Apple revamps photo apps; Corel and Adobe respond

Corel and Adobe quickly react with special deals and reassurances of commitment. GfxSpeak takes a quick look at Lightroom and AfterShot Pro as alternatives to Aperture. 

By Kathleen Maher

At WWDC14, Apple announced new APIs for camera and photo apps. The company is rationalizing all its photo applications and at the heart of the plan is Apple’s new Extensions architecture, which is available for iOS applications and the upcoming OS X Yosemite. When completed, the overhaul of Apple’s Photo applications will allow users to maintain all their photos in the cloud, manage photos with professional-level features, access filters from third party suppliers, and access all this wonderfulness from all the devices. This is a massive overhaul. As a result, Apple’s new Photo application won’t be available with the new operating systems for Mac OS and iOS coming this Fall. Instead the Apple Photos app and iCloud Photo will arrive Spring 2015.

Rather off handedly Apple representatives told The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple that once the new Photos app and iCloud Photo arrived, Apple would discontinue iPhoto and Aperture. Cue the shock, surprise, outrage, and gleeful hand rubbing from Corel and Adobe.

From the Apple Developer Library, more information about how extensions will work with other applications. (Source: Apple)
From the Apple Developer Library, more information about how extensions will work with other applications. (Source: Apple)

Apple seems to have temporarily lost control of its messaging machine, which is probably just as startling as the news about iPhoto and Aperture.  The company has hastened to clarify that customers will be able to move their iPhoto and Aperture libraries to the new tools, Photos for OS X and iCloud, and that the new applications will have many of the features of the applications they are replacing. In addition, because of Apple’s new extensions architecture, this will allow third party developers to create applications which will work with Apple applications including, and maybe especially, the photo applications. So, presumably Apple’s photo applications become even more powerful as the developer ecosystem builds better products to complement Apple’s Photo tools.

Aperture has not been significantly updated since 2010, although the company does roll out basic maintenance upgrades. The product has been gradually reduced in price since its debut in 2007 at $499. It now costs $79. And as the price as decreased, Apple’s growing disinterest has been increasingly obvious. Likewise, iPhoto hasn’t gotten a lot of recent attention.  In the end, Apple’s plans will likely turn out to be good news for most photographers working with Apple products. Although criticized for its early cloud attempts, Apple has slowly but surely improved the workflow of iCloud related products.

Consumers are likely to be the major benefactors as their tools are improved. Any remaining Aperture customers will have suffered at the hands of Apple, which has broken compatibility and rendered libraries inaccessible (the photos are not gone, but all the work categorizing, etc. may be lost). Professionals will be forgiven for being wary of Apple’s promises for the future.

Apple offers 5 GB free and promises economical plans for increased capacity in the cloud and Apple has said it will have plans that start as low as $.99 a month. The world is moving towards low, low cost storage in the cloud and at the same time, end users are becoming much more comfortable with the idea, though wise users will have some kind of offline backup for precious photos, or maybe even online redundancy as resources become less expensive.

Alternatives to Aperture

Adobe is concerned about all those abandoned Aperture users, sure they are, and so is Corel. Adobe Lightroom has steadily gained market share compared to Aperture even with the Aperture price drops. Apple’s support of its professional products has become unpredictable and that’s something professionals really don’t like. However, in the early days of the two products, Aperture was a much more superior product. Now the race has drawn more even and Adobe has routinely offered updates with new features.

The timing is good. Adobe has recently made the low-cost photographers’ option for Creative Cloud a permanent product for $9.99 month. With that, photographers get access to Photoshop and to Lightroom as well as the Adobe Creative Cloud features including membership in the Behance community, and online storage. This is a pretty irresistible offer considering that most professional photographers are using some version of Photoshop. Those who have stayed with Apple’s Aperture to the bitter end are going to have considerable incentive for throwing in with Adobe.

Adobe’s digital imaging executive Winston Hendrickson immediately wrote a blog post promising continued improvement for Lightroom. Hendrickson had nothing concrete to say about how photographers might handle the transaction. Aperture users have asked for a migration tool and Adobe has said they are looking into it. (Considering, Apple couldn’t even manage a graceful migration for Aperture users between one major version of Aperture and another, it seems likely this is not an easy task.) Hendrickson also promised continued investment in the iOS and OSX platforms.

When photographers have thousands and thousands of images, it’s understandable that they dread moving their images to Lightroom and starting all over with the tedious task of tagging, editing, creating collections etc.

The biggest problem for some Aperture users is that they may have chosen to have their files “managed” in Apple’s own relational database system, meaning, users don’t really know where their work is stored. The alternative is to change their system from managed to “referenced,” puts photos in the familiar file system. In order to transition to the Adobe Lightroom system users will have to go through their collections and transfer their “masters” to files. Now they’re referenced. It’s not hard, but it’s a little nerve wracking considering you are working with content you love and probably lots of it. Once arranged, the files can be sucked into Lightroom.

Unfortunately, Aperture’s lossless adjustments cannot be transferred anywhere. The only way to save edits is to export the corrected images as flat files and the changes become permanent. The best bet is to do this only for your particularly brilliant efforts and otherwise, just figure you knew how to edit it once, you can do it again. Both products have good tools for creating presets so perhaps you can figure out “recipes” for looks you particularly like and that will work on blocks of images taken at the same time and place.

The good news is that tags and keywords can be transferred by writing the standard IPTC metadata to the Masters. Not all metadata will come along because Aperture has its own system for storing some information such as color labels and flags. (So do most programs, that’s just the sort of thing you’ll have to get over.)

It seems inevitable that the transition is going to be tough. No doubt many Aperture users will wait until Spring 2015 in hopes the new products from Apple will let them maintain all the work they’ve done … and then there is the promise of help coming along from other applications and their extensions which will work in the Apple products. Waiting could well be the better part of valor here.

This is a really good article explaining how to transition from Aperture to Lightroom.

Corel’s AfterShot

I’ve been meaning to write about Corel’s AfterShot program for quite a while. Like Adobe, Corel has recognized the importance of file management to the professional and enthusiast photography market and the company has invested considerable resources into this product after its acquisition of Bibble in July 2012. Significant for Aperture users, Bibble has had a long history in the Mac market and has a strong base of Mac users. Corel has pledged to maintain cross platform support. Recently, Corel released AfterShot Pro 2, and has moved to 64-bit support. The company says the new software is 30% faster than AfterShot Pro 1, which was already being marketed as one of the fastest RAW processors on the market. The company says it’s up to four times faster than competing products. It’s hard to test these claims since it doesn’t name competitors and it doesn’t spell out exactly what processes are faster. In using the product, though, the speed is most noticeable when applying presets to a batch of photos. It’s downright gratifying. On the flipside, Corel has few bundled presets for its new 64-bit version and third party developers have yet to catch up in a big way.

AfterShot’s database system is similar to that of Aperture’s managed system. However, users can decide what photos they want to catalog in the AfterShot Library and what photos they want to remain in the computer file system. It took me a while to figure all this out and in fact, being honest, this is one of many reasons it’s a very good idea to read the manual when first using AfterShot.

Obviously, changing photo management software when a great deal of work has been done is not an easy task. So, even though Corel maintains the managed system used by AfterShot and used by Aperture are similar, it seems likely there will be issues. Corel has said it is working on a method for transferring libraries to AfterShot.

AfterShot is all about the RAW file and it has similar management capabilities compared to Aperture and Lightroom. One nice feature in AfterShot is how users can move easily between a file-based view of their photos, all their photos, to a view of images stored in the AfterShot Library. The program’s features are available in the file system view and this is where users might want to work with photos preliminarily before choosing the keepers and exporting them to the AfterShot Library.

This program is much more oriented to professionals; it’s primarily a RAW program so some features are not available when working with JPEG or other formats. Most professional photographers are ruthless about keeping and discarding photos. Life is too short, storage is too precious, to maintain a database of crummy photos when no one is paying for it. Accordingly, AfterShot Pro assumes people will only want to transfer key images into the AfterShot database for management, etc. These are the files which will be packaged and delivered to clients. The program has a steep learning curve compared to both Lightroom and Aperture when working in the Library view. On the other hand, it is a very powerful program and as far as I’ve found, you can do anything in AfterShop Pro that you can do in Lightroom. You just have to figure it out.

Like Adobe, Corel has pledged to continue its commitment to AfterShot Pro. After Apple’s announcement the company announced a price cut for Aperture users. They can get the program normally priced at $79.99 for $59.99. Lightroom users can also get in on the deal.

So, once again, the best advice may be to go ahead and get in on the deal for AfterShot Pro, but wait before going through the work of transferring databases. There’s nothing to say you can’t maintain both databases for a while at least. That seems safer than losing the work you’ve done. Then, if you commit to AfterShot Pro as your photo management system, gradually bring over images that have been processed and are “keepers.”

A little harder to learn than Aperture, Corel AfterShot Pro is every bit as capable. (Source: Corel)
A little harder to learn than Aperture, Corel AfterShot Pro is every bit as capable. (Source: Corel)

What do we think?

Sure, the news that Aperture and iPhoto will cease to exist as we know them came as a surprise. It’s even surprising that a journalist got anything out of Apple and that in fact is pretty positive news for Apple. The company has been showing signs of changing its ways. We don’t expect them to become big blabber mouths, but the company does show signs of becoming less insular.

In fact, as we see how the new Extensions architecture comes to be used, we might well see that this is one of the most major announcements around Apple software products. Yes, Apple has gone a little soft on supporting professional tools, but it sells an important professional workstation in the Apple Mac Pro. It may well be that rather than try to be the expert for all professions, Apple will continue to reach out the third parties to add targeted features.

One potentially great thing about the new photo apps is that they’ll make it much easier to move from device to device and access photos or stream them to devices including the TV or tablet. Beware, the boring family slide show is back and it can be shoved right in front of you no matter where you are.