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Apple Aperture 1.1

RAW photo editing and organization tool By Dave Nagel
Summary: Aperture is a tool designed primarily for professional photographers for working with raw images, though it does support a number of other file formats as well. The first and second releases of Aperture left a lot to be desired, but this latest release has addressed a number of my concerns, including concerns over image quality, the ability to preserve edits across multiple versions of Core Image and weaknesses in workflow. It's also been ported to a Universal Binary, so it will run as well on an Intel-based Mac as on a PowerPC-based Mac.
Manufacturer: Apple (http://www.apple.com)
Platform: Mac OS X
Price: $299
Users: Professional photographers
Recommendation: See below

I panned Aperture pretty hard in my last review. So did a lot of reviewers. But Apple seems to have taken those initial criticisms to heart and attempted to rectify them in version 1.1. And, what's more, they've lowered the price and even offered a $200 rebate coupon to early adopters--even though this new release is a Universal Binary update. Now that's a step in the right direction!

Not to say that Aperture is, at version 1.1, a perfect application. But the improvement from 1.0.1 to 1.1 is dramatic. And, with the price reduction, it makes it a much more viable option for those who are looking for a professional raw image editor and photo management tool.

In this follow-up review, I'm not going to get into all the details of Aperture's capabilities. I've detailed those extensively in my previous review, which you can find  by clicking here.



New and improved
The improvements in Aperture 1.1 are fairly extensive, some major, but most minor. In this latest release, Apple has addressed a good number of the criticisms I had of the previous version and has added some welcome, if unexpected, new features as well.

Let's address first what I consider to be the most important of Apetrure's new features: versioning. Of all the new features, it might seem odd to you that I'd pick this one. But here's the thing: The technology behind Aperture's image manipulation tools is Core Image. That applies to all of the image adjustments and filters in Aperture, and even the ways in which raw images are interpreted on import. So what happens when a new version of Mac OS X comes out, one that might include an update to Core Image? Well, then all those images you processed previously would change as well the next time you open them up. And that, of course, means that you would have had to have gone back and re-edited all of the images you previously edited.

That was sort of a tradeoff. Core Image is fast and powerful, and the way it was implemented in Aperture meant that any settings you applied could be saved and re-edited later. But it also meant that each new version of Core Image could potentially cause problems with your raw files. Major drawback.

However, Apple has apparently solved that problem in version 1.1 by introducing versioning. By this I mean that it allows you to select the version used when you edited your image, so the next time it's opened--even if you've updated Core Image--your images will remain the same.


The selection of the version is a simple matter of using the pull-down menu located up in the Adjustments pane.



Which leads us to some of the new features in Aperture 1.1--new controls for adjusting image quality.

When you select the raw image decoder 1.1, you gain access to several new fine-tuning tools for working with these images, all designed to rectify some of the problems that users encountered in the earlier version of Aperture.



These include:

? Contrast boost
? Sharpening, including overall sharpening and edge definition
? Chroma blur, with control over the radius of the blur
? Automatic noise compensation, taking ISO and exposure into account.

You can use the default Apple settings or create your own. And you can set defaults for a given image or for a given camera, so that all images imported from that camera are interpreted the same.



Another weakness in the initial release was the lack of color sampling. Now, in 1.1, there are multiple color samplers. You can run the cursor over your image and view pixel or neighborhood color values in the Adjustments pane, or you can see the values in Aperture's loupe tool.



And you have the option of seeing these values in RGBL, Lab or CMYK. Furthermore, you can set the color values sample size from 1x1 to 7x7 pixels.



And the final change in the category of major changes is, of course, Universal Binary support so that Aperture runs natively on both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. Incorporated into that port are what Apple describes as performance enhancements. Frankly, I didn't have a problem with performance in either of the previous versions of Aperture, and I don't see any striking changes in this version. Large raw images continue to open quickly on both a dual-processor G5 desktop and a dual-core MacBook Pro. I can't provide any specifics on the performance because I simply don't have any benchmarks set up that would be suitable to illustrate the differences. All I can say about it is that if feels fast--roughly as fast as it was before.

In the category of more minor changes, there are several enhancements that ought to make your life a little bit easier. These include:

? Support for additional cameras, including Nikon D200, Canon 30D,
Pentax *ist D, and Leica Digilux 2.

? Minor support for layered image formats, including TIFF and PSD. The restriction on exporting layered files is that there can't be any adjustments made to the image within Aperture, which is a little confusing because there really isn't a whole lot of point in, for example, importing a Photoshop image and then exporting it without making any changes to it.

? The new version also has the ability to set the resolution of exported images, including images exported to the Photoshop format.



? It exports TIFF images at a 16-bit per channel color depth when TIFF is selected as the external editor format in Aperture's preferences.

? The ability to view individual pixels in the loupe by hitting Shift-Command-+ when the loupe tool is selected.

? The ability to export TIFF images without stripping metadata.

? And several other, more minor, improvements, including the ability to track crop settings to apply them to multiple images, support for larger images in the browser, improvements to lifting and stamping, the addition of a command to remove all adjustments, support for iPhoto 6.0.1 library import and new soft proofing options.

I should mention that the histogram display--which I and many others had criticized--has been changed. But it also still has some problems. It's true that noisy images no longer have smooth histograms. But the accuracy of the histogram is still questionable, and the chief evidence of this is that the histogram changes radically when the image is magnified. Here, for example, is a histogram of an image that's all noise, with the image viewed at about 50 percent the original size.



And here's the histogram of the exact same image when the image is zoomed to 100 percent.



That just doesn't make sense to me, and it's definitely something that needs to be revisited in a future update.

The bottom line
So how do I sum up Aperture 1.1? It's definitely improved. Not perfect, but improved. And the price has come down by $200, which was certainly in order. But Aperture isn't alone in the universe of raw image editing, and, of course, it's not the most versatile tool out there for editing images in formats other than raw. But with the changes in this release, I can say that what it does it does well. I'll upgrade my recommendation of Aperture to neutral.

Apple Aperture 1.1 is available now for Mac OS X (Universal Binary) for $299 for the full version. Those who owned previous versions can download 1.1 for free (via Software Update) and are eligible for a $200 rebate in the form of a voucher for the Apple Online Store. For more information, visit http://www.apple.com.






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