Aperture 3 Review

So, I have been playing with Aperture 3 for over two weeks now. I haven’t explored fully its 200 ‘new’ features yet, but I have played enough to make up my mind about it.

I am not going to go over every new features since a lot of people have already done it. Instead, I am going to talk about the stuff that matters to photographers.


I am very sorry to say that but the current version of Aperture is slow. Browsing from one picture to the next is slow unless you are in quick preview mode (Press P to toggle). Once you get into the habit of switching between modes, it is not that much of a burden but remember that you can only edit pictures in normal mode.

Before some fan boys reply that it isnt slow, know that I did everything I could to speed it up: rebuild library, use a fast machine with RAID-0 drives, etc… With the same setup LightRoom runs circles around A3.  That is sad.



Aperture 3 noise reduction is good and would stand well on its own if it was not of the spectacular results one can get in LightRoom 3 or with Neat Image. If shooting in low light is important to you and you want to use A3, get Neat Image.

The Presets

I have a love/hate relationship with presets. Amateurs see them as the be all end all of image editing, thinking they can get pro results with a click of the mouse without even understanding what is going on. A3 surfs on the preset wave started with LR to get pretty much the same results (given the same adjustment panels). Actually, I prefer the way A3 handles presets than LR: you can either combine presets by picking them one after the other, or replacing them by option clicking the new preset.


A3 has a nice curves adjustment tool. You can select a color from the image and it will place an adjustment point at corresponding position on the curve. Quite useful to clean up background or changing cloths color. Remembers me of the way Capture One 4 handle curves.


There are a lot of talk about the new non destructive adjustment brushes. Here again, the A3 team fell a bit short. While the brushes work very well, you cannot use the same brush with two different adjustment level. I correct myself, if you click on the option gear, you can add as many distinct adjustment brushes as you want. Cool!

The missing adjustments

Where the hell is the grad filter? It has to be one of the most important filter one can use, yet it is not there. It really makes me wonder if the Aperture dev team actually use the software!

The other missing adjustment is the tone splitting. While I think LR user overuse this tool (especially in presets), it has proven time and again to be a key feature to quickly set a mood on a batch of pictures. Here again, the adjustment isn’t there.

The vignette tool has not evolved at all. I was hoping to at least get the choice of going toward white instead of black as in LR or to select the desired affected corners but we got nothing new.


I love the new import screen and its link to Places. If you have a mix of geolocated pictures and non geolocated ones, once you start to import, the software will ask you if you want to associate the locations. Brilliant!


Unfortunately, A3 is not what I would call a release ready product. While it has some incredible features that I havent covered (slideshows & hybrid stuff) it fails to cover the basic by giving photographers what they need the most: speed and controls. The dev team spent too much time working on ‘new’ features instead of working the app core.

Hopefully, a software update will come in a few months to correct these issues but right now I can only recommend A3 as a slide show editing platform. Actually, pro photographers might want to get it for that feature alone. It is really that great!

About Tommy

Photography allows me to be what I want to be, to be where I want to be, and to do what I want to do ... I'm not professional photographer and I don't need a title, I love to take photographs and that is what I do, I love to learn and I always try to do it better ...

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  • J. B. Pittman Visuals

    From your review. I have to wonder if you really use the software. Grad filter? Tone splitting? This isn’t and editing program as much as it is an image management program. Lightroom isn’t even in the same league in that regard. I have looked at both programs since they were beta. Aperture is a pro app and requires some commitment on the users’ part to master. However, once mastered and set up properly it will let you fly through everyday tasks faced by pro photogs. Speaking of speed, on the four workstations and three laptops in my workgroup we have found it to be much quicker than version 2.0 not only in literal speed but workflow as well.

    • admin

      Actually, I did use the software for the last two weeks and used it to process about 500 pictures and about 8gigs of clip.

      The reason why I place to much importance on grad and tone splitting is that, while they can be done in PS, I prefer to have these operation done in their native RAW format to (1) save file size, (2) prevent round tripping and (3) having access to them live when shooting in tethering. Tone splitting all the pictures post shoot in PW is a real pain, especially if you have to process a lot of them.

      I agree with you that Aperture is more of a picture management software than an editing app, and that is its problem. Lightroom used to be very bad at managing loads of picture but in its recent iterations, it is pretty much as effective as Aperture. Giving that and its superior RAW editing capabilities, I feel like A3 is falling a bit short.

      Saying LightRoom is not in the same league as Aperture to manage picture is a bit of a stretch. I am very curious about your workflow because in mine, LR was clearly superior with the exception of Smart albums which I prefer in Aperture. Also, LR open plugin architecture makes custom import/export workflow much better than anything that is available in Aperture (look at the Flickr export for example).

      Dont get me wrong, I really want Aperture to be better. Its integration with the rest of the Apple suite, face detection and places geotag could become essential parts of my workflow if they could actually work as advertised. Here is my dream A3 workflow: shoot in tethering mode while applying a custom preset to the shoot, use face to link the shoot to other shoot from the same subject, use places to tag the location then have various smart folders to organize the pictures as they are popping and exporting them as we are shooting to various drives according to their output format.

      While the workflow described above could look a bit extreme, I can see a lot of times where it would make perfect senses, ex: single day edit for a wedding. That is why having the RAW management app being also able to take care of the editing is key for me, hence my desire for more RAW adjustments.

      Could you please describe the pro workflow you talked about that can be done in Aperture so much faster than in LR? I am very curious because they must be very different than mine and it is always good to learn new stuff! Thx

  • Brad Taylor

    Was this review written against Aperture 3.0 or 3.0.1? Did the speed improve with the newest update?

    • admin

      3.0. I noticed the update after having processed most of my pictures. I will update this post once I have processed my next batch of images.

  • J. B. Pittman Visuals

    After a shoot, images are imported using custom metadata. This is critical since selects will be uploading to a website that pulls this metadata into the site. Location data is now being added. Then they are processed by making selections, stacked, rated, created albums etc. Different selections are distributed in various ways. For us time is critical and communicators in the company need to see work as soon as possible. Because of the nature of Aperture images can be adjusted and updated on web galleries, books and lighboxes, all of which we use frequently, at anytime after receiving feedback from the final users. Round tripping to Photoshop is easy and versions are easily managed. We use referenced libraries, for speed and security.

    Our workflow is not that much different from most. We just find that Aperture offers more flexibility and speed allowing us to do what we have to when we have too without a bunch or redoing or backtracking. The ability to export and sync libraries is a new feature that will prove invaluable as well. Faces will probably be incorporated more and more too.

    • admin

      Interesting Pittman, and it is true that in your case, the auto update of web galleries is a nice plus. I very rarely change pictures once they have been edited so it never occurred to me how practical the auto update could be.

      But I would disagree with your preference toward round tripping to PS for editing. I do 99% of my style edits in Aperture/LR and only do the retouching in PS. To me, these are two totally different things. One determine the style of the shot while the other correct its flaws at the pixel level. I have used Capture One for a while and I guess it influenced my workflow with other apps.

  • Ken

    Speed of Aperture really depends on your graphics card — much more than LR. My experience is that Aperture is faster than LR in almost all cases.

    • admin

      Ken: Can you tell us which mac / video card config you are using? I spent a few minute at the apple store the other day and played with a maxed out Mac Pro and I found it kinda slow. Not super slow, but I would have expected it to be faster given its price tag.

  • I have to say that Aperture 3.01 is remarkably fast.
    That being said I run a machine 2-quadcore mac pro with 2 video cards for (1 for each 23″ cinema display). Apple regretfully does not make a video card that will handle 2 mini display port monitors.
    That may be the key to the speed. There is no difference between preview and full screen mode with this setup.

  • Martin L

    Thanks for the review. It was detailed enough to show your bias towards Lightroom, but concise enough for me to get through the whole thing. How about next time you really evaluate the software rather than just trying to replicate your Lightroom workflow in Aperture? I mean come on, you can split tone and do much more with full RGB curves. You can also brush that in or away with a big brush. A grad filter would be nice, but far away from a necessary tool. And did you even see the Devignette adjustment?

    Seriously, the apps are very different and if you try to replicate either’s workflow in the other, you will not be happy.

    • admin

      Of course you can somewhat do tone splitting with curves and replicate the other tools in some way. My problem is that these tools are commonly used (I grad filter almost all my outdoor shots), yet Aperture does not make them easy to use.

      It is like the metadata window. Why does it not put the cursor in the search field when you open the window? Instead you have to use the mouse to click in the field and then start typing. I use metadata extensively and the idea of this fix came to me when I was using A1. How come no one at apple ever thought about it? They dont even follow the Apple design guidelines with this!

      Things like these make me wonder if the Aperture team are actually using their own software or just reading a list of specs. BTW, I did say that the curve tool in A3 is awesome!

      I am planning another photoshoot next weekend. I will use A3 again to see how well it goes with the new software update and a few optimization tweaks I have read on the net.

  • J. B. Pittman Visuals

    Ultimately it simply what works for you. I have been a photographer longer than I like to remember. (I made most of my money with a view camera.) So, I have to say the tools we have to work with now are so much better that those early “digital” photography applications and hardware that the differences are mostly insignificant in the big picture. Arguing about the merits of these two applications…? Well, it is not the sword I want to die on.

  • Apple, now that the iPad is finished, can we please have those developers back to add some polish to A3? Thank you kindly.

    I tested Aperture 3. Briefly. Honestly? It’s rubbish. I was expecting a speed boost (even on my modest Mac) but I was disappointed. The worst part is full screen viewing: it’s substantially slower. I switched back to A2 and the difference is substantial (and that was reading off my primary 200GB library, not a 4GB test library). Certain aspects of A3 are snappier but the most important features are not. I can survive without faces and geotagging in return for a more responsive application.

    • admin

      I think everyone agrees with you Luther. I still havent decided if I will be using A3 or LR3 for my trip to Iceland. While I love some of the features of A3, it wont be fast enough to process the hundreds of daily pictures I will be taken there…

      Apple seems to have taken a turn toward the costumer market at the expense of the pros recently. I hope we see some improvements soon in this regard.