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Apple Aperture 3 Review

by Theano Nikitas, November 2010 (updated February 2011)


Apple’s Aperture 3 software has come a long way since it was first introduced about five years ago. At the time, professional photographers flocked to the application—Apple’s first foray into pro still photography was innovative and, along with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (which was announced shortly thereafter) created a new category of imaging software.

Initially, Aperture was a rather expensive slide sorter with a unique approach that helped photographers sort and cull their images quickly and efficiently. It also fulfilled the need for digital asset management, with some editing and output options as well. But system requirements were, for the time, pretty steep, the price was high and the program basically grabbed hold of your images and secreted them away into a library system that left them vulnerable and pretty much inaccessible except through Aperture. Fortunately, Apple included a one-click simple Vault feature for replicating the Library.

Since then, Apple has refined the software, lowered its price, relaxed system requirements and, particularly with version 3.1, made Aperture much easier to use for first-timers and those stepping up from iPhoto. In fact, Aperture 3.1 borrows some features—like face recognition and geotagging—from the consumer program and amps them up for Aperture, simplifying the step-up transition from one to the other.

Before we talk about specific updates, it’s important to note that Apple uses its operating system to add Raw support for new cameras, so be sure to update your OS as necessary. Also, the latest OS—Mac OS X v.10.6.4 expands the list of cameras compatible with Aperture’s tethered shooting feature in Aperture 3. Right now the list consists of Canon and Nikon DSLRs, with the odd inclusion of the less popular (and discontinued) Kodak DSC Pro SLRn. I’m not thrilled with having Raw support for new cameras dependent on OS updates but Apple seems intent on keeping it this way. I haven’t compared how often Adobe adds cameras to Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) but it feels like it’s more frequent and it doesn’t require an OS update.

Where to Buy

If you are looking to buy Apple’s Aperture 3, please consider helping to support Photo.net by purchasing from one of our partners.

What’s New?

Apple lists more than 200 new features for Aperture 3 (you can see the list at apple.com/aperture). That may be a bit of a stretch, however, since a number of them are small tweaks within other features. However, when it comes to new features for professionals and/or enthusiasts, Aperture 3 doesn’t disappoint.

One of the most important new features is brush adjustments. As the name implies, this feature allows you to “brush on” (or off) adjustments selectively. Brushable adjustments include Skin Smoothing, Dodge, Burn, Polarize, Intensify Contrast (Overlay), Tint, Contrast Saturation, Definition, Vibrancy, Blur Sharpen, Halo Reduction and Noise Reduction. In addition to the basic brush, Aperture 3 offers a feathering/smoothing tool and an eraser for applying adjustments. For each tool, the size, softness and strength can be optimized for the project at hand.

Using a graphics tablet, such as those from Wacom, makes using the brush tool more accurate and effective but Aperture 3, also provides a Detect Edges option to increase accurate placement. Detect Edges effectively (for the most part) protects hard-edged areas of the images from brush application. You can also opt to apply, or clear, the adjustments from the entire photo, invert the adjustment area, overlay a mask or choose to apply the adjustments to Shadows, Midtones or Highlights. This is a very powerful feature and professionals may find the addition of brush adjustments a singular reason to upgrade.

A key omission from Aperture, at least until now, has been Curves. Although it took a while, the addition of Curves is a welcome feature. Like Curves in Adobe Photoshop, this can be tricky to use and those stepping up from iPhoto ’09 will probably experience a fairly steep learning curve but experienced pros will make good use of this feature.

Also new to Aperture 3 are presets for quick, no-brainer global adjustments. A number of presets for exposure/highlights/shadows, color (including special effects such as cross processing, toy camera, sepia and more), white balance and converting images to black and white are built into the application. These presets can be adjusted and saved as custom presets as well, providing options for both iPhoto users and professionals.

Face and Places

Anticipating that iPhoto users were outgrowing the consumer program and looking to move up, Apple has incorporated a couple of familiar iPhoto options into Aperture.

Faces, a popular face recognition feature from iPhoto ’09, is new to Aperture 3 and functions much like face detection in digital cameras. It also has the same limitations as digicam face detection—it works best with full frontal faces, without sunglasses.

While we may think of face recognition as important to consumers, wedding photographers—and anyone who shoots events, headshots, etc.—will appreciate Aperture’s intelligence in gathering and identifying faces. Of course, you have to give the program a little help but once you tag one face, Aperture will search for the same person and present images for you to confirm (or reject). Importantly, you can automatically organize photos of an individual into a separate album or have Aperture search for faces only in a specific project, such as a wedding or event. Aperture is pretty smart, although like all face recognition technology, it’s not perfect. Perhaps the biggest downside is that you have to confirm/reject each face so, like all asset management tasks, it can take a while to accomplish.

Places was also brought over from iPhoto ‘09 to identify and locate where the photograph has been taken. Once the identification information has been applied, you can search on location criteria or arrange/organize images according to where the photo has been taken. The easiest way to use Places is with a GPS-enabled camera or your iPhone. If your camera or camera phone doesn’t have a GPS feature, you can manually match the photo to a specific location, all within Aperture. While I’m not a huge GPS fan (except when driving), I’d be more likely to use the Places feature so I could include a map in an Aperture-created photo book—a very cool new feature in version 3.

Output

In addition to being able to include a travel map in photo books, Aperture has expanded its book fulfillment vendors to include companies such as Couture, Graphistudio, Leather Craftsmen and Queensberry. These companies produce extremely high quality albums and each has a plug-in so users can easily create, order and upload their photo books. Apple also now offers a larger book size (13 × 10 inches) as well as a couple of new book themes.

Apple has updated Aperture to accommodate multi-media. Video clips, for example, can be organized within the library. Unlike Adobe Lightroom 3, which only allows users to organize and view videos in the library, Aperture 3 also provides the option of trimming movie footage. It’s not a huge editing feature but it’s helpful.

I was pretty impressed with the slideshow features in Aperture 3. Creating a slideshow or multi-media piece is super-easy but has enough sophistication to be creative. Slideshows feature dual audio tracks so you can incorporate a soundtrack (or the audio from video clips) and a secondary track such as a voice narration. I never bothered with the slideshow feature in previous versions of Aperture but Aperture 3 inspired me to make some new multimedia pieces. Slideshows can be exported as Quicktime movies. Of course, Aperture 3 offers easy iPhone and Apple TV (which syncs with iPad) compatibility.

There are a ton of other features that have been incorporated into Aperture 3, most of which make the application easier to use. Importing and accessing images, printing, and even the interface have been simplified and/or improved. To check out the improvements first hand, download the 30-day free trial at apple.com.

Aperture 3 Tutorial

One of the hottest new additions to Aperture 3 is brush adjustments but the application offers more than simply brush on-brush off changes. We’ll show you how to use this feature by intensifying the blue sky. Once you understand the basics, it’s easy to pick any attribute and adjust your image using this feature.

1. Open your image and choose “Color” from the Adjustment Inspector (adjustments drop down menu).

2. Click the blue patch in the Color section (or whatever color or hue you want to enhance).

3. Choose Brush Color In from the Action Menu (the little gear-like icon in the upper right hand corner of the Color section). This will open the Color HUD

4. Press the F key to go into Full Screen mode or work in the current window. Move the HUD to a convenient place on the screen.

5. Click the Action Menu of the HUD and choose Color Overlay. This will show you exactly where you’re brushing on the adjustment.

6. Make sure the first brush is chosen in the HUD—this is the “paint on” brush. Use the sliders to adjust brush size, softness and strength. Because the sky is a large area and I’m working in full screen, I maxed out the brush size at 200; kept the softness to 0.5 and the strength at 1.

7. Click the Detect Edges box at the bottom of the HUD. This will make it much easier to apply the brush to only the sky and not the trees, tree branches and field in the image.

8. Paint on the adjustment with the brush. As you can see, the Detect Edges did a really good job of preventing the brush from reaching non-sky areas. Also, if you’re working with a track pad (versus a mouse or, better yet, a Wacom tablet), it’s more difficult to paint precisely. In any case, you’ll probably have some stray brush strokes that you’ll want to eliminate.

9. Choose the 3rd brush on the HUD. This is the eraser. Adjust your brush size, softness and strength if necessary and “brush off” any errant brush strokes (i.e., the darker red overlay seen along the tree line of this image).

10. To finish up, choose the middle “feather” brush and run it along the treeline to soften the area between the sky and the treeline. Close the Color HUD and you’re done. You can also apply additional color adjustments. Click the Action Menu and choose “Add New Color Adjustment” and repeat from Step 2.

Conclusion

The cumulative effect of Aperture 3’s new features, improved interface and simplified controls has opened the doors for another segment of photographers, namely those using iPhoto. At the same time, the addition of more sophisticated features such as brush adjustments and curves, as well as 64-bit support, will appeal to professionals who are current Aperture users and certainly provide them with more than sufficient reason to upgrade. Overall, I think this is the best and most user-friendly version of Aperture to date.

System Requirements

Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air, iMac, Mac mini (mac computer with an Intel Core 3 Duao processor recommended)

Operating System

  • Mac OS X v. 10.5.8 or v. 10.6.2 or later

Memory

  • 1GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM required for Mac Pro

Other Requirements

  • DVD drive for installation
  • 1GB of disk space for application and documentation
  • 7GB of disk space for Sample Library

Where to Buy

If you are looking to buy Apple’s Aperture 3, please consider helping to support Photo.net by purchasing from one of our partners.

More

About the Author

Theano Nikitas, a full-time freelance writer and photographer, has been writing about photography for the past 15 years. Her digital imaging reviews, features, “how to” articles and images have appeared in a wide variety of publications and on Websites including American Photo, CNET.com, DigitalCameraReview.com, Digital Photographer, First Glimpse, Imaging-Resource.com, macHOME, PCPhoto, PC How to Digital Photography Buyer’s Guide, Photo District News, PopPhoto.com, and Popular Science. Although she loves digital, Theano still has a darkroom and a fridge filled with film thanks to her long-time passion for alternative processes and toy cameras. More »


Original text and images ©2010 Theano Nikitas.

Article revised February 2011.

Readers' Comments


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massimo mariani , January 05, 2011; 05:00 A.M.

I am using Aperture 3 but I find the function to export versions extremely slow, and producing slideshow as well.

Theano Nikitas , March 22, 2011; 05:32 P.M.

Apple just posted an Aperture update today to Aperture 3.1.2. Check it out at: http://support.apple.com/kb/TS2518

 

--Theano

Alexander Hare , September 27, 2011; 04:08 A.M.

thanks for the review.  what's your view on the issue of importing images into A3 and having them 'locked away' from other editing programs like PS?  Lightroom is bad for this but at least things like keywording and rating are attached to the file and visible across different software.  How do you find it compares to Lightroom?  rgds, Alex Hare.


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