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Aperture 3.3: The ApertureExpert Review

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June 14, 2012 - 5:00pm

While is already full of posts and tips on specific features in Aperture and the new Aperture 3.3, I also wanted to write a more standard review of the upgrade, to discuss not only what’s been added or changed, but also to address many of the comments and concerns I’m reading online. I’ve seen it referred to as “no longer pro” and as a step towards a forced iPhoto migration (to iPhoto, not from), a C|NET article called the most significant feature “support for AVCHD”, and one particularly well known photographer made a high profile exodus to Lightroom immediately following the 3.3 announcement. These observations are not only completely wrong, but frankly, bad journalism. Let’s get started.

As a full disclaimer to anyone reading this who isn’t a regular visitor to, yes I’m going to be largely biased towards this upgrade because I have a financial foothold in this game. I make part of my living through this site, and therefore the last thing I want is for people to leave Aperture or otherwise trash it in the press. I’m also a former Apple employee who was intimately involved in the original launch of Aperture, so I may be better at reading between the lines than many. I’m a professional photographer, and use Aperture to manage my own photos, and have zero desire to switch to Lightroom. That said, I will be as un-biased as I can in this article — but it also means I’m going to look for the silver lining :)

Common Reactions

I’ll start with some of the big, overarching topics, questions and misconceptions that are spreading around the interwebs, then I’ll dive into individual features after that.

Where’s 4.0?

Everyone, myself included, expected to see an Aperture 4.0 or Aperture X announced, well, now-ish. Of course that could still be coming, but this release is a 3.3, and that little number has a lot of people jumping up and down. So here are a few thoughts on the 4.0 vs 3.3 versioning.

  1. It’s just a number. Who cares what it’s called.
  2. By not making it a 4.0, it’s a free update. The Mac App Store model is set such that completely new versions are paid (and there’s no paid upgrade path for any app beyond dot-releases), so if this were a 4.0, you’d have to spend $79 to get it. By making it 3.3, it’s free. The version number model is largely obsolete now, and we should start getting used to that.
  3. Obviously there aren’t that many new features in this release, so if it were called 4.0, we’d have some pretty unhappy folks out there.
  4. However all of that does not make this an insignificant update. It took two years to get here, and the vast majority of the changes are under the hood. We’ll get into all that.
  5. What this release does do is lay the groundwork for some significant upgrades in the future.

Retina display support… so what?

I’ve seen this referred to as nothing more than eye candy, but that completely misses the point of Retina display support. It’s not about making a pretty UI, at all. It’s about seeing more of your photo at 1:1 pixels (100% zoom) then you ever could before. If you don’t know why that’s important, then you aren’t a professional photographer. Any photographer who does this for a living knows that you have to zoom into your photo at 1:1 to look for any retouching that needs to be done. Tiny things sensor spots, stuck camera pixels, or even a stray hair can be completely invisible when viewing the image at less than 1:1, because you’re literally looking at every second, or third, or fourth pixel (depending on how far you’ve zoomed out). Until you zoom in to 100%, you don’t know what’s hiding in there.

On the standard 15.4” MacBook Pro display, which is 1440 × 900 pixels, a 21 Megapixel photo at 5616 × 3744 zoomed to 100% means you can only view roughly 1/16 of the photo at once. To view the entire picture, you have to pan left to right four times, then down and back four more times, for a total of 16 “panes” of viewing. That’s a lot of scrolling. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, you’ve never edited 100 photos on a deadline.

On the 15.4” Retina display, which is 2880 × 1800 pixels, that same 21 Megapixel photo at 100% is less than 4x the size of the screen. You only have to pan once to the right, and once down. Four “panes” instead of 16. That is massively important. You can see much more of your photo at once.

Now, extrapolate that out to the future of desktop displays. I’m currently sitting in front of a 27” iMac with a 2560 × 1440 pixel screen. One day this will go Retina, and that means something like 5120 × 2880. That is nearly the entire 21 Megapixel image at 100%, so very little panning at all. The implications of this are huge.

Finally, let’s not forget that this isn’t just about looking at more of your image at once. Aperture has to process 4x the data at once than it did before. I’m not a software engineer, but I think it’s safe to say that this was not trivial. I’m sure this required many, many engineering hours to achieve.

It’s becoming iPhoto Pro, isn’t it…

Features like the Unified Library, which means that the same library can be opened by both iPhoto and Aperture, has led some to believe that we’re being weaned off of Aperture. However, quite the opposite is true. While it is a nice convenience to be able to open your Aperture library in iPhoto, I don’t see myself or too many pros doing this. What it does mean is that iPhoto users can more easily move to Aperture. Apple wants users to buy Aperture once they outgrow iPhoto, and iPhoto is so candy-colored-glossy that if you want to get serious at all about your photo editing, you have to go to Aperture. Previously this was a major headache; now it’s completely seamless. As easy as it is now, I’m sure many will go from iPhoto to Aperture that otherwise wouldn’t have, or worse (for Apple), otherwise would have moved to Lightroom. There are more advantages to the feature which I’ll discuss below.

The removal of the RAW Fine Tuning adjustment from the default set, the inclusion of the “Pro Auto Enhance”, and the expansion of White Balance to include skin tone white balancing is not taking anything away from the professional, it’s simply making it easier for the non-pro to get pro-quality results. And it’s makes it easier and less confusing for new users to move into Aperture. As someone who trains on Aperture, I’m all for anything that makes it easier to use. That means we can all spend more time working on actual photos and less time figuring out where the buttons are.

Naming convention changes, such as “Master” is now “Original” and “Metadata” is now “Info”, also make it easier for the newbie to understand. Heck, “Master” was confusing from the beginning, so I’m glad to see that change. Admittedly I’m not happy to see the Metadata changed to Info. But, it’s just a name.

Wait, I need Lion?!

Yes, you do. Aperture 3.3 requires OS X Lion 10.7.4. Which means all Snow Leopard users are out of luck. Why oh why would this be the case, you ask? I can see two clear reasons to make a requirement like this. These are speculation, but logical speculation.

  1. There are core technologies in Lion that do not exist in Snow Leopard, and Aperture 3.3 may require them. So, quite simply, it won’t run. Would you rather have increased performance, stability, and new features — or be limited by an outdated operating system that’s about to be two generations old? Lion is a cheap upgrade. Mountain Lion will only be $20. Time to upgrade.
  2. Forward-looking software is always designed with the best hardware in mind. If you’re a gamer, don’t you want games designed to do amazing things and take advantage of the latest and greatest hardware, even if you don’t own it? Apple wants to deliver the best technology it can, and that requires modern hardware. Of course the app has to perform on older hardware as well, but anything that can’t run Lion is pretty old by computer hardware standards, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. I have a 2009 Mac Mini that is running Lion and can run Aperture. The only Mac in the house that can’t run Lion is a MacBook Pro that my kids use, and that’s from 2007, I believe. Heck even if it could run Lion, the last thing I’d want to do today is edit a 21 Megapixel photo on that computer. A line has to be drawn, and by using the OS as the gatekeeper, it keeps too-old-hardware from running this modern software, and potentially giving the user a bad experience.

That’s it, Aperture’s dead isn’t it.

This is by far the most frustrating thing I keep hearing. Since Aperture 4 wasn’t released, then obviously, clearly, this is a “maintenance release” and Apple is getting ready to kill Aperture, right?

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Let us examine the evidence.

  1. Two years of engineering went into what on the surface is a free, minor update, yet as you dig in, clearly is much more. No sane company puts two years into something they will make no money on.
  2. The seemingly “minor” changes are mostly about compatibility and performance. Compatibility with the absolute newest, best, most advanced Mac that Apple has ever made — their new flagship model, the MacBook Pro with Retina display. And performance for all users of Aperture, where speed and stability have been improved dramatically in many, many regards. This is not something you do for software you’re about to kill.
  3. Not only is it built for the flagship Mac, Aperture is being featured prominently in Apple’s marketing and advertising for the new MacBook Pro. What’s on the top of and all over right now? A MacBook Pro running Aperture. What is the first app you see on the new television ad for the MacBook Pro with Retina display? Aperture. In fact there are only three apps shown — Aperture, Mail (to send a photo from Aperture!), and Final Cut Pro X. And in the ad, we actually go from Aperture to Mail to FCPX then back to Aperture. That is prominent placement. Apple would not be putting Aperture all over the place if they were going to drop it.


So, there you have my thoughts on the state of the app, and its future, which I am confident is completely sound.


Now, let’s get into the features. The first few are straight off the Aperture marketing page, followed by the less obvious changes. I’ve also included “Pro” or “Consumer” (or both) tags next to each main feature, as I gauge its relevance, simply because some people are saying this is not a pro upgrade.

Aperture and iPhoto Unified Library (Consumer)

As described above under “It’s becoming iPhoto Pro, isn’t it?”, the Unified Library makes it easier for users to migrate from iPhoto to Aperture. But it’s more than that. Many of us are in multi-camera households, and maybe even multi-computer households. If you use Aperture but your spouse prefers iPhoto and you share a computer, you no longer have to maintain multiple libraries. You can each run your app of choice, while looking at the same Library. Or if you’re each on different computers, you can easily merge Libraries from separate imports, or even export a piece of your Library from Aperture for iPhoto, and merge it back in later. This is fantastically powerful and flexible.

Advanced White Balance (Pro + Consumer)

The original Temperature and Tint controls are still there, so anyone claiming a loss of these features hasn’t bothered to click on the drop-down menu. The new Natural Grey and Skin Tone settings are nothing short of amazing. We first saw these in iPhoto for iPad, and I for one was gagging to get these in Aperture. I immediately opened up photos I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory white balance on, and with just a few clicks saw a version of my photo I’ve never seen before. Skin Tone white balance utilizes face detection to choose to switch to that mode automatically (Faces must be enabled for Aperture to determine a human is in the photo, and switch to the Skin Tone option — or you can set it manually if you don’t use Faces). Plus, you can now brush in white balance, which is huge! White Balance may actually be my favorite improvement in Aperture 3.3.

Improved Highlights & Shadows (Pro)

This is another feature that has gotten a lot of flack. The old Highlights & Shadows tool had two primary sliders — Highlights and Shadows — and five secondary advanced sliders, including Mid Contrast, plus four more. These advanced sliders were largely required to eliminate the halo effect that could very easily be achieved by over-using the primary sliders. The new Highlights & Shadows tool includes only three sliders — Highlights, Shadows and Mid Contrast. So on first glance, it appears that functionality has been removed.

However the new H&S tool is not a simple upgrade (or downgrade), nor is it a simple removal-of-features. It’s a completely new tool, with completely new algorithms that include the ability to pull out-of-range data into the photo, which the original tool did not. The mid contrast slider can be used on its own (with impressive results), whereas before it only functioned if you first adjusted the highlights or shadows. Overall it’s easier to get great results, and in many cases you get better results. The tool is quite simply better. Yes, there will be fringe cases where you could have gotten a better effect with the old tool, but guess what — the old tool is still there. The code has to be there, because any photo that was previously adjusted with the legacy Highlights & Shadows tool needs to have access to it (just as every RAW decoder, since 1.0, is still in Aperture as well). It’s easy to get it back — I wrote a tutorial on that here.

It’s worth noting that while the sliders in Highlights & Shadows go to 100, you can actually drag in the numeric input and get the Highlights up to 150, and both the Shadows and Mid Contrast up to 200.

Professional Auto Enhance (Pro + Consumer)

This single button applies an “auto adjust” of up to five adjustments simultaneously — White Balance, Exposure, Enhance, Curves, and Highlights & Shadows. If you look closely, Enhance and Highlights & Shadows don’t even have an auto button, so this effect gives you something extra right there. But notice I said it applies “up to” five adjustments. Depending on the image, some of those may not be applied if Aperture doesn’t determine that they are needed. And the results are usually very, very good. You can batch apply this auto enhance effect to as many photos as you like. You can even automatically apply the effect on import. If you don’t like it, it’s a single click to revert to original (using the new Revert to Original button, it’s even easier to do than before).

Some people complain that this automation is frivolous and unnecessary in a professional environment. That is armchair professionalism talking. Anyone who does this for a living knows that time is money, and the faster I can get my photos looking great and out the door, the better.

I will confess that I’m not a fan of the icon (it’s a magic wand), as that is very amateurish looking — god forbid a client sees me click a magic wand icon. (Hint: give it a keyboard shortcut, and they will think you are a magician!) Plus I think it was silly to move the gear menu to the bottom of the Adjustments palette, since that’s no where near the histogram that it controls, and also since there’s plenty of room for it next to the Auto Enhance button (the Effects menu button is bigger than it needs to be), but that’s minor. Also you can right-click on the histogram itself to access many of the controls that are in the gear menu.

Fast Browsing Camera Previews (Pro)

This improvement is difficult to appreciate until you actually import a large card full of images and are on a deadline to get them out the door. The speed improvement on importing and browsing is nothing short of phenomenal. First, some background.

When Aperture 3.0 was released, it included a new feature to utilize the “camera preview” on RAW files. Almost every RAW file created has a JPEG “preview” file embedded into it. This is what you see when you are looking at the back of your camera; you’re not looking at the actual RAW file. Aperture 3 for the first time actually used that JPEG file at the time of import. It would extract the JPEG from the RAW and present that on screen, then in the background eventually replace that camera JPEG with its own generated JPEG preview. This made import feel dramatically faster than Aperture 1 and 2, even though the complete import process actually took longer. The advantage was you could see your images faster, and that was what was important.

Now however, via a new preference to use “Camera Previews” (the alternate preference being to use “Standard Previews”, which reverts to the pre-3.3 method of importing), when you import photos, the camera JPEG is used and kept, and Aperture preview generation is deferred until you actually load an image — and that’s only if you have Preview generation turned on. If it’s off, you will always see the camera JPEG while waiting for the full RAW decode. This means that you can start making selects based on the camera JPEGs virtually immediately after clicking the import button. Most professional cameras generate full-size JPEG previews, so you are potentially looking at full size images to make your selects.

This is largely how Photo Mechanic works, with one major exception — Photo Mechanic makes you wait until all the images are off the card before you can browse imported photos. Many photojournalists I know who are using Aperture still used Photo Mechanic to import because it was so fast. They would then import their selects into Aperture. Now, they can go straight to Aperture and still have that amazing speed. You have to try it to truly appreciate the speed difference.

It’s worth noting that if you have Aperture’s preview generation turned off, every time you select an image, you will first see the camera JPEG, then shortly thereafter see Aperture’s rendering from the RAW file. It’s quite likely that you will see at minimum a gamma shift as the RAW render snaps into view. Most of us have seen this behavior after import (as the camera JPEGs were replaced), but now we’ll see them when we click on an image. If you have preview generation turned on, then you’ll only see this once.

Another improvement is that Aperture will cache the next RAW file in the list while you’re working on the one before it, so when you do advance to it, chances are it will already be drawn.

Improved Performance and Stability (Pro + Consumer)

It’s only a single line in the marketing bullet list, but this is hundreds of fixes. Every user so far has reported a snappier, more stable Aperture since the upgrade. No matter if you use Aperture once a month or all day long, this is of course a beautiful thing.

Monochrome Interface (Pro)

I’m calling this a “Pro” feature because it’s only going to make things harder on consumers… and to be honest, I think it’s harder on many pros, too. The new UI is largely devoid of any color, which does make sense in an app where critical color correction can be influenced by the existence of any other colored objects on the screen. But honestly, if your correction is that critical, you can go full screen and drop the entire UI away. In my opinion, which is shared by many others, this was unnecessary and actually makes it harder to find things at a glance. The blue Albums vs the purple Smart Albums were a nice visual differentiation. The colored toolbar icons were easy to identify. Now, they all tend to blend together.

Maybe my perspective will change over time, but unfortunately I’m not a fan. About the only positive I can say is that it does look more professional, and the old Aperture now does look a bit… cartoonish.

Vignette + Devignette (Pro + Consumer)

This is a small but welcome change. There were (and still are) two adjustments; Vignette and Devignette. However now they are combined into one, giving Vignette a negative slider to devignette an image. You should never need to add the Devignette tool again (it’s still there for pre-existing photos).

UPDATE 2012-06-14: There is a difference after all between the Vignette and Devignette. Devignette is applied before the crop, so as you crop an image, there’s no difference to how the devignette is applied. The Vignette adjustment, now featuring a negative-vignette capability, is applied after the crop.

32-bit support dropped

Yep, Aperture 3.3 drops 32-bit support so any old 32-bit plugins will no longer work. But to be fair, Aperture went 64-bit with 3.0 two years ago, and Lion is 64-bit with 32-bit support, but Mountain Lion will be 64-bit only. It’s time to move on. If your favorite plugin still hasn’t been updated, then I think it’s safe to say it won’t be. They’ve had time.

Other stuff

There are other small updates, such as added support for AVCHD Video, the ability to set the desktop photo from within Aperture, and the ability to manually rearrange projects in the Project view. You can now change the background brightness for the browser in full screen mode, your online albums are displayed in a friendly icon view, and you have a most recent as well as a last nn months (adjustable) collection under the new “Recent” section in the Library tab. This tab also looks more like iPhoto, for those making the transition. For those using Faces, you can drag unnamed faces to a Faces collection to add them, as well as reorder the faces in the Faces view.

There is also an undocumented improvement in the Referenced File manager; Aperture seems to find the photo you’re looking for somewhat automatically as you click on the enclosing folder.


My overall impression…

No, it’s not a 4.0, and yes, I was hoping for more — but this is a very robust and important upgrade. It lays the foundation for a much bigger release down the road, and gives us a glimpse of where things are headed. There are, without question, features many of us are anxious to see and hope are in the next release, such as improved noise reduction and sharpening, built-in lens distortion correction, a gradient tool, better pressure-sensitive tablet support, a built-in store for Effects/presets (yeah, that one’s for me!), iPad integration, and many more things I’m probably not thinking of right now. And yes I’m aware that Lightroom has many of those features already, but this isn’t a comparison article. The two apps constantly leapfrog each-other, and we all know that Lr played catch-up in the latest release quite a bit.

What it really comes down to is, “can I do my job with Aperture 3.3?”, and the answer is of course a resounding YES. I can not only do my job, I can do it better and faster than I could a few days ago. And this will only get better.

Apple Aperture

Thanks for this review. I have to admit I was pretty shell-shocked from the early comments about the release, but I understand your arguments, and I am glad that Apple don’t seem to have bollocksed things up, other than a few UI gaffs, which seems par for the course these days.

Aperture has been my sole reason for upgrading OS versions since Leopard, and I’m downloading Lion now, bowing to the inevitable.

I do plan to replace all the greyscale icons with the old coloured ones, however! As has been pointed out, this is easily done by copying the image resources from an old version into the new one. Whether this causes any trouble with updates, we’ll just have to see.

Well said sir! PS, I like the monochrome look (and people hate change). They’ll cope (hey, look how bland LR4 looks!). The other versions never matched where this product is pitched so this looks much better.

I’m mostly liking it to far though I noticed you can move the highlight slider quite a bit and have it not do that much (the effect is subtle). When you talk about pulling in out of range data, are you talking things like recoverable highlight and shadow data from the raw file (a trick that Lightroom seems to have picked up in version 4)?

Thanks for the open, honest and biased review! We have to vote in life and you did it. Great. I have both Aperture and Lightroom for a mix of reasons - one being simply to cover all possible photo developing possibilities and integration with Adobe, which actually has a lot to say in the photo world. However: which product do I use by default? Aperture. It’s intuitive and so beautifully integrated into the Mac set up that life goes better (even without the coke!). Lightroom has managed to become awkward. Too many screens and phases to move through. But while simplicity can be a benefit, it can actually render a product, or just the perception of it, unsophisticated. Apple do need to watch this risk as not all customers are American and some of the naming changes are inclined towards the ‘dumbing down’ trend of many marketing operations. Anyway, I will now go deeper into the new Aperture profile and set it up as I wish. Ciao from Rome.

I frickin’ love Aperture, and I frickin’ love this site, and I frickin’ love Joseph Linaschke.

This site alone is reason to stick with Aperture.

Joseph, thanks for the clear review and without the emotive hoopla.

Those who find the new version not to their liking should remember back to Aperture 1. Such promises and so hard to work with. Just imagine if we had out 36megapixel files working in that environment. We’d still be waiting for the first one to load.

I work in a iPhoto/Aperture environment, so am looking at being able to dispense with moving images up and down stairs via ‘sneaker net, on a USB stick.’

I like your thought that the future is where AP3.3 is looking. We don’t play ‘pong’ anymore as we now have much more sophisticated hardware or gamers and as camera technology is not going to stand still it looks like the is some future proofing being set up for us. All that looks good.

We saw Retina on the iPhone and ohed and ahed, but now as it comes to the larger screens with heaps of processing power, how exciting.

Perhaps the interface gnome at Apple is color-challenged and only sees gray?
I’m ambivalent about it. I’ve never been really comfortable with the ALL black on the floating HUD anyway.
Just there is something nice and Apple about the little color icons ins’t there. After all life is not just about work, but aesthetics as well.

Your post has inspired me on the future of Aperture so thanks again for the input.


Like mr kgoo this site is one of the reasons that I stick with Aperture.

I agree … a very reasoned, logical assessment on what 3.3 is, not what it is perceived to be … I’m so tired of the passionate knee-jerk rants that accomplish little if any positive results. Thanks for doing a good job in representing the facts …

A simple upgrade that I love is the ability to inverse the crop ratio quickly by using the opposing arrow button between width and height.

One connected thing is the forthcoming release of OSX Mountain Lion. Some of the changes here are likely related to that, even if they are not visible to the users.

However I was very miffed to read that my excellent Mac Pro 1,1 workstation (twin Xeon 3Ghz Dual Core, 10Gb RAM, 4TB HDD) WON’T be supported for Mountain Lion.

There’s nothing wrong with this Mac - it’s faster than the new Mac Mini my wife has just bought by several orders of magnitude. I hate that I will be expected - and eventually almost forced - to replace it like this.

It’ll be fine for a while, I will just keep on trucking with Lion. But betcha that within 18 months of ML being released we start seeing apps and features that only work in ML.

We have 3 Macs in the business - 2 will run ML and one will not! I will have to see whether to do that or run Lion on all just for the sake of familiarity on each one.

Joseph I might of missed this from the above review. Fixing the color management problem was for me the biggest improvement. Little know problem but they took the Pro side of customer service and fixed it.
Twitter= @davidbmoore
Scottsdale AZ

Thanks for the honest hands on review. I couldn’t agree with you more.
Like many the ability to make adjustments to iPhoto pictures right from Aperture is huge for me as I keep both libraries (iPhoto = family wife friendly interface and Aperture = creative photos needing more adjustment ability) and this now gives us an easier round trip. I keep forgetting to check but I wonder if this will also allow us to sync photos from both libraries to i devices at same time. Right now you can sync one or the other.

I feel this update was the Aperture teams way of saying be patient big things are coming. Not only have they had the 2 years since the last release but they now know what LR4 has. Maybe I’m being optimistic but I have a feeling that A4 is going to be big and that we won’t hear anything until the next Apple event. A3 was released without being mentioned at one but I really feel that the next will be and will be BIG. Just a gut feeling on this.

As for the well know photographer that is ditching Aperture, didn’t he announce that he will be retiring soon? Interesting that he would switching now.

I know I don’t write here often but thanks for a great site.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs when I say I don’t think it’s quite as big of a deal as you think it is. I mean, if Apple did it right on the Mac (like they did with iOS) retina display support would take a lot work for a big app like Aperture, but not two years of work. Syncing the iPhoto and Aperture libraries does take a bit of work to make sure the migration goes smoothly, and that’s good for Aperture in the future because it means when Apple updates iPhoto they can also offer improvements to Aperture as well. There’s another thing that is also means (and hopefully this doesn’t slow Apple), but if Apple wants to change the iPhoto library is HAS to change Aperture as well – at least for fixes that are within the library structure itself.

As far as Lion only and 64 bit only - I’m not surprised and don’t think it’s too big a deal. Lion only is more than likely to make retina display support much easier for Apple. Dropping old features allows apple to slim down the app to be faster.

As far as the monochrome interface - I really don’t like it. I mean, Apple could easily have used a check box. But it also says something else about Aperture. The higher-ups at Apple are paying attention. iTunes, Finder (10.7) and other OS X apps are going that direction, and the fact that I don’t like Aperture’s changes is no exception. I’ve given up modifying OS X and iTunes to bring back the color because I frequently run developer builds. I *may* hack color back into Aperture. For someone who has visual impairments, the monochrome library sidebar REALLY has slowed me down in the past couple days. I also think Monochrome is very inconsistent right now in OS X because many of the icons are color in other places.

As far as H&S tool goes. I’m very excited. In limited testing the new one does work much better, and I’m glad we can get the old one back if need be. :) That’s a great find.

The miscellaneous improvements. I really wish apple has a list of what a lot of these are because I had a few bugs which I was hoping to check if they were worked out. But this is a great update and Aperture does run much better on my system so I’m not complaining to much. :)

As far as the future of Aperture –I’m very excited for it. The fact that it got mentioned on stage at WWDC and in these ads is far more attention than it’s ever gotten from Apple before. I think Apple is still committed to the pro market, but I think they’re suffering growth pains right now.

So, anyways - great article as always, and I’m excited for the future of Aperture! :)

Excellent review. The timing of this release was funny for me. I bought Aperture 3.0 a long time ago, but was a bit overwhelmed and stuck with iPhoto. Eventually I did some training videos for Aperture, and decided it was about time. I manually imported every iPhoto Album through the import browser, and just as I had finished, Aperture 3.3 was released (literally within the hour). Oh well, it was worth doing it manually anyway because I had a lot of cleaning to do.

The monochrome theme is better, but not for new users. Again, the timing worked well for me because after watching the videos, I played with Aperture for quite some time before starting to migrate. So while the color icons helped in the beginning, they’re a bit distracting, and I prefer the monochrome. That said, I wish Apple would give the option in preferences for this (in *all* their apps, including the Finder).

Overall, I’m very pleased with Aperture and really like the 3.3 upgrade. You nailed it in the review… the ability to share libraries with iPhoto is a really great feature that welcomes people into the Aperture upgrade.

The more and more I read your website, buy a few things and LEARN ~ the more I really enjoy supporting this website. Well Said!

Very helpful review, thank you.
I think the new grayscale UI is similar to, and a compliment to Joseph’s ApertureExpert website use of grayscale tones - easy on the eye.

Keith Merrick

Doesn’t the combined library potentially solve problems accessing services such as Blurb (which only had an iPhoto plug-in last I checked)?

Newbie here. I appreciate your review and look forward to learning more and supporting your site. Thanks so much.

Great review, I think you’ve covered the main points really well. I’m noticing real performance improvements on my 2011 MBP 13”, which is great.
My only gripe with the UI is not that it’s gray, but that you can’t select a “use small icons” option. Screen real estate is everything on the smaller MacBook screens.. I guess that’s why I tend to use full screen with HUDs most of the time.
I’m loving the new adjustment options - simpler but yet more professional. I’ve yet to check out referencing, but having seen the other post I’m feeling confident that relocating those files isn’t going to be as much of a pain in the A as it was before.
One thing this release has reinforced is that I’m glad this has been my number one choice for image management. With these changes, together with the Nik Plugins, I think I’ll finally be able to cut the strings to CaptureNX 2, which until this point has been my RAW processor of choice.
Can’t wait to see what Aperture 4 brings now…

This is a very informative review of Aperture 3.3. I could not agree more with your assessment of the monochrome appearance of Aperture 3.3. It took me only a full day of using the update to become used to it, but I miss the color icons. I love the new faster browsing,yes, yes, yes…. I was one of those who used Photo Mechanic for import and first cull. Lets see how well the speed performance on day to day use on my older MacPro and MacBook Pro 17” Laptop. I was using a new supped up iMac and I looking forward to up grading my machines in the near future. Also the Advanced White Balance with skin tone AMAZING! Thank you for drilling deep into these features and presenting them in an easy to understand motivation manner thank make me and other users want to play in Aperture all day long.


Bobby D.


For photographers:

Just found this site and I must say, it is amazing! The review of Aperture 3.3 is to the point, I could not agree more with what you say.

For me the difference between A 3.3 and the expected A 4 is only that I don’t have to pay 80$! Imagine all the new features and enhancements, a lot of work under the hood and all that for free!

Many other company would have packaged those new features in 1 or even 2 new versions, always askling for money! Thanks Apple.

Greetings from Switzerland


BEWARE – The latest Aperture Version 3.3 upgrades all Aperture Libraries to versions which are NOT READABLE under Snow Leopard. This is unlike prior upgrades such as 3.24. One must have Lion installed on a computer such as a laptop if one wishes to share files. I have just spent three hours undoing the error I made in accepting 3.3 onto my desktop Aperture. 3.3 would have rendered all my Aperture files incompatible with my laptop (which cannot be upgraded to Lion). Apple boxes us in to buy their newest computers by quietly rendering existing systems out of date.

This should be emphasized up front in the distribution of this trojan horse: a lion is hidden under the hood of Aperture 3.3 .



The upgrade dialog that pops up before converting your library is quite clear. It reads “Once upgraded, you will not be able to use this library with previous versions of Aperture”.

It’s not that the library isn’t readable under Snow Leopard, but that Aperture 3.3 requires Lion to run. Once you upgrade your library to require Aperture 3.3, well…


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Joseph, I’ve some question about the Aperture Update 3.3 and it’s Retina display ready feature: if I zoom to 1:1 with my macbook pro retina, what should I see? I ask you this cause I’m trying to use the “as 1920x1200” resolution, which is in reality 3840x2400 downscaled to 2880x1800… Does this cause a loss of quality in 1:1 zoom? I wonder if I have to be in “Retina optimized” resolution that is “as 1440x900”, losing the extra space on the screen. In fact, I was wondering if Aperture is affected by the downscaling of the OS or not, thanks to the update maybe, like if it renders and scale everything except the image you’re seeing.

Thank you and excuse me for my poor english skill, I’m Italian :)

Stefano, I have no idea. I don’t have a Retina MacBook Pro. Why are you trying to use the 1920x1200 resolution though? Doesn’t that pixel double everything and make it softer?


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It is not a real 1920x1200 resolution, but a 1920x1200 doubled at 3840x2400 scaled at 2880x1800. The new macbook pro has a different kind of adjustment in the display preference panel, which simply ask you if you want:

(1) the retina optimized resolution that is a 2880x1800 /2, which result in in a super crisp 1440x900 desktop that is the same of the previous 15” macbook pro (without HiRes BTO panel)
(2) a 3360x2100 always scaled at 2880x1800 that looks “as 1680x1050” resolution like the previous 15” macbook pro with HiRes BTO Panel, which has a little more space on the desktop obviously
(3) a 3840x2400 scaled at 2880x1800 that looks “as a 1920x1200” panel like the old 17” macbook pro, which has A LOT more space!!!

I Have not to tell you how this is handy in Aperture, it is amazing, but I cannot understand if it is involving the picture area of Aperture, resulting in a softer image cause of the OS scaling. But I’m wondering, if it is so, what is Aperture 3.3 doing versus the old version? If it is right, Aperture 3.2 will result in the same picture as 3.3, so Apple has done nothing in this update regarding the retina display!

I hope I’ve better explained mi thoughts… Thank you Joseph


What about running at the native 2880 × 1800 resolution? I’m confused why you don’t just run there… 


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cause the native retina resolution has exactly the same space on screen as my previous Macbook Pro that was 1440x900, the only difference is that the new one is crisp, the other not so much, so desktop space is exactly the same. Having more space would be a significant help when you have to use a laptop to adjust you images. Probably an english blog will explain this better than me:…

Thank you again.

Interesting. Thanks Stefano. I guess I just have to see one in person.


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I too noticed the use of Aperture in the commercials. It gave me a warm feeling knowing Apple was subtly saying they’re committed to it. Some pundits are pointing to Final Cut and the changes to vX and predicted that will happen here. But in that case Apple has added many of the old features back making many users happy. Anyone familiar with Apple knows they are always moving forward even step by step & not afraid to abandon old hardware or software. I think they learned the danger of trying to keep every user from MS Windows, watching the software bloat.

Although I’d hoped to see v4 this summer I always thought that Mountain Lion would come first. So I’m pretty happy with 3.3.

BTW one thing I really like about the unified libraries is that I can now purchase cards through iPhoto, something that Aperture doesn’t offer. Apple’s cards are very nice and a great way to share & sell photos.

Just wanted a couple of my thoughts relating to this article and the hoopla over this not being version 4. I seriously considered switching to LR4 mainly because I was not happy with the white balance results I had been getting with my images, especially the skin tones. I, in fact, bought LR4 and began using it for a just a few photos.

I gave up pretty quickly when I realized there was no way I had the time to learn a completely different way to ingest, cull and edit my images. I couldn’t even get my arms around the file structure method used. And to top it all off the initial version did not work with my Nik Plugins.

Now that Aperture 3.3 has been released, I have a whole new outlook on this program. White Balance being the number one update that I care about.

The second one that’s really the most important probably is the file management scheme. I’m now taking more photos than I ever have and have found an easy way to manage them using the tips from this website.

I have an almost 5 year old MacBook Pro with a 320gig internal drive. I’m only keeping my 2012 managed images on this drive. I carry a much larger external portable drive with a copy of my master library. I merge my 2012 library to the external portable and then when I get home clone the master library to another desktop drive.

I’m finding it a pleasure again to use Aperture and the info I get here on Aperture Expert a Godsend!

Thanks Joseph, I worked in media for over 20 years mainly as a location TV cameraman but started as a cadet photographer. Anyway I now without a shadow of a doubt that there is absolutely NO WAY they would have released V3.3 if they were going to drop it then 3.3.1 comes along. This reinforced my opinion of Aperture 4 sitting in waiting for Mountain Lion. They’ve had so long to work on it yet no show. I think they want to get it perfect but I tell you. If they don’t have lens distortion/control, I’ll FLIP. It’s one major downside to me as I love astro photography. The circular triply swirls are a nightmare and I have to use ACR 7.1

The import speed is fantastic, LR4 is a disgrace but they have great distortion control

I was very looking forward towards Aperture 3.3 especially the announced improvement of the so far best Highlights&Shadows tool of all RAW converters got me to joy. I’m a professional photographer focused on high quality mainly shooting people. I took my time to try it, but unfortunately I can not share your conclusions.

Actually I was shocked when going to edit my first photo with 3.3. Apertures biggest advantage over all other RAW converters is the variety of highlight adjustments. There is no other software that good in it.
So what I realized first is that the new highlights&shadows algorithm can not be used precise and is now at the same weak level of the one in CaptureOne Pro, it maybe can recover a bit more highlights but that is of no use when I can not control how it influences the whole picture. The problem is: the highlights reduction affects the mid tones too much while the shadow adjustment even lightens the not blown out highlights destroying the contrast in the picture. Yes you can use the curve and levels and mid contrast and contrast and definition to counter that but that takes ten times the time and still doesn’t come close to the old tool.
I can not vary the radius anymore which is absolutely essential, not because of halo reduction but because of how it dramatically influences the style of the picture. I can not set the Low and High Tonal With causing the above mentioned problem.
Halos never were a problem for me, you just need to know how to use which settings for what effect and it allows so much possible variations, it was perfect the way it worked.
But many possibilities require more time to learn the tool, while this is no problem for a pro user most consumers don’t even try.
Thanks to your site I still can use the old tool (trying to get it back brought me here) but the new algorithm is clearly a consumer feature that you can get with any other RAW converter on the market, even nikons Capture NX2 which is excellent in everything but highlights and workflow now achieves better results faster than Aperture 3.3 unless switching back to the old algorithm.

Another huge drawback is the new fullscreen mode, when I’m focused on editing a picture and want to go full screen to have less distraction / see a larger area the last two things I need are: Waiting and things moving across the screen. It completely destroys all focus.
Now overtime I press “f” I have to watch the doc and menu bar moving around the screen while the computer is powerful enough to do the switch instantly. This actually makes it impossible for me to work fast and precise the same time.

Also I miss the permanently visible sliders leaving me no indication how far I am in the project process and how many pictures are left to be done. Unless I switch to the next picture then they blink up for a second, causing distraction again. Although this maybe is a 10.7 problem.
(I am still running 10.6.8 on the MacPro and Installed Aperture 3.3. with 10.7 only on the MacBook Pro - never change a running system without a test run when you depend on earning money with it).

Monochrome Interface, I actually preferred the colored one because when focused on working with colors it’s easier to spot a symbol by it’s color. But maybe that’s just me?
When really focused Full Screen was the preferred choice anyway.

On the Good side one good thing that almost remained so far is the advanced white balance. Then again the ability do do a metering on skin tones is way more advanced in CaptureOne Pro and doesn’t work reliable in Aperture anyway so nothing gained here.
Well, I like the Unified Library with iPhoto although I don’t use it… ;)

Don’t get me wrong I hate to nag and I love(d) Aperture, although I use up to 3 RAW converters for a single project everything is based on it. And exactly this is why I am very afraid that it maybe could end up sharing the same fate as Final Cut.
Good enough for Prosumers, the not so picky professionals but not good for the high quality productions anymore. I really hope it doesn’t go there, but right now it looks like it.

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