What If You Couldn't Use Aperture?

by Micah Walter

Almost a year ago, Ben Long wrote a pretty nice article about how to move away from Aperture. He outlined a plan that would ensure that you would be able to preserve much of the work you have done in Aperture, should you decide to adopt a different application.

Back then, and even now, there has been much speculation as whether or not Aperture will make it. People have suggested that if Apple doesn’t grab hold of a certain portion of the market they may just dump the whole project altogether.

These types of rumors have been running around the internet since Aperture was launched, and while I don’t really see Apple dumping a product like Aperture anytime soon, talk like this does prompt me to think a little about things like image permanence in the digital world.

With film, the study of image permanence was a huge deal. All sorts of studies were done to prove or disprove the “archivalness” of film based materials. They studied the affects of UV radiation, humidity, and all sorts of other variables to determine how long we could plan on keeping our precious negatives around.

But, when digital photography became readily available to the public, we saw a whole new onslaught of issues arise along this same vein. The first ( and quite possibly the most talked about ) issue was the concept of RAW images.

Camera makers began offering their proprietary RAW image data from their cameras in addition to a processed Jpeg or large TIFF file. I think this was partly due to a demand for more control over the image and partly a way for camera makers to sort of show how much they cared about their customers. Remember, there is nothing stopping Canon or Nikon from only writing TIFFs and Jpegs, aside from the influences of their customers.

But, photographers never really even knew about RAW until camera manufacturers started offering it. I’m not really sure which came first, but the point is, somewhere along the line, we photographers got obsessed with the word RAW.

Along comes Aperture

When Apple announced Aperture, one of the biggest selling points was its ability to simplify a RAW workflow. Apple showed us that one software application could handle all sorts of RAW image types and with a seamless and enjoyable user experience. And I believe they did a fine job. I personally shoot nothing but RAW anymore, and Aperture continues to be the focal point of my workflow.

It’s a pleasure to be able to work with RAW files so easily in Aperture, and I have to say, I’m hooked. But one other thing that Aperture introduced ( for me anyway ) was a really seamless and non-destructive work environment. Now I feel like I can work without having to worry about hurting my original artwork. My “negatives” are always safe, never touched by human or computer hands, and stored neatly and in an organized manner within my archive.

But what if Aperture dies? What if all of the sudden Apple drops the product, or even worse, what if for some reason I just can’t get Aperture to open on my machine?

Obviously the later is a temporary problem I will probably be able to solve, but the former is much more daunting. What do I do?

Well, I suppose it would really have to do with how extensive the work I had done with Aperture had been. I mean, all of my original files are always going to be safe and sound, even though they are in proprietary format. I have them all stored neatly in a referenced archive, so I can always get at them with other applications without a problem ( and I should probably be doing this already), but what about all my Versions and Masters, and Metadata.

Well, Ben’s article describes some good ways to deal with this stuff, but I have to wonder how “universal” of an approach this would be, and how labor intensive this would be? In other words, what should I be doing differently to preserve the data I am creating on a daily basis in Aperture.

Many people have been talking to me about exporting XMP sidecar files. I think XMP has always been a good idea in some ways, but fails in others. The idea of a standardized approach to metadata is really good on paper, but may never fly in the real world. We shall just have to wait and see how it evolves. But the idea of a sidecar file is something sort of odd to me.

I guess sidecar files came from the non-destructive school of thought. Like, just create a little file that sits next to the “real” file that holds all the metadata. This way you are never actually touching the file.

To me this approach sounds a lot like the card catalog at the library. A system that was replaced by, you guessed it, a computer some twenty or thirty years ago. ( Well, they still use one here at the public library in Dominica, but that’s another discussion altogether. )

So where am I going with all of this. Well, I think what really needs to happen, aside from an open RAW format, or agreement on the DNG approach, or Canon and Nikon playing nice together, or peace in the Middle East, is a much more universal system with regards to digital imaging.

I’m not just talking about the image data, I’m talking about the meta-data, and all of the database instructions that Aperture or Lightroom writes when you make any changes to an image Version.

There should really be some type of package file thing. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but I am brainstorming here a little bit. There should be some type of single unit entity that can house a RAW file from any camera, its DNG equivalent (if you like that sort of thing), and all the metadata associated with that image. All stored in one, non-destructive format that anyone could read, openly.

Okay, maybe I am dreaming of a utopian imaging society somewhere in Bizarro World. But, really, what would you do if all of the sudden there was no more Aperture? Same goes for you Lightroom aficionados! How would you deal?!?!


2007-12-07 07:34:33
Quick addition: I just noticed that Ben Long's article in fact was published exactly one year ago today!
Fazal Majid
2007-12-07 08:47:43
The underlying database for Aperture is an open-source SQLite one, and the database schema, while bizarre due to Core Data cruftiness, is quite easy to reverse engineer. Exporting from Aperture is quite easy, and if Apple orphans the product, I am sure some small developer will step up to the plate to write an exporter, or possibly Adobe itself.
Scott Hughes
2007-12-07 10:04:14
I do like the idea of a standard package file but I have a fear that it just turn into a war of package file. Just look at the issues that we have in video. I'm not even going into the codecs just the packaging themselves (.mov, .mp4, .avi, .mkv) all perfectly valid and sensible but all different to varying degrees :)
2007-12-07 11:56:46
wow its gonna be a long, rough road to Macworld if this is the kind of topics covered till Aperture ver 2.0

Doesn't Derrick have Joe Shorr's cell ph#?Can't he call him and ask him whats going on? :-)

Can't we even get a "just watch Macworld" teaser from the product manager?:-)

I certainly hope Joe and his team was watching blogs like this one and realizing that the app better grow soon or it will look pretty stale. I have my workflow pretty much hooked on the All in One approach and I quite like the app and want to see where it goes!

random bob, a.r.c.
2007-12-07 22:34:59
I really really REALLY hope apple's working on a 2.0 update, or at least a dramatic "dot" increase. Aperture's pretty decent for me now on a new MacBook 2.2 C2D w/ 4GB RAM, but it COULD be better. Highlights & Shadows, anyone? Or, how about H&S and THEN trying the Loupe... Yeah right.

I think the basic idea of AP is fantastic. But it's time to button down the loose flaps, and get this ship sailing straight, huh?

SPEED SPEED SPEED is numero uno. Number two is being able to set up user-definable workspaces. I HATE having to constantly resize this and that to get it where I want it; I want to hit a button and go to "MY" edit mode, and then hit another button to go to "MY" browse mode, etc.

There's a post over @ www.bagelturf.com about speeding up Aperture. Some of the advice may be questionable, and certainly is questioned in the comments. Reading the comments gives you perhaps some hope that a few tweaks here & there could really make AP a real blaze of glory.

This, of course, assuming that Apple hasn't internally dumped the program :-(

random bob, a.r.c.
2007-12-07 22:38:35
OH, and about Apple stopping development on it: Just because they halt development doesn't mean we'd all suddenly have to stop using it. It'd still be there. You won't have to necessarily export anything. If better comes along later, you COULD just leave what's in AP in AP, and then start importing to your new program of choice, leaving your older images in AP, and going back to it when you need to grab images out of it's library. Basically use it as a storage database once you "move on," if that day ever came.

I mean, shit, I'm still using PS elements 2.0. I don't even want to guess how old it really is. But nothing's stopping me from using it so I use it. yes there's better, but it was free (with the purchase of camera) and meets my needs.

nate Berggren
2007-12-07 23:07:06
I believe DNG is the open package file format you're trying to brainstorm. It encapsulates the raw camera data along with the XMP sidecar data (or metadata) into one file. You can optionally embed the original camera raw format (CR2, NEF, etc.), which can be extracted at a later date.
Douglas Stetner
2007-12-08 00:08:44
@random bob
> I'm still using PS elements 2.0

You won't be when you move to leopard! It does not seem to run on leopard. But I do get your point, now, I have the choice of staying at Tiger and using PS Elements 2 or moving to leopard.....

Kjell Are Refsvik
2007-12-08 00:49:40

Great subject. I am currently in the middle of my masters degree and have chosen to discuss open metadata standards in digital image libraries and how to prepare for the future.

My personal opinion is that you should always plan for the demise of your favourite tool. and this does idea not only apply to your image library, but ideally to everything you do your a computer.

Being designed in an open fashion, I am not too afraid about a scenario where Apple would scrap Aperture. I still have fairly well structured data and could see myself tapping into them to make a transition to a new solution.

However. The question is still sound, and you could argue that making a workflow that was more suited to a future scenario where Aperture is gone is sensible. I am in the process of setting up my own workflow to add as much metadata as I can before images are entered into Aperture, and switching to a referenced model in Aperture. By having a structured folder of images that are renamed as they come in from the card to reflect the time they are shot along with a manually entered keyword to be able to identify them, I think I will be in an even better position to move my stuff to another piece of sw if that situation should become necessary.

Looking at Aperture and Lightroom together, from the bottom up, I think that Apple has done a good job of designing both the tool and a way of structuring data that is as open as you could expect, given the need Aperture has for specialized data and structures to do its job. Opening up a project file may seem drastic, but as bagelturf.com did show us - it is not completely garbled binary data in there and we do know how to handle it if it became necessary.

An alternative I have been looking at is FotoStation from FotoWare. Version 6 (beta) still stores data within the file itself and and included metadata is a very interesting way to go in terms of simplifying the tools you use and prepare for a future tool emergency.

However, the tradeoff between loosing some of that openness in favour of radically better image and metadata adjustments tools (in Aperture) is a main issue for me, so I will prepare for a future without Aperture, but will do so inside Aperture and be fairly certain that I could recover with a fair amount of grace should that situation occur.

Kjell Are Refsvik

Daniel Kasaj
2007-12-08 11:57:07
There will never be a universal metadata storage method - not unless we drop all but one image processor.
Every RAW converter out there has its own functions, calculations and interpretations. And the competition between them, for us the end users, is a good thing.
2007-12-10 05:34:55
I agree that as long as there are different RAW Converter algorithms, there will NEVER be a single and open standard, which you could use to migrate your pictures from one solution to the other back and forth.

Being a little creative here: maybe the solution would be a small tool, that takes a RAW, looks at the resulting JPG-conversion done with Converter A and then "translates" this conversion into the Converter settings of Converter B. It could do this by simply comparing the RGB-Curves of the output file or some other generic measurement of brightness, saturation, contrast etc. so that the result of Converter B would be as close as possible to that from A.