Opinion: What to expect from the new Aperture Pro X

Not much activity the last week. My time was shared between family, job exploration and some testing. New images will come in the next days but for now a bit of geek fantasy…

Amongst the things I have tested is the Gold Master of the new OS X Mavericks distributed by Apple to its developers (Gold Master is the last test version, generally it is the same as the public version issued shortly after). For a photography blog entry I won’t dwell into technical details – especially as I am subject to the Apple NDA – but all I can say is that I’m very impressed. There are only limited visual improvements, though some are quite nice, but rather under the hood changes. Chief amongst them, and that will please all laptop users, is the energy optimisation and improved battery life on a single charge. I cannot quantify by how much it has improved, and I suspect it depends on too many factors to measure it well, but it seems significant.

As Apple is likely preparing to launch publicly a bunch of new products including OS X Mavericks, especially a new iPad and the new Mac Pro, tech pundits and tech blogs are pondering the plausibility of rumours and wondering what exactly Apple will launch. Only the future will tell and it’s likely to be a short wait.

To me, the launch of OS X Mavericks and a new Mac Pro makes more likely that Aperture is updated as well and hopefully launched at the same time or shortly after. Of course, it makes me wonder what could be expected.

Over the last 2 years, Apple has refreshed 2 of its 3 pro creative apps: Final Cut Pro X in 2011 and Logic Pro X last summer. It’s only logical to expect Aperture, which version 3 was launched in early 2010, to be refreshed and dubbed Aperture Pro X in line with the other pro apps.

I think that Aperture Pro X will bring only minimal visual changes to the current interface, it’s already great, except making it darker in line with the other pro apps, it might also make better use of multi display setups. We might also get better social network integration (though I’m not keen and here is why) which will give Apple’s marketing team some additional headline…

For editing functionalities, I hope that Apple will introduce the concept of layers and masking as well as selection tools, eventually improving on some functions such as image retouching and noise reduction. A dream would be that Apple comes up with something equivalent to the content aware fill of photoshop.

A big thing that could come with a new version of Aperture would be a better integration with iOS devices. Think about a tethering mode where Aperture controls your camera and you wirelessly control Aperture with your iPhone. Imagine being able to create your virtual press book on Aperture and show it off on your retina iPad?

However I expect more forward looking changes under the hood, the usual performance boost for both storage and higher use of multicore and GPU for image processing, but especially a better platform for Apple and third party developers to enhance Aperture with plugins and companions apps, similar to what Logic Pro and Final Cut have offered. I would even not complain — too much — if at first we lose some hard coded features of the current Aperture to gain the ability to work with multiple external editors, even with the ability to pass on a copy of the RAW file rather than the developed TIF, and that, assuming that layers are coming, the result of plugins or external editors are returned on their individual layers on top of the initial image. That would give the ability to Apple and other developers to come up with more refined and evolutive functionalities such as geometric and lens corrections.

This could disappoint those expecting the new version of Aperture to simply mimic what Adobe added to Lightroom in the last two iterations, but it would transform what is a great pro apps into a greater pro platform. It might take some more time for Nik Collection, DxO Optics and why not even Adobe’s very own Camera Raw to adjust their plugin products for a new paradigm but it would be a low price to pay to use the best photo editing on the market.

Opinion: What to expect from the new Aperture Pro XChristian C. Berclaz

8 comments on "Opinion: What to expect from the new Aperture Pro X"

  1. I agree that an update is imminent. Not sure if it will be the major update we are all waiting and hoping for. Aperture will need to be updated to open the library upgraded by the iPhoto bundled with Mavericks, that’s for sure.

    Regarding what to expect with a new major version, I agree that speed and optimization for laptops/MacPro will be included.

    I can also imagine the iPad being used in different ways, perhaps as a second screen, like for Logic Pro, that could be used with the main app, hosting the adjustment sliders and leaving the screen with a full picture.

    Only time will really tell us… Hopefully soon.

    Regarding the layers, I’m afraid this won’t happen. Layers was a concept introduced to destructive editing in Photoshop. i.e. you can add several layers of adjustment but at the end you have to commit, merge and export to jpg/tiff etc. when Aperture introduced multiple adjustment bricks, it did exactly introduce layers, but in a non destructive environment. I agree some selection tools need to improve (perhaps like u-point technology from Nik) and maybe gradient filters and grain could be added.

    I know they will surprise us with lots of good things!

    • I also like the idea that the iPad could be used as a mobile tablet, though I probably would stick with my Wacom at home, being able to use the iPad while on the move would mean one less item to lug around (though the Wacom is not heavy, as always it just adds up in the bag).

      About layers, on principle all non-destructive edits done today are maintained together with the original image which can be kept as is in the library (not very useful) or that the user can decide to “develop” into a TIF, JPG, etc. As such this is similar to destructive editing for the end product, except that you can come back to your image, tweak your edits and “develop” a new version. Now when using a plugin Aperture won’t give you much of a choice but generate a TIF (including of the edits), pass it to the plugin to work on and take it back in the library as a new file which can in turn receive additional non-destructive edits.

      Now there are two problem with this workflow: one any plugin will constitute a destructive edit and you won’t be able to tweak it later, second you might want to apply the plugin only on a part of the image but that’s not possible unless using photoshop.

      If now rather than storing specific edit (noise, sharpen, etc) these edits are layered explicitly, they can then be masked (similar to the current brush-in/brush-away) and become a more generic object that could be populated by other plugins. By editing masks and choosing opacity the user could be able to get the same level of control as with photoshop. Cherry on the cake: if done properly it could also be possible to tweak the output of plugins while keeping everything else unchanged. At the end, the library keeps the layers (thus it remains non-destructive) and you can still produce the final file by simple flattening of the layers.

      I realize that a simpler way to describe it would be to just suggest that the Aperture library would behave like a PSD file does.

      In any case, whether it is called layers, however it works, I just hope that Apple will bring functionalities centred around their database and interface and that it allows for evolution either with other Apple or third party software in a better way than today (and even if Lightroom doesn’t do any of this better today there is no reason why Apple couldn’t try to make it better).

      This is just fantasy though… and only time will tell… Dreaming is good 🙂

      • Hi Christian,

        As you know, the beauty of non-destructive editing is the ability of creating multiple versions with different adjustments on each without having to actually “develop” the RAW and therefore increasing the library size (only a small sidecart file is created for each version and the RAW remains intact). Once you decide which one to export, then you commit to the “destructive” part of the workflow, whether you are publishing to a website, sharing online or printing. Correct me if I am wrong since I am no Photoshop wizard, but once you have the RAW open and edited, creating multiple layers, etc, at the end you must export into something or save as a PSD file, right? This works great until you try to edit the same image in different ways (black and white, square crop, etc) since you would have to either save different PSD files and/or export into TIFF/JPG (and no way to get back!).

        Now, when using a plug-in in Aperture, I totally agree with you. It is terrible to see a 30Mb RAW file being exported into a TIFF to be worked on a plug-in such as Nik Silver Effex and then return to my Aperture Library as a 102Mb Tiff file! Plus, as you mentioned, you cannot even re-edit this image without doing all over again. The current plug in architecture breaks the nondestructive workflow within Aperture. I have sent several request to the Aperture feedback to allow non-destructive plug-ins. Hopefully this would work about the same way you proposed.

        As far as organizational changes, I think we will see “moments” recently introduced into the iOS photo app makes it ways into iPhoto and perhaps Aperture. Who knows what else they are planning!


        • 10 years ago when Aperture and later Lightroom were launched, their ability to store both the original and the edit versions of an image using little more space than the original image itself were their great selling point, with the advantage of experimenting with the edit parameters and creating many different other versions of the same image for only a tiny fraction of its size. I think that nowadays this is less important as storage capacity has dramatically increased in size. I was looking recently at old 10bits RAW images from a Canon EOS 300D and they were weighing about 5-6Mb for 6MP, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III requires about 25Mb for 22MP, in the meantime capacities at equivalent price have probably increased by a factor 50 or 100 (using Moore’s Law).

          So I’m not sure that storage is that much of an issue, an edited 20MP image weighing 100-200Mb shouldn’t be too scary 🙂

          At the time too, non-destructive edit functions were pretty simple, and remain so today, thus they were not too much taxing too much power from the computers, keeping things still responsive even if the image had to be reevaluated each time it was displayed (well ignoring the fact that both Aperture and Lightroom keep a low resolution version of the image that is shown immediately while the actual full resolution is being reprocessed in the background, giving a smoother impression than things actually are).

          On power today we not only have available multicore units but most of the image processing is done by multicore graphic chips. It is a tremendous power available to process images on the fly (as long as the processing itself is not convoluted).

          So I wouldn’t mind if implementing a universal layer concept, allowing both internal and external edits to be stored as a new layer, increases the overall storage size as it does today, if for that price I get the ability to return to the plugin and change parameters from within the plugin, and that in Aperture itself I get the ability to work on layer similarly as I do in photoshop (masking, transparency, warping, etc).

          In such scenario creating a duplicate version would mean duplicating the whole set of layers, but not the original image, thus likely would represent a higher storage premium as today. This in turn would require serious changes in the way the library is handled (especially in the case of referenced libraries, you would still want to have the data pertaining to the layers being reference somehow and not be part of the main library).

          Conceptually this is exactly as you describe with the PSD file, you can later make some retouches (not for everything though so yes some destruction happens with certain functions) and re-edit your image, make a copy of the PSD and do something very different. Once you are happy you can export the PSD as TIF or JPG, exactly as you’d do with Aperture. So I’m happy with this tool, however I’d wish that the whole thing would be integrated into the workflow tool and that PSD (and thus managing the filesystem) would be transparent. Also I’d appreciate to have a non-clutered tool, as many of photoshop functions are more relevant to designers than to photographers.

          Again these are just dreams, but Apple has its way to build things differently and forward looking rather than merely adding new functionalities, so there’s always a chance I get what I’m dreaming…

          Looking at iPhoto, I felt that it already included the “moments” concept with its “event” view. Now I would too except it to be aligned with the new iOS interface and it might find its way into Aperture (here more for marketing purpose as I don’t see a real benefits for pros…).

          Thanks for contributing to the debate, who knows it might be in small things but we might be able to influence Apple 🙂

    • By the way Raf, gorgeous website and I particularly liked your Aperture manifesto.

      • Thank you Christian for checking my site. Just moved to Smugmug, got tired of creating a website with iWeb (no responsive theme). Still have to upload my pictures…

        Regarding the Manifesto, I just got tired of all the naysayers and Adobe’s incredible PR on another minor update to their soft and claiming it’s the only solution out there. I won’t even get into the CC discussion… 🙂

        Where did you come up with the name Aperture Pro X? I heard Aperture 4, Aperture X but never Pro X. Found it quite interesting and if turn out to be the chosen name, this is where I heard it first!

        Love your Primates gallery! Great photography and articles, I really like your take on GAS!

        • Thank you Raf. I personally used RapidWeaver for the first version, and although it had everything I needed, including responsive, it was becoming more and more difficult to set up the way I wanted and not as the software wanted me to do things. So I moved to WordPress and never looked back.

          For the manifesto I made a similar short comment in the middle of a post. We tend to be influenced by “new broom swipes better” and marketing makes us forget the old “do not fix what is not broken”, it is just human nature but I agree I’m also tired to hear that Aperture is dead in the water and that never ever will a new version be able to surpass Lightroom 5 or at the very best it might equal it.

          For the name, well all pro apps are dubbed pro (you might remember a time when there were two version of Final Cut: Final Cut Express and advanced prosumer product and the expensive Final Cut Pro) and with the refresh aligning Aperture to the rest of the series would make sense. But we’ll see. What I don’t think will come is Aperture 4. The number 4 is not considered as auspicious number in Chinese cultures (In China they tend to have a 13th floor but not a 14th floor) this because in Chinese, 4 sounds too much like “death”. So with the importance that the Chinese market has for Apple, Aperture 4 is not an option.

          Thanks for the compliments and I hope you’ll continue visiting the site!

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