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Notes on Apple's Aperture 2  
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 | by Rob Galbraith
A chat today with Apple's Kirk Paulsen, Senior Director of Applications Product Marketing, and Joe Schorr, Senior Product Line Manager for Photo Applications, revealed a number of interesting things about Aperture 2, the most significant upgrade to Aperture since the fall of 2006.
Tall Order: Apple Aperture 2 (Photo in screenshot by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Here are notes from the call:
  • The famously secretive Apple directly involved professional photographers in the development of this release of Aperture. In 2007, the company held a gathering for members of its Aperture Advisory Board, a collection of working shooters including Bob Davis, Mike Colon, David Bergman, Bill Frakes, Vincent Laforet, Jim Richardson, John Stanmeyer and Steve Winter, to show what the company was working on, seed early builds to them and solicit feedback. Frakes, says Schorr, has an Aperture library comprised of over 700,000 pictures.

  • Apple sought to improve the program in three broad areas: performance, ease of use and image quality. The lion's share of the changes in Aperture 2 fall into these three categories.

  • Support for the viewing and processing of RAW files from the newest cameras, including the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Nikon D3 and D300, requires Aperture 2 and either OS X 10.5.2 or OS X 10.4.11. In OS X 10.4.11, RAW file support for the latest models is limited to Aperture 2 and iPhoto 7.1.2; other Apple applications such as Preview, the Finder itself and perhaps third-party applications can't decode the newest digital cameras' RAW files. In OS X 10.5.2, however, support for the newest RAW files is effectively system-wide.

  • The new Quick Preview mode is designed to make plowing through large collections of photos much quicker. Pressing the P key toggles this new mode on and off; while enabled, Aperture 2 effectively ignores the RAW data in a photo and displays only the JPEG preview it has rendered or, if that's not yet been generated, the JPEG living inside the RAW file. In Quick Preview mode it's possible to apply ratings, metadata and perform other similar functions (much like you can in v1.5.6 when the target photo is offline). 

  • Schorr describes the performance boost brought about by Aperture 2 library and thumbnail display changes as a "night-and-day difference." While the underlying database is still SQLLite, optimizations to it, and optimizations to the way the program shows thumbnails in the browser, add up to a major speed bump, says Schorr. Search speed, thumbnail rendering while scrolling, switching between projects and the like are all promised to be much faster. As a result, Apple upped the per-project limit to 100,000 photos from 10,000, and removed the 100,000 photo limit on the number of thumbnails that can be shown at a time in the browser.

    After using Aperture 2 for several hours, we can attest to how much zippier the new version is. Gone is the pervasive sluggishness of v1.5.6, even on a fast machine; now, scrolling through a large project in the Browser, banging through photo after photo in the Viewer, changing viewing modes or switching from project to project - it's all so much quicker, and just plain quick on a Mac Pro (two cores per processor) 3GHz  machine here. Enabling Quick Preview boosts Viewer speed that much more. It's still possible to get that sluggish feeling: for example, by trying to drag out a crop on a RAW photo that has already had a Straighten operation applied plus several other image adjustments including Highlights & Shadows. Overall, though, Aperture 2 really moves along.

  • Switching between Aperture libraries has been made easier: to do so in Aperture 2, hold down the Option key as the program launches and a dialog will appear in which you can select an alternate library package, or create a new one.

  • The Export function is now a background operation, whether exporting via one of Aperture's built-in options or a third-party Export plug-in. All plug-ins compatible with Aperture v1.5.6 are expected to work without modification in v2. It's possible, when exporting RAW files as Masters (aka unprocessed originals), to embed IPTC-format metadata directly into the RAW file. Apple, says Schorr, performed compatibility testing to ensure that the embedding process didn't render the RAW file incompatible with other mainstream applications. Aperture 2 will, as before, export an XMP sidecar file rather than embed the metadata, if desired. Strangely, it still doesn't import metadata from a RAW file's XMP sidecar file, which is a much-needed feature for those, us included, trying to fully integrate Aperture into a workflow that involves importing collections of existing, XMP sidecar-captioned RAW photos.

  • The program now offers the option to not import files already within Aperture's library, to prevent the bringing in of duplicate files.

  • aperture2_tether.jpg
    Wired Up: Aperture 2's Tether HUD 
    Aperture 2 supports tethering directly, the camera maker's software and AppleScript are no longer required. Apple is preparing but has not yet published a knowledgebase article that will list the supported cameras, which is expected to include various Canon, Nikon and perhaps other digital SLR models, plus the iPhone.

    With a supported camera, the just-captured photo will automatically flow into an Aperture project; a subset of supported models can also be triggered from the application. Aperture 2's tethered support does not extend to adjusting camera settings such as shutter speed and aperture, the camera maker's software, such as Canon's EOS Utility or Nikon's Camera Control Pro, is still required for that. Some general information on tethering with Aperture 2 is here.

  • Keyboard shortcuts are now completely customizable, and keyboard shortcuts sets can be saved and then loaded into the program running on another Mac.

  • Aperture 2 supports 16-bit printing to certain newer Canon and Epson printers, in both OS X 10.5.2 and OS X 10.4.11. It's also possible to apply - and preview with the Loupe tool - on the fly sharpening for printing, right from Aperture's print window.
Look Sharp: Aperture 2's Print window, with the Loupe enabled (Photo in screenshot by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
  • The Lift and Stamp function includes new options to copy then paste just the image adjustments or just the metadata (this was possible before, but has been made simpler now). Also as before, each image adjustment palette, called a "brick" in Apple lingo, has a preset pulldown which can be configured with your favourite settings for that brick. But there is no master preset option that would allow you to adjust the settings in multiple bricks at once, which is an odd omission in an upgrade so focused on improved usability. It's also not possible to select a group of thumbnails and apply a change - a white balance adjustment, for example - to all simultaneously. To do that, you must apply it to one, lift, then stamp to the rest.

  • Aperture 2, like earlier versions, is built around the notion that you will do all your RAW conversions within the application, and lacks a function for sending a RAW file directly to an alternate RAW converter.

  • With Aperture 2, Apple now includes a total of three RAW conversion pipelines within the program: v1.0, v1.1 and v2.0, with lots of flexibility for choosing and migrating between pipelines (though the very newest camera's RAW files are limited to the v2.0 processing path). The RAW 2.0 pipeline offers improved fine detail rendering, among other changes.

    Look Pretty: Vibrancy and Definition are part of the Enhance brick

    There are also new adjustment options, including Vibrancy, a smart saturation booster designed to give "bluer skies, greener trees and yellower flowers," says Schorr, without overly boosting skin tones at the same time, plus Definition, a local contrast adjustment that mimics the indispensable Photoshop trick of applying a high-radius Unsharp Mask to enhance image intensity and clear away the cloudy look of some digital photos. As of v2, Aperture supports image editing plug-ins, though none are included or announced at this time.

  • Aperture 2 is both better integrated with and picks up a few tricks from iPhoto. It's possible from within Aperture 2 to view the contents of your iPhoto library and bring photos from there into your Aperture environment. Photos brought across can either be managed or referenced, depending on the key combination you hold down. It's also now possible to create .Mac web galleries from Aperture, with the same range of options as from within iPhoto, plus one more: like iPhoto, it's possible to offer downloadable versions of the photos on the gallery page, but iPhoto is restricted to original or reduced-resolution JPEGs, whereas Aperture can also make available the original RAW file (with embedded metadata, if desired).
Links to additional information on Aperture 2 are in a previous story.
Revision History
February 13, 2008: Corrected an error in the description of the Aperture database.
February 13, 2008: Added comments about the program's newfound speed and assorted other details.
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