Aperture: the end of an era.

I remember the moment when I decided to become a full-time photographer. I was sitting in front of the computer, quietly going through images in this phenomenal new piece of software that felt like the very essence of photography. I thought: “Man… I could seriously do this every single day ”.

The application, was Aperture.

It’s easy to forget how groundbreaking Aperture was when it arrived on the scene: it was the first ever application entirely developed for the needs of working photographers. Here was a one-stop shop, self-contained application at a time when the digital photography workflow was a nightmare of stitched together solutions. It replicated time honoured tools like a loupe, a light table; it had stacks, versioning, metadata editing, ColorSync calibration and previews. It provided a complete workflow solution from start to finish. And: it introduced the world to non-destructive raw processing. This was unheard of. Here’s an excerpt from the original press release:

Until now, RAW files have taken so long to work with,” said Heinz Kluetmeier, renowned sports photographer whose credits include over 100 Sports Illustrated covers. “What amazed me about Aperture is that you can work directly with RAW files, you can loupe and stack them and it’s almost instantaneous—I suspect that I’m going to stop shooting JPEGs. Aperture just blew me away.
— Heinz Kluetmeier

Stop.Shooting.JPEG. That was it. That was the moment when raw became a workable solution, something you could use on a daily basis without jumping through fifty hoops while standing on one foot. Apple had ushered in the modern era of digital photography.

Adobe

In January 2006, less than three months after Aperture was announced, Adobe released a public beta for an application called Lightroom. This was the first time in their entire history they had made a beta freely available to the public and it was clear to everyone at the time that it was a defensive move on their part. The genesis of Lightroom probably coincides with the internal development of Aperture — great ideas are often simply ready to emerge — but Adobe was obviously caught off-guard, not just by the concepts embodied by Apple’s software but also by the scope of what they had accomplished; as it often does, Apple had thought long and hard about what was wrong in the photographer’s digital workflow and had basically eradicated the pressure points while introducing features no one had even thought of at the time… Most of which are now staples of every single DAM out there, from importing to processing, to exporting final images.

It wasn’t perfect: it was a resource hog, it was buggy and it was expensive. But Aperture 1.0 had features that weren’t available for YEARS in Lightroom; and some that still haven’t even made it to version 5.5. In terms of vision, they hit it out of the ballpark. This application made you want to be a photographer. In my case, it was a revolution.

Slow dive

Like many I saw the writing on the wall and in 2012, after years of being a fierce Aperture proponent, I made the move to Lightroom. What’s fascinating to me is that even to this day I miss the Aperture workflow and still mostly feel constrained by the Lightroom environment. Many features feel like little more than pale imitations meant to check off a list rather than actually being useful. Anyone out there besides me interested in being able to sort the Collections list however the hell they want to? Managing virtual copies is a joke compared to Aperture’s Versions and I still cringe when I need to switch modules or look at that claustrophobic Grid view. I miss Aperture’s project driven metaphor and I suspect I always will. The reality is that Apple had a jewel but instead of polishing it they simply hid it in a drawer, to gather dust and be forgotten — to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep it around anymore.

I’ve been reading some of the reactions to the news of Aperture’s demise around the web these past few days and it’s been interesting but pretty much unanimous. One that stood out was Joseph’s from Aperture Expert. It’s easy to dismiss his views as self-serving given the focus of his site, but he’s clearly thought about this quite a bit and it’s a legitimate point of view that’s well worth reading. In the end though, no matter how we spin it, I can’t dismiss what in my mind is completely obvious: while Apple still loves photography, they’re no longer interested in pro photography, at least not in the way most of us define it. They’re no longer interested in providing a solid workflow for our very specific needs and are now aiming at the larger population. This may result in crossover features at times but on the whole I doubt the new Photos will be able to replace Aperture — Apple would’ve said so otherwise. I can see little beyond cross-compatibility and can easily envision a simplification that will take away most of what made Aperture what it was, all for the sake of ease of use and minimizing confusion. As far as most of us here are concerned, I fail to see anything other than “Move Along” in big, bold lettering.

It’s strange because I’m both sad and relieved at the same time: sad to see so much potential wasted but relieved to finally be able to put Aperture out of my mind and concentrate on the tools I have. I use Lightroom and it’s not going away; I’m playing with Capture Pro One and there’s a lot of potential.

Aperture was an important part of my life and It’s over, but it was also the trigger for everything I’m doing today. Perhaps it wasn’t such a waste after all.
In the end, it's hard not to be thankful...


Below is a collection of posts I wrote during my switch from Aperture to Lightroom. I though they might prove useful for those who will be going through the same transition. And btw: if you’re an Aperture user don’t freak out. Apple has committed to the application’s compatibility with the upcoming Yosemite update as well as the forthcoming Photos. In essence, you have a good long year to prepare your move.

An Aperture to Lightroom addendum | & some archive diving.

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Sorry for the lack of content this week: I’ve been struggling with a nasty bug while trying to work on a new project. I’ll have more on that later but let’s just say it also explains the lack of updates to the EDITIONS site. Something to do with overlapping mandates…

I’ve also been knee-deep in the Lightroom switcharoo and I thought I’d give you a follow-up on that process. I was supposed to write about the processing differences this time around but it’ll have to wait. A lot of ground to cover on that front and too little time. So this is more about my import strategy.

My biggest fear with this move was obviously losing all the edits I’d done in Aperture over the years. I had three choices:

  • Keep the files edited in Aperture where they were and only add new files to Lightroom.
  • Export rendered images of my Aperture files to Lightroom.
  • Edit all the images again in Lightroom.

Now, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking this last option would be DOA. I mean, who wants to go through that, right? Well… Me? Turns out it’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. I’m not doing it systematically for every image I’ve shot mind you, but I am revisiting what I consider my best images, reprocessing each one in Lightroom.

The first option of having some images in Aperture and others in Lightroom didn’t work for me. I like having access to everything in one place. The second option would’ve meant a lot of disk space in lossless format (TIFF or PSD). A lot. So I settled on a strategy that may seem strange but works for me:

  • In Aperture I filtered all the 3 stars and up files from 2012.
  • I exported all these files as high quality JPEGs into a new folder called 2012 AP3 Renders.
  • I imported this folder in Lightroom and labeled all these files blue so I could easily identify them later.
  • Then I proceeded to import my 2012 folder (the one on my external hard drive) into Lightroom.

By doing this I can easily identify my best Aperture images in the Lightroom library (they’re all in blue) and since I always use the All Photographs view sorted by capture time, I get the rendered Aperture images side by side with the original masters, no matter when they were imported. Here’s what I mean:

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The Aperture renders have kept their 3 stars rating (on import, this is in the metadata) and as I reprocess the masters in Lightroom, these new versions get 4 stars. So a quick 4 star filtering shows me just the newly processed files. When I want to see everything again I turn off the filters altogether (Command-L).

When I’m reprocessing those files I can also easily compare them to the Aperture version which is a nice bonus. I just hit the left arrow key for a quick look, go back with the right arrow key. To be honest I relied on this heavily at first, making sure I could replicate the same look and not stray too far away from what I’d done previously. But I’m now much more confident with LR’s toolset and don’t need this as much as I did. In fact I’ve been very surprised at how quickly I can go through this reprocessing, even with local adjustments taken into account. It’s not anywhere near as nightmarish as I thought it would be.

I imagine you’re probably wondering why the hell I’m doing this in the first place… I’d say refining. With new tools come new possibilities and with distance comes a better understanding of the bigger picture. So the result is that I feel I’m doing a better job this time around, as well as making everything more consistent. This has nothing to do with one application being better than the other, it’s just the ability to see the same images from another angle in these new surroundings. A bit like an old couch in a new apartment.

Speaking of apartments: at the Apple Event this week I’m sure you all noticed the Aperture cameo and it’s repeated description as a PRO application for PRO users. Hopefully this bodes well for the future. I’m just sayin’.

It’ll be too late for me though.

I know, I know: never say never.

I’ll end with some bonus images to make up for this slow week. New photos from last year’s LUTETIA series that I found while archive diving (it’s the new pastime!) in Lightroom. Nothing like moving stuff around to uncover misplaced items.

Later

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Forward | Sadness. Excitement. Moving on.

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Back in January I told you my New Year’s resolution would be More and Better. On some levels I think I’m on my way to accomplishing or at least approaching the goal I set for myself. Although the road ahead is often longer than we initially anticipate.

I’ve made some very important decisions about what I want to be doing with my photography, the gear I want to use and the overarching philosophy behind it all. I’m writing tons of stuff down, trying to define how I see things to force myself into applying those principles in my work. I’ve come to realize that sometimes, to get ahead, you need to look reality in the eye and not be afraid to cut cords. And so with a fair amount of sadness I’ve made a profound decision that will probably surprise most of you: I’m moving to Lightroom.

Yes. For real this time.

In fact, I’m already settled. Everything you’ve seen here for the past three weeks (starting with the Feather post) was edited in Lightroom 4.1. And while I initially thought of keeping Aperture as my DAM using the workflow I’d described a few months ago, I quickly came to the conclusion that this would be more hassle than it was worth. So all new shoots are now being ingested directly into Lightroom. Is it as elegant as Aperture? No. But I’m adjusting and actually finding things I enjoy. Publish Services for one. The linear Modules approach goes against my natural way of thinking but cleaning the default UI and learning some shortcuts has made it somewhat less painful. I only wish we could customize the keyboard commands to make the transition easier.

So why the move? The first and most important reason: I can honestly get a lot more out of my images. Noise reduction and sharpening are essential tools that have never been more than an afterthought in Aperture and I’m sick of waiting around for a solution. I’m also sick of creating TIFFs when I need something better. Same goes for lens correction. I’ve always said I found these tools very impressive in Lightroom and after using them more thoroughly, I’m even more impressed.

The second reason: raw support for the X-Pro1. There’s a lot of talk about the quality of Adobe’s raw decoding for the X-Trans sensor and in some cases the artifacting is indeed a little strange. I think landscape photography, especially featuring a lot of foliage, is most affected by this problem. But in most cases it’s really not that bad. Don’t get me wrong: I want it to get a lot better. But being able to use the full amount of headroom provided by this sensor is fantastic in itself. I’d say it’s probably this ability to fully access what the X-Pro1 can deliver that’s been the clincher.

Third reason: I don’t know what the f$@% is going on with Aperture. I know I said before that I didn’t mind, that Apple was Apple and secrecy wasn’t synonymous with a lack of engagement on their part. But there has to be limit. The latest Aperture updates have mostly focused on tighter integration with Photo Stream and iPhoto. The H&S tool has been dumbed down and the old one deprecated. These aren’t signs pointing to a renewed emphasis on the pro sector. And I simply cannot rely on hope any longer. This is the foundation of everything I do: it needs to give me the best results possible and it needs to be something I can count on. Period. Meat and potatoes.

This wasn’t an easy decision to make. But as much as it pains me to let go, I’m actually excited to see the results I’m getting with Lightroom’s tools. I guess I must’ve been unconsciously internalizing their use all these years because this time, it just clicked. I spent an entire week replicating the processing of key pictures to see if I could achieve a similar look in Lightroom — I can. I was even able to re-create a few presets based on my VSCO Film Aperture mods by analyzing their curves and colour adjustments.

One thing that was a tremendous help was finally figuring out that LR4 now had an RGB curve option, with access to individual channels. Had to go online for that one. Leave it to Adobe to hide something this important behind a tiny little button. I actually clicked on it a couple of times without even realizing the RGB option had appeared: I thought it was just collapsing the sliders! I kept thinking “wow, this is useless”. UI is so damn important.

I still wish Lightroom incorporated Aperture’s approach of “brush anything”. I find myself at times reaching for a brush menu when using Tonal Curve, Split Toning or Effects. Yet I’ve learned to adapt and have a newfound appreciation for, amongst other things, the amazing graduated filter. I can work using the same layered approach, albeit differently.

I started using Aperture at version 1.5 and I’ve had an ongoing love affair with this application ever since. This parting of ways is incredibly bittersweet.

But all things must pass.

P.S The picture below wouldn’t exist without Lightroom. I shot this in raw+jpeg yesterday because I knew I could edit the raw version natively if needed and wanted to do some comparisons. I was also using my monochrome preset so this gave me a colour backup. I’d just shot something else entirely moments before when I turned and saw this man walking towards me. I knew instantly it was an image worth capturing but I couldn’t fiddle around with the camera controls without missing the moment. So I lifted, focused, hit the shutter and hoped for the best. It all happened in seconds. The picture that appeared in the viewfinder was totally blown out and the jpeg would’ve headed straight to the trash. But when I got home, I lowered the exposure slider on the raw file and it suddenly came alive, revealing the picture I’d had in mind. Every single detail was there, waiting to be released.

I’m not looking back.

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Boy was I wrong | I can’t do LR4.

You know what your mother said about thinking before speaking? It applies to writing blog posts too.

I wonder how many more wrong turns I can take. Maybe I can beat a record of some kind. Or change my name to Captain Flip Flop.

I spent several hours editing a client session in Lightroom 4, putting into practice the workflow I described in this morning’s Aperture diatribe… And it’s the worst time I’ve ever had working on pictures in my entire life. The results are perfectly fine but absolutely NOT worth the amount of pain inflicted. Not by a long shot.

I know long-time Lightroom users will attribute this to my inexperience with the software. But lack of experience doesn’t account for this mess. Visually it’s a nightmare. The menus are a mess. It’s tedious in all sorts of ways that keep rearing their ugly head as you go along.

So forget it. I’m not moving to Lightroom for any part of my workflow. No way José. This doesn’t change my opinion about Aperture 3.3. But now more than ever I hope I’m completely wrong.

Alright… I’m a little tired of all this bitterness I’ve been spouting. So let me end with a few pictures - all edited in Aperture 3.3 ;)

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.

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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.