Until introducing Aperture, Apple's only photography application was the consumer-friendly iPhoto. With Aperture, Apple squarely targets pro and prosumer digital photographers who need a work-flow tool for quickly sorting, editing, managing, and outputting lots of images. Designed to address multiple needs, Aperture's feature set provides sorting and culling capabilities as well as digital asset management, image editing, and several output options. Overall, Aperture does a decent job, although it falls short in some areas and excels in others.
Aperture lives up to many of its promises and proves especially useful as a digital slide sorter--albeit an extremely pricey one--but there's room for improvement, especially when it comes to image adjustments as well as handling of raw files and metadata. For instance, we'd like to see curve editing in addition to levels. And though Aperture supports nondestructive raw editing, in order to open the files in Photoshop, you have to export them to the desktop or a folder first. If you create any Photoshop layers, Aperture will simply store the layered file in the Library and create a flattened version for itself. For that and other reasons, we think Adobe Camera Raw still has an edge over Aperture for working with raw files.
The Library secrets away all your images from view into an operating system package file, a file type usually reserved for installation programs. This likely renders your images slightly more vulnerable, in an all-eggs-in-one-basket kind of way. You can create a replica of the Library called a Vault for backup purposes. Maintaining a backup is one-click simple, however.
Aperture can be an incredibly fast and efficient application, given the right system. With few exceptions, the "right system" turned out to be a quad G5 with 2GB of RAM; importing and adjusting images on this system zipped along. Occasionally, drawing the Loupe tool across images in the thumbnail view required a couple of seconds' wait. On a 15-inch G4 PowerBook with 2GB of RAM, waiting a second or two to load a file while using the Loupe became more frequent, and stacking images was noticeably slower. Using Aperture on the 15-inch G4 PowerBook (the 12-inch model's graphics subsystem isn't powerful enough) is doable, but professionals will want to have a fast desktop system in the studio. Furthermore, Aperture is best viewed on at least one 30-inch Cinema Display: Aperture's icons and typeface can be very small and difficult to read.
Open the Aperture box and you'll find a Getting Started Guide, which will get you up and running, but it won't tell you about some of the application's finer points. The better option is to watch the video that's bundled with the software. Apple has posted a lot of information on its Web site, including tutorials and FAQs, but searching from within the program doesn't always result in a quick answer to your question. There aren't many live support options, other than Apple's typical free 90-day installation support for registered users. If you're a pro and want round-the-clock tech help availability, be prepared to shell out $2,800.
There are at least three potential roadblocks to adopting Apple Aperture: steep hardware requirements, rigid file handling, and dependence on the OS for raw support. But despite these limitations and imperfections, Aperture can certainly bring efficiency into the life of any photographer willing to accede to the program's demands.