Musings on Photography

Tune out, turn on, plug in.

Posted in Adobe Lightroom, digital printing, photoshop, software by Paul Butzi on March 30, 2008


Apple have released a new version of Aperture. It has what they’re calling a plug-in architecture, which allows you to buy third party software and it just fits right into Aperture. One of my favorite tools, Noise Ninja, has announced it will be available as a Aperture plugin sometime in May. The developers of other successful imaging tools seem queued up to offer their tools as Aperture plugins as well.

To borrow a line from Theodor Geisel, “This may not seem very important, I know. But it is, so I’m bothering telling you so.”

There are a couple of reasons.

The first big reason is that it seems that a lot of photographers are moving to tools like Aperture (or Lightroom, the competing product from Adobe). It’s a sort of one stop shopping framework for everything from ingesting the images off your memory cards (or camera) to making prints.

The big problem with such products is that it’s awkward to use tools that are outside this integrated environment. That is, it’s awkward if your noise reduction tool (say, Noise Ninja, the really great product with the really silly name) must be run standalone, because you have to save a version of the image, run Noise Ninja on it, then import the result of Noise Ninja back into the integrated environment.

The same problems occur if you want to use some other raw converter instead of the one directly supported by your image processing workflow. That’s why so many people use Adobe Camera Raw – it’s not that it does such a great job as much as it’s there and it fits into the workflow so well. Click on the raw file in Bridge, and ACR runs, and the output appears directly in Photoshop.

“But wait!” I hear you saying, “Photoshop has plugins! This is nothing new!” And indeed, Photoshop does have plugins. In fact, that’s exactly how I use Noise Ninja – it’s a photoshop plugin that appears as a filter. But plugins in Photoshop aren’t really first class citizens. Plugins, for instance, can’t be the basis for layers, the way curves can. Every plugin must , if needed, duplicate the effect of having masks.

But the fact that Apple have developed a significant part of the image workflow as a plugin (they’ve got dodge/burn/contrast/saturation/sharpen/blur done this way) makes me suspect that plugins in Aperture are more first class in the workflow. Plugins in Aperture 2.0 can work on raw files. So your favorite raw converter can be an Aperture plugin. Plugins in Aperture can start from more than one file, so HDR tools can be plugins, and be first class. I saw a really cool tool that takes a bunch of frames, does sub-pixel alignment, and extracts a result that has higher resolution than any of the original frames does, and that tool could be a plugin.

Now, from a strict computability argument, there’s nothing that can’t be done the old way that can be done in the new way. Photoshop has plugins, scripting, and so on, and strictly speaking it’s probably possible to integrate these new tools into Photoshop. But developers don’t do it, and I’m guessing that’s because Adobe have made it hard to do. Apple, on the other hand, seem to view this as the strategic goal for Aperture – and that tells me that they’re going to make it pretty easy.

The big question, really, is whether the local editing workflow in Aperture will be as versatile and workable as the layers model embedded in Photoshop. If so, it makes Aperture a big contender in the imaging world. It’s entirely possible that a really good, structured model like layers could be built as a plugin, in fact. Hard to tell at this point, but it’s an interesting idea.

Another reason why this is important is that Apple have apparently lined up some of the big names to do plugin versions of their tools for Aperture. If you’re a developer and your product competes against Noise Ninja, the pressure is on to do an Aperture plugin so you can compete. This isn’t a big chink in the armor of Photoshop dominance, but it might be the thin edge of the wedge.

Back when Aperture and Lightroom were introduced, I was still a Windows person. Now I’m a Mac person, and so I’m looking forward to getting a look at Aperture 2.1 and seeing what the image editing workflow looks like, and whether these plugins are more first class citizens than plugins in Photoshop. If so, I may be giving Aperture a whirl.

3 Responses

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  1. ejeschke said, on March 30, 2008 at 11:51 am

    My last laptop from Apple came with a trial version of Aperture. I played with it a bit, enough to get an initial impression. And it was mostly negative.

    The program has a huge footprint on the system, and, as you say, wants to be the end-all to your imaging workflow. As such, you have to turn off various things that want to copy your files into obscure places, etc. etc.

    As a software developer myself, I don’t see a real solid reason that the program has to be this big, or non-transparent about what it is doing with your data. But then again, Apple’s track record with their other products (itunes, iphoto, etc.) is not good in this regard. I guess I would expect more from their “professional” line.

  2. ejeschke said, on March 30, 2008 at 11:53 am

    BTW, is that a new tag line on your blog? I like it.

    “… to photograph as I felt and desired; to regulate a pleasant form of living…”

  3. Dave K said, on April 1, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    And now Adobe’s announced the first public beta of Lightroom 2, which — while it doesn’t have a plug-in architecture — offers many localized adjustments and improved sharpening. PLUS, the images can be a maximum of 30,000 pixels on a side.

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