Saturday, June 7, 2008

Aperture 2.0

I'm a fulltime software developer but I'm also flirting with the world of sports photography. This dance has brought me into a world where I've had to learn how to use some tools I haven't worked with before in order to be effective. A very commonly used set of tools photojournalists use is a combination of PhotoShop and PhotoMechanic.

I looked around for some alternatives to those pricey products and found Aperture. At the time it was version 1.5 and I was able to get a good deal on a version of the product. It quickly became obvious that Aperture was unbelievably slow and consumed vast quantities of I/O while functioning.

As a software developer I keep a close eye on what my computer's doing. I have graphs in my titlebar that show CPU, memory, disk, and network activity as well as my fan speed. It helps me troubleshoot slowness problems because I have an idea of what my computers doing when I get the rainbow spinny ball of eternal bliss. Most of the time my disk is spinning and I'm waiting on some I/O operations to complete.

When Aperture 2.0 came out performance greatly improved. Rather than taking 5 - 10 minutes for Aperture to start it now took < 20 seconds. I was so happy...

With my internal hard disk shrinking in free space I decided to learn how Aperture handles vaults, libraries, projects, folders, and albums from a distributed standpoint. My desire was simple: offload a "chunk" of my photos, and keep the rest. But, if I could still hold references to those offloaded chunks and be able to access them when I'm here at home on my local network (or attached to a local hard disk) that'd be great.

Aperture is supposed to manage your entire photo library. My desire to offload a "chunk" seems to fall under that mission, right? So this should be a perfectly natural thing for Aperture to do, right? Wrong...

What I discovered during this process was a multitude of problems from both a design and implementation standpoint. I looked to the "vault" concept as a possible solution. Perhaps I could create a vault for several projects and then remove the projects after their data has been moved into the vault. Nope. The vault is an "all or nothing" concept. All your library goes into the vault, or none of it goes.

Another key frustration I had occurred when I tried to place my vault on an NFS mount. Nope, you can't create a vault on a network volume. But, you can create a vault on a locally attached storage device, copy said vault to a server, disconnect the storage device, and then "Update Path" back in Aperture. Through this workaround you can effectively place your vault on network attached storage. But be careful - placing a dash (-) or colons (:) in your vault names seems to make Aperture angry. I was unable to do the above procedure with names like "Aperture Vault: 2008-06-07", but it all the sudden worked when I used "Aperture Vault 20080607". Thanks Apple for that nice bit of wizardry.

After I moved ALL of my images into the vault I tried to restore the contents of the vault into a Library stored over on the network attached storage device. This actually worked, and I was impressed to watch my network traffic stay at a pretty constant 50Mbps down and 50Mbps up as Aperture chewed through my 40GB vault for roughly 4 hours.

When I was finished I fired up Aperture and discovered that the thumbnails and previews had been lost, and Aperture had to re-calculate them all. Great... So now I have to wait around for another 50 hours while Aperture goes through over a year's worth of photos? EPIC FAIL.

The problem I have is that I almost always take my laptop with me on photographic assignments. I do so because I often publish photos during halftime or immediately following a game, and I clearly need my laptop to do that. I also shoot frequently, sometimes as many as 7 - 10 events per week. If I'm shooting in RAW mode, which I've been doing more of lately, I can consume quite a hefty amount of disk space. With only 45GB free on my MBP's internal hard drive after I load all my software development tools and code I don't exactly have oodles of space.

Thus I can't tow around my entire image archive with me all the time. At the same time, I often need access to photos from the last 5 or 6 assignments I've had for a team in case I need a file photo to use for a story. Vaults seem like a great solution to my problem - I can keep a cold vault that consists of all of last year's photos and just leave that up on my file server using the "Update Path" trick above. But vaults fall apart for me because I can't choose which projects, folders, and albums I want to put into the vault. Thus I can't constrain a vault to only "Maryland Terrapins" events. I'm forced to comingle my personal photos along with work assignments in my vault. That's insane!

There's a deep-rooted community in the PhotoShop/PhotoMechanic camp. And Lightroom is now on the scene. Aperture's the new kid on the block and Apple has made some epic stumbles with it in so far as the performance of version 1, and the lack of a decent backup solution in version 2. If Apple has any hope of eroding some PS/PM and Lightroom market share they're going to have to reach beyond the cheesy .mac/iPhoto mentality and start considering how photojournalists do their jobs. If you can appeal to them and give them a reason to switch you can gain some market share. That means creating a good mobile vs docked profile mode, synchronized projects and folders, and more granular vaults. Oh ya, and would it kill you to provide a plugin or extension capability? My inability to post to PhotoShelter from within Aperture makes my life a drag.

All in all I'm going to look into Lightroom. I got into Aperture because the edit controls were considerably easier to apply than Photoshop. Ironically Aperture was designed to be your entire workflow solution and that's the reason I'm now looking at other options (because Aperture's solution to my workflow doesn't scale beyond a few dozen photo assignments due to my limited disk space). A coworker of mine uses Lightroom - maybe I'll give it a shot.

Another nail in the coffin for my darling Apple.

1 comment:

Marc e said...

I'm struggling with the same problem. I hope you do a post on your experience with Lightroom, specifically the offline archiving of a portion of your library.