Apple releases Aperture 2

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Apple on Tuesday introduced Aperture 2, a major upgrade to its workflow and lossless image editing software for professional photographers. Aperture 2 is now priced at $199. Owners of Aperture 1 can upgrade for $99.

Aperture 2 adds more than 100 new features, a streamlined user interface and a new image processing engine, according to Apple. New imaging tools have been added, to help photographers recover highlights, bring out color vibrancy, manage local contrast definition, do soft-edged retouching and vignetting, and fine-tune RAW images.

"The theme of this release is performance, simplicity and imaging," said Kirk Paulsen, Apple's senior director, application Product Marketing.

Aperture 2 now lets users post their image portfolios on .Mac Web galleries, or to the iPhone, iPod touch and Apple TV. Users can switch between the Viewer and Browser modes using a single key command; an all-in-one heads up display lets users toggle between library, metadata and adjustment controls using a single tabbed inspector.

There's a new All Projects view that's been modeled after iPhoto's Events view. It provides a "poster" photo for every project and the ability to quickly skim through the photos inside. An integrated iPhoto browser helps you access directly any images and events you have stored in iPhoto.

Speed boost

"Without question, our users wanted us to focus on performance," said Paulsen. "Speed is absolutely paramount [to Aperture users]."

Apple has made changes to Aperture 2 to make it faster to import, browse and search large volumes of images. Images can be exported in the background, and users can caption, keyword and rate images as they're being imported. You can also browse RAW images in rapid succession without having to wait for files to load using Quick Preview. This will come in particularly handy for users who are downloading RAW images from digital cameras, according to Joe Schorr, Apple's senior product manager, photo applications.

"Most camera RAW files have a JPEG preview embedded within them," said Schorr. "Quick Preview looks for those, so you instantly get a preview. Now when you just need to quickly scan through images, check focus and see what you've got, you have a way to do it without loading the RAW file."

The Aperture library database has also been overhauled to provide fast project switching and "near instantaneous" search results, even when you're working with large libraries of hundreds of thousands of images.

"Everything that involves the database -- scrolling, switching between projects, searches -- gets very quick response," said Schorr. "It makes the entire application feel much more responsive, and Aperture now scales more elegantly for large libraries."

Easier for hobbyists

While Aperture was originally designed for professional photographers, Paulsen said that another group taken the software under its wing -- hobbyist photographers.

"Fifty-four percent of regular iPhoto users self-identify as hobbyists, not just point-and-click camera users," said Paulsen. "They invest in digital SLRs and lenses. So we solicited feedback from them, ad we discovered that they wanted to make use of Aperture, but they wanted us to make it more accessible and intuitive."

To that end, Apple has made user interfaces changes like consolidating the Projects, Metadata and Adjustments panes into a single inspector and Heads Up Display (HUD). Users can customize keyboard commands (and can export and import keyboard maps they've created). The software gets simplified hiding behavior for the Filmstrip in Full Screen mode, a new All Projects view that lets users "skim" contents as they skim "Events" in iPhoto '08, and the ability to switch through different panes using a single key command and cycle through different views by pressing the V key. Metadata is now easier to enter; there's a new Viewer Online mode, and more.

Apple's also made Aperture more affordable for non-professionals. Aperture 2 costs $199, $100 less than it did before.

RAW pipeline gets reworked

Apple's release Monday of Mac OS X v10.5.2, combined with Aperture 2, provides support for new digital camera file RAW formats, including Nikon's D3 and D300. DSLR users haven't been pleased with Apple's slow update of RAW support for these and other new cameras. Schorr said it was necessary in order to completely rework Mac OS X and Aperture's RAW decoding scheme.

"We replumbed the RAW pipeline for this release, and what we're delivering in terms of quality is worth it," said Schorr. "We've made huge strides in color rendering, in noise reduction in shadows, in detail, in highlight recovery. We've added some incredibly powerful new features like Vibrancy, a new Definition filter, and a real retouch brush with soft edges, complete with control over opacity and feathering."

RAW decoding support ultimately remains at the operating system level, which means that Apple has to update core operating system components to add support for new cameras, but Schorr said the key changes made in Mac OS X v10.5.2 and Aperture 2 will allow Apple to be more flexible going forward.

The new Recovery tool is used for pulling back "blown" highlights, while Vibrancy boosts saturation selectively without messing up skin tones. Definition lets you add clarity to images using local contrast. Vignette and Devignette filters are new, as well.

A new feature for studio photographers has been added: support for tethered shooting. This lets photographers connect a supported camera through USB or FireWire and shoot directly into Aperture, saving them from having to transfer files from a flash media card, enabling them to proof work on a Mac as they're shooting.

Tethered shooting in Aperture works using a standard called Picture Transport Protocol (PTP), and as such, it requires supported cameras. Schorr said that many Nikon and Canon models sport the capability.

"Tethered shooting even works with the iPhone," said Schorr.

Apple has also added new book printing capabilities in Aperture. The software includes new theme designs, layout tools, support for customized dust jackets (including full-bleed) and foil-stamped covers.

Carried over from iPhoto 08 is the ability to publish Aperture projects directly to a .Mac Web Gallery. And with Aperture 2's support of .Mac Web Galleries, you can now upload optimized JPEG, full-sized JPEG or original RAW images.

"We've taken it a step further than iPhoto," said Schorr. "Now Aperture users can actually use .Mac as a distribution mechanism."

Updated 02/12/08 10:15 AM: Added details and comments from Apple execs.

Updated 02/12/08 11:50 AM: Added information about tethered shooting.

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