Price When Reviewed: 110 . 55
Pros: Much faster; more adjustment tools; excellent Raw conversion; better redesigned interface; great integration with iLife; massive price cut.
Cons: Still not compatible with older Macs and older OSX versions; no Windows version.
The first version of Apple’s photo management and manipulation tool Aperture showed a lot of potential but was marred by one major flaw: it was slow even on an up-to-date Mac. This was made worse when Adobe released Lightroom, an application that ran on Windows and older hardware – and was a speed demon in comparison.
Apple had its work cut out to fix this shortcoming and update its newest application in light of this new competition, and the result is Aperture 2. Aside from a vastly redesigned interface, browsing through its library is now fast.
This was achieved in a number of ways. First, the database has been completely redesigned – this means that if you upgrade your existing library, you won’t be able to go back and use the earlier version.
An added benefit of this update is the fact that there is no upper limit to how many shots Aperture can store. This has also given rise to a more powerful search tool which even lets you find images based on the adjustments that have been applied to them.
Another way Aperture has been speeded up is with the introduction of Quick Preview. When activated by hitting the ‘P’ key, Aperture doesn’t try to display the image’s Raw data but instead uses its JPEG thumbnail, preferably the one created by the camera when the shot was taken. This function is incredibly useful during the first edit sweep, as you can quickly scan through your project and rate your shots as you go. You need to leave this mode to perform any adjustments on your photographs.
In order to offer the user more screen real estate when working on an image, the interface has been redesigned so that the tools take up less space and offer a more uncluttered feel. For instance, the Inspector is now combined with the Projects pane and can be located either on the left or right hand side of the interface. This new pane is now divided into three tabs, which you can toggle through by hitting the ‘W’ key.
Grouping the Adjustments, Metadata and Projects pane in one place has the added advantage of also offering all three of them through the inspector’s interface. You can therefore hit the ‘I’ key to get rid of the inspector and rely solely on the interface. By combining this with the new View mode, Viewer Only (which removes the browser from the interface) you are given an unobstructed view of your selected image without having to enter full-screen mode.
The new Browser borrows a trick from full-screen mode by incorporating its filmstrip view. This is much easier to navigate than the grid view, since you only have to scroll left and right to find the shot you need, not up and down as well. The list and grid views are still available if you prefer them, but filmstrip is now the Browser’s default display.
The Raw conversion engine has also been changed. Now at version 2, it boasts radical improvements. Applying the new version to photos tested for this review resulted in brighter, sharper images, which really put the original conversion to shame.
However, you may have been happy with the way your shots were rendered previously, so the 1.0 and 1.1 engines are still available and Aperture doesn’t automatically upgrade your shots, leaving you free to experiment. For instance, you can create versions of the same shot and apply the different engines to them to see which one works best.
Importing or exporting your shots is now done in the background, so you can still use other parts of the application at the same time. You can even start working on your newly imported shots while more are being added. Just as in iPhoto’s import process, you also have the option of not importing photos already present in your library. But if uploading your Flash card sounds tedious, you’ll love the new tethering feature: as long as your camera supports it, you can connect it to your Mac and your shots will be downloaded to Aperture as you take them.
Aperture and iPhoto are now well-integrated with each other: for example, you can browse your entire iPhoto library from a separate window in Aperture and drag pictures from one library to another. You can do the same in iPhoto and use your Aperture shots to create calendars and greeting cards, for instance.
The book creation options have been improved as well: two new themes are available to you or you can choose to create a completely custom design with a page size of your choice. Such books cannot be printed through Aperture’s online ordering system, but you can save them as PDFs and have them printed yourself.
If you’d rather display your work on the Web, Aperture connects to the .mac gallery. This gallery can also be used to distribute masters, including the full-resolution Raw images.
When it comes to adjusting shots, Apple has added some new tools to the arsenal. You still cannot make composites, montages or multi-layered creations, but Aperture was never designed for that anyway. However, you now have tools like the Repair Brush, Set Black Point, Highlight Hot and Cold Areas, and even a Rule of Thirds guide when cropping an image, among many others, which help you fine tune with great accuracy.
Aperture 2 is a great version that will please professional photographers and other creatives working with large collections of photos (from illustrators to 3D artists creating textures). The redesign has made the application more streamlined and efficient. The addition of new tools means there are even fewer reasons to visit another application when working on your projects, and the speed increases are definitely welcome.
There are a myriad other small improvements – too numerous to list – which make this application much more pleasurable to use. Also, as the price has reduced so sharply there’s no financial reason not to upgrade.