Thursday, April 13, 2006

Can a failure to support file formats kill Apple's Aperture?

Apple Computer Inc. has survived (and thrived) 30 years in the fastest moving most innovative industry ever. So you'd think that they would understand how the photography market is morphing into a software and digital technology driven world with all that means in terms of rate of change. It seems somewhat odd that Apple seems unable or unwilling to keep pace in the professional photography market sector even with all their slick marketing.

Apple supports RAW file formats from within the operating systems so that both iPhoto and Aperture can take advantage of the same support, and so can anyone else writing imaging software for OS X. This make a lot of sense, especially when iPhoto only has one major upgrade per year and the operating system gets regular improvements. Since the camera manufacturers' product cycles are not in perfect synchronisation with Apple's, the chance to release new camera RAW file support with a regular operating system upgrade is the obvious path to take. So why hasn't Apple been doing this? For example, the Nikon D200 was launched 1st November last year and in users' hands in December, but those photographers who have also invested in Aperture are still waiting for support of the D200 RAW format in April! Furthermore there has been two important upgrades to OS X (10.4.4 & 10.4.5) since the D200 was launched.

Certainly it would be a simpler world if all manufacturers adopted a standard RAW file format, or at least stopped tweaking for each new camera, however we are still in the early phase of the development of digital imaging and there are still improvements to be made in all areas including RAW formats.

So where does this leave the professional photographer investing heavily in all sorts of technology? Well if they've invested in a shiny new Mac with a 30" screen to manage their RAW digital workflow then there are other RAW management software applications out there that do keep up with changes in the camera marketplace such as Bibble Lab's software & Phase One's Capture One Pro - both of which already work natively on Intel Macs unlike Aperture. If they've invested in the stunning new Nikon D200 first then there is a choice of computer platforms as well as software. However, if you've got a D200 and have been working with Aperture before then you are twiddling your thumbs, grumbling, moaning about Apple and how you are moving to something better. Even if the rest of the digital workflow software applications out there are not a patch on Aperture the chance of Apple being able to coax back the users, who have a heavy investment in terms of time and quantity of images under software management, will be slim. Apple's understanding and appreciation of what it takes to be an individual creative is key to their move in to the digital imaging world, but unless they get it right in all aspects of their pro software products, Aperture will not become an essential tool in the same way Photoshop is to photographers. This is a difficult time for photographers trying to get to grips with all the new technology that has invaded their cosy world, so computer and software companies shouldn't be making it harder for them.

[update] A few hours after writing this Apple have released Aperture 1.1 as a free download and included is support for Nikon's D200 and Canon's 30D, still that's over 6 months since the D200 was launched!

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