Though Apple Aperture lacks many of the image design and creation tools and features that other programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements offer, what it does, it does surprisingly well. Making substantial improvements to browser speed, user customization and overall tool efficacy from its previous version, Aperture manages to move from also-ran to competitor status with vanguard programs like Photoshop Elements.
Many of Aperture’s version one criticism were focused on the stodgy speed of its photo and image browser, which, truth be told, did need an overhaul. Despite its lag, the earlier version’s proof was always in the picture, which, in the latest version, has only become clearer. For true image creation and filter and effect based photo editing, it comes up wanting, but, when it comes to cleaning up blemishes, adjusting levels and, moreover, optimizing photo and image appearances, there are few programs, Mac or PC, that do that as convincingly as Aperture.
Before we get to the long-form critique, the following are the strengths and weakness that stood out while using the program:
High-quality image editing software programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements can run you several hundred dollars with a few upgrades and add-ons. And for good reason: these programs are the bread-and-butter of design professionals and prosumers the world over. So, where does Aperture, whose functionality is largely centered upon image enhancement, restoration and processing, stand? Good question. Given the dearth of image editing software programs built specifically for Mac, of which an even smaller number offer full compatibility with Apple iLife and iWork products, Aperture, even for its highly-specialized (and therefore limited) functionality and slightly-high price-tag, is still a good value.
What editing features Aperture does have are well-developed and deliver impressively accurate results. This, in itself, is a good thing. However, for many users unaccustomed to higher-end photo and image editing programs, these tools may prove difficult at first use (the Crop tool and color levels adjustment feature come to mind, but these issues will be addressed in the Ease of Use section).
The blemish removal and spot improvement tools are among the best available in image editing programs, period. Unlike many programs whose red-eye, blemish-removal and restoration tools tend to “fix” faults at the cost of the surrounding area, Aperture does a remarkable job of blending blemishes and repairing red-eye without color bleeding or conspicuous layer superimposition.
For lens correction, and adjustments to highlights, shadows, brightness, saturation, hue and other photo levels, Aperture has a tab with scrollbar adjustment and numerical input for all necessary levels. All levels, including color channels, are easy to adjust, using both scrollbars and numerical input and are reflected instantaneously in the improved image preview window.
Image editing software programs with paint-style design features and photo filters and effects, please step forward. Not so fast, Aperture. While Aperture does boast some impressive enhancement and adjustment features, there are no layering features or filters to speak of. Users can always supplement this deficiency with another program, but, using multiple programs can often disrupt metadata and greatly reduce photo quality.
Equally important to the finished product is the overall process. Sure, many programs can, with enough know-how, elbow-grease or in-depth experience, deliver enhanced and improved images and photos, but oftentimes the time and process it takes to do so can diminish—if not utterly undue—whatever returns you might receive. Aperture features a sleek, straightforward and customizable interface with well-located, easy-to-find tabs and toolsets. From import to export, the process is almost automatic, with users only needing to input metadata and make the necessary adjustments here and there. Unfortunately, Aperture does lose some of its simplicity and feet-on-the-table ease with a few of its tools whose use is hardly as intuitive as the program itself, namely the crop tool, which might take some getting used to. Nevertheless, a few minutes of toying around should be all it takes to convince users of the arguable superiority of Aperture’s crop tool (as well as other tools) to those featured in other programs.
Aperture syncs up perfectly with Apple iLife and iWork products, enabling users to upload photos instantly from iPhoto and other programs for metadata input and photo enhancement and repair. Though Aperture has received some criticism for its browser speed (slow) in its previous version, there is marked improvement, even when run on a substantially lesser-powered Macbook.
The import menu itself is fairly detailed and allows users to upload images from anywhere on their hard drive through well-organized portals that visualize file paths, making it easier to locate image files. On top of that, unlike many programs that, unfortunately, require users to pick and choose images to upload manually lest they import duplicates, Aperture can be set to recognize duplicate photos and prevent their redundant import. This only works if they have the same file path and name, though. No program offers that function—yet, anyway.
As with most Apple iLife and iWork products, exporting is fairly easy and less stultified or confusing than other programs. This, of course, is the direct result of its synchronized compatibility with other Apple products. One thing Aperture does not do, however, is direct export to websites, social networking accounts, etc. There are still only a handful of programs that do, in fact, offer this, so it would be patently unfair to Aperture to treat this like a standard.
Given that most of Aperture’s functionality lies in advanced image enhancement and repair and metadata input, the most important file compatibility—in addition to mainstays like JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF and others—is likely the RAW file-type utilized by a digital camera. Aperture is compatible with all major digital camera manufacturers with distribution in North America; digital cameras purchased in other regions might not be as successful, though, this hasn’t been tested.
Like it or not, Apple is (arguably) the gold-standard for help and support for both its hardware and software product lines. With dozens of tutorials, in-depth user guides and even live training and demonstrations for those that live near an Apple Store, Aperture users can quickly master the program and side-step the typical trying, failing and flailing that goes into complex software programs.
Apple also hosts communities that contain topically-organized forums and other resources for troubleshooting and mastering Apple programs, including Aperture, as well as traditional company-based support including email, phone, chat and, as an added human touch, personal help through the Apple Store “Genius Bar.”
For those that want an image editing program that integrates perfectly with other iLife and iWork products—but don’t need paint-like image design tools and photo filters and effects—Apple Aperture is par for the course. It might not have the broadest range of uses, but what it does, it does well.