Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

The Art of Raw Conversion #023

 

Apple Aperture Diary

review diary by Uwe Steinmueller & Juergen Gulbins

Also pictures by Bettina Steinmueller

 

 

 

12/23/2005 Diary Start

If you read our critique please understand that we really want Apple Aperture to work for us. We think that Aperture will drive the whole industry into the right direction. It maybe not just ready for prime time but we believe that Apple wants to make it work.

Aperture integrates quite a few different applications:

  • Image archiving and organization
  • Digital Light Box
  • Raw converter
  • Image Editor
  • all this as visual as possible

Please read the introduction to Aperture by our friend and partner Juergen Gulbins.

New Cameras and Aperture

As of now Aperture does not support the latest cameras:

  • Canon 5D (we took our first pictures with a 5D 10/05/2005 and this is more than 2 months ago)
  • Nikon D200 (quite recent)

We have this problem with many raw converters these days. With Aperture the situation is worse because the whole applications is so tightly integrated. Let's assume you run a studio and you are dependent on the Aperture workflow. If you get a new camera you need to switch to the old style workflow because Aperture is not ready yet for your new camera. The classic bumpy workflow has less of a problem because you will find some other RAW converters that will convert your files. But none of these RCs will integrate with Aperture.

Request for Aperture and other workflow products

All these workflow products need to work on ways to integrate other RAW converters into their workflow. At least Aperture needs to have a way to open RAW files into other external RAW converters without the hassles of exporting your RAW files. We know it is tricky because Aperture would need to open the RAW file into a different RC and then accept a TIFF or PSD in return. Here Aperture needs to define a proper protocol how this transaction would be possible.

Also Apple (same of course for other vendors of similar systems) needs to work with the camera vendors to have a solution just in time.


 

12/23/2005 Note on non-destructive image editing

Non-destructive image editing is a great concept as it allows the user to change any step later without redoing all the work over and over again. Many professional photographers use Photoshop layers (mainly adjustment layers) to do exactly this. There are still quite a few situations (e.g. sharpening, dust removal) where some layers have to be redone if the underlying image changes. With the new CS2 Smart objects even the RAW file can stay in one layer and still the conversion settings can be edited later (only if you use ACR as your raw converter though).

This means that an improved non-destructive image editing workflow is welcome. I would not expect this workflow to cover all situations but the most. Here is where Aperture has quite a bit to improve. We just name a few obvious areas:

  • Curves
  • Selective color corrections
  • Masked corrections

It maybe not the problem of Aperture to miss these operations. But because Aperture is missing a more flexible integration with other editors (mainly of course Photoshop) these limitations limit the usefulness of Aperture for the professional photographer quite a bit.

We will define some minimal requirements for Aperture to make it useful for our own workflow (and this workflow maybe not that far off from other professional photographer's needs).

We have two main possible use cases:

  • Use Case #1: Organizing our large library of portfolio and stock photos (which are mostly layered PSD files - we converted recently most from layered TIFF to PSD)
  • Use Case #2: Organizing our RAW files (we have right now about 26K online on our disks).

Use Case #1: Organizing layered TIFF or PSD master files in Aperture

We did a brief test and came to the conclusion that we cannot use Aperture here. Let's look at our simple requirements first:

  1. Store and organize 2000-10000 PSD files
  2. Be able to easily grab a file and edit in Photoshop using layers (we explained that we need masked operations on these files)
  3. Export these files to other applications (mainly PS but also other printing applications)

#1: Aperture is very well equipped to handle these PSD files and to be a fun experience organizing our portfolios because Aperture works so visual (hardware needs to be up to it of course).

#2: Here Aperture fails quite badly. If you import a layered PSD file into Aperture it cannot be opened into Photoshop with the layers intact because Aperture insists that you cannot edit a master file. What Aperture does is to create a flattened copy that then can be opened in PS. There is also the negative side effect that you need more disk space.

Requirements for Aperture in this case: Allow two different kinds of master files:

  • Master cannot be edited in an outside editor but with the Aperture editing tools instead (status today)
  • Master can be edited in an external editor (e.g. Photoshop) and therefore cannot be edited in Aperture itself (may get too many conflicts otherwise)
  • Aperture allows the use of multiple different editors besides Photoshop

#3: You can export the master file from Aprture. But if you create a layered version from this master file (rememeber this would be file based on the flattened master file) you only can export a flattened version.

Conclusion for this use case

The way Aperture handles master files is way to restrictive to make Aperture a useful organizing tool for layered TIFF or PSD files. We are aware that this maybe in reality more tricky that we think but we hope the Apple engineers will come up with a useful solution soon. Actually applications like Extensis Portfolio 8 have no problem here.

Note: With some quite dirty tricks it is technically possible to change a PSD file in the Aperture library. We find these tricks so tedious and error prone that we don't consider them a practical solution. Also what would Aperture help if it saves us e.g. 3 hours of work when we then need to spend 5 extra hours to work around Aperture's limitations.

12/24/2005 Issues with RAW files that have added IPTC data

Seems to be fixed in OS X 10.4.4

We found a problem with the ability of Aperture (same with the Mac OS X RAW support). We found that Aperture could work with RAW files up until 4/10/2005 for the Canon 1ds2, 350D and 1d2. Finally we found the difference. After 4/10/2005 our RAW files included an IPTC field "Image Description". All files with this field are not supported by Aperture. We have yet to find other RAW converters that show the same problem. We checked the files in:

  • Canon DPP
  • Raw Developer
  • LightZone
  • Adobe Camera Raw 3.3 beta

As of now we consider this a bug in Aperture / Mac OS X RAW support. This also means that we cannot use most of our RAW files shot during the last 6 months.

Note: Other Aperture users let us know that this is a known issue by Apple (read here in Apple's knowledge database) and we hope to see a fix soon.


 

12/26/2005 Spot & Patch Tool

Aperture features a powerful Spot & Patch tool:


Sample Spot & Patch corrections

Also the Spot & Patch tool works non-destructive. Means you can can change the healing and patch settings any time later. There are two variations:

  • Spot
  • Patch


Spot & Patch areas

Spot corrections get the information from the surrounding image pixels and patch allows to select a source area. The Spot & Patch HUD allows a lot of fine tuning:

 
Fine tuning the Spot & Patch corrections per single spot

Here are some issues:

  • Moving spots is not smooth to get a good precision
  • The 'X' key that opens the Spot & Patch HUD should also be used to close it for before and after analysis
  • We would like to see full screen magnifications over 100%
  • We would like to enable/disable a single spot to check the effect

Very nice is the capability to Lift & Stamp Spot & Patch maps to other images.

As with most tools we would like to see save/restore of custom settings. Overall we would be right now much faster to perform our corrections with the Photoshop CS2 Spot Healing brush but then the corrections would also be destructive (although we most often perform them in an extra layer).

Overall we applaud Apple to build such an important tool into Aperture and also to make it quite powerful. Dust on digital images (actually same was true for scans) is a big issue in our workflow.


 

12/27/2005 Highlight / Shadow Tool

We hardly need in our work to recover highlights as we avoid overexposure like hell. But sometimes scenes just have too much contrast. One example is most often the bright surf of the ocean:


Highlight off

For our taste the highlights in this image are too hot for a good print. Remember that pure white will be shown as paper white in the print. Here a flaw in Aperture becomes obvious. We need a proper RGB readout for any given point in the image (e few different color samplers would even be better). Unfortunately Aperture does not supply the user with these values. Because this is a very common complaint we expect that Apple adds this feature in one of the next versions.


Highlights toned down

Clearly the toned down highlights are less aggressive and help to improve the image.

We also tried the the shadow part and think it is pretty useful if you stay at moderate values.

 


 

12/28/2005 Using Aperture to select portfolio images

Currently we select our top ten images from 2005. Browsing 350 layered TIFF files is no fun with most of todays image browsers. In this project we use layered PSD files (50-400MB) each and a 1600x1200 LCD screen.

Here are our criteria for the optimal solutions:

  • View the images as large as possible (actually full screen)
  • Image preview needs to be close to the real image quality
  • Fast rating possible
  • Sorting to virtual folders
  • Speed of operation should be fun to use
  • Good user interface
  • Can be used on the original PSD files
  • Mac & PC
  • Import/Export speed
  • Import/Export need of extra space
  • Demand on hardware
  • Photoshop integration

Here are the options we looked at:

  • Adobe Bridge
  • Extensis Portfolio 8
  • BreezeBrowser
  • Aperture

 

Adobe Bridge

  • No full screen preview (max is 1024 pixels wide)
  • Quality is ok but size limited to 1024 pixels wide
  • Rating not fast but ok (not that fast because of the XMP re-write to the file)
  • No virtual folders but queries can be saved as collections (Bridge is not really an image management system)
  • Speed could be faster
  • User interface is ok
  • Can be used on the original PSD files
  • Both Mac & PC
  • No import/export needed as we work on original files
  • Import/export disk space overhead low with Bridge cache
  • Works on most normal machines
  • Of course well integrated with CS2

Extensis Portfolio 8

  • Previews to slow to be used full screen
  • Quality can be ok (but slow)
  • Rating can be well integrated
  • Lots of possibilities to organize images
  • Speed of previews to slow
  • UI not useable for full screen previews (previews open in extra window, old style paradigm)
  • Can be used on original files
  • Both Mac & PC
  • No import/export needed as we work on original files
  • Import/export disk space overhead low
  • Works on most normal machines
  • Well integrated with CS2

 

Breeze Browser

  • Previews to slow to be used full screen
  • Quality can be ok (but slow)
  • Rating is ok
  • No virtual folders
  • Speed of previews to slow
  • UI not ideal because of the speed of preview generation for larger files
  • Can be used on original files
  • PC only
  • No import/export needed as we work on original files
  • Import/export disk space very low
  • Works on most normal machines
  • Well integrated with CS2

 

Aperture

  • Previews can be used full screen
  • Quality is good
  • Rating well integrated
  • Lots of possibilities to organize images
  • Speed of previews fine
  • UI excellent
  • Can only used on imported files (see our entry from 12/23/2005)
  • Mac only
  • Import/export takes extra time
  • Import/export disk space overhead very high (at least double the size for PSD files)
  • Requires high-end Macs
  • Creates extra flattened copies to open in CS2 (means not ideal at all)

For us Aperture is a good prototype of the ideal solution. If Aperture could work on the original files it would score high marks. The UI is just the best we have seen so far.


Aperture in full screen mode

Nice about this setup is that you can have the filmstrip in auto-hide mode.

We use Aperture now on scaled down flattened TIFFs (1600x1600 max). This means we actually do not sort the real files with Aperture and this is of course a big minus.

Note: We had a lot of problems with having not active/used alpha channels in our PSD/TIFFs (see description of this bug here).

Update: Finally I settled to copy all the PSD to full resolution JPEGs with a compression of 11 in Photoshop. Images really look good in Aperture using the full frame mode

What do we use? Actually three of the four for different reasons:

  • Bridge for moving real files while still have good access to the original images
  • Portfolio to mage custom fields
  • Aperture for limited projects with down sampled images (*)

(*) if Aperture would allow to work with original PSD files without the space and import overhead Aperture would be our solution of choice for this task.

BreezeBrowser is a nice ad-hoc browser for the PC.


 

1/1/2006 Aperture Web Galleries

If you like one of the Aperture supplied themes then publishing a web gallery is a breeze. We performed our Top 10 2005 selection in Aperture and created from this selection a web gallery. The default theme "Stock" does not even look bad.

 

This gallery was done in a few minutes.

We have yet to find out how to modify or create a new theme. For a professional use this is clearly needed.

The following entry is based on a news group entry by Ian Wood and is published with his permission. So while there is no official way to change the themes there are tricks to do so. We hopw Apple adds real support in future versions.


Tip: Customising Web Galleries

This is only for those of you who know HTML and CSS fairly well...

Control-click on the Aperture application and choose 'Show Package Contents'. In the new Finder window navigate to Contents/Resources/English.lproj/WebThemes/ and you will find a series of folders, one for each web theme.
Duplicate the folder for the theme you want to base your edited version on, and give it a suitable name. This name is what will appear in the theme list in Aperture.


Bits we are interested within this folder:

  • detail.html - this is the template for individual images pages.
  • journal.html - template for main journal pages.
  • gallery.html - template for main gallery pages.
  • journal-gallery.html - combined template for main journal and gallery pages.
  • assets/css/global.css - overall CSS file - edit this for different font families etc.
  • assets/css/white.css - only in Art Collection theme.
  • assets/img/ and a series of gifs for the navigation arrows.

If you open one of the template files in Safari you will see a whole series of placeholder texts such as 'Image _PageNumber_' - what these are replaced with is relatively easy to work out if you open up the same theme page in Aperture and compare.

  • _PageNumber_ = number of current image
  • _PageCount_ = total number of images
  • _metavalue_ = whatever metadata you decide to add
  • _metaname_: _metavalue_ = name of metadata category, ;, value of that metadata

Open the HTML file you want to edit in an HTML editor such as Dreamweaver, or just a text editor if you know your way around HTML. To remove the irritating 'Image plus a number' or 'Plate plus a number' bits just delete 'Image _PageNumber_' or 'Plate _PageNumber_' as appropriate, and save the file.

To add logos or links, just add them as normal. Images can be either be added to assets/img/ or you can put in a hard link to an image already on your server.

Unaltered Stock theme:
http://azurevision.co.uk/aperture/frost/

Edited Stock theme - logo at top of pages is also a link:
http://azurevision.co.uk/aperture/frost-theme/

If you get into further experimentation, the HTML files contain lots of instructional comments. For true professionalism, make a screenshot of your gallery and overwrite the thumbnail.tiff file to get the proper thumbnail in the theme chooser:
http://azurevision.co.uk/aperture/theme-chooser.jpg

content credited to Ian Wood


We actually tested Ian's technique and it works well for us. This gallery is now updated.

Note: you better make a backup copy of your modified theme folder as you cannot be sure whether an Aperture update may overwrite this information.

 

We created our new California Earthframe online gallery with Aperture. Check it out.

 

 

We modified the themes to include a "HOME" link and also manually added the links from the root page. Overall working with web galleries in Aperture is fun.

Bug: There is a bug in Aperture as Aperture generates a character encoding differently from what they store in the metainformation of the html template files.

The html templates contain:

<!-- STOCK BOOK DETAIL HTML -->
< head>
<title>_PageTitle_</title>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />
<link href="assets/css/global.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
<meta name="description" content="Created by Apple Aperture" />
< /head>

while Aperture uses a "Western (Mac OS Roman)" encoding.

 


 

1/4/2006 Stack your photos

Ever thought how you sort documents? You build piles/stacks and group them in similar documents. Later you then sort each of them by date. From 100 documents you may get 12 piles. All 12 piles mean each one job (often different ones). Seeing 100 documents is confusing while 12 piles are much more manageable.

Same with photos in Aperture Stacks. We tried it ourselves with the keeper images from the last 3 months.

 


Project 2005

This project has 608 files which are all keepers. But many of them are similar. We group them into stacks:


Project with open Stacks (608 images)

Browsing though 608 images with many repeating frames is confusing and frustrating even if the photos are nice.

Now we close the stacks:


Project with closed Stacks (105 stacks)

In this case we came up with 105 stacks and this looks way more manageable.

Finally we put some of the stacks into an Album (only references) called "portfolio_class_images". We select these stacks that hold most likely images where we can at least "harvest" one portfolio print from. Here are the stacks from this Album:


Portfolio Candidate Stacks (26 stacks)

From 608 images we came down to 26 stacks which would make sense to work on. Each stack will require quite some work but at least it is more focused and handled one stack at a time.

When we work on one Stack at a time we put this Stack alone in a helper Album "Evaluate" and open the stack in this Album. Now we need to inspect each image and rank it relative in this stack. In the end we come up with a definitive number of winners which get fine tuned and later printed.

We think that the Stack paradigm is really what we need. We never had a better time searching for winner images. Even if we may not process the RAW files in Aperture the selection process is way better than anything we have experienced so far.

 


 

1/10/2006 RAW update via OS X 10.4.4

Today Apple posted OS X 10.4.4. The update seems to fix the IPTC bug mentioned earlier (see above). I am missing a function to request the update of files that did not work before (we have many RAWs with IPTC info). Instead Aperture rebuilds the thumbnails once you touch a folder.

Unfortunately there seems to be no Nikon D200 support yet.

 


 

4/13/2006 Aperture 1.1

Aperture 1.1 is clearly a major update and it also shows that Apple is carefully listening.

Price Drop to $299

If Aperture does all you want and need then this price point is quite more reasonable than the $499 before. We also applaud that Apple provides the early adopters with a $200 coupon.

Raw Fine Tuning

The raw conversion is now versioned in Aperture. That means if you have worked on images in Aperture 1.0 and like the results this update will not change the images you have done. But the new version 1.1 allows more control for your RAW files.

 


RAW Fine Tuning

On a per image basis you can control:

  • Contrast (mainly lower the contrast as 1.0 is the recommended default)
  • Sharpening at the RAW conversion level
  • Color Noise removal
  • Auto Noise Compensation

Because we mainly use low ISO images the "Auto Noise Compensation" did not show obvious changes in our tests. The other settings are clearly useful.

The real benefit comes with the possibility to define own camera defaults:


Camera Defaults

Color Meter

The new color meter is likely exactly what many people asked for:

Especially integrated into the loupe readings are very easy. Aperture 1.1 also allows to customize the way values are read and displayed:


Color Meter settings

New RAW file formats supported

Aperture supports more new cameras (especially Canon 30D and Nikon D200).

Requested features

  • Ability to drag files on an external editor (like in Lightroom)
  • Choice of multiple external editors

Issues

  • We had a situation where Aperture had to be restarted to work properly again.
  • Working with large layered TIFF files is very slow and not useful as Aperture still creates copies when you open the files in an external editor (e.g. PS CS2). But if you have not changed settings this copied file will at least maintain the original layers.

Early Conclusion for Aperture 1.1

While Aperture 1.1 is a clear step forward we still feel stuck inside the Aperture library. Without supporting "Import by reference" (like Adobe Lightroom) Aperture is hard to use for our kind of workflow (disk space and also speed) in the context of other applications like Photoshop.

 


 

4/13/2006 Click WB issues in Aperture 1.1

Photographers reported problems with correcting WB by clicking on a neutral area in the picture (using a Gretagmacbeth Colorchecker). We did an own test with a D200 Colorchecker shot and can confirm that the resulting WB is way off.

Fixed in Aperture 1.1.1 (see below).

 


 

5/5/2006 Click WB issues fixed in Aperture 1.1.1

Apple just released Aperture 1.1.1. We did a quick check and it seems that the WB bug is now fixed.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

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