I couldn’t resist the call of the Jobs and went and purchased Aperture!

I did a computation at work today and decided that Aperture must have hit the shelves today and a quick call to Apple Store proved me correct. Apple Store Palo Alto had already run out, but there were a number of copies available at the Mini Apple Store in Stanford Mall. (Yes, living in the Bay Area does have its advantages…)

I never purchased at a Mini Apple Store before. They don’t even have a cash register there, just a hole in the wall with a bunch of drawers. They actually took my credit card using a Symbol PDA and e-mailed me my receipt (because they had my name and dotMac account on record in the central computer).

Since we were in Palo Alto, I had to make the required stop for Caitlin for dinner at Patxi’s. We opened the box there while waiting 40 minutes for our pizza to cook. Someone from the 14-person long table came up to Caitlin, who was reading the box, and said, “Excuse me, I want to thank you—half the Apple Aperture team is sitting over there.” We turned around and got an ovation as their first real-live customer.

I should carry my camera around more often.

What’s in the box

The box is rather small, even smaller than Final Cut Pro 1.0. The box contains the installation DVD, a tutorial DVD, an 8-page installation guide with the serial number stuck to it, proof-of-purchase software coupons (worthless), the software license agreement in 15 languages, an AppleCare Service and Support Guide, “Become an Apple Certified Pro” advertisement, a quick reference card, and a slim 223-page Getting Started manual.

This approach resembles Apple Motion more than Final Cut Pro and studio with the bare minimum and a tutorial DVD video in lieu of heavy documentation. The DVD has all the manuals on it. There is no full manual—the five manuals are Getting Started, Installing Your Software, Quick Reference, Frequently Asked Questions, and Photography Fundamentals and like Final Cut, these manuals are already installed and accessible from Aperture’s Help menu.

The disc also has six sample projects which were used in the online and DVD tutorials: Sports | Action, Stock Architecture, Fasion, Tibet, Vacation, and Wedding—2.7 GB of data. Projects are self-contained portable slices of the Library—the main use is to ostensibly work on a segment of your complete library on a smaller notebook drive. Projects alleviate some of the issue that Aperture doesn’t support the idea of offline content (e.g. images spread over multiple discs). Like the Aperture Library itself, projects are folders with their bundle bit set. Most mac users will see and treat this as a single file.

Modeling Aperture

“Modeling Aperture” by tychay

The tutorial DVD are more complete versions of the online Quick Tours with the same guy doing the voice over. It goes so fast that it is nearly impossible to follow along with a healthy mention of all those hyper-useful keyboard shortcuts. The movies play back in workflow order four about 2/3 of it and then includes some miscellaneous topics for the rest.

A quick note about the video tutorials. Whatever they are using to do smooth zooming and panning as well as callouts (sort of like the video version of the loupe tool)—I want it! It puts Snapz Pro to shame, I’m sorry to say. The screen movies are smoothly done, and even better than the ones on their dotMac site.

By they way, there are three PDF tutorials buried on the tutorial DVD. They’re supposedly accessible from the menus but I couldn’t get them to launch from DVD player. You can get them from the file system however. These are for those who learn by “following along” and make up for the DVD’s approach. They are organized logically into: 1) import/organize, 2) edit, 3) export. It differs from the Getting Started guide which seems more like a lightweight version of the manual which is for those who learn by reading computer manuals. No one application provides complete documentation, and I suspect the entire sum of them may be incomplete.

(I wonder what Apple’s obsession is with this strange half-british/half-american accents in their Pro software suite? The choice makes me think to that scene in True Lies where Henry Tasker (Arnie) has Jean-Claude pre-record a bunch of stuff in a high-end French accent for his wife’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) strip tease. It got me thinking, if they were going to use an English accent, I wish they whole hog and got that NPR.org girl instead—or should I say “N-P-aw dot awg”.)

Finally, I wish they bundled the three profiles of professional photographers that they have on their website on the DVD—that was truly inspiring and some of the best editing around. At least they include part of the project from one of them on the DVD—Joe Buissink’s wedding photography.1 You would be well served by downloading all the quicktime tutorials and profiles from their website.2

Preliminary complaints

Handling of multiple libraries is clearly discouraged. The only way to switch libraries is through the Preferences pane. This reminds me of the brain-dead way Final Cut handles intermediate scratch files: a persistent complaint with every release of the program. Because of this, it isn’t exactly clear if one can export a project, work on it on your notebook, and then import it later without creating duplicates.

Roundtripping with the external editor has some rough edges and is clearly discouraged. Besides the obvious and unavoidable drawback of chewing up disk space each time, you can only specify a single external editor and must do it again in the preferences pane. Perhaps more damning is that exports can only be TIFF or PSD and imports are the same with the layers flattened. Don’t think of using this as a general versioning tool for photoshop, to organize your drawings, or handling panoramic stitching software files! Another problem is the totally inconvenient way of handling an external RAW converter: Export Master to the file system, convert it in the external converter, import the converted file, group it with the original, and use the lift and stamp tools to restore metadata. Hopefully Automator will take away some of the tedium, but it won’t solve the problem that your file now “serves two masters.”

Preliminary kudos

I have never seen a UI so well thought out! Here are some examples:

  • As I mentioned when it first came out, the light table is the first clear use of Apple’s “Piles” patent (they even refer to it as such). It is very creative how they draw a link between the Piles idea and Exposé. I never saw noticed how one was a logical extension of the other
  • All inspector windows are “head-up displays” which is Apple’s term for a translucent overlays. These totally get out of the way. Those of you who use Photoshop know what a pain it is to deal/waste real-estate with various palettes and floating windows. A tiny quibble, since they are translucent, I wish I could set up these things to pull up right under my mouse cursor and toggle them by hitting the keyboard shortcut again.
  • Someone actually thought about multiple monitor support besides spanning. In fact, “spanning” is one of the least useful of many multiple-monitor modes. I don’t think it handles three monitors however, but you’re telling me two 30 inch displays aren’t enough? 😉
  • The loupe tool: I wish I had it in all my programs. They should enable an option in easy access to make the magnifying glass work this way. It works in parts of the app you wouldn’t think it would. To toggle it, hit the tilde key anywhere.
  • A clever way of using HUDs + a HUD/dock hybrid to make the full screen mode useful. This is an extension of getting a overlay palette in iPhoto, but it doesn’t seem to pop up at inopportune moments—one of the big complaints of the dock and a failing of the iPhoto’s slideshow overlay.
  • Here are some concepts in Aperture that aren’t windowing concepts: the library, projects, folders, light tables, albums, smart albums, slide shows, piles, folders, stacks, picks, web galleries, web journals, books and vaults. I understand what each of these does having hardly used the program! That’s a sign of some pretty powerful metaphors there.
  • The user interface widgets (reminiscent of Motion) is an interesting “pro” version of the new iTunes interface. A nice neutral grey without being entirely “flattened” like Final Cut. I’m sure there are sticklers out there who are going to wish for an option to de-saturate all the color from the toolbar icons, however. Widgets are recessed out and in—the latter probably means the death of the drawer.
  • Lots of gratuitous animation. 🙂

The editing tools, though limited, absolutely blow Photoshop away in user interface design. It is obvious they didn’t sit there like so many others and copy that crappy 20 year old design and thought about how it should be done. Here are some examples:

  • There is a translucent grid overlay that appears automatically when doing arbitrary rotation. To do this in Photoshop you have to use the measure tool which doesn’t work well at all when you have any receding lines. This first appeared in iPhoto so I mentioned it here
  • Adjustments to color and levels have the grouped checkbox/pane interface from Final Cut Pro.
  • The red eye tool just works right: you don’t even have to be accurate, kudos to iPhoto for this. When you consider what a tedious task this is in Photoshop, you appreciate it all over again.
  • When dragging any radius slider, it automatically draws a circle with the radius over the slider. That’s fucking clever!
  • The white balance eyedropper has the loupe tool built in. Anyone who has tried pick a pixel with that blunt instrument before can see the advantage in this
  • The spot and patch tool has a guide showing the region to be spotted and the matching region to be cloned. How many times have you ever clone stamped in Photoshop and accidentally run into an object you didn’t want to clone? Why couldn’t they put up useful guides like this?
  • The crop tool is non-destructive.
  • Lift and stamp metadata and edits is a clever idea. It might need a little work though, I haven’t really figured a great system for using it quickly (e.g. without a mouse).

My major complaint is there are too few tools. I want to see the Aperture team rethink every tool in Photoshops box the way they rethought these.

1 Here is an amusing tidbit. Joe Buissink is a Nikon Legend behind the Lens in the area of wedding photography. The photos on his project were taken with a Nikon D2X. In the Apple tutorial, the “importing” tutorial is showing the memory card is “Canon EOS.” Doh! 🙂
2 The actual quicktime files are hard to get at, so here are some download links which you can right click to save: Profiles A, B, C; Quick Tours 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

7 thoughts on “Aperture

  1. Chris. Thanks!

    I wanted to at least get their signatures on the box, but the idea didn’t hit me until after they left. I was still obsessing over how I should have brought my camera.

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