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Last year, photographers interested in Apple’s software had to choose between Aperture, a pro-level image organizer and editor, and its farm-club counterpart, iPhoto ’09. It was a tough decision because power users needed the editing tools in Aperture but were tempted by Faces, Places, and other iPhoto-only tricks. Aperture 3 rebalances the roster, adding those iPhoto functions while also juicing up with high-end tools like Brushes. It’s an impressive update, and Aperture’s streamlined, iPhoto-esque interface welcomes intermediates while meeting the demands of power users.
With these great new editing tools, many pros won’t need to open Photoshop. And intermediate users will be able to do what they want without getting lost in the deep feature set--and can learn new photo-editing techniques without feeling intimidated.
You can brush in most tools to alter a specific area, as we're with Levels to brighten the faces.
But Apple didn’t just add those three headlining new features to Aperture--Version 3 boasts 200 additions. When we see a list of new stuff that runs that long, we worry about bloated interfaces and useless additions, but Aperture proved us wrong. As an intermediate photographer, I used many of the new bells and whistles--or could foresee situations where they’ll come in handy. For instance, if you’re shooting RAW plus JPEG together, you can have Aperture handle them as two files, combine them into a single file embedded with two formats, or just discard one. Aperture is packed with these little bonuses without getting too cluttered.
Aperture’s handy new Places geotagging tool assigns locations to your photos in several ways. Text searches reference Google and Apple databases to assign metadata. We entered “Mill City flour museum Minneapolis,” and it found the proper location--and name--for the Mill City Museum. Better yet, Aperture automatically updated photo tags so we could find images from searches for those words or for “Minnesota,” which Aperture inferred from “Minneapolis.”
Faces also moves over from iPhoto, and it recognizes and names the people in your pictures. As in iPhoto, you’ll have to train the tool by identifying people in a few dozen pictures. But even on a quad-core Mac Pro with 6GB RAM, the software took so long to complete its part of the process that we thought it had stalled. After about a half hour, it finally blurted out the results. It’s a useful trick, but it can be a slow one.
Advanced photographers will most appreciate the updated editing tools; there’s enough power to forgo Photoshop for much of their work. The new Brushes make the biggest difference, selectively painting in adjustments to specific areas of a photo with newbie-friendly options for not making a mess of things. This tool lets you brush in Dodge, Blur, Contrast, and many other adjustments--including Curves, one of the new high-end color-correction tools.
Photoshop’s Layers and Masks still rule for advanced compositing and manipulation, such as mixing multiple images into a photorealistic scene. But Aperture’s alternatives adeptly handle many single-image scenarios. An Edge Detection toggle does a good job keeping you within the lines on photos--for example, when lightening an underexposed person in front of a bright treetop background. Instead of layer editing, you can go back and change individual Brush parameters for best results. If you’re ever unhappy with an edit, you can hit Undo or just toggle changes off and on--Aperture’s fully nondestructive. All of this makes it feel much more approachable than Photoshop.
Aperture also offers dozens of manual adjustments, including Levels, Exposure, Curves, and White Balance tweaks. You can save your favorites as presets or pick from Aperture’s included bundles--or even see how presets will affect your photo before applying. An improved full-screen mode presents big images without distractions, and you can upload images automatically to MobileMe, Flickr, and Facebook, or export a web gallery ready for uploading to your own server.
Our biggest complaint: Aperture felt fast enough working with our RAW files, but it never quite seemed speedy. When processing other tasks in the background, photos sometimes took a half-second to appear. At least they get cached, letting you instantaneously flip between recent images. And when clicking quickly, we sometimes had to wait just a moment for the interface to catch up.