Fools’s Gold | The unfortunate dumbing down of Aperture

UPDATE: This was the most short-lived experiment in the history of short-lived experiments. See this post.


What a crazy month this has been. I had intended to post my X-Pro1 “review” today - which has taken much longer than expected - but I find myself having to follow-up on what I wrote just a week ago concerning Aperture.

Turns out I won’t be getting that job reading tea leaves.

p is for professional

Apple released Aperture 3.3 this week. Not the Aperture 4 or X we’d all been waiting for. But more than anything this release is a weathervane. And I’m afraid the winds aren’t turning in the right direction.

Nothing in this update - apart from faster previews while importing - is aimed at professional photographers. Nothing. On the contrary, there’s a clear shift towards the iPhoto audience. The new unified library and iPhoto effects couldn’t make it any clearer.

Aperture - the application that launched the pro RAW editor category - now HIDES the RAW Fine Tuning brick by default. It HIDES IT! Too scary apparently. It now calls the Metadata pane Info. Because, you know… Too many letters or something. It boasts a Professional Auto Enhance button (because adding the word professional makes it sound serious) complete with a little magic wand. P for Pro right? And who doesn’t like a magic wand?

Man. But the greatest insult of all has to be the Improved Highlights & Shadows brick. Let’s see what’s been added. This is the old version, complete with an option to “upgrade”.

Now let’s click that “upgrade” button shall we?

Wow! Awesome! No more advanced section! Just what I always wanted! All those “sliders” we’re so distracting, and they made me uneasy with all their weird labels and choices and…. things.

So: white is black, left is right and now UPgrade really means DOWNgrade. Gotcha.

For those of you who might hope there are new algorithms at play that make those old options obsolete: nope. Well, yes but nothing earth shattering in the few test I did. It’s not that it’s bad , the problem is that it makes it impossible to target and affect shadows and highlights the way we could before. That was obvious in a side by side comparison. It takes away advanced fine-tuning options that allowed micro adjustments this version can’t replicate. Which is why the brick is still there for compatibility on pictures that were edited before the 3.3 upgrade… While unavailable for anything after.*

What’s next? Removing the Radius slider from the Definition Quick Brush because plain folks don’t know what it does?

I said last week that Apple wouldn’t dumb down Aperture. Shame on me. They’ve done just that. And now my entire argument flies out the window. But why do this to Aperture when iPhoto is right there, targeting that very same demographic? The only logical reason I can think of is an eventual merging of the two apps. Apple has ceded the pro market and this is how they start weening us away. Probably too many demands for too little return. The pro applications were once there to prove the Mac as a serious platform, to bring power users into the fold and create a halo effect. Apple doesn’t need this anymore. Yes, they will continue to encourage creativity but in a much broader audience, an audience that doesn’t have such stringent technical requirements and can afford to weather shifts and changes. Backwards compatibility isn’t so important when your livelihood doesn’t depend on it.

Apple simply isn’t interested in trucks anymore.

The future

So now what? Now, Lightroom. To a point. Since 3.3 was released I’ve begun a very serious crash course on Lightroom 4. I can work with this. I can create the look I’m used to and even - dare I say it - more effectively from a technical standpoint. But outside of editing and processing, Aperture runs circles around Lightroom 4. It’s not even a competition.

Lightroom 4’s workflow feels like 1997. It feels like managing files on a hard drive. It’s file driven instead of being project driven. Everything is segregated in its own tiny little corner. You can create collections and smart folders but these live in their own sub-module. They can’t be moved around or stay within a relevant project. Lightroom is a file manager in an era where file management is bound for obsolescence. And this is only one of the annoyances waiting outside the Develop module.

What I plan to do is attempt le beurre et l’argent du beurre - to have my cake and eat it too. I remember seeing Zack Arias a few years back using Photo Mechanic to sort and manage his library, while using Lightroom as an editor for the picks. I’m going to do just that with Aperture. Aperture will remain my database and image browser. Lightroom will be the main editor.

Here’s the plan:

  1. All images get imported into Aperture as referenced images (what I’m doing now anyway).
  2. Images get sorted and rated etc.
  3. The picks go into an Export-Project_Name album in the Aperture project and those files get relocated into a subfolder of the same name.
  4. A new Lightroom catalog is created in the project folder on the referenced drive to import this new folder (ie the picks).
  5. Files are edited in Lightroom. Any printing or exporting can be done from here.
  6. The processed files are exported back to a new LR-Project_Name subfolder, again stored in the project folder on the hard drive which is in turn imported back into an album of the same name in Aperture.

All the files are referenced so there won’t be any duplication going on. Just a rendering of the final images from Lightroom. If I intend to work with them in Aperture I’ll export as TIFF. Otherwise I can use high quality JPEGs since these will only serve as a visual reference. I’ll create a smart folder in the Finder to collect all the Lightroom catalogs. And since they’ll each be stored individually within the project folders (hard drive), a simple Show in Finder on a photo in Aperture will take me directly to the corresponding LR catalog, right from within a Project or Album.

It sounds convoluted but I think it’ll work. This setup will allow me to continue using shared previews and everything Aperture does best while avoiding the dark side of Lightroom. If an Aperture 4 version comes out with cleaner and more powerful processing, I’ll be there. If however it disappears, I’ll simply merge all the LR catalogs, add the unprocessed files and go from there.

Adobe can’t do simple. Apple is running scared from complexity. I’m stuck in the middle and trying to adapt.

Interesting times.

*I found a workaround for the H&S problem: lift the adjustment from an old photo that hasn’t been upgraded. If you created an H&S preset prior to the 3.3 version this will work as well. When you stamp you’ll get the old adjustment brick instead of the new one. If however you try duplicating it… You’ll be stuck with dumber.

P.S The new White Balance is impressive. It’s not all bad. Just a very serious hint at things to come.