Aperture 3 is Broken

This is a blog post I've never wanted to write.

I made a promise to myself that I would always use my blog to share ideas and positive thoughts. And that I'd never use the space to attack or beat somebody up. What I'm about to write, I feel, stays true those philosophies.

I've often been accused of being an Apple fan boy. That's ok… I use Apple products. I enjoy Apple products. I like the company's design philosophies and aesthetics… I like the way they think.

A few years back, Apple announced a product called Aperture. It was billed as a Pro application geared toward the professional photographer. It offered an all encompassing workflow solution providing asset management, photo adjustment, organization and output all within a single application and fantastic user interface. Most important, the program was non destructive to your original files. To the photographer, this could be likened to your old negatives. No matter how much you altered your image, you always had your negative.

Though it had its foibles early on, it was an ambitious and brilliant solution.

After dabbling with Aperture, by version 1.5 I took the plunge. I realized this was not a program you tried or used some of the time. It was a workflow tool and in order to maximize its effectiveness you needed to commit. I did that. I never regretted it. While the adjustment aspects of the software didn't have the overall power of Photoshop, Aperture met 99% of my needs and only required a slight retraining of my mental muscles to match my Photoshop results. From the management and workflow side, Aperture blew everything else out of the water. And, it was all in one. Given my previous workflow was cobbled together using a combination of Photo Mechanic, Iview Photo and Photoshop, the Aperture user interface was a dream.

So committed, I later took Aperture's certification course to be sure I was getting the most out of the program. I cannot sing enough praise for Aperture and the impact it has made on my work and workflow. Like good software should, it has reduced my time at the computer and improved my results. And that is what good software is supposed to do. I now have images dating back to 2005 stored in Aperture libraries. They span several hard drives and account for 3-4 terabyte of storage… well over 300,000 images.

After a two year gap, Apple released Aperture 3. The new version boasted of 200 new features and additions. While some were what I call whistles and bells, others where welcome and useful additions. I made the upgrade, imported and updated a few years worth of libraries and all went well. The changes where painless. The additions were well executed and improvements to the interface were well thought out. Great. Bravo. Well done Apple.

That is… until my shooting season started and I began importing new shoots, sorting images, making adjustments and transmitting files. Ah… transmitting files. All of my off-season dabbling hadn't really put the export features through their paces.

Now, let me tell you, one of the first things I really liked about Aperture was its ability to take a batch of files, size them, add my watermark and transmit them in one fell swoop. And… without creating any "legacy" of those files. I've always hated having folders hanging around my desktop that contain a batch of web sized images that were created to post to some gallery. Aperture never really creates those files. It builds them on the fly, holds them temporarily and ships them off to their final destination. One step… walk away… done.

Don't get me wrong, Aperture 3 still does all these things. Unfortunately, it takes forever. And I do mean forever. Some images take as much as 3+ minutes… and in batches it can be even worse. A recent batch of 110 full size images took nearly two hours to generate and transmit. And it wasn't the transmit. Finder times stamps indicated some images taking 9 minutes to complete.

Having exhausted all of my own troubleshooting efforts and resources, I reached for the phone. I contacted Apple Tech Support. Let me say this right up front; they were great. They've stuck with me. From first contact, I patiently conducted all the different test and suggestions they offered. I'd already done them on my own, but wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt by repeating them for the Tech's satisfaction.

We created new Libraries, did fresh imports, repaired permissions, dumped .plist files from the system Library, ran on local drives instead of external drives… even ran repairs on drives… all to no avail.

Tech support escalated my case. They continued to reach out via email. I would continue to provide them with the outcome of different experiments I was conducting in the meantime… trying to find some common denominator within the slow files. I've even disconnected my 27" monitor (and gave it away before determining it wasn't the problem - LOL).

It should be noted that for the most part, the affected files have been narrowed down to my Canon 5D MK11. Given they are 21mp in resolution, it's fair to assume size is contributing to the issue. Another constant is this only happens to adjusted files. Master files and unadjusted files export out at blazing speeds. It has been reported some of the new brushes and adjustments use more resources than others, but as a sports shooter, my adjustments are fairly basic. Spot removal, straightening and a touch of shadow/highlights are the only tools I'll use outside of the typical exposure adjustments and edge sharpening.

Finally, at the request of Apple Support, I dragged two known images into a new project and exported the project as a new library. I consolidated the masters. I sent the Library to Apple. Now they had a library with my adjusted versions and the masters.

Here is the response I received:

Thank you for the Aperture Library. I can reproduce your issue with your library. The image with the red car does take longer than the image with the white car. If I add a watermark to the image with the red car then it take 3 1/2 minutes to export. If I pull a master copy of that image out of the library and bring it into a different project in Aperture and export it with watermark then it exports out in about 5 seconds. If I lift and stamp the adjustments from your original version to the newly imported copy and export then it once again takes 3 1/2 minutes to export.

Currently, I don't have any further information or troubleshooting other than Apple is currently investigating your issue and as soon as I have further information I will get back to you.

I understand that this is frustrating and can be a real inconvenience and hopefully we can have more information or a resolution for you soon.

While I appreciate the honesty and all Apple has done, I'm speechless (although not according to this blog post). I'm not mad… I'm not really angry. I'm stunned. I'm stunned that something of this magnitude exists in an Apple product… a Pro application, no less.  Surely I'm not the only person running a 15" 2.4 Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM and shooting with a 5D MK11? It can't be that unusual of a combination.

So what are my options? I know there are people that will jump up and down with glee stating "you should have used Lightroom," and I'll still disagree. Besides, transferring over is a daunting task at best. ALL of my final versions would be lost unless I want to export them out as JPGS. So, if I'm going to invest the time and effort to do that, I don't need to bring them into another program anyway.

If I can offer this workaround to others with similar export issues, you can drag previews to a desktop folder in seconds. The only downside to that is they're not full-size. If you want to make smaller images and add a watermark, you'd need to import them back as a separate (temporary) project. They'll export fine.

In closing, I want to express my disappoint to the Aperture Development team. I'm sorry guys. This is a horrible blemish on Apple and your team's reputation. It's unacceptable. I think I've been fair with you and my description of this problem. It's not isolated. It's not a bug. It's a total failure. Aperture is a Pro application. I'm a Pro shooter. I'm not whining about something that is only affecting me. This is a core function and a necessary piece of professional's workflow puzzle.

My reason for going public with this is not in anger or for retaliation. But other photographers should know and other people with similar issues should also know… and understand that their's is not an isolated case.

Aperture is broken and Apple knows it.