When Apple announced it was going to discontinue its professional image-cataloguing application Aperture, but that a brand new Photos app was on its way, many (including me) obviously hoped that Photos would go some way towards replacing our favourite application. These hopes were raised by early screenshots showing some powerful-looking editing tools.

Well the dust has settled, Apple Photos has had time to ‘bed in’ and it’s become clearer how Apple intends its Photos ecosystem to work. It’s also become clearer, sadly, that Photos in no way matches what Aperture could do as a fast, professional and flexible image cataloguing tool.

So this post is designed to do two things: (1) explain what the problems with Photos are and why it’s no Aperture substitute, and (2) explain why it is actually worth using, even if it’s for a different need than the one you might have had in mind.

The editing tools in Apple Photos are really good, but it can't even approach Aperture's organisational tools.

The editing tools in Apple Photos are really good, but it can’t even approach Aperture’s organisational tools.

Why Apple Photos is no match for Aperture

  1. The editing tools are irrelevant. True, the tools in Apple Photos are rather good for beginner-orientated software, and they are non-destructive. But the editing tools were never the main reason for using Aperture anyway – they were useful for quick enhancements so that you could see an image’s potential, but you’d almost certain use an external editor or plug-in for any serious image-editing work.
  2. Apple Photos doesn’t support external editors and plug-ins. Yes, you can use ‘Extensions’ specially written by software publishers to work alongside Apple Photos, but Apple has forced developers into a new extensible architecture that’s specific to Photos and which, probably, won’t ever reach the level of support for Aperture plug-ins. Can you see Google producing Apple Photos Extensions for its Google Nik Collection plug-ins?
  3. It doesn’t support stacking. You can’t group together shots taken in a single burst, multiple edits of the same image, bracketed exposure sets or all the other groups of images you might want to keep together.
  4. You can’t create virtual copies. In other words, you can’t try out multiple variations on the same image – unless you duplicate the image first, which seems a waste of space. In fact, Apple Photos gives you no options for saving a new ‘version’ of an edited image. Your edits always replace the original photo, which is annoying.
  5. Only basic metadata can be stored: You can add keywords, descriptions, people and place information, but that’s it. Apple Photos is not designed for professional asset management and any workarounds that got you even close to that would be time-consuming and likely to lead to such a distortion of your natural workflow that they were counter-productive.
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Don’t even try to shoehorn Apple Photos into Aperture’s role. Instead, just enjoy it as a simple family photo tool for saving, sorting and sharing your adventures.

But why Apple Photos is worth using anyway

Clearly, Apple has designed Apple Photos as a ‘family’ photo management tool. It’s designed for casual photographers who want to know as little as possible about the technicalities, but want to get as much as possible from their pictures.

That won’t cut much ice with expert photographers bemoaning the loss of Aperture, but that boat has already sailed and we have to get used to it. But it is worth thinking about Apple Photos for another purpose – that of storing and sharing all our personal photography with friends and family. Even expert photographers shoot for friends and family too, and we’ve all probably set up and managed different photo collections for doing this.

So you can and should put Apple Photos out of your mind as a serious photo management tool, but here are some reasons why it is actually rather good as a family photography tool.

  1. It’s utterly undemanding. When you’re on holiday, or with the family, you shouldn’t still be acting like a pro photographer. If you use your iPhone to take pictures (a very good idea), they’re stored, sorted and archived automatically. If you use a regular camera, once you’ve imported your shots, they’re handled in the same way.
  2. Everyone will understand it. You won’t have to be the family’s 24-hour photography expert because the Photos app is about as simple to use as it can be. Admittedly, it looks a little quirky compared to regular photo tools, but once you all understand how it works, it all makes sense.
  3. Your photos are safe. If you use Apple’s iCloud Photos service, and I can’t think of a reason not to, your photos are not only backed up to the cloud, they’re available on all your devices, including your iPhone, your iPad, your Mac and even any other computer with an Internet connection and a browser.
  4. Sharing is simple. All you need to do is set up a shared album, choose who to share it with and start adding pictures. This does demand that everyone in your household or circle of friends has an iPhone, an iPad or an iCloud account, but these are common enough circumstances for Apple’s sharing ecosystem to make a lot of sense.
  5. Your edits are everywhere and reversible. If you crop a photo on your iPhone, it’s cropped when you look at it on your computer or your iPad (though, er, not always straight away). If you add a filter effect to a batch of photos on your Mac, this ripples through to all your iOS devices. And if you decide you’ve made a big mistake, you can easily undo your changes because all the editing tools are non-destructive.