Apple’s Aperture Released, Will Compete with Photoshop for Pro Photo Market

The just-released application is designed for pro photographers—can it compete with Adobe’s prizefighter?

Apple Computer has just released Aperture, which will surely be a major competitor against Adobe Photoshop for the professional photography market.

The application boasts a smooth-as-silk RAW workflow, letting you import, edit, organize, retouch and publish images, something which Photoshop has done for a long time and really jumped into with CS two years ago and CS2 this year. The question is whether Aperture can compete with Photoshop, which has been the king for a long time, but whether or not it does compete one thing is certain: the relationship between Apple and Adobe, already shaken by Apple’s moves into the video market, will not be the same again.

Slick interface (of course)

fig 1Figure 1: The Adjustments palette.

As with all of Apple’s products, Aperture looks slick. Figure 1 is the Adjustments palette, and it looks to be a mix of Photoshop’s Camera Raw and Levels dialog boxes. What’s missing is the other elements of Photoshop’s Camera Raw, including lens, curve and calibration tools. It’s not clear from this screenshot if Aperture has Photoshop’s additional toolset. Slick design, but we’re not sure if it has all the tools Photoshop has.

A lot of the marketing materials Apple is putting out for Aperture touts its library and lightbox environment, which reminds me of Adobe Bridge. That application has had a mixed response from the Photoshop community (see my previous article on Dan Margulis and CS2) so will this be what takes its place? The interface looks strong; see Figures 2 through 5 below.

fig 2Figure 2: The work area.

fig 3Figure 3: The work area.

fig 4Figure 4: Grouping exposures in the work area.

Figure 5: Comparing images in the work area.

A very interesting feature is shown in Figure 4: you can use a slider to separate groups of images according to when they were shot and thus separate them into their bracketed bursts. Let’s say you group images that were shot within a second of one another. What happens is you’ll get groups of images that were bracketed and belong together. It’s a cool way to separate bracketed bursts and work with them quickly.

Watching Aperture at work in this way is impressive. It seems like a good way to work with your photo collection, and while I like Bridge for its command of all files within Creative Suite 2, which is an excellent boon for designers and multi-talented creative folks, it seems pro photographers and those who work with photos yearn for the old Photoshop CS File Browser. Aperture looks to fill the gap that left behind.

Another item: Aperture works with RAW files but boasts that you will never accidentally write over your RAW file as a JPEG or other format. You can create versions of the file and work with the image-enhancing tools and still keep your master file in RAW. I’d like to work with it myself before I pass judgment, but it sounds to me like a weak solution. In Photoshop you can open a DNG or RAW file and when you save you are prompted to resave. According to Apple, you need Aperture to protect your digital masters but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Creating versions sounds like more of a pain that should be necessary.

The loupe and red eye tools

There isn’t much information on image enhancement tools for Aperture, possibly because its tool set is relatively weak. It doesn’t seem to be wanting to compete with Photoshop on that level: no layers, no filters, no styles or glows or drop shadows. Just a few photographic tools, such as a red eye tool (Figure 6) and loupe tool (Figure 7). I think this is the main difference between Aperture and Photoshop: Aperture specializes in photography, while Photoshop has tools for designers and photographers.
Aperture specializes in photography, while Photoshop has tools for designers and photographers.
The key for Aperture’s success will be in just how much better it is than Photoshop for photo import and archiving.

fig6Figure 6: The red eye tool.

fig7Figure 7: The loupe tool.

Figure 8 illustrates a proofing profile option, which gives you control over what profile will be used when proofing on screen. I didn’t see any real color management settings in the work area or other screens, so I’ll be interested in finding out just how Aperture deals with color management, which is still (and will always be) a topic of debate.

fig8Figure 8: Setting the proofing profile.

Showing off your photos: Aperture does it well

Pro photographers are always showing off proofs, whether to newly-married couples or art directors or prospective clients or what-have-you. Aperture has some pretty strong tools to do this, a larger set than Photoshop offers but it’s unclear just how much control photographers have here. Some of what you’ll see below belong in the realm of graphic design, and a real pro may not find Aperture up to the task the way InDesign or Dreamweaver may be.

fig9Figure 9: Create a book with Aperture!

This is the feature I’m most excited about: create a book of photographs within Aperture! Looks very slick, there’s templates for quick layouts and they’re editable so you can rework things a bit. The big problem I see is that some users will want to design the book as much as they want to shoot the photos, and it’s unclear if they’ll have enough control over it. If this tool feels like it belongs in iPhoto or some other novice application, pros won’t use it. They’ll hire a designer or design it themselves–many of them probably use Quark or InDesign and can design a book right.

fig10Figure 10: Create a website with Aperture.

You can also print contact sheets or send your photos to a lab through Aperture, but the website-creation tool gets a lot of press from Apple (see Figure 10). Photoshop has had a similar feature since version 7, and with CS2 it got a boost with some cool Flash templates. Aperture doesn’t seem to incorporate Flash but it does have a solid interface and some decent features. I use websites all the time to show off my work because it’s accessible anywhere, and these automation tools are great for when you don’t need to invest a lot of design time doing them.

How will Aperture affect Photoshop?

It’s tough to predict if Aperture will affect Photoshop or Adobe in any way. I think Adobe will (and should) be more tenacious with Apple, who in my opinion has become something of a Microsoft of the 2000s for their shoehorning in on territory that has been in good hands for years, ie. Adobe’s control of the photo-editing and video markets. Apple pushed their way into video with Final Cut Pro and its sister applications, and Adobe no longer makes its Premiere video application for Macintosh, only Windows. Can you imagine if Photoshop became a Windows-only application? I don’t think it will ever happen, but if Apple can take that market they will.

It will be interesting to see how Aperture performs. Apple has some big-name photographers touting its virtues, including Heinz Kluetmeier and Richard Burbridge, but I tend not to trust Apple’s slick marketing. It sounds too much like Steve Jobs selling me something. I’ll wait until I hear from others using it, and until I can get my own hands on a copy, before I say anything. But I do know this: Aperture is worth a try.