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Nasty glitch in Aperture

A confidence-sapping experience

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A while ago I had a pretty unpleasant experience with Aperture. It was quite weird: I had a project open, showing the thumbnails. As I watched, these were systematically overwritten, one by one, by thumbnails of photos from a completely different set of projects. The originals were all from a set of projects for June 2008, and the “invaders” from projects for May and June 2004. As always, all files were managed as referenced files, not stored in the Aperture library. And the originals were safe. The version names stayed as initially set, taken from the 2008 filenames. There was no obvious correlation at all between the two sets of files.

Metadata was also preserved: edits applied to the 2008 images was applied to the 2004 “invaders”, obviously with strange results at times.  Digging into Aperture’s depths, I discovered that the XML files used to organise the projects referenced two files, the original and the replacement.

Trying to fix things by using Aperture’s “manage referenced files” tools was to no avail. Mirroring the company’s CEO’s dysfunctional personality, these tools are nothing if not opaque. Restoring backups from Time Machine also didn’t help - in fact, it just resulted in a repeat performance.

Posting the issue of the Apple discussion boards, and the near useless AUPN forums, was of no use. I get the impression that due to its very small user base, there are very, very few people who have any knowledge of Aperture much beyond superficial. Or if they are any, they’re not sharing.

So all that was left to was drastic surgery, which I put off for ages, but finally did tonight.  First, in order to break the references, I moved the folders containing the 2004 files to another volume.  I then deleted all the overwritten versions in the 2008 projects, and reimported the original 2008 files. Obviously I lost all metadata, including editing and cataloguing, for nearly 1 months’ photos - about 400 shots.  I then went to the 2004 projects, restored the 2004 folders, and rebuilt the references. In this case it was tedious and time consuming, and Aperture naturally went belly up a few times, but at least the metadata was preserved.

This has really shaken my confidence in Aperture. It needs to be rock-solid in this of all areas. I’m afraid that my impression of Aperture is that it was designed by the A-Team but implemented by the C-Team. Or possibly rushed to market by industry standard idiot marketing managers, and never recovered. But there’s little alternative. Lightroom is an awful mess and looks like getting worse. I’ve never seen such a case of collective denial as exists in the Lightroom user community. Aperture has a far better RAW conversion engine. The only, slightly, better alternative I know of is Iridient RAW Developer, but that doesn’t provide an end to end solution: a trip to Photoshop is almost always necessary, which introduces digital asset management issues, to which there is is no longer any real solution.

So, I’m left with two choices: 1, pray that Aperture doesn’t screw up again, that it is still under active development by Apple, and that a significantly enhanced version 3 will appear one day, or 2, revert to Lightroom, and waste endless hours on profiles, presets, and whatever else it takes to get away from the nasty RAW conversions it delivers by default.

I guess for now, it’s better the devil I know.