Review: Photos for OS X is faster than iPhoto but less powerful than Aperture

Photos arrives with OS X 10.10.3, but should you use it? Jeff Carlson unwraps the new app and Apple's iCloud Photo Library feature.

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You don’t get the same level of editing detail between OS X and iOS versions of Photos, though. When you edit a shot on the Mac, the revised version appears on the iPhone, but editing that same photo on the phone reveals the sliders set back to zero. You can revert to the original version, but not tweak the existing settings.

It doesn’t appear that Photos prioritizes syncing depending on what you’re doing; if I edit a photo while other images are downloading in the background, the edits appear to be at the end (or near the end) of the queue. Again, we’ll have to see how iCloud handles the influx of data, but at this point Apple needs to overcome the performance stigma that is commonly associated with iCloud.

I also often found myself craving more information. Is iCloud syncing stuck? Photos for OS X said I needed more space on my hard disk to store originals, but how much? I get that Apple wants to streamline the experience and not bombard users with numbers and technical details, but the alternative can be a state of anticipatory ennui—something will surely happen soon, but I don’t know when.

Bottom line: Should you switch?

Photos for OS X is a free update that arrives with OS X Yosemite 10.10.3, so the question isn’t whether to install it or not. Should you use it, or continue with iPhoto or Aperture for the time being?

By necessity, Photos for OS X is an application that arrives with a multitude of compromises. It needs to replace iPhoto for millions of people whose photo libraries are stored in Apple’s default consumer photo application. It also technically replaces Aperture in the sense that Apple will no longer offer that professional app. And it has to also embrace the mobile reality that Apple itself created by making iPhones and iPads camera replacements for so many people.

If you’re coming from iPhoto, Photos is definitely a step up. It’s fast, it has improved editing tools, and even the loss of star ratings can be worked around (though I’d like to see them return).

If you’re a longtime Aperture user, Photos is definitely a step back. Or rather, it’s the clear signal that says it’s time to look for other professional photo pastures. I can’t recommend Photos as a full-time replacement, although I can envision situations where it would work alongside Aperture, such as creating small libraries for sharing with clients who don’t own Aperture (both iPhoto and Aperture can open a library after it’s been converted, but edits don’t sync).

And if you’re new to the Mac, drawn to Apple’s computers after experiencing the iPhone or iPad, Photos for OS X will be immediately familiar, and even improve on your photo experience with better editing tools and iCloud Photo Library syncing.

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At a Glance
  • Photos is a big step up for iPhoto users, with better speed and editing tools. Power users of Aperture will probably want to stay with Aperture or switch to another pro-level app like Lightroom.

    Pros

    • Fast performance overall.
    • Improved editing tools over iPhoto.
    • Ability to connect to iCloud Photo Library and Apple’s greater photo ecosystem.

    Cons

    • Not a good option for dedicated Aperture users.
    • iCloud Photo Library sometimes stalled.
    • Hard to know the fault of delays.
    • Some odd choices in user interface (like the floating Info window)
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