Friday, June 15, 2012

Thoughts On Aperture 3.3

Earlier this week Apple updated Aperture 3, bring some much needed improvements to the application.  Version 3.3 has brought improvements in terms of speed, the UI (user interface), an auto enhance features, and highlight and shadow recovery. Stability also appears to have been improved, and some long standing bugs have been rectified. Although many were expecting Aperture 4 or Aperture X, the changes in Aperture 3.3 are good enough for what the app needs right now.

One of the first things you'll notice is an improvement in overall performance. Aperture 3.3 is simply more responsive than Aperture 3.2.3. Browsing RAW files is faster, and most importantly images load faster when you click on them. Apple improved the way images load by taking the jpeg from the camera in Aperture 3.0 and has refined it to the point that it works even better now in the 3.3 release.

One feature Apple toughed with 3.3 is the ability of Aperture and iPhoto to share a Library. I haven't tried this, since I don't use iPhoto so I cannot say how well it works.

There have been some minor UI changes, with the biggest difference being the move to monochrome icons in the Library tab. Although the move to monochrome works well in the rest of Mac OSX, in Aperture seems a little odd. This change makes it a little more difficult to tell at a glance if you are clicking on a folder or a project. Slightly annoying at first, but you get used to it.

The other UI change is the position of Smart Albums, which are now at the bottom of the Library, rather than in the middle. I haven't heard a major outcry from Aperture users for a change like this, so I'm puzzled to say the least.  

The other major changes come in the area of RAW data processing. The Highlight and Shadow recovery tools now can recapture data from the extended range of high bit rate RAW files, a big improvement over how these tools worked before. Recovering data from the extended range was possible before, but only by the curves tool. The histogram at the top of the adjustments panel also displays RAW data, rather than what can be drawn from the jpeg produced from the RAW. Overall these are welcome, and overdue, additions to Aperture. 

Apple also added, what they call the Pro Auto Enhance tool. This tool works very well, and considering that it is a one button click, it cannot hurt to give it a try with your images. The tool applies curves, corrects highlights, recovers deep shadows, and increases saturation. If you don't like one of the changes that auto enhance makes, you can easily move the slider back to its default position without removing the other changes. 

Another area of improvement seems to be in RAM use, which used to go through the roof when you used a number of tools, like dodge and burn. 

Although I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to work with the recent update, it seems like there have been some major improvements made in the Aperture 3.3 update. In some ways 3.2 was what Aperture 3 should have been on release, and 3.3 is a refinement of what was working decently in 3.2. The improvements in the way Aperture handles highlights and shadows are great to see, as is the auto enhance feature. The UI changes seem a little odd, and unnecessary, but don't hurt the app by any means. Clearly there are still some areas where Aperture 3 falls short, such as a lack of lens data to correct barrel and pincushion distortion, but I think something like that would be worthy a 4.0 release. 

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