Aperture Anxiety

In an exhaustive review on ars.technica, serious concerns are raised about the RAW import/translation capabilities of the new monster app from Apple. While they rave about the UI and organization tools in Aperture, they point out that the output from the program includes far more noise than any professional would tolerate in the images. Basically, the program is getting hammered in reviews. Studio2f.com points to one commenter on Slashdot who said it like this:  ‘Photoshop is the darkroom. Aperture is the light table. If you don’t understand this, you’re not in the target market.’ While that sounds dead-on right, I’d have to say that crappy RAW handling is something that any pro-level workflow tool simply cannot have.

From the red channel framegrabs in the Ars review, I suspect that Aperture is using a JPEG as a transitional format for display purposes despite the fact that the source is a RAW file. iPhoto has always done this – claimed ‘RAW’ support but actually converted all the files to JPEG. Ars sums up the problem thusly:

Many of you probably are hearing the alarm bells and you should. The whole premise of this program, and the RAW format itself, relies on quality input for quality output. If the RAW converter in Aperture is no better than shooting in JPEG format, then it has little appeal over iPhoto as a professional’s tool. This isn’t something that can be fixed overnight either. Adobe’s Camera Raw and other programs like Capture One have been years in the making and unless Apple buys up some quality RAW technology and drops it into the 1.5 update, you’re not going to see Aperture rival the professional RAW apps any time soon.

The problems continue for basic features like Unsharp Mask combining with this type of post-import noise to produce lots more artifacts for basic editing tasks. Also missing are a true ‘curves’ tool – only a 4-step levels tool exists. And a pixel sampler is also absent, something most pros want to see in their basic workflow. To me, this app would need to provide the basic tools I need to import, ouptut galleries, prints, etc plus organize, do basic color and exposure correction, plus minimal unsharp mask tools. If, however, the RAW issue is pervasive and real, Apple may have jumped the gun on releasing this latest application. To sum it up, Ars closes as follows:

I’d like to get excited about things like instant books and the light table, but if the base technology in Aperture is flawed, it can’t be the high-end imaging hub it wants to be.

Ouch! Even with all these problems, if Aperture helps deal more fluidly with the  22k+ images in my iPhoto library, it will be a godsend.

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