Wednesday, May 23, 2007
A Look Through Aperture
Developed quietly and unveiled dramatically, the new image workflow software from Apple is a professional application that handles RAW files in a novel way to put some speed in your digital work
In October 2005, amid the backdrop of the PhotoPlus trade show in New York, Apple unleashed a new software package for professional photographers: Aperture. Developed secretly and introduced with the usual flair for the dramatic that's now synonymous with an Apple product announcement, the new application has generated more excitement than just about any other software product in quite some time. Aperture is part of Apple's pro line of applications for creative types and joins Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro and Motion as serious tools on the Mac platform. Aperture is a workflow-oriented program that integrates the features that most pro photographers need when shooting digital and offers an entirely new way to work with RAW images. Image management, basic image editing and presentation of images are also covered in the software. We've seen more than our share of wild product introductions that were all sizzle and no steak. Happily, Aperture doesn't fall into that category. Although the software was developed quietly, the Apple design team worked closely with a number of professional photographers to build a program that addresses the particular needs of a working pro. This isn't software designed to sell millions of copies to everyone with a computer and a point-and-shoot camera. It's professional-level software that smooths the bumps in image workflow to make you more efficient and, hopefully, more profitable.
Aperture also isn't a solution looking for a problem to solve. Today, the biggest workflow challenge facing most of us is coming up with an efficient way to handle the large number of huge image files that we generate on a photo shoot. The process of downloading, reviewing, editing and sorting a job literally can take hours. Aperture allows you to speed up the process considerably because the program handles the RAW data much more efficiently. Images can be sorted before they're even downloaded to the computer, and the process is fast. When we first saw the program work in a one-on-one demo, there was some discussion that Aperture conceivably makes the practice of shooting RAW+JPEG obsolete because it's so fast. The performance of the software naturally depends on the performance of the underlying hardware, and to get the full power of Aperture, you'll need to have an appropriately equipped Mac, but Apple claims that the software will run fine at minimum hardware requirements, too.
Aperture brings some familiar tools to the screen in a way that will make perfect sense to anyone who has worked with transparencies or proofs in the film world. Using a lightbox metaphor, Aperture can quickly sort digital images into stacks or similar files for easy sorting and selecting. Stacks are created automatically for images that are bracketed (as identified by metadata), and you can create your own stacks for processing. A Loupe feature works just like the traditional loupe, with a magnified circle showing the area under your cursor at 100% to 800%.
Aperture stores all data in a Library, which contains image files, metadata and information on image processing. All data in a RAW file is never touched by Aperture but stored in versions, which are instructions on how to make edits to the image rather than copies of the image itself. The advantages to this method are considerable savings in disk space and a boost in display speed. It's no longer necessary to have multiple copies of large RAW images floating around on your disk. Libraries are limited to the available disk space, whether that's an individual drive or a RAID configuration. Only one Library can be opened at a time, and Libraries are single-user only; a photographer and assistant can't both work in the same Library on different machines.
Aperture also features Projects, which are subsets of images and their associated data; these can be exported for archival purposes to free up space in the Library for new images. Once photos have been placed in a Project and removed from the Aperture Library, you can no longer browse for these photos or metadata without reimporting back into the Aperture Library. For full archival backup, Aperture can create a Vault, which is an exact copy of the Library. After you've created a Vault, any additions to the Library are incrementally added to the Vault, which can be on a different drive or multiple drives.