Aperture 3 - Wishes. Expectations. Anticipation.

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Quick Recap
When Apple unveiled Aperture in 2005, the photography landscape was in dire need of consolidation: the digital workflow was a hodge podge of various solutions combining RAW converters, editing software and asset management applications. Working with RAW files was unwieldy, involving conversions and file multiplication if you needed different versions of the same picture. In a word, it was a mess. So it's no surprise Aperture was greeted with a pretty high degree of excitement from the community. Unfortunately, version 1.0 suffered from several architectural problems which, combined with performance issues, marred an otherwise brilliant idea. As is often the case, execution proved difficult.

But Apple listened and quickly updated the app with several free updates that not only squashed bugs, but also added major features - a sign that they were serious about the photography market. In less than a year Aperture went from 1.0 to the greatly enhanced 1.5, a version that felt more like a new version than a point upgrade. They also lowered the price and offered a rebate to early adopters.

Soon after the 1.5 release, Adobe offered a mac-only free beta of Lightroom seen by many as a reaction to Aperture. Clearly, the race was on.

The free beta release by Adobe was an odd move that showed a certain nervousness on their part. In fact, the free beta felt more like an alpha when first released. But Adobe's public offering and transparency throughout the process paid off: it kept their competitor to Aperture in the public eye, staving off the perception that they were losing their crown to Apple. It also allowed them to gain a pool of users willing to wait out the beta period in exchange for free software. With beta 3 they added support for Windows, something Apple was obviously not interested in matching. And while LR lacked the spit and polish of Aperture, it clearly had the upper hand in performance and system requirements. When Lightroom 1.0 was finally released - at the same price point as Aperture - their application was already in the hands of many Adobe faithful as well as PC users who were ready for the only equivalent solution available on their platform.

Today both Aperture and Lightroom sit at version 2. And while the relative merits of both applications can spark endless debates, LR has clearly emerged as the juggernaut in terms of adoption. Adobe has introduced features like camera presets and non-destructive localized editing that trounce Aperture's offering. The ball is now in Apple's camp.

A Love Affair
I have a love affair with Aperture. In fact I consider it to be a deciding factor in my decision to become a full-time photographer. I remember sitting at my computer with the Aperture demo, my pictures spread out across both screens and realizing: man, that's all I want to be doing. So it comes as no surprise that I'm routing for Aperture to not only survive but thrive, evolve and prosper. I've tried LR2. It has amazing features. But I can't stand it. And it's not because of some deep-routed fear of change or some sort of apprehension when faced with new software - I've been using Photoshop for like fifteen years and have no problem whatsoever with learning applications. It just feels cramped. As if my photos are stuck in a box. Aperture makes my work look like a gallery display and for all the superficiality of that argument, it matters to me in the end. It affects both the way I perceive what I do and the enjoyment I get out of doing the work. I'm also much more at ease with its free mode workflow that allows me to jump in and out of different tasks within the same environment.

But Aperture 3 has to seriously rock.

What now?
I've stated many times how I believe Aperture 3 will be dependent on Snow Leopard's radical new technologies. While many only see the upcoming OS as a mere refinement to Leopard, I see it as a sea change and a foundation for the next jump ahead in OS X software. I think Aperture 3 should be a flagship application. No, scrap that: I think it NEEDS to be a flagship application. I'm also pretty sure Apple knows this. They read the same data we do. They know how much LR is getting entrenched.

So what do I want in AP3? Here goes:

  1. Non-destructive localized editingI've invested a lot in Aperture. I use several plug-in packages (Nik and OnOne suites) that I believe add a lot to its basic possibilities. I have no problem relying on third-parties for these types of features any more than I have a problem using them in Photoshop - I don't expect Aperture to give me every feature under the sun. But there is clearly a need for non-destructive localized editing. Please. I don't want to create a TIFF file everytime I need to dodge and burn. This is basic, essential stuff.

  2. RAW presets: Adobe has presets that closely emulate in-camera settings. This is essential. There's nothing I hate more than seeing my photo thumbnails go from a great looking starting point to a ho-hum version as soon as I switch the Preview button off. Of course this will vary depending on the camera you use, but Nikon decoding is pretty off the mark, especially with blues. I know these settings are proprietary but if Adobe can get that close, Apple should get much closer as well.

  3. Squash the bugs: There are a lot of annoying bugs throughout Aperture. If for instance I add pictures to an album with a custom sort, Aperture sometimes displays multiple duplicates of certain pics. The only remedy is to then sort the album by date - thereby losing the original sort order. It's not a huge deal but before I found the solution I spent a pretty uncomfortable selection session with a client, trying to pretend nothing was wrong while pictures were multiplying before our eyes - not fun. This is one of many - failed exports, crashing and weird book creation tools are other great time wasters...

  4. Speeeeed: This is obvious and yes, depends on the hardware in use. But the fact is Aperture gets slower as its database grows bigger. It's much better in V2 but it's still a problem. I have a library of a few gigabytes dedicated to a single client that launches in seconds and where anything I do just flies. Not so with my main library. Switching to referenced files helps (with a fast FW800 hard drive) but there's clearly optimizing possible. I'm hoping SL helps in this regard.

  5. Keyword hierarchies: I do stock photography and while the main agency I work with now does the keywording for me, I would still love being able to add multiple related keywords in one fell swoop. Anyone shooting stock needs this. Anyone looking for a quicker way to organize pictures needs this as well.

  6. Sharpening on export: I get to sharpen in the print dialog, taking into account the size of the final print (as it should be). Why the hell can't I get the same thing in the export dialog? Web exports need sharpening in relation to file size.

  7. Consistent print dialog: Why does book printing use a different print dialog? The book tool is quirky but pretty useful for times when you need to do basic layouts, add text etc... But try to print and you get yet ANOTHER print dialog: no sharpening and no colorsync management - which means bad color. Huh?

  8. Image presets: I use all the workarounds with Lift and Stamp but I'd really like to be able to save an entire adjustments setup - with custom preset categories if possible.

Those are my basic wishes. Nothing earth shattering or even remotely original but getting these would make my work so much easier. Now of course there's the dream wish: non-destructivre workflow and versioning when using plug-ins, the nirvana and holy grail of wishes...

Which features on that list am I expecting? 1 and 2. In fact, in spite of my undying love for this app  I don't think Aperture could survive another cycle without some implementation of those two features. And no, Faces wouldn't make up for it.

What do you think?