Less bitter, more sweet: with each update, Aperture, Apple’s professional photographic workflow and management software, has gotten that much better.
That’s certainly the case with the latest update, version 1.5.2. The new version is designed to improve reliability and performance in contact-sheet printing, smart albums, watermarks, the Lift & Stamp feature, image export, and file management. This is the best and most usable version of Aperture so far. But before I get to its enhancements, let's catch up on some previous episodes of As Aperture Turns .
Last October, Apple released Aperture 1.5 ( ). It was a significant improvement on version 1.1.2, with a far more flexible approach to photo library management, new image-adjustment features, integration with Apple’s iLife programs, and more. Better still, Aperture 1.5 was a free update for users of previous versions. And for newcomers, Apple cut Aperture’s price from $499 to $299.
On the downside, Aperture 1.5 had bugs, some of which were potentially serious. And one of Aperture 1.5’s best new features—the ability to create fast-loading preview versions of large images—was implemented in a way that could cause the program to slow to a crawl.
Apple addressed these problems last November with the release of version 1.5.1. At the same time, Apple introduced a free, fully functional, 30-day trial version of Aperture—an ideal way for prospective buyers to discover Aperture’s unique approach to digital image editing and, at least as important, gauge how well Aperture would run on their systems.
While Aperture 1.5.1 fixed version 1.5’s bugs, it introduced new bugs of its own. And the free trial version was based on Aperture 1.5, so anyone who downloaded it wasn’t seeing the important performance enhancements of version 1.5.1.
Now Aperture 1.5.2 is out, and it fixes the bugs from version 1.5.1. Plus, the free Aperture trial version is now based on version 1.5.2, so prospective buyers can get an accurate preview of the Aperture experience.
What’s new and fixed
Aperture has always relied on Mac OS X’s Core Image technology to decode Raw files. The drawback of this approach is that users of the latest digital cameras would often have to wait until Apple released a Mac OS X update in order to have Aperture work with their images.
This is no longer the case. Last November, Apple released Digital Camera Raw Support Update 1.0.1, a small download that enables Mac OS X to support Raw files from Nikon’s D80 digital SLR ( ) and other new cameras. Aperture still doesn’t support as many Raw formats as Adobe Camera Raw, but it does support the most popular Raw-capable cameras. Equally significant, the Raw Support Update shows that Apple is willing to respond quickly when the market demands support for a new camera—users won’t necessarily have to wait for a Mac OS X update.
The most annoying bug introduced in Aperture 1.5.1 involved printing photo contact sheets. If you had cropped a photo, it would appear squished on the contact sheet. This is fixed in version 1.5.2. And Aperture’s watermarking feature, which lets you stamp photos with a logo or text, is more versatile in 1.5.2 than in previous versions. Apple also fine-tuned the workings of smart albums to provide finer control over where a smart album searches, and it fixed some glitches in Aperture’s Lift & Stamp batch-processing feature.
What stayed the same
Some items I cited in my previous reviews were not addressed in the current update. For example, I’d still like to see more keyboard shortcuts for image adjustments, as well as more image-zooming options. Aperture still can’t import XMP-format sidecar files (a separate file that stores image metadata, such as exposure settings), a capability that would make it easier for users of other Raw-processing software to migrate to Aperture. Apple contends that this doesn’t affect a majority of users, but there is a vocal minority on Apple’s discussion boards who would like to see it.
Aperture’s printed documentation is still inadequate. Apple greatly expanded Aperture’s electronic documentation when it released version 1.5—by roughly 700 pages. If you enjoy reading hundreds of pages on screen, please raise your hand.
And Aperture is still demanding when it comes to system requirements, particularly the performance of your Mac's video card. This isn’t a drawback; it’s a side effect of Aperture’s groundbreaking design. Read the advice we published in our review of version 1.5—and try version 1.5.2 on your system before you buy.
Macworld’s buying advice
With version 1.5.2, Aperture has hit its stride. Apple did a commendable job of listening to users’ requests and complaints, delivering seven updates within 12 months. While there’s room for Aperture to grow, version 1.5.2 brings the program even closer to fulfilling its promise as the start-to-finish, import-to-output hub of professional and advanced photographic workflow. Serious digital photographers should give it a look.
[ Senior Contributor Jim Heid writes about digital media. He is the author of The Macintosh iLife ’06 (Peachpit Press, 2006) and runs its companion Web site. ]
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 4:23 p.m. PT on February 21, 2007, to clarify remarks about Aperture’s documentation. The program includes a 222-page Getting Started manual.