Review: What a photographer thinks of Aperture 3.3

I’ve waffled between using Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3 as my primary post-processing programs about as often I’ve waffled between deciding if Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is the best British heavy metal band. (For the record, Up the Irons!) However, once the iPad 3(s AAPL) came out,  I cast my lot with Aperture because of its easy interaction with iOS. While I could export images from Lightroom to iPhoto with some add ons, it was too much of a pain and I liked being able to just sync photos from Aperture.
I’d be lying if it was a match made in heaven.  Overall I found Aperture slow, especially when previewing images. However, with Aperture 3.3, recently introduced at WWDC, I find myself singing its praises. There are three things I’m going to share with you that I really like: faster previews, better white balance and shared iPhoto and Aperture libraries.

Faster preview after import

Aperture now has an option to use the camera preview of images after import. This reduces that lengthy period after an import where Aperture pretty much let you do nothing. As someone for whom a light day of shooting means 150+ images, this is a life saver. I’ve noticed an overall improvement in image previews. I can’t tell if it’s because Aperture is still using the camera previews, or if they just made the program snappier overall.

Better white balance

Most often, I’m doing event photography (car shows, bands, demolition derbies and the like). None of these are known for great lighting and stationary models. As a result, if a photo captured the mood perfectly, but required too much post-processing to make it presentable, I’d just skip over it.
When I read that Apple included a skin tone white balance in this latest version I was intrigued. Most of the time I’d do a manual white balance filter by choosing a section of the image that was the most neutral and praying for a good result. To test the feature out, I experimented with an image of my friend Neal playing in a poorly lit club with a can light right above his head.

Left image is the original; right is with skin tone white balance applied.

It’s still not a great image. Some of the orange of the guitar is lost, but the skin tone is a little better and the coloring on the shirt is more accurate. I was impressed with how well Aperture handled the image though. This shot is a good representation of the conditions I shoot in and I can’t wait to use the skin white balance on the next band shoot.
Using the white-balance setting is easy. On the Adjustments tab, choose skin tone white balance and then use the eye dropper to choose the flesh area you want to balance the image against.

Shared iPhoto and Aperture libraries

You can finally share libraries between iPhoto and Aperture now (although only one program can access the library at a time). This helps keep unified libraries if you use the Add Image to iPhoto feature of Safari, or want to use iPhoto to do a quick import. Where I hope this is leading to is the next version of iPhoto that will allow albums and events created in iPhoto for iOS to show up on OS X.

Final thoughts

While I’ve read some people saying that Aperture 3.3 could be considered Aperture 4.0, I don’t share that view. While the features list is lengthy, there aren’t enough improvements to warrant a 4.0 version tag. That said, since the release of this version was tied to the introduction of the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple could have just upgraded it for the Retina display and called it a day. What these improvements do tell me is that Apple is serious about this program and its future.