Apple got a lot of things right in iPhoto '09, and in the latest version of its higher-end, $200 Aperture software it's tried to replicate that same success. But did it work?
The short answer is yes. What might be more surprising to an iPhoto user is how similarly easy to use these features are in Aperture, despite being far more powerful.
Some of the carryovers include facial recognition, geotagging, and integration with third-party sites like Flickr, Facebook, and the company's MobileMe subscription service. Out of that bunch, facial recognition and geotagging are likely to be the most familiar. Where things get interesting are the extra features Apple has added to both of these, and a handful of other tools that can be found within iPhoto. Read on to get the details.
Faces (facial recognition)
Facial recognition was one of the big selling points of iPhoto, and it's now a part of Aperture 3. The two pieces of software use the same algorithm to find faces inside of your photos. If you read our hands-on with this technology from last year, you'll know that it's quite good at what it does, although like most all facial recognition tools, it has trouble with photos where your subjects are turned to the side, or wearing sunglasses.
One of the main areas where Aperture 3 improves over iPhoto's facial recognition tools is in the filtering. Aperture users can filter faces they've matched by the album, which is aimed at professional photographers who may work with the same model across different shoots, and who want to sort those shots quickly. This can also speed up the name-tagging workflow, since a photographer will only be dealing with the face matches from that particular set of photos.
Another improvement over iPhoto's face tagging workflow is that the app now offers up recommendations for people you haven't tagged yet. It does this right below the corkboard of what people you have already indicated as knowing. It orders the unnamed people in the order of how often they appear in that particular set, making it simpler to see who shows up the most.
Many of the workflows in tagging multiple shots of the same person remain unchanged. Users can, for example, approve or reject several face recommendations at a time. It also lets you go back and remove shots you may have accidentally approved.
Places, more than the Faces feature, has seen the most advancement in its migration from iPhoto to Aperture. There are lots of location-based goodies that Aperture users get that iPhoto users are missing out on, the biggest being GPS tracker log support. This lets you take a log from GPS tracking hardware such as Garmin's Oregon series mapping handhelds, and apply that geo metadata to a string of photos. This means you can apply hundreds of geotags (if you took that many shots), with complete automation.
To do this, users first need to upload the log into Aperture. Then they can select a set of photos to attach it to. What's interesting here is that Aperture doesn't automatically assign that information. As it's been explained to me, the reasoning behind this is because the clock on a user's camera might be off by minutes, hours, or even years. So the simplest way to make it work is to have users pick where that trip begins with--then the rest of the photos are synced up based on the shot time in their metadata.
Of course a more perfect system than this is to actually buy a camera with built-in GPS, or to hook up a GPS receiver. But this at least gives users a nice way to make up for it if they like using their older hardware.
Apple has also thrown in a way to import geo data from the iPhone, so say you're out taking pictures with your point-and-shoot or SLR, you can also snap a shot on your iPhone. Aperture can create a point on the map for each photo you take. It's even smart enough to not actually import those test shots into your library--just the geo metadata.
In practice though, using your iPhone still involves a fair bit of manual labor. Unlike the GPS paths system, where you just tell it where to begin, with the iPhone data you have to manually drag each photo, or set of photos to that GPS way point. This is even if they're within a few seconds of you taking that shot with your real camera. The idea behind this is less about the automation, as much as being able to use your phone as a reference point for where you were shooting.
Other goodies include being able to view both the maps and the geotagged photos in a split interface. In iPhoto you're limited to just viewing the map or the geotagged photos at a time. Aperture users can also go back into the map and adjust a photo's location. This completely overrides whatever GPS metadata that shot has, letting you drag it to within a few dozen feet of where the photo was taken. Aperture even beats out iPhoto's maximum map zoom level by a long shot, as well as throwing in a "road" map layer from Google Maps, just like the one you see when looking up directions from maps.google.com.
And one more bit of niceness on Aperture's handling of geodata, is that each time you add location data to a photo, it adds that data into Aperture's search index. It does this for countries, states, and specific points of interest. Users are also able to search from an index of these from right within the app in order to apply them to photos. If you've ever used the geo-tagging helper on Flickr, the idea is quite similar here.
Slideshows are not, in fact, new to Aperture, but now offer significantly more features for power users. Like iPhoto, Aperture now supports video clips, which users can include alongside photos. This works the same way it does in iPhoto, although Aperture users are able to strip out the audio from a video clip and play it in the background of other photos.
Aperture also lets users re-order how photos will appear, as well as how long each shot gets on-screen. What's really neat about this, is that you can pick a baseline time for each transition that applies to all the photos (which is the same as iPhoto), as well as be able to give some photos more or less time. Aperture users can even time these transitions down to keyboard clicks, which is useful for syncing it up with music from iTunes.
Other features which made it over from iPhoto include slideshow themes. Aperture comes with all the same ones that are in iPhoto, as well as two new ones. The big thing here is that users can actually go in and change the settings of these themes now, to tweak things like the theme colors and what kind of transition each shot gets. It's almost like putting together slides in Apple's Keynote presentation software. At the same time, it includes a handful of photo editing-centric presets that let users toggle on photo filters like black and white, and sepia. Normally you'd have to go in and make these kind of adjustments within the photos. This way you can just toggle that effect on for the slideshow only.
Many of the slideshow export settings between iPhoto and Aperture are the same, although Aperture makes some of the HD options more apparent. For instance, 1080p is an option, even if your laptop's monitor isn't that large, whereas in iPhoto you have to go in and tweak the custom settings to enable it. Aperture also shows users how big the exported file will be, which can be important if you're trying to fit it within the confines of an e-mail attachment, or video host with a hard limit.
Integration with third-party sites
Much of the integration with external sites like Facebook, Flickr, and MobileMe--which was introduced as part of iLife '09--remains the same in Aperture. Both programs let you set up specific folders on these sites where photos from your Aperture or iPhoto libraries can be synced. And Aperture, just like iPhoto, is set by default to not share the location information from those photos without an OK from the user first.
The one big difference in Aperture's case, is that the number of third-party photo book makers you can send your work to is much broader. Publishers can now create their own Aperture-specific printing plug-ins that can properly format photos to meet the right specifications. Apple did this mostly to please professional photographers who wanted to do the book layout within Aperture, then send off their work to custom publishing houses. iPhoto users may never need such a feature, but it lets people who like using Apple's creation tools break out of having to print through them too.
To be fair, this comparison skips over many of the editing and library management tools that Aperture does a better job at than iPhoto--but that's always been the case between these two programs. I've also left off comparisons to competitor Lightroom from Adobe, which is currently testing its own third iteration in beta. These are the kinds of comparisons better left for a rated review, which CNET will have soon.
If anything is clear from my week with the software, the upgrade from iPhoto is worth it for the geotagging features alone. If that's a feature you find yourself using regularly in iPhoto, Aperture makes it considerably more powerful. This is especially true given the fact that you can so easily import geodata from external devices, then turn it into tags, along with being able to go in and manually drag the photo to somewhere else on the map.
As for the facial recognition, if you like it in iPhoto, it's almost identical. However the option to sort faces by album makes it an attractive feature to people with large photo libraries. And for professional photographers who work with the same few models, there's no doubt this can speed up photo sorting.
What may end up being more interesting, is to see what Apple includes in the next version of its iPhoto software, which is already a month past its usual release date. Given the early-February release of Aperture 3, it's likely Apple is finally making Aperture the new feature king, which should have always been the case.