Farewell, dear friend

June 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Today, Apple announced that it would discontinue Aperture, its professional photography software, which the company first released in 2005. I was there, among the first users looking for a viable RAW workflow solution, and seeing how I’ve written about the software on many occasions, I couldn’t let this occasion pass without adding my two cents worth.

 

Let’s wind back to 2005. Apple releases Aperture 1. While other software could process RAW files one at a time, there wasn’t an integrated workflow software package that allowed the user to ingest, view, store, export, mark up, sort, mess about with metadata, batch export and so on. If there was such software on offer from other vendors at the time, it went unnoticed.

 

For a lot of photographers, myself included, Aperture was a godsend. Of course, a great many photographers were also confused by the term “RAW workflow”. At the time, I was working at The Advertiser, where photographers were ordered to continue shooting JPEGs because, as one of my colleagues told me, the company didn’t want to deal with the storage challenge. RAW files, as you are likely aware, are a good deal larger than JPEGs. Even in 2005.

 

However, those photographers who were embracing RAW-centric workflows had special problems. Storage space was chief among them. Apple, recognising this issue, came up with a way to keep your RAW file in its original state while applying adjustments to a low-resolution preview of the file. The adjustments would be applied on export when you translated the original RAW file plus edits into a TIFF or JPEG or whatever. This avoided the need to bring a RAW file into Photoshop, make adjustments, and then save a version of it at a size that was space-inefficient compared to the way Aperture let you do it. What’s more, it was easy to create multiple versions of an original RAW file and make comparisons between treatments. As you might imagine, the plug-in developers went nuts.

 

Apple offered an elegant solution to a vexing challenge. Lots of users were thrilled with it, I among them. For a while, Aperture was the only viable mainstream software solution for RAW-centric photographers. In 2007, that changed. Adobe, after quite a long gestation period including a free public beta, released version 1.0 of Lightroom.

 

“Begun, the RAW wars have,” Yoda might have said, if he'd been a photographer.

 

A tussle for market dominance continued at least until Apple released version 3.0 in 2010. After that date, Apple released only minor updates to address bugs while Adobe continued to refine Lightroom. It was about a year ago that most users could see the writing on the wall. And sure enough, today Apple pulled the plug on any further Aperture development, preferring instead to focus on its Photos app for the release of OS X Yosemite. (My prediction for Photos is that Apple will give Aperture the Final Cut makeover, borrow a few iPhoto features, and release the photo app that nobody really wanted, but that’s a yarn for another day.)

 

The reason I gave you this potted history, as incomplete as it is, is so you can understand that for a lot of Aperture users, this is devastating news. It’s like a good friend has moved across the ocean and we know that while we’ll maintain contact for some period of time, the break will finally be complete, and we’ll have to move on with our lives with new friends.

 

Many of us have dabbled with the alternatives - Lightroom or Capture One - and returned to Aperture because it was exactly what the alternatives weren’t: bloatware apps with a good dose of 80/20 rule. That is, 80 per cent of the time, you use 20 per cent of the features. Lightroom is kinda like the Word of photography software. Of course, the LR users would boast about this and with typical disdain, the Aperture users rarely baulked at the lack of advanced features of the sort found in Lightroom because they would simply roundtrip edit in Photoshop.

 

That said, improved features for Aperture such as better noise reduction, keystone correction and … oh, hang on, there I go wasting my breath again.

 

Me? I can’t use Lightroom on a daily basis. I just can’t. Whether it’s because Lightroom is the Black Knight or because I just can’t tolerate the lack of certain features or because I hate managing catalogues (which you could do in Aperture if you wanted but could approach completely differently, which I did) or because the interface is so freakin’ gloomy or that it’s just not Aperture, I don’t know. Let’s just say that, in my opinion, Lightroom sucks dog’s balls. Your mileage may vary. I do use it to manage a timelapse post-production workflow but only because of Lightroom’s inter-dependence on LR Timelapse, a plug-in that manages de-flickering and exposure smoothing, at which it is very good. The go-to solution for Mac users.

 

So if you have any Aperture veterans among your friends or colleagues who seem unusually glum over the next few weeks or months, be a little sympathetic. They’ve just lost a very close friend. They’ll get over it, of course, and in the process probably discover the joy of better shadow and highlight handling that their new chums will reveal to them, not to mention better noise reduction and keystone correction and, well, all the other stuff they kept asking for in the v4 that failed to materialise. 

 

As for you, Apple, thanks a lot. You’ve done it again. Hung loyal customers out to dry, along with letting Adobe further dominate the market and grow a little lazier. Lack of competition does that, you know. 

 

Cheers, Apple. We won’t forget this.


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