As those of you who follow me on Twitter, or listen to the many Podcasts I appear on may well know, I recently got a copy of Apple’s pro photo editing program Aperture 2. (Thanks again Allison, it was a great Christmas present!) In case people don’t know what Aperture is, it’s a tool for sorting, organising and editing your photos – a very advanced version of iPhoto if you will. It’s really designed for people who shoot RAW and who shoot a lot, but it’s not a pixel editor like PhotoShop. The closest analogue would be Adobe’s Lightroom. Also, for context, I’m moving to Aperture from iPhoto’08, so I’ll be using iPhoto as a reference point a lot while explaining what I do and don’t like about Aperture.

First off, swithcing from iPhoto to Aperture is not all a bed of roses. Sure, you gain many fantastic features, but you lose some too. In the grand scheme of things these losses are all small, and massively out-weighed by the hugely superior image editing controls, but they shouldn’t be over-looked.

By far THE most annoying thing about Aperture is the retardedly tiny font it uses all over the interface. All the iLife apps, all the iWork apps, iTunes, Preview, you name it, they all use the same font at the same size. It’s easy to read and you get very used to it as a Mac user. For some reason that I simply can’t fathom, Apple decided that Aperture users would somehow benefit from having to strain their eyes to read a small font that’s not even particularly clear, rather than enjoying the standard, clean and clear fonts every other apps uses. The font actually reminds me a lot of Apple’s Classic OS, and that’s not a compliment! Thankfully you don’t have to do much reading while editing photos, so although the font is annoying, it’s not that big of a problem really.

The thing that shocked me most is the poor cropping tool. The rule of thirds is one of the most basic rules of photographic composition. It’s something every photographer is thinking about each time they crop an image. In iPhoto the cropping tool overlays the rule of thirds grid on your current crop as you resize it. This is something I used a lot in iPhoto, and I’m really missing it in Aperture.

The export menu is also feels like a real step backwards from the one in iPhoto which is very powerful and very easy to use. The Aperture one is arguably more powerful, but it’s much less easy to use. You can’t set the settings on a once-off basis, you always have to use a predefined profile. Sure, you can create your own profiles, but the interface for this is hidden away in the preferences window, and it’s a LOT of work to set up a profile for a one-off export! The idea of user-defineable profiles is great, but it really needs to be combined with iPhoto’s export interface to make it user friendly.

Another area where iPhoto hands Aperture it’s behind on a plate is Smart Albums. Sure, you can make them in Aperture, but again, the interface is much more cumbersome, and simply not as powerful. I could not recreate the one smart folder I use all the time. To make picking my Photo of the Week easier, I always tagged my best images as a favourite, and I kept an album with all previous Photos of the Week. I then had a simple Smart Album set up that showed me all my photos that were marked as a favourite, but not contained in the Photo of the Week album. Really simple. Can’t be done in Aperture. Album membership can’t be used as a criteria for a Smart Album! I did manage to create a new system, but it’s a little more complex as it involves two smart folders and the creation of a new Keyword.

Another major annoyance with Smart Albums is how they behave with regard to folders in Aperture. I’m a real stickler for organisation. I like everything neat and tidy, and I don’t like clutter. So, I figured I’d make a folder for my Smart Albums, and then store them all in there, just like I did in iPhoto. Not possible in Aperture. If you put a Smart Album into a folder it will then only search that folder. If you want a smart Album to work over all your images you HAVE to put it at the top level. This makes my nested smart album structure from iPhoto physically impossible. This is exceptionally annoying. Apple’s pro photography tool should not make it harder to organise your images than the cheap consumer tool they literally give away for free!

My final annoyance is a minor one, but again, it shocks me that I get less functionality in a pro tool. I’m a huge fan of “Events” in iPhoto. Thankfully Aperture simulates Events through its special “All Projects” view, but it’s a poor simulation. Yes, it does the cool skimming thing, but it does not tell you what date you’re currently at while you’re scrolling like iPhoto does. My library is massive, so I always found this feature very handy when looking for a set by date. Quickly scroll to the year you want, then look more carefully.

Actually, I lied, there is one more very small thing that annoys me, but it’s so trivial I wasn’t even planning on mentioning it here. But anyway, when you leave full-screen mode the heads up displays stay active, I really wish they wouldn’t!

So, I clearly can’t deny that these short-commings annoy me, but they really are totally out-weighed by the advantages Aperture offers. Without a doubt the biggest and best is loss-less editing. All edits are stored as meta-data so there are no extra copies of your images created as you edit them. You can also make as many versions as you want from the same master image without taking up more disk space. This is great, because I regularly made multiple versions of the same image in iPhoto, and the waste of disk space always annoyed me.

The other HUGE advantage is the massive array of editing controls Aperture places at your fingertips. I was always impressed by how good iPhoto’s controls were, but they are nothing in comparison to Aperture’s. All those controls I’d been missing in iPhoto are all there now, and they work fantastically. I’m in image editing heaven!

I’m also in love with Aperture Vaults. Backup is very important to me, and built-in support for multiple external backups is a great feature. You can add as many Vaults to Aperture as you like, in my case I added two, one I keep at home, and one I keep off-site in work. Aperture keeps track of what changes have been synced to what Vaults, so when you ask it to sync a vault it takes very little time to complete the backup. I can now rest safely knowing that my photos are safely backed up twice, giving me three copies spread over two locations, all without fuss or effort.

Apart from these big advantages, there are lots of really neat touches too. The ability to have Aperture highlight all blown out highlights in red, and all drowned out shadows in blue is exceptionally handy. This really helps you to nail the exposure perfectly in every shot. Another nice feature is that the splash screen on start-up tells you how many images are in your library that have not yet been backed up to at least one vault. This is a nice reminder to back up! Aperture also gets rid of one iPhoto annoyance, it doesn’t use it’s own custom recycle bin, it uses the real system-wide recycle bin so you won’t start mysteriously losing disk space like you so easily can with iPhoto.

Speaking of iPhoto, the import from iPhoto to Aperture was mostly painless. For some strange reason about 5 of my event names got messed up, and I lost all my Smart Albums, but other than that all my images and their associated meta data came over without issue. I was also pleasantly surprised by how little extra over-head the Aperture previews created. My iPhoto library was 13.66GB, and that only went up to 15.33GB when Aperture was finished importing and creating all its previews and thumbnails.

Finally, I had been a little worried that my ageing MacBook Pro may not be up to running Aperture smoothly, but that hasn’t proven to be a problem. My D40 only shoots at 6 mega pixels, so my images are not that big which probably helps, but I can say that a Core Duo MacBook Pro with 1GB of RAM can run Aperture comfortably with 6MP RAW images. Sure, it cold be snappier, but then Apple do recommend 2GB of RAM.

Overall I’m very happy with Aperture, I’m certainly not even remotely tempted to go back to iPhoto. However, I’m sure I’ll stumble across more annoyances and more neat touches over the next few weeks and months. If I stumble across anything significant I’ll be sure to blog about it.