Apple Aperture 2 - Review

Apple Aperture 2 - Review

An impressive update to Apple’s advanced photo-editing application

Pros: Moves faster, looks leaner, and has better adjustment tools.

Cons: New highlight recovery needs a leg-up from other tools.

Bottomline: A huge improvement on earlier versions, but some work still needed on exposure correction tools.

Price: £129 (65 upgrade)

Unlike Photoshop and other image-editing applications, Apple’s Aperture is primarily a photo-management application aimed at helping professional photographers sort, compare, file and print photos.

It has some editing tools, such as a retouching brush and red-eye removal, but is mostly confined to quick and easy exposure and colour adjustments that can be applied as part of a studio workflow.
This is the first paid-for upgrade to be released since version one of Aperture appeared in late 2005.

Of earlier updates, only the 1.5 release in 2006 added any significant new features, the others addressing performance and stability issues and including support for Intel Macs. This time around, Apple has pushed the boat out. With more than 100 new features, this is the most significant release of Aperture yet.

Apple has addressed virtually every area of Aperture, improving performance, adding new adjustment and editing tools, improving integration with iPhoto and .mac, and refining the interface. Though it works with JPEG, TIFF and other image file types, Aperture is primarily designed to work with RAW files, and this version has a new RAW conversion engine that interprets the image data to produce an RGB file.

Most of this process is automatic and as well as improving overall results, Apple has added new RAW Fine tuning controls for better rendering of colours and for removing moiré patterns and edge fringing.
A key strength of RAW file formats is that they are more forgiving of exposure errors. Aperture 2 makes the most of this, providing new highlight and shadow recovery tools.

The new Recovery and Black Point sliders can be used in combination with existing tools, such as Shadow and Highlight, to restore blown-out highlights and dense shadows. To help with this, there’s a new feature that shows over- and underexposed areas on a mask overlay.

The one disappointment we experienced was that, in isolation at least, Aperture’s new recovery tool proved less effective at restoring highlight detail in heavily overexposed images than we’d hoped.
Most image-editing applications have contrast and saturation controls – Aperture 2 has supplemented these with Definition and Vibrancy sliders.

Definition enhances local contrast in hazy parts of the image without affecting overall contrast. Vibrancy increases saturation, but only for desaturated colours, so you don’t get unnatural Dr Who-style effects with colours becoming very over-saturated. Vibrancy also holds off changing skin tones, so you can achieve more natural boosting of colours in people shots.

The old Aperture interface wasn’t what you’d call cluttered but even so, it’s been simplified by combining the Projects pane and the Metadata and Adjustments Inspectors into one tabbed Inspectors panel. After only a short while working with the new setup we were won over by its ease of use.

Since it leaves original master files untouched, producing versions of the originals to which an edit list is applied on the fly, Aperture has frequently caught flack for its slow performance. Apple has addressed the issue by introducing a Quick Preview mode that uses a JPEG preview to display the image rather than the raw data.

This works very well, providing a good enough (ie barely distinguishable from the original) image at screen resolution for searching, comparing and so on and allowing lightning fast scrolling through projects containing large numbers of photos. Exporting images, which in prior versions led to everything else grinding to a halt, now happens in the background.

Existing users and those holding off making an Aperture vs Lightroom choice will be pleased with this release, particularly in light of the price cut, which puts Aperture in a competitive position.