasn't expected) is a $200 price drop. Apple reduced the retail price of Aperture to $299 which is right in line with where I always said it should be. If you are an early adopter and forked over the full $499 for the original 1.0, Apple hasn't forgotten you. Go to http://www.apple.com/promo/aperture/ for a $200 e-coupon good at the Apple online store.

I liked Aperture right from the start. Even though its 1.0 incarnation wasn't perfect, I believed that once users understood how the program worked, they could put it to good use.

While still not perfect, Version 1.1 is a big leap forward in productivity. And combined with the new lower price, Aperture now is a serious contender for top honors in the digital photography software arena.

Scott Bourne has been a professional photographer, author, lecturer, and currently produces the iLifeZone podcast (www.ilifezone.com) as well as the popular blog MyPhototricks.com. He is in full pursuit of his podcasting career now, and you can check out his work at www.podcastingtricks.com.


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