By Andrew Rodney
Five months after releasing Aperture, Apple released version 1.1 to address bugs, RAW conversion issues and add new functionality. After working with 1.1 for a few days, I can say that Apple has now addressed many of my initial concerns with the original product. In addition, Apple has significantly lowered the price of the software from $499 to $299. Those who purchased the original product can receive a $200 coupon to use on the Apple Store.
My biggest beef with version 1.0 of Aperture was the quality of the RAW conversions. While I felt the initial color rendering was very nice, examining a full resolution rendered image showed nasty artifacts that where soon labeled the “Parquet Floor” effect by users on the Aperture forum. The effect manifests itself in horizontal streaking in many areas of an image and can be seen at high (200%-plus) magnification. Other users reported white speckles or other artifacts not visible when processing the same RAW data with other RAW converters. Apple spent considerable time looking at customers' RAW files and updated the RAW decoding algorithms in version 1.1.
I’m happy to report that many of the original issues have been addressed. In version 1.1 it is possible to export images using the original 1.0 decoding algorithm or use the improved 1.1 algorithm. Using a new Migration command, you can update some or all of your RAW files to the newer processing algorithms. This option can also be applied to individual images using the new RAW Fine Tuning pane (Figure 1). Within this new pane are additional controls for processing your RAW files. These controls are said to be camera-specific, therefore not all controls may be available depending on the RAW files you are working with (notice that my Canon EOS Rebel XT is detected).
The Boost slider in the Fine Tuning Pane controls overall contrast. Apparently some users felt the default rendering provided too much contrast, however, with my Rebel, I prefer the default set to 100.
Two new Sharpening sliders are introduced, which control the application of sharpening to a finer degree than the original Sharpen pane and are based on the specific camera model.
The Chroma Blur slider is used to reduce many of the artifacts discussed above. The Automatic Noise Compensation check box, when invoked, is useful for high-ISO captures and again is based upon the specific camera files. Each of these new controls is automatically set when you select the Apple option in the Settings popup. Altering or un-checking any of these options produces a custom setting that can be saved within the Settings popup menu as a new default. I found the default Apple setting to produce much better RAW conversions compared to the 1.0 setting.
Figure 2 (click for larger image). The image on the left shows a backlit image as it is originally rendered in Aperture. Setting the Shadow and Highlight sliders to their highest setting opens up the detail tremendously but also shows noise in such dark regions. This allows us to view the differences in the 1.0 decoding algorithm versus the 1.1 algorithm. The horizontal streaking on the left enlargement as well as the white noise is greatly reduced in the right enlargement. Both are screen captures at 100% zoom of the full resolution image.
Figure 2 shows an extreme example of a tone correction using Aperture’s Shadow and Highlight sliders set to maximum. Note that this edit did a surprisingly good job of opening up shadows while retaining highlight detail. I had to work a lot harder to get close to this effect using either LightRoom or Bibble. However, opening up these shadows will exaggerate noise and artifacts, which was my goal in order to see how well the RAW conversion engine had been updated.
Looking at Figure 2, note that the left enlargement is from the 1.0 algorithm and on the right is the 1.1 algorithm using the Apple defaults. At 100% and 200% magnification, the new rendering shows a great reduction of the “Parquet Floor” effect and a reduction in white noise. In addition to the new algorithms, Aperture 1.1 supports several new camera models, notably the Nikon D200, Canon 30D, Pentax *ist D, and Leica Digilux 2 cameras. A complete list of RAW files supported by the Mac OS and Aperture 1.1, can be found at http://www.apple.com/aperture/raw.
Unless you had the biggest, fastest Mac loaded with gigs of RAM, Aperture could really bog down. In addition, version 1.0 would not run on the new line of Intel-based Macs. Version 1.1 addresses both issues to some degree. While I am now able to run Aperture 1.1 on my 20-inch duel Intel iMac, and while the performance is a bit better on my Powerbook, I’m still seeing a good deal of the dreaded SBBD (Spinning Beach Ball of Death). Exporting a RAW-to-rendered image in 16-bit (45MB) on the Intel Mac is pretty fast—about 4 seconds per image. Most operations seem faster but it’s not uncommon to find Aperture slow down for whatever reason. Perhaps the 2-gig limitation on the iMac is the cause.
Apple supplied a new MacBook Pro to test Aperture, and the performance was a no better than the iMac. The good news is that with such a laptop, you can work on location with Aperture at a reasonable speed. The MacBook Pro is significantly faster than my 1.67mhz G4 Powerbook. However, the inability to sync up multiple Aperture image libraries is still a concern should you have differing images or versions on multiple Macs. Apple still needs to seriously address their Library schema if they hope to hook pros who shoot lots of RAW files.
RGB/CMYK and LAB readouts
One of my original complaints about Aperture was a lack of numeric feedback. In version 1.1, you can select RGB, CMYK or LAB values to show up next to the Histogram or within the loupe tool as you move the cursor over an image. You can select a pixel sampling from 1x1 to 7x7. Though this is a step forward, I can’t for the life of me find out what these values are based upon. What CMYK profile is used to produce the converted numbers (considering Aperture doesn’t even support CMYK files)?
I was hoping I could select ICC profiles in the On Screen Proofing menu, but no deal. That would have made sense to allow a user to select both a soft proof and update the numbers based on this profile. Maybe in version 1.2. Based on some testing and a bit of guessing, it appears that the RGB values are Adobe RGB (1998) and the CMYK values are Generic CMYK. If you export your images in Adobe RGB (1998), the numbers you see in Aperture will be pretty much in sync with what you’ll get in Photoshop. That being the case, the numeric feedback is only somewhat useful if you work in other color spaces.
I also wish I could place one or more sample points on the image that would stay in place as I update the various correction tools. With the current behavior, as soon as I move the cursor over to alter a correction, the numbers disappear.
In version 1.0, I never figured out how to remove all the corrections made to a Master or Version. I guess that was because you couldn’t. Now in 1.1 there’s a Remove All Adjustments menu option in the Image menu. This can be applied to any selected image in the browser.
You can now configure an output resolution when exporting a file to disk or to the external editor. While 1.0 exported the full resolution data, it defaulted to setting the file to 72 dpi. Now you can set this to any value you wish in the preferences and the export presets.
The nasty bug in version 1.0 that would delete your master after editing the file in Photoshop (and selecting Undo) has been squashed.
Aperture 1.1 has much better support for layered PSD files, assuming you’re using Photoshop as your external editor and you do not apply an edit to that document within Aperture. The documents are no longer automatically flatted upon importation into the Aperture Library. Be sure to set Photoshop’s Maximize PSD Compatibility in the General Preferences or the imported image will not preview.
EXIF data support is said to be better in 1.1. However, when I use the Open with External Editor, I see the EXIF data in Photoshop (namely the IPTC), but when I instead use the Export command to a TIFF, no data is written to the file. I wasn’t able to reproduce this issue on my Powerbook, and exporting files in JPEG and PSD did honor the EXIF data.
Some users have reported issues with the White Balance eyedropper but it works just fine for me. Your mileage may vary.
There are still plenty of areas Apple needs to address to make this product easier to use and more consistent. For example, I like the Histogram to show me RGB colors, but when I set this option and quit the application, it always defaults to Luminance. There are other similar issues with user settings not sticking, which is sloppy and something I expect to see from Apple.
Lastly there’s now considerable documentation in the form of PDFs for Aperture users. You can access these from inside Aperture using the Help Menu.
Figure 3 (click for larger image). A comparison of Aperture 1.1, Bibble 3.7 (without Noise Ninja) and LightRoom from the RAW file. It’s difficult to produce identical rendering due to the differing controls available. Aperture did a very good job of opening up shadows while keeping highlight detail. LightRoom however has very smooth rendering (little artifacts) seen in the tablecloth.
The Bottom line
With many of the bugs fixed and with improved RAW conversions, now might be the time to look at Aperture in light of the new pricing. You’ll still need a very fast Mac if you don’t want to experience sluggish performance issues, and you should still be aware of the issues surrounding how Aperture stores all your images in its Library. However, Apple appears to be putting effort into making Aperture a better product by listening to its users. Now if only they would supply some kind of limited demo so you could see how you like it before you buy, there would be no risk at all in jumping onto the Aperture bandwagon.
Editor's note: On May 5, Apple released Aperture 1.1.1 Update, reported to fix "several issues related to performance, stability, color correction, and display compatibility." This update is recommended to all Aperture users.
According to Apple, fixes included with the Aperture 1.1.1 Update are as follows:
- White balance and Tint value controls have been fixed to deliver more accurate results.
- Import from iPhoto has been updated so that you can browse and select specific images from iPhoto Library for import
- Addressed a bug that was causing Aperture to get the wrong results in a minimum display hardware check, thus preventing users with certain VGA displays from being able to use Aperture.
Note: You must first update to Aperture 1.1 and Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later before installing Aperture 1.1.1