photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

The grass is always greener

Yet another RAW converter showdown

in Apple Aperture , Thursday, May 14, 2009

I suppose I’m not alone in always wondering if there might be a better way of processing my digital images. There are several aspects to what we’ve been conditioned to call a “workflow”, but to me the most important of these are organisation (selecting, rating, keywording, arranging) and developing the RAW to a usable image. For a while now, I’ve been using Apple Aperture 2, and I’ve devoted more time than I care to think of moving older work into it. Originally I used iView Media Pro to catalog, and a variety of RAW convertors, including Capture One, Adobe Camera RAW, and Iridient RAW Developer. Of all of these, I liked Iridient best. It produces beautifully detailed, balanced output, and has more controls than most people will ever need - especially as often the default settings are just fine. But what Iridient (and Capture One) does not have, is any integrated way to organise an ever growing photo collection, and although there are workarounds, the benefits over switching to a “non destructive RAW workflow tool” like Aperture or Adobe Lightroom have to be pretty convincing. I find Aperture’s RAW conversion to be almost as good as Iridient’s in most cases, at lest for my Olympus E-1, E-3 and E-400 files. So I decided it was worth the switch.

However, the other day, prompted by something I read somewhere, I decided to take a closer look at Aperture’s conversions. I noticed that there was some faint but quite definite banding in a cloudy grey sky I was looking at. Firing up the same image in Iridient, I saw no such banding - and better handling of a patch of lurid dayglo orange which Aperture had toned down a bit.


Aperture’s rendition of the scene in question

Panic ensued. Did I now have to go back to Iridient, find a new cataloging tool (Atomic View, maybe, but, well ...) or pay the crazy fee Microsoft expects to “upgrade” from iView to Expression Media 2 ?

Well, I decided not to panic. I exported a version from Aperture and opened it in Photoshop - and guess what ? No banding. I imported the Iridient version into Aperture ... hello banding! So that part is clearly an Aperture display issue. But the colour issue remains, even if it is really quite trivial.

I was still a bit shaken, and combined with a period of screaming at Aperture to GET ON WITH IT several times today (it didn’t help much) I thought I might as well look at other options. So I tried Lightroom 2, especially as the gradient tool has always sounded intriguing, and I always like the targeted adjustments.

Well, in the GET ON WITH IT stakes, Lightroom 2 has little to envy Aperture. The gradient tool is horribly fiddly to use, and as slow as the slowest parts of Aperture. And after a few minutes I realised I could never go back to the dreadful Tonka Toy user interface that Lightroom forces on its users.

As for Capture One, well maybe, but since it is Intel only, and I’m using a PowerPC G5, I guess I’ll have to remain in the dark. In any case, if I want a conversion-only tool, I can’t imagine why Iridient would not satisfy me.

So, at the end of all this, I’m happily back in Aperture, secure in the knowledge that whatever the market share stats may indicate, it blows the doors off of Lightroom, and whenever I’ve got a tricky or deserving image I want to give special attention too, a quick roundtrip to Iridient and / or Photoshop is not, really, all that much of a hassle.


Aperture 2: A workflow guide

An excellent resource for Apple Aperture users

in Apple Aperture , Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apple’s Aperture has nothing like the host of how-to books that have sprung up for Adobe’s Lightroom. The positive spin on this - and one which I would say has some degree of justification - is that it doesn’t need them. Aperture ships with a very good and complete manual, albeit only in PDF form since version 2, and a printed fully illustrated getting started guide, whereas Lightroom comes with only the lightest of lightweight getting started pamphlets. Aperture is also considerably more intuitive, at least in my opinion. The negative spin, also tenable, is that Aperture’s market share is so low that it isn’t commercially viable to publish books.

Well, at least Focal Press seem to believe there is a market for their recently published “Aperture 2: A workflow guide for digital photographers”, by Ken McMahon and Nik Rawlinson.


This is the book that Aperture 2 users need. It goes far beyond the fluffed up user manual, the Apple Pro Training Series: Aperture 2 book (which isn’t exactly bad, but is very short on detail). McMahon and Rawlinson’s book matches the best of the Lightroom books, taking a photography rather than computing perspective.  For example, the Pro Series book has about 1 paragraph on sharpening, and this basically tells you where the sliders are. Here, the authors dedicate at least 8 pages to explaining the various options, and how they interact.

They provide a very nice tutorial on how to extract maximum dynamic range from a RAW file, balancing the boost, exposure and recovery sliders (and more), really putting Aperture through its paces and revealing considerable hidden depths.

On the DAM side they are equally thorough, although in this case the Pro Training Series book does a pretty good job too. However, across the board, “Aperture 2: A workflow guide for digital photographers” either equals or considerably surpasses “Apple Pro Training Series: Aperture 2”. I haven’t read any other Aperture 2 books, but certainly as a general, in-depth guide, it is difficult to see how it could be beaten.

Highly recommended.


Where did the photos go ?

On the one hand, nice new website design. On the other, no photos.

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, February 10, 2009

If you’re reading this then you’ll know I’m finally back online. The old, grey photoblogography at snowhenge is no more, but all of its content has, I hope made the move over to this new site. Over the past few years I’ve been living a slightly constrained existence, both due to living in a very small space, and having an extremely time consuming job. Well now I’ve got a lot more space, all of my photography gear is unpacked and dusted down, and my job has become a little less time consuming.

At the time of writing, the actual photography content of this site is very low. A friend of mine convinced almost a year ago that I should try to present concise, edited portfolios online, rather than the huge database driven catalogue (of over 700 photos) that I had built up over the years. I think he’s right, and it is a step in the direction of becoming a better photographer, but it is easier said than done. For a start, I’m not terribly good at editing, and when I do start getting into it, I start to re-evaluate everything, selections, ratings and processing, so I’m not quite there yet. And I haven’t yet designed the web pages to present the portfolio in. So for a while at least, the photography pages will be a work in progress.

I am finding Aperture 2 to be an excellent editing tool, and an underestimated RAW developer and processor. It takes a while to get used to some of the processing tools, especially if you’ve been used to the Adobe way of doing things, but certainly to my eyes the results are at least as good as from any other tool - including the excellent RAW Developer - and the adjustment tools are very powerful. I’m pretty much committed to it now, so I guess the next thing to happen is that Apple will withdraw it…


Keyword management in Aperture

Trying to work out how to move keywords from one obscure system to another.

in Apple Aperture , Thursday, May 22, 2008

Moving from one RAW workflow tool to another is always going to be painful, a fact that few reviewers ever touch upon. This is the downside to non-destructive editing. Until now, nobody has come up with a way to translate RAW settings from one converter to another, and even if they ever do, it is likely to be an imprecise art. For example, while both Lightroom and Aperture have local contrast enhancement tools (Clarity & Definition, respectively), they behave and respond differently, and it is unlikely that these differences can be easily characterised. So, moving from Lightroom to Aperture, or the other way, is going to be complicated and potentially involves a lot of work. A RAW converter is not just for Christmas. Things are a bit better on the cataloging front. IPTC and keyword metadata written into DNG files in Lightroom should import into Aperture, although some workarounds are required, in particular where ratings are concerned. One thing I dislike about Lightroom is way that keywords are edited and managed, and especially how this is all mixed up with search. I especially dislike the way that I have to switch to the Library module to work with keywords. Well, with Aperture, you don't need to switch to anything, but I have to admit it took me a while to work out how I could make bulk edits to keywords. When importing keywords with certain characters, for example "á", Aperture mangles the keyword. So "Jökulsárlón" became "árlón". To fix this I tried to do it the "Lightroom way", which obviously didn't work. You can't edit keywords in a multiple selection using the metadata panel, at least as far as I can see. But you can use the Keyword HUD: ApertureScreenSnapz002.png This can be quickly used not only to edit, add or remove keywords, but also quickly apply them to images, whatever you're doing to them, be it editing, retouching, arranging for print, for web, anywhere. And for my scattered mind, this is way, way better than Lightroom's rigid approach.

Aperture sluggishness

It does things when it wants to, not when I tell it to

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm in the process of moving, or trying to move, from using Adobe Lightroom to Apple Aperture. The reasons for this I'll get into later, but I'm getting the feeling it may not be a fully satisfying experience. It seems that Aperture 2.1 still has serious performance issues. I'm running it on new MacBook Pro, with 2.5Ghz CoreDuo processor, GeForce 8600M GT graphics card, and 4Gb RAM. Should be enough, really. But I'm beginning to think it isn't.

Aperture 2.1 zips along fast enough in image browsing mode, but as soon as I start adding adjustments, things start going downhill fast. The loupe, for example, starts staggering around like an intoxicated tortoise, and strange video artifacts show up, such as half the image blanking out, or the image disappearing altogether when I move a slider.

Most irritating, the histogram in the levels "brick" doesn't display, and frequently the main histogram doesn't either.


Levels adjustment histogram missing in action...

The histogram itself is very sluggish, and cannot be used to evaluate the effects of adjustments in real time. All in all, it is quite worrying, and also a bit baffling. This is the top end Mac laptop. It is used in PR shots for Aperture 2. And yet it performs at a level which, honestly, is barely adequate. Do I really need a Quad Core Mac Pro to run this thing ?

UPDATE: deleting Aperture's preferences has restored the histogram, and, it seems, performance. I suppose the fact that I repeatedly created and deleted a lot of projects whilst trying to get Lightroom metadata to come across may have had some side effects. Hopefully they won't return.
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