Quandary: Aperture or iPhoto?

Aperture or iPhoto?
I recently received a copy of Apple’s pro-level photo management software Aperture as a gift from a client for doing some important work gratis and on short notice. After about a week of using it heavily in my spare time my reactions are mixed.

I’m now a bit torn between using Aperture as my standard photo management application and its younger sibling, iPhoto. Both have strengths and weaknesses. I like Aperture’s advanced features like the light table and it start-to-finish project model. But I miss iPhoto’s iLife integration that makes sharing my photos between application easier than making pancakes. Honestly, I’m torn.

To start, some background. For the last 5 or 6 years I’ve been using a capable if clunky piece of software called iView Media Pro to catalogue and manage all of my digital photographs.

I like iView’s extensive metadata capabilities (I’m a metadata maniac) and its performance is delightful: it’s a very zippy app. But the interface is a tad clunky and its lack of integration with key Mac OS technologies (i.e. .Mac, the iLife suite, and Backup) made using it a bit of a hassle. Plus, it took a while to catch up with other, cheaper apps in regards to some features like full screen editing. And compared to current photo management applications, iView feels like a glorified database lacking in inspiration.

Earlier this year, with the release of the magnificent iPhoto 6, I decided to migrate away from iView. I’d been considering it for a while but was hesitant, mainly, to give up iView’s metadata capabilities. iPhoto’s metadata features are still pretty lame (single level “keywords”, that’s it) but its full screen editing, cohesive library structure and tight integration with pretty much every other piece of Apple software was too convincing.

Then Aperture hit. Based on the marketing, I was in love. I early on made the decision to migrate to this tool, and took steps to pave my way there. I upgraded to a Power Mac G5 desktop computer to make sure I met the recommended technical specifications for Aperture. I loaded the thing up with RAM. Then I read the reviews: Aperture is a dog; it’s slow; it’s buggy; it’s a dog’s breakfast. I decided to wait for version 1.1.

Once aspect of Aperture, and in fact most of Apple’s “pro” leve applications, like Motion and Final Cut Pro, that I wasn’t aware of, is that they depend heavily on a machine’s GPU rather than its CPU. So when I bought my Power Mac I didn’t upgrade the video card, I thought the stock one would be sufficient (hell, it seemed pretty kick-ass to me; I never before dreamed of having 256 MB of memory for video before!).

Turns out that the Apple stock video card, the NVIDIA GeForce 6600 is a lame duck; a piece of crap; a pile of rubbish. After installing Aperture 1.1 on my Power Mac I was instantly disappointed with its performance. It is a dog. It is slow. It’s painful to use.

I checked a discussion board at Apple’s support site and found a bunch of folks in the same position as me: suffering from the 6600 becase they hadn’t upgraded their video card at the point of purchase. And since we’re stuck in the Apple universe we can’t just go out and buy a standard replacement. We must install an Apple-tweaked (or a kracker flashed) video card. Options? Pretty limited. Buy an Apple Service GeForce 7800 for $800 US. That’s about it. (I could have upgraded when I bought the machine for $350 Cdn. Curse you forever, sales guy, for not informing me of this weak component.)Apple Store, Canada

Anyway, performance issues aside, Aperture is a great application. The light table is too cool to use. You can just drag and drop your photos on a virtual canvas to compare, compose, rate, and organize. It’s just way too cool.

Aperture’s metadata capabilities are the best. EXIF and IPTC are well placed and identified and you can generate and apply and endless hierarchy of keywords. I’m in heaven.

I love the way photos are automatically “stacked” based on a customizable time increment between frame captures. This feature alone is enough to sell me.

The neutral grey tone of the interface is so conducive to usability, it’s unbelievable more creative applications don’t adopt it.

I won’t go into crazy details. Suffice to say that Aperture is a brilliant app designed around a photographic process, rather than just on a set of tools. This is an important distinction, because the fact that it’s process-oriented makes it easier to use and adopt as a tool unto itself.

So why the waffling?

Well, I miss iLife, Apple’s unconditionally brilliant suite of heavily integrated creative tools. I miss the fact that whatever I do in iPhoto (keyword tagging, rating, cataloguing, level adjusting, whatever) is immediately accessible from the other iLife-aware applications (Pages, iDVD, iWeb, iMovie). After metadata, I crave faultless integration, and iLife is all about that.

In a sense, Aperture is a step back towards what drove me away from iView: it’s an island. I can’t access my Aperture library from anywhere else. If I want to share a photo in a Pages document, say, I have to export it, then place it manually. If I want to place a photo on a web page, again, export and place (not to mention Aperture is simply incapable of optimizing for web — it created a 1 MB JPEG on export, so I have to cut over to Photoshop to manually optimize, as well). If I want to send a phot in an email, again… well, you get the picture.

But iPhoto is so… amateur. Again, lame keywords. No light table. No stacking. No project organizing (though, fair enough, I could fake it with folders).

So what’s a guy to do? I’m clearly not a photo “pro”, which is who Aperture is targeted at. But I’m also not your basic consumer snapshot producer, which is who iPhoto is aimed at. I need an “iPhoto Pro” or iLife-friendly Aperture.

Sigh. Being eternally critical sucks.

One thought on “Quandary: Aperture or iPhoto?

  1. I am experiencing your same quandary. I am still using iView (now MS Expressions Media). It is not getting better, but I can build websites with it. I want to migrate.

    I have Aperture 1.5 in a box. I have various flavors of iLife, but I probably need a more recent one. I want to use FrontRow. I have thousands of photos from my last vacation in England that I had still not been able to cull to a manageable set or publish on my website. I want to create a new book like I have done with other trips.

    Is there any followup to you experience? Are iLife and Aperture better integrated yet? Is Apple ever going to upgrade Aperture? (Skip that last one — I know, nobody ever knows).

    Thanks for your thoughts. They do parallel mine.

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