Guest post by Stuart Forsyth

I am a long time user of Apple’s Aperture and have dabbled modestly from time to time in the iPhoto pond. Like many all over the world I bought into the iPhoto 09 hype and also fell for the clever Apple marketing scheme of putting a sufficient ’salivary gap’ between the keynote and the product release.

Well I received my long anticipated copy last night and after installing it immediately got to work putting it through it’s paces.

Referencing the Aperture library

The first thing I liked was that, by disabling the iPhoto copy-to-library functionality in the preferences and then using the Aperture media browser, I was able to import around 15,000 of my picks into the iPhoto library in short order. iPhoto references the photos in the Aperture library and only makes a copy in the iPhoto library if you do any adjustments on them. A note here is that iPhoto uses the Aperture JPG preview of the photo rather than the original which makes it blisteringly fast and is sufficient provided you have your Aperture previews set to a sufficient size; for what I would want to do with iPhoto (email, face tagging and the odd Facebook post) anything over 1000 pixels on the long edge is fine. If your Aperture previews are too small you will need to reset their size in Aperture preferences and rebuild them. I kept a healthy watch on my hard drive space during the import and was very pleased to see that iPhoto, used in this referenced way, was quite light on my precious free space.

Facial Recognition

This is the wow feature for me and the only one I hope Apple ports to Aperture pronto. Click on a couple of faces and tell iPhoto who they are and iPhoto starts showing you photos in which they appear; As you keep confirming, iPhoto keeps learning. What really impressed me was that as I was selecting progressively earlier pictures of my son it kept recognising earlier and earlier photos of him which meant I was able to tag 8 years of photos of him in relatively short order; iPhoto essentially learned ‘how’ he was getting younger back through the years.

In Aperture I would like to see this feature integrate with keywords better and leverage off all the people I’ve key-worded in my main Aperture library – used in combination with existing tags or metadata, facial recognition would be a potent feature.

Geo-tagging Location information (Places)

I was very disappointed with the geotagging option in iPhoto. I am a bit of a location nut and love embedding location data in my photos. I use a GPS logger when I am out in the field and embed the co-ordinates into my photos in a batch process on import but I still have a good few years of photos which have no location data and I was hoping this would be the answer.

Sadly it is not. The iPhoto video makes it look to easy but in my experience I found the process of clicking the photo, searching for the location, wading through all the business listings from Google, dropping the pin, naming the location and saving the data to be too much of a hassle.

I see no significant advantage over better programs such as the Aperture ‘Maperture’ plugin.

Flickr and Facebook Integration

These are in iPhoto for the consumer market. I have similar plugins in Aperture which actually do a far better job and hook me into Facebook, Flickr, iStockPhoto, Smugmug and a heap of other online systems. Apple would be really stupid to include these as a built-in option in Aperture. I believe that a baked in solution here is silly, iPhoto should have rather leveraged off the development which has been done in the Aperture plugin space to integrate with already existing 3rd party plugins.

In Summary

I like iPhoto 09 and in combination with the other iLife enhancements it is a good upgrade. The facial recognition is the only thing I’d want to see make it (in it’s current incarnation) into Aperture and only if it can leverage off all the hard work I’ve put into my tagging and metadata already. I wasn’t blown away by iPhoto 09 and it certainly (for me) didn’t live up to all the upgrade hype.

iPhoto 09 makes better use of my system resources and seems a bit snappier in some areas. Its integration with Aperture was a pleasant surprise and there are a few new adjustment tools thrown in for general photo touchups. There were a number of annoyances though – poor geotagging, the way the recommended faces move around as it prompts you for other faces which might match (which meant I was accidentally rejecting photos which weren’t under the mouse cursor a second ago) and a couple of performance slow downs due to the load iPhoto was under.

This is a good consumer level photo management upgrade to the previous version and a worthy contender to other applications like Picasa. I am endlessly amused by the number of posts I see on the web by people trying to decide between iPhoto and Aperture (or Lightroom); my advice in this regard is ‘if you are asking the difference between the two then stick with iPhoto’. New users who want an easy way to manage and share their photos – stick with iPhoto. Any serious photographer who needs the heavy lifting in the adjustment and workflow department then Aperture is your baby.

Now that I’ve played with it a bit (and because I am an Aperture user) I probably won’t use it again; other members of my family who aren’t power-users will love it because it makes general purpose photo management easy and fun. From that point of view it scores a resounding 5/5.

As a final note, contrary to the general consensus, I am pleased these new features came out in the consumer product first – that way I can feedback to Apple as to what I would like to see in their pro-level software rather than the other way around. ‘Yes’ to facial recognition and a definitive ‘NO’ to everything else.