Apple OS X Photos

Compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except when it is. How you’ll feel about the new Photos app from Apple depends on what app it’s replacing for you and what you typically do with your photos.

When Apple announced the development of this new app, they also announced that both iPhoto and Aperture would be discontinued. For iPhoto users, the new Photos app is a definite upgrade; the converse is true for Aperture users. If you frequently employed Aperture’s pro tools—like curves adjustments, lens corrections, adjustment brushes, RAW image fine-tuning and support for third-party plug-ins—you won’t find any of these in Photos. For those who haven’t switched already, you may be considering a move to the recently updated Adobe Lightroom 6 or another alternative, as Apple won’t be supporting Aperture in the future.

Though Photos ditched most of Aperture’s more sophisticated controls, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to like in the Photos app for enthusiasts, as well as pros, and while it’s not a replacement for Aperture, what Photos does, at least in this first release, it does respectably well, with trademark Apple simplicity.

As an organization and image-management tool, Photos is solid, especially if you’re adopting iCloud Photo Library. Unless your archive is larger than a terabyte, iCloud Photo Library offers seamless image backup to the cloud and syncing across all of your Apple devices. Make an edit to an image on your iPhone or iPad, and the adjustments are synced to Photos on your Mac, and vice versa.

By default, just three image adjustments are displayed as single slider controls (below), but these can be expanded to reveal more refined controls (right), and seven additional adjustments are available for more advanced users. If you regularly use more than the three basic adjustments, you can set your favorites to be perpetually displayed.

Digital camera sensors get better with each generation, and smarter, too, so there’s arguably less need of heavy image processing for most photographers. OS X Photos appears to be banking on that, with a curated set of adjustment tools that are initially displayed as just three sliders—Light, Color and Black & White. For more advanced users, these controls can be expanded to reveal finer adjustments, and additional sliders like Sharpening, Noise Reduction and Levels can also be activated.

Photos is divided into four work-spaces, or tabs: Photos, Shared, Albums and Projects.

 

PHOTOS TAB

Photos is your entire collection of images, organized by date and location. The way images are organized and presented will be familiar if you’ve used the Photos app on iPhone or iPad.

Images are primarily grouped by date ranges, with location information displayed when available. Zoom all the way out, and you’ll see long horizontal rows of image thumbnails organized by year. Zoom all the way in, and you’re presented with a single column of images arranged by day.

You can search for images in the Photos workspace with keywords if you’ve added them. This is done in the Info pane (Command+I to toggle), and once you’ve added that metadata, the search function works really well.

SHARED TAB

Shared is where you set up and control which images you want to stream to friends and family via iCloud Photo Sharing. You’ll need an iCloud account, but note that Photo Sharing doesn’t count against your iCloud storage. You’re limited to sharing 5,000 photos, however—when you hit the limit, you must delete some before adding new images.

Photos is designed to integrate seamlessly with iCloud Photo Library, too, for automatic backups of all of the images that you’ve imported into the Photos app. The size of your iCloud Photo Library backup is limited to the amount of storage available in your iCloud account. All iCloud users get 5 gigabytes free (which is shared with iCloud mail, contacts and iWork docs). Extra space up to 1 terabyte is available for a monthly fee.

Both iCloud Photo Sharing and iCloud Photo Library are enabled in Mac System Preferences/iCloud. Once you’ve set it up, you’ll be able to access all of the photos in your iCloud Photo Library on all of your Apple devices and also at iCloud.com.

ALBUMS TAB

This tab presents automatically created albums, including All Photos, Faces, Last Import and Panoramas. You can also create your own albums or Smart Albums. To create an album manually, select the images to include in the All Photos browser (or another preexisting album), and select File > New Album (Command+N).

Smart Albums are created based on specific criteria, such as photos you’ve favorited, date ranges, keywords, faces or camera metadata. Smart Albums can be powerful if you want to find all images you’ve taken with your 24mm lens, for example, or all photos with a particular model.

The Faces album uses facial recognition to group images by the people in them. There’s a bit of a training process as you identify and name people. Identifying multiple faces in an image is doable, but the process isn’t as intuitive as it could be—it’s done through the Info pane when you’re editing an image. Though the
feature is nice, there’s a discovery curve and room for improvement. To get the most out of it will require perhaps a significant investment of time tagging photos, especially if you have a large library.

The Info pane (Command+I to toggle on and off) is where you can view and edit image metadata, add descriptions and keywords, and identify faces for later searches.

 

PROJECTS TAB

This workspace is where you can output your images in the form of prints, cards, books, calendars and slideshows.

Slideshows offer seven selectable themes that stylize the presentation. Each theme includes a default music track to accompany it or you can select a song from your iTunes library. You can specify a time limit for your slideshow to play or choose to loop through images for the duration of the music you’ve chosen. When you’re done, you can export the slideshow as an MPEG4 file in standard def, 720p HD or 1080p HD.

Book, calendar, card and print projects each display the project offerings available, and the price for each item and configuration, with basic templates to choose from. The prices are reasonably competitive, though the options are more limited than what you’ll find offered by a full-service online photo lab. Still, it’s a highly convenient feature to be able to order photo products right from the app, and though I didn’t test the print services for this review, I’ve used Apple’s photo fulfillment on multiple occasions in the past, and was always very satisfied with the quality and production times.

Among the projects available for output are four options for printed items fulfilled by Apple, which you can order from within the Photos app. You can also print images or a group of images to your desktop printer, with several presets presented for printing popular photo sizes or a contact sheet.

 

THE VERDICT

As a die-hard Aperture user who stuck with it since version one, I was disappointed when Apple announced the end of the road. That said, I’ve never been locked in exclusively to Aperture—I use Ph
otoshop quite a bit, and Lightroom, as well.

For me, I’m making the switch from Aperture to OS X Photos as my image-management tool. A few quirks and speed bumps aside, as an iCloud user, Photos has a lot going for it from an organization and backup perspective. I’ll probably use Photos in much the same way as I use Aperture, adding keywords, creating albums and making basic adjustments. There will be a few parts of my typical workflow that will now be cause to launch Photoshop, but since I’ve always relied on Photoshop for my most detailed adjustments anyway, that’s not a big departure for me.

If Aperture was your one-and-only image editor, and you used its most advanced features and third-party plug-ins, Photos probably won’t cut it for you. But for iPhoto users or pros who already employ multiple apps in their workflows, the integration with iCloud Photo Library and sync with all your Apple devices is reason enough to give OS X Photos a try.

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