Aperture’s often referred to as iPhoto on steroids, yet anyone who’s used it will have noticed that although it does offer powerful tools that iPhoto could never match, many features that make iPhoto fun to use are actually absent from Aperture. Maybe it’s because the latter is supposed to be for serious, professionals, but these people, perhaps more than others, often need to make things look good in very little time, so why the omission?
Well, many of those missing features have made a welcome appearance in the recently-released version 3. A lot has changed in fact, even down to the toolbar’s icons which have been redesigned and rearranged. Those particular modifications are merely superficial but they illustrate that a lot has been worked on since version 2. In fact, Apple claims that the latest Aperture boasts over two hundred new features. Let’s take a look at some of them.
One of the most obvious changes can be found in the Library: just like iPhoto ’09, you can now catalogue your photos by the people in them and where they were taken, thanks to Faces and Places. iPhoto has had these abilities for over a year and it’s nice to see them finally migrating to the professional edition. As an added bonus, Aperture will recognise any Faces and Places data you’ve added in iPhoto when importing that library.
This feature could be seen to somewhat blur the line between professional and casual photography, but it’s good to know they exist and are available just in case they end up saving you time and effort in one of your projects. As an example, you might want to find Johnny Depp in one of the many crowd shots you took. Faces could help you achieve that goal in seconds.
Finding the right photo is extremely important, and the bigger your library gets, the harder this becomes. Aperture 3 introduces new ways to help make this feat much easier to manage: you can now label your shots just like you can folders and files in the Finder. You could also flag particularly important photos and find them in a snap with the new improved search features.
Aperture 3 finally includes a Trash folder where any shots you deleted are stored until you empty it. This can be so useful if you ever accidentally got rid of the wrong image. You can now easily amend your mistake. Control-clicking on a photo in the Trash will also reveal a ‘Put Back’ command, so Aperture can place it back in the project it originally belonged to.
Since many DSLR cameras are capable of recording video, being finally able to store those clips within the Aperture library is a huge bonus. Before that, they’d have to be saved in iPhoto or somewhere else on your Mac. But Aperture manages to do one better: you can watch those videos straight from within the interface without having to launch QuickTime Player. iMovie ’09 is even aware of their presence and will include an Aperture icon just above the iPhoto one, in its Event Library section should you need to use them in a project.
Some parts of the program appear to have been left unaltered, like light tables and web pages (aside from the fact that you can now easily upload your shots to Facebook and Flickr). Books offer different sizes like the new extra-large option and more themes, but they look more or less similar to what was available before. The main difference is that you’re no longer tethered to Apple’s choices: you can now create books using templates from other companies. These options are available as plug-ins which show up in the Book Type pop-up menu when installed.
One huge leap forward though lies with the vastly improved slideshows. They’ve been completely revamped and bring in many functions and effects from iPhoto and iMovie along with a few others of its own. If you’re in a hurry, you can choose from six different themes where everything is decided for you. Should you have time for more control, going with the ‘Classic’ or ‘Ken Burns’ theme lets you select which transition to use at any given time, how the Ken Burns effect is applied (in a very iMovie-like way) and even how long each photo stays on the screen - although there’s an even quicker way to do this last action: switch on the recording mode and hit the Spacebar to play your slideshow. Each time you then hit the Return key, Aperture will move to the next slide and record the time you wished the slide to be displayed for. You can also add video, text and audio to your slideshow as well.
The RAW engine has again been rewritten. In fact, you can no longer choose which engine to work with like you could in the two previous versions. It’s now version 3 or nothing. But this new engine offers a lot more versatility than before, like the inclusion of support for lens correction adjustments that would not have been possible without it. It will also enable the program’s support for the new Micro 4 Third cameras in the near future.
Aperture already had impressive adjustment tools at its disposal, but now they’ve become even more powerful with the introduction of Brushes. With them, you can alter specific sections of a photo rather than being forced to use an adjustment to modify the entire picture, as before. You can also add multiple instances of the same tool to affect different areas of your image in different ways. On top of which, just like all other default tools, these are non-destructive, enabling you to tweak them or remove them entirely at any time without ever altering the original image. You could for instance improve the blues only in the middle of your photo, or tweak the highlights and shadows only around a person’s face, or modify the contrast and saturation of a single rose. You can even choose the ‘Detect Edges’ option so that Aperture can find any hard edges in your shot, helping you limit your adjustment to a specific area. Brushes will obviously be giving Photoshop a run for its money.
If you’re working with multiple computers, you may appreciate the new ability to split and merge libraries, making it easy for you to take a subset of your photos with you, make additions and adjustments to them and sync them back to the main library when you get home. With image sizes getting so large these days, this is actually a godsend when working in the field.
Depending of how you work and the number of photos you’re storing, you may feel the need to create multiple libraries and switch between them. Prior to version 3, this would have involved quitting the program and restarting it while holding down the Option key so you could select which library to work on, a time consuming process. Although this ability is still present now, there’s a much quicker way to move between libraries, by using the File > Switch to Library command which lets you move from one to another instantly.
Despite all of these improvements, there’s one potential glitch that you must be made aware of: there have been reports of problems when upgrading libraries from a previous version of Aperture. The process appears to freeze or take hours, sometimes even days. Upgrading from version 2 was trouble-free for the purposes of this review as well as for the vast majority of users, but if you’re at all concerned, you should make sure you have a backup copy of your original library at hand, just in case.
A lot has changed in this version of Aperture, so much in fact that it feels a little different, but it’s all the better for it: improved RAW engine, updated sorting options, more powerful search features, much more versatile adjustments tools, among many others. If you own version 2, you should seriously consider upgrading. If you’re new to this program, download the trial version from Apple's website to see how powerful Aperture has become.