Graphic A Review of ApertureAperture

A Review of Aperture 1.1
Manufacturer: Apple
Retail Price: $299

What exactly is Apple's Aperture? Is it a wannabe Photoshop image processor? Is it a Pro Photographer's Swiss Army Knife of tools for digital post-production sorting, editing, cropping, and proofing?

Or is it just iPhoto on Steroids?
In a way it is all of the above, taking only the photographer-based image processing and finishing tasks as a focus. Aperture leaves graphics, compositing, special effects and layer masking to Photoshop. What it does provide are the Photoshop- like capabilities of retouching, image processing, and exposure/levels/white balance adjustments in a very accessible workflow.

And, like iPhoto, Aperture's non-destructive editing process leaves the master original photo intact, whether it is a image or jpeg, tiff, etc. The "versions" created when enhancing and retouching the photo are merely snippets of code that do not fill up your hard drive every time you create another version of a photo. You can export versions, masters, or down-sampled variations and be able to access your unaltered original safe and sound — and protected from your destructive experimentation.

Officially from Apple, the key features of Aperture are:

  • Advanced workflow
  • Professional Project Management
  • Powerful Compare and Select Tools
  • Nondestructive Image Processing
  • Versatile Printing and Publishing

Aperture's interface is configurable depending on the task at hand. There are different views you can add to the toolbar as buttons that immediately change the interface view: Standard, Project Management, Maximized Viewer, Web Gallery and so on.

Also convenient are the Inspectors and the floating Heads-Up-Display (HUD) Adjustments and Keywords palettes — wells of tools that make the most used editing procedures faster to reach and execute.

There are a lot of "bulked-up" iPhoto-esque features. The expanded adjustments include powerful versions of "spot and patch," "highlight and shadow," and histogram choices.

The most iPhoto-reminiscent feature is the look and feel of the browser and viewer windows. You can look through copious quantities of thumbnails and zoom up and down thumbnail sizes at lightning fast speed.

The consumer level share and export features of iPhoto are represented here on a Pro level, with a long list of choices for file format and resolution of exported versions of photos. Search criteria are highly customizable. Keywords, calendar date range, and even lens used in making the shot — all of these and more are possible search fields.

In order to be able to fairly evaluate the software, I was able to utilize it for real world projects and get a personal feel for how Aperture would function for my needs as a photographer. I fortunately had two projects to implement. One was a wedding photo shoot with close to 1000 digital photos. I only shoot weddings on average once every 10 years for close friends who ask, in this case for the mother of the bride. The other project was the sorting, correcting, and sharing of 600+ photos taken on the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride, a week-long awareness and fund-raising bicycle trip from San Francisco to LA.

I needed fast edits of large quantities of photos in both cases. I also needed the ability to color correct, finesse exposures, open up shadows in contrasty shots and in general, make all photos look like perfect images. For the most part, I wanted to make my photos “pop” as successfully executed digital shots with rich colors, sharp details, and interesting cropping.

Aperture was up to the task. The magnifying loupe tool made close scrutiny of detail incredibly easy without zooming and panning each shot. Multiple shots can be zoomed at the same time and compared.

The bride and mother of the bride were extremely happy with the results — a relief to a sometime wedding photographer who can't "reshoot" if he misses a peak action or technically fails in a crucial moment. (Like the kiss or walk down the aisle.) In the case of the coverage of the Lifecycle Ride, I was able to rescue some shots that were photographed in less than perfect conditions, i.e., while riding or hurriedly shooting when stopped while dodging other riders. Here the Sharpen adjustment and Highlights and Shadows adjustments of Aperture were crucial, not to mention exposure, levels, and white balance. Of course, rapid sorting and selection were necessary, and easily accomplished.

Aperture has extremely rich capabilities of photo comparisons and selection. You can import existing iPhoto or other libraries and immediately experience the same functionality as importing direct from a camera memory card. Organization into projects and sub category albums is highly intuitive. Aperture creates "stacks" of photos either automatically from your criteria (for example, shots taken with a certain time frame of each other) or from manual dragging and dropping. Stacks can be topped off with the "pick," the photo you feel is the best of the lot. Then any exporting or batch selection done in the browser includes only the top photo of the stack plus any other photos you choose individually. Part of the fun of the interface is stacking and unstacking photos, not unlike rapid shuffling of a deck of cards.

You can compare two, three, or more photos in the viewer window for selection purposes. If you are fortunate enough to have a cinema display size monitor, you might want to take advantage of Aperture's dual screen configuration, perhaps choosing to put a full screen image on one and the working interface on another monitor. Full screen editing is provided.

The printing and publishing functionality built in to Aperture is awesome. You can create photo galleries unlimited in numbers of photos and publish them online through a .Mac account or on an FTPsite. A web journal template allows you to add text blocks and move the photos and copy around into your custom design. I used these publishing features to send proofs to the bride and to post the documentary cycling photos for participant viewing.

I have not used the book publishing functions but a tour through the interface demonstrated that these are fully customizable layouts that you can take to a higher level of personally designed books. You can publish through .Mac, make PDF, or print the book on your printer.

I intentionally have not covered the advanced technical capabilities of Aperture. For those of us who are semi-pro photographers or advanced non-professionals, the features described above are well worth the investment without getting stalled in the higher-end capabilities of image processing, project management, and distribution. For example, the depth of metadata accessed for each photo is a road you may not want to go down at first.

As you become more proficient with the application, it is good to know that advanced features are there if you need them. For starters, there are hundreds of key commands built in that provide fast access to any and all functions.

The downside? There is a learning curve, but Apple has excellent QuickTime tutorials on its website as well as books and support online. I took advantage of the Apple Store in San Francisco to attend an Aperture workshop and schedule some one-on-one time with a media expert at the Studio bar in the store.

More of an obstacle to overcome is the system requirements. I had to wade through Aperture 1 and 1.0.1, neither of which would even open on my G4 tower or G5 iMac. Version 1.1 was released in April, and it is Universal, allowing smooth and fast response of the installation on a MacBook Pro with 2 gigs of Ram. Check system requirements before you contemplate adding Aperture to your arsenal of photography tools.

In all, the application is excellent in all areas of capabilities it is written to accomplish. And now it is affordable. Apple dropped the price from $499 to $299 for 1.1, and at the time of this writing has just released 1.1.1.

If you are a Pro, Semi-Pro, or amateur photographer who shoots like a Pro, Aperture is definitely worth a look. The ease of use and organizational capabilities will leave more time to do what we all love — shoot the photos!

Minimum System Requirements
Power Mac G5 with a 1.8 gigahertz (GHz) or faster PowerPC G5 processor iMac with a 1.8 GHz or faster
PowerPC G5 or Intel Core Duo processorMacBook
Pro 15- or 17-inch PowerBook G4 with a 1.25 GHz or faster PowerPC G4 processor
Mac OS X "Tiger," version
10.4.6 or later
Display with 1280 x 854 or higher resolution
1GB of RAM
5GB of disk space for application, templates, and tutorial
DVD drive for installation
One of the following graphics cards:
ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition
ATI Radeon X850 XT ATI Radeon 9800 XT or 9800 Pro
ATI Radeon 9700 Pro
ATI Radeon 9600 XT, 9600 Pro, or 9650
ATI Radeon X1600
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700, 9600, or X1600
NVIDIA GeForce 6600 LE or 6600
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL or 6800 GT DDL
NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT
NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500


Review by NCMUG member John Hershey