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Apple photo software has eye on amateurs

Aperture 1.5, available for free upgrades this week, adds some consumer-level features.

Sorry, no iPod camera as of yet.

On Monday, however, Apple Computer did unveil Aperture 1.5, a new version of its photo-editing software, at in Cologne, Germany.

People who own at least Aperture 1.0 will be able to download a free upgrade to Aperture 1.5 in English, French, German or Japanese "later this week," according to the Aperture site. Aperture 1.5 will be sold for $299 in the U.S. through the Apple online store, Apple retail stores and other authorized retailers.

Aperture software, which has been available for some time, was previously viewed primarily as a program for managing the workflow of large batches of raw images, something of particular interest to professional photographers and serious hobbyists. Due in part to competition from Adobe's free Lightroom beta, Apple lowered the price of its April release of Aperture 1.1.

The new features in Aperture 1.5, however, indicate a shift in the software's possible direction.

Its integration with programs like iLife '06 and iWork '06, and its new ability to sync to iPod via iTunes 7, indicate that Apple may purposely be opening the software's target to the average hobbyist, who may now have an entry-level digital SLR and a need to process raw images.

The product is still mainly geared toward the professional. Aperture 1.5 has a new color tool, a new loupe magnifier and new customizable presets for various adjustment settings. The software now allows photographers to export raw images with IPTC data (a way of attaching text to an image) stored in XMP sidecar files (metadata files), or create their own XMP files.

Aperture 1.5 allows users to store images anywhere they want, not just within the Aperture library. Images can be saved to disc, a third-party software program or a folder on the desktop, for example.

Apple has also developed its API plug-in architecture. The company said it will demonstrate during Photokina third-party plug-ins from leading photo entities like Getty Images, iStockphoto and Flickr.

Adobe also released on Monday a new version of its competing software that organizes the workflow of raw images from import to printing. Its latest Adobe Photoshop Lightroom beta 4.0 release, immediately available for free download, includes new raw-processing technology acquired with the company's purchase of Pixmantex.

This is Apple's first appearance at Photokina, and many have been speculating on the company's reason for attending. Apple is hosting an event in Cologne on Monday night to kick off the show, according to the Photokina schedule, but as of Monday afternoon, no surprises had been announced.