Tag Archives: Aperture

Progress

It seems to be inevitable that eventually you begin to hit the end stops of what your computer is capable of. I’ve owned my current Mac, a 2.33GHz Intel Core2Duo MacBook Pro, since the middle of 2008. It has served me well, and still manages to just keep its head above water most of the time. Sadly, software moves on, and I find myself getting frustrated and struggling at times to make headway.

As an example of what I mean, let’s take a look at how my machine handles processing images in Aperture. I import Canon RAW files to Aperture, and do the small amount of post processing I generally require. I rate and make selections, shuffle things about into projects and folders, and export directly to Flickr or 500px via plugins, or export JPEGs for other uses.

Exporting
Exporting JPEGs. According the Activity Monitor, that relatively simple process needs nearly all of both processor cores.

With the Mac maxxed out with 3GB RAM, there’s precious little overhead left for anything else. It’s reaching a point where I have to plan my productivity, deciding which applications to run and when. When running Pixelmator, I even have to periodically reboot the computer to clear caches and memory. It’s like the 1990s all over again!

Activity
The galling thing is a new Mac is affordable, just not right at the moment. After nearly a decade of mobile computing, I’ve decided to put down roots at my desk again. My next Mac will be a Mac mini, and I’ll max out the RAM from the start!

The sound of pennies dropping

I shoot a Canon EOS 7D. As well as some Canon lenses, I also own some Sigma lenses. I acquired an ƒ/2.8 70–200mm Sigma a little while ago.

Now, something about using Sigma lenses on Canon bodies bugs me. See if you can spot it in this screenshot from Aperture (bear in mind the image was shot using the 70–200mm):

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See the lens model at the bottom? It seems the Canon “brain” sees the Sigma lens, but identifies it as an ƒ/2.8 50–150mm plus a 1.4x extender! Do the maths, and you’ll see this odd combination actually works out as a 70–210mm. It’s not just this lens, either. All my Sigma lenses, both EF and EF-S compatible, are reported incorrectly in the EXIF from the camera. Weird but true.

It would be really nice if there was a way to correct this, either in the camera or within Aperture. I haven’t found a way yet.

Lightroom 4 vs. Aperture 4 | A Lesser Photographer

Lightroom 4 debuted recently and, since, I’ve read a glut of opinion on what Apple should do to play catchup in Aperture 4.

Peppered throughout these pieces is a sense of entitlement along the lines of, “I’ll stop using Aperture altogether if Apple doesn’t implement the follow enhancements: <insert a list of obscure features that somehow weren’t needed until last year and that I’ll use once for the novelty and forget>.”

Mr. Photo Blogger, before you threaten to leave photo software (which I’m sure Apple and Abode fret about nightly), be sure the features you seek can’t be supplanted by being a better photographer.

I am an Aperture user, and frankly I don’t use most of the features the current version has. I can’t understand why people feel this sense of entitlement over new versions of software. We live in strange times.

Here’s to the future now…

I recall hoping 2011 would improve on the utter disaster that was 2010. I have to admit to being disappointed. 2011 hasn’t really been much better. I wonder what 2012 might have in store for me.

Yes, it’s that time of the year when I sit down and review where I have been over the past 12 months, and where I want to go over the next.

Not having a regular income to speak of has rather curbed my wanderlust, so any photographic expeditions in 2011 have been closer to home. Apart from a couple of sallies beyond the confines of Kent—model railway exhibitions earlier in the year took me as far as Wigan and York, and a brief day trip to Shropshire a few weeks ago took in the RAF Museum at Cosford—I have had to be content with places that don’t cost a fortune to visit.

I made a couple of exploratory visits to places during the year. Dungeness and the Isle of Grain have been earmarked for further exploration. Faversham piqued my interest, and warrants a longer visit. Trips to flesh out my “Margins” photo project were relatively few, mainly incorporating the north shore of the River Medway, which has turned into one of my regular haunts. I suppose I have managed to get some good images during the year.

Gear-wise, selling off some other hobby items enabled me to upgrade my DSLR from the Canon EOS 400D to the 7D. I also added an ƒ/2.8 70–300mm lens, and a few accessories like a remote shutter release and memory cards. There’s not a lot more I want to add to my gear, although I have one more lens I would like to acquire in the ƒ/2.8 17–70mm-ish range, and more memory cards and so on. My MacBook Pro will celebrate its fifth birthday in summer 2012, and it is just beginning to show its age. Aperture 3 gives it cause to struggle, and sadly I cannot add any more RAM to the machine to help. I’m looking at options such as a new, faster, bigger internal hard drive in order to eke out a little more life from it.

Looking to 2012, what do I wish for? I am ignoring the real world here, just looking at my own life. There is only really one thing I want: a proper full-time job. I need a nice regular income again. Life out here in the freelance artworker world is totally dead. The lack of a job has meant I have had to let another fantastic opportunity sail by without my boarding it. Later in the summer 2012, I had hoped I would be going on a photographic safari to Svalbard. Circumstances in 2011 meant I simply couldn’t commit to buying the flight tickets. So much for adventure.

I would also like to push to try and get some freelance model railway photography gigs. I’ve already blogged about that, but in the new year I intend to keep pushing at that stuck door. I am fed up with letting life pass me by. 2012 ought to be the year when I make every effort to get life moving again. 

If I don’t blog before, I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas, and my best wishes for the new year.

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

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Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out. 

Tethered Shooting

Generally, the fastest way to get images from the Canon EOS 7D is a case of popping the CF card out of the camera and into a reader attached to my Mac, then getting Aperture to copy the files into its library. If most of my photography has been out in the field it’s the only sensible method of downloading, especially if there are several cards involved.

Sometimes I find myself working in a studio environment, where seeing the results without recourse to pixel-peeping on the camera’s LCD would be beneficial. If I’m doing some model or macro work, where focus can be quite critical, or if I’ve got a bunch of products I need to shoot where the lighting and framing is all but identical, tethered or remote shooting — where the camera is connected to and controlled by software on a computer — is the way to go.

Canon ships a bunch of software* with their DSLRs, including a utility that lets you set up and control the camera from the computer screen. Combine this with the camera’s Live View feature, where the viewfinder mirror is locked up so you see exactly what the sensor is seeing, and you can perform critical focus and framing while seeing everything as large as your computer’s screen will allow.

Canon’s software hasn’t really been designed with a third party application in mind. I’ve used Digital Photo Professional (Canon’s RAW image management and editing suite) in the past, but let’s just say I was only too happy to move to something better when I could.

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The ‘Studio’ setup. Black card forms the backdrop, with battery LED lamps to fill in, helped by a reflector on the right which is bouncing the desk lamp light into the scene.

I’ve been an Aperture user for some years now. Apple’s flagship image management and editing software has always supported camera tethering of some sort, but my previous DSLR was not supported. My current camera, the EOS 7D, is supported by Aperture 3. Keen to cut out the comprehensive but rather clumsy Canon control software, I tried it out.

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With the camera on and connected, choose Tether > Start Session… to begin using Aperture’s tethering controls.

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You are asked to choose some basic settings before you begin…

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…and here’s your control panel. A button to capture the image, and a button to stop the session. Any camera settings must be performed on the camera itself. Aperture tethering is simply a way of downloading the images directly from the camera.

It was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. True, the 7D can be linked to Aperture. But that’s about it. You have some control over the EXIF or IPTC data embedded with the image, there’s a button that lets you fire the camera’s shutter and it does download the resulting image directly into your Aperture project, but for everything else you have to work on the camera itself. There’s not even a way to preview the shot, or activate the autofocus, or change the other parameters on the camera, as far as I can tell. Compare this with the complete remote control of the camera—save zooming in and out or moving the tripod—which is available if you use the EOS Utility.

The task, then, is to work with the Canon software to set up and control the camera, but make sure the images are downloaded into Aperture, neatly sidestepping the rather clunky Digital Photo Professional. Ideally, this should happen automatically, so I can concentrate on the work at hand, but still be able to review images if I need to.

Step forward a handy little free script, built using Apple’s Automator scripting package. Called Aperture Hot Folder, it’s a tiny application that monitors the folder where the EOS Utility is downloading images from your camera, and tells Aperture to import them. Easy.

Aperture Hot Folder is free, which is even better. (It’s for Mac OS X only. I’m sure there are similar things available for Windows and Linux, and Adobe Lightroom, too.)

So, here’s my workflow. Firstly, I set up the camera and connect it to the Mac with the USB cable. Once Aperture is running, and I’ve set up a project for the shots I’m taking, I launch Aperture Hot Folder and step through the instruction screens.

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The first screen explains what the script does, and what to do next.

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Select a folder on the hard drive to watch and click Choose.

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Aperture Hot Folder then asks you to choose an Aperture project to which it should import the images that arrive in the watched folder selected in the previous step. If your Aperture library is large, with lots of projects, this list will be very long!

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Next, you’re asked whether the imported images should be referenced (Aperture-speak for leaving them where they are in the hard drive) or imported into Aperture’s managed library. I choose the latter because I like to work with a managed library and not worry about where originals are.

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Finally, a confirmation screen and instructions on how to stop the script running when you’re done.

With the camera connected, switched on and mode dial set to manual, the next application in the sequence is EOS Utility so we can control the camera.

EOS Utility itself initially shows a main screen where you can choose various functions. It’s a launch pad that gets you into a variety of software for downloading images from the camera, setting the downloads folder and all that kind of thing. 

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The part I’m interested in, though, is Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. Clicking this launches the control panel proper.

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I’m not going into detail with this control panel. As you can see, it’s pretty comprehensive, with plenty of data showing how the camera is set up, battery condition and other information. The round button near the top right is the shutter release button. Before I start, I click the tiny folder icon below the shutter to select the destination folder being watched by Aperture Hot Folder.

From the control panel I can literally control every parameter of the camera, short of physically moving it on the tripod to frame my subjects. With the camera set to manual (M), I can set shutter speed, aperture, ISO, colour balance, file format, etc, by clicking on the relevant element and using the left and right cursor keys to change them incrementally. Remote control also works for aperture and shutter priority, but for full control manual is preferred.

From the menu buttons below the data panel I can pop up the camera’s built-in flash (where I can also control flash exposure levels) and, with the Live View shoot… button, crucially kicking the 7D into Live View shooting mode. 

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Once in Live View mode, rather than peering at the image on the camera’s LCD, I see it in a larger window on my computer screen. I see exactly what the sensor is seeing. In this new window, I can turn on grid overlays, move the focus block about and set the colour balance to my liking. I can even turn on selective focus and exposure points. Almost every part of the camera’s operation can be controlled from my computer. If the lens is set to autofocus, pressing the shutter release button focuses the lens before the shot is taken—though this is a little hit and miss. If the focus misfires, the resulting shot will still be taken, which is why I prefer to work with manual focus for tethered shooting.

Ae_point

For critical focus, I click the zoom magnifier below the main image or double-click the white rectangle in the image. This area can be dragged around the screen, and once clicked opens an enlargement window zoomed into the defined area. 

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I can drag the image about for a better view, and zoom to 200% to allow really fine manual focus if desired. Closing this window returns me to the main window, although most of the settings are available in both windows. If I have chosen a small aperture, I can also turn on depth of field preview to see how it will appear in the final shot. There is also a mode where the Remote Live View Window will simulate the exposure settings to give me a better feel for the final image. 

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Depth of Field preview off. The lens aperture is wide open, allowing critical focus.

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Depth of Field preview on. This shows me how the image will appear with the aperture set to ƒ/16. The software brightens the image artificially, unlike when you squint through the viewfinder when pressing the DoF preview button on the camera itself!

When I’m happy, I can click the faux shutter button on the control panel, or the real thing on the camera or remote release, and my image is captured and downloaded to the watched folder. I can, of course, check it for focus and colour balance without leaving the Canon software suite if I wish. I’m going to do my reviewing in Aperture, so I will have to wait for a few seconds.

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EOS Utility downloads the captured image from the camera to the watched folder.

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The original downloaded images remain in the watched folder, so they’ve been copied into Aperture’s library rather than moved.

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The captured image appears in Aperture where I can review and work on it.

Once the image has been downloaded to the watched folder, Aperture Hot Folder notices the new arrival and pokes Aperture in the ribs. The new image is imported as a copy to Aperture—leaving the original capture in the hot folder for later disposal, just as when downloading from a CF card—and after a short pause I can study the image in greater detail in my preferred image management software.

While Aperture Hot Folder and Aperture are sorting themselves out, I can carry on and capture further images. Each will be dutifully imported into Aperture while I work. If not seamless, at least it lets me avoid the step of importing the images to Aperture later. Theoretically, I could be capturing the shots on my laptop, controlling the camera settings, while the images are downloaded and then perhaps copied across a network to an assistant working in Aperture who can then process the shots. The potential for a busy studio workflow is there.

I should also add that the EOS Utility and Remote Live View Window let you record video as well as stills. Ideal for the director who simply must see everything as it’s being filmed. I plan to use this feature soon for a short video I have in mind.

It’s definitely not a perfect solution, but it allows me to use the full control Canon provides while still working in my preferred RAW management software. Aperture’s tethered shooting mode comes up a long way short.

 

 

 

*The full list of software Canon provides is Digital Photo Professional (management and RAW editing), EOS Utility (download and camera control), Picture Style Editor (allows the user to edit and create new picture styles which can be uploaded to the camera), PhotoStitch (for creating panoramic images for multiple shots) and PhotoStitch Viewer (to view the resulting panoramas), and CameraWindow (I have no idea what this is for: when you launch it, it launches EOS Utility for you…).