Revisiting Aperture and using Fuji X-Pro 2 Files in Aperture via X-Transformer
As an experiment, and part of an ongoing project, I decided to launch Aperture the other day. It was the first time I have used the application in a long time, and It was an interesting experience. Because it has been so long, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The reasons that I wanted to try it out, was that I wanted to see how files from X-Transformer were working in various different applications other than Lightroom. The result was both eye opening and depressing at the same time.
On the one hand, I’m impressed that it’s actually still working. The software was discontinued three years ago, and there have been several operating system upgrades in that time. Because Aperture is so closely tied to the GPU, and it would have been at the early days of Open CL, I was surprised at how well it still works. I did come across a few bugs while using it though. Occasionally an image would get stuck loading, and sometimes the luminance levels would start acting weird, but that was about it.
So why is it depressing? It just shows how bad the development of Lightroom has been. On my machine at least, Aperture runs rings around Lightroom in terms of performance. Considering that, even before it was discontinued, it hadn’t received any major update in several years, the performance is really impressive. There’s nothing else for it, it’s just shocking how poor Lightroom is in comparison. I had forgotten that this is what a photo workflow application is supposed to be like. Using again makes me really sad that Apple discontinued the software.
The X-Transformed DNGs from my X-Pro 2 were surprisingly good too. I wan’t expecting a huge difference from Lightroom, but the software handles it really well. While you don’t have the film simulation colour profiles in Aperture, the default colours are actually really nice. Detail seems to be really well preserved to, and clean. Part of this is because of X-Transformer, but even at that, there still seems to be something going on in Aperture that makes the files seem better. It’s probably just my imagination though, or the way the application scales images to view on screen, but either way they look remarkably well. I did come across a few problem files though, where clipped highlights acme purple, but it only seems to be an issue on extremely over-exposed images. I also noticed that there was still some red fringing, despite using the aberration correction in X-Transformer.
1:1 Crops (Above) - Fuji X-Pro 2, 35mm f/1.4 - ISO (left to right) 800, 200, 1600
Of course, using out of date software is not without its downsides. You can see the age of the processing engine by its limitations. For a start, its still using the very old linear method of adding contrast, rather than the s-curve method that all modern software uses. It has no lens corrections and the noise reduction algorithms are quite poor. The vignette tool isn’t great, and the interface is still full of aqua elements.
But in some other ways, it is still a great application, and its still really fast, when run on a properly configured machine. The metadata tools of the application are second only to photo mechanic in my opinion, and the way it handles Raw and Jpeg pairs is still the best method of any application out there, including Apple’s own Photos. But of all the things that I miss from Aperture, the biggest is the extended range curves. With that you can see above 100% on the curves tool, and manipulate clipped values back into range. While this does the same as recovery or highlights, the difference is you can actually see the data on a histogram, and you can control the roll off and way it’s brought back into range. I don’t know of any other software that lets you do this today.
It’s just such a shame that Apple discontinued the software. While there are lots of new RAW converters coming to the market lately, many of which have some really nice and interesting features, very few offer the complete end to end workflow that Aperture did, apart from Lightroom, and Capture One. Adobe’s domination of the market and lack of competition has led to a real stagnation of the market, and it is end users that are suffering. I would love to see what Apple could do with a modern version of Aperture, powered by metal, and syncing across devices with iCloud. While Photos in high sierra is going a little of the way to getting some of that back, it’s just not the same, especially on the workflow side. While I doubt that Apple would ever bring back Aperture, I think it’s important to remind people that this software started the whole segment of the market. Unfortunately, the technology has moved on, and the limitations outweigh the advantages in my opinion, but even after it is gone, it’s still class leading in some ways. Thats a testament to the original developers and a damning indictment of the main competition.
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