Photos For Mac: The Good, The Bad, and What iPhoto and Aperture Users Will Miss Most
In June of 2014, we all learned that Apple had been building a whole new photo managing program called Photos for Mac OS X. Later in the same month, Apple dropped a bomb and declared they were also ceasing future development of both of their current applications — iPhoto and Aperture.
Apple did however say they would update iPhoto and Aperture to run indefinitely with Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite. So, as long as you are willing to run 10.10, you could in theory use iPhoto or Aperture for as long as your heart’s content.
For the rest of us, we were left sitting there last year, befuddled, with the assumption that Apple must intend for us to eventually move our previous photo libraries over to their new Photos application when it’s released sometime “next spring.”
It’s now February of 2015, and the first version of Photos has been released into the wild as a “developers beta” for a select group to try out. Unfortunately, I’m not a developer, so I don’t have access to the software yet. However, I am very excited to get my hands on it, so thankfully there will also be a public beta released very soon.
In the meantime, journalists and bloggers from multiple websites have already put out “first look” posts and videos letting us know what we should generally expect when we load this application up for the first time.
I’ve read, watched and analyzed almost all of them so I could finally form a better opinion of what iPhoto and Aperture users are going to go through if we decide to start using Photos instead.
As I finish up writing this article — and things could change if any new developments are uncovered — here’s what I think about the current state of Photos for Mac.
If you use iPhoto regularly, and it pretty much does everything you need in a photo manager, I think you should be very excited about your future with Photos for Mac as a true replacement application.
From what I’ve seen, almost everything that you probably use in iPhoto now has already been written into Photos. On top of this, it’s been made even better by simplifying the interface, speeding up the way the software handles large collections, and makes tasks such as color correcting photographs a much simpler process for novices with their new slider controls and syncing of all of your photos with all of your devices using their iCloud Photo Library.
But, if you are outgrowing iPhoto’s current feature list — you know, you wish you could do a whole lot more with it — or you are already an avid Aperture user, the future still looks a little uncertain. And that’s putting it mildly.
Photos for Mac, in its current version 1.0, is not an Aperture replacement. Those who earn a living as a professional (paid) photographer will especially be disappointed at what it can’t do.
However, I am still optimistic as ever, and do believe Apple is working towards the goal of adding a lot of Aperture’s most popular features back in, either through core routine updates or possibly even 3rd party plugins and extensions.
But, with this first 1.0 version release, the list of missing items that made Aperture so great is longer than even a light “photo enthusiast” Aperture user would prefer.
What’s Already Great With Photos for Mac
I went through all of the information I could find out there, and I took a lot of notes. Here are the best features the current version of Photos for Mac has going for it. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all its features, but merely just a list of what I see as the highlights.
Not that I ever thought iPhoto or Aperture was ever cluttered, Photos for Mac is even cleaner and easier to find things. It looks like Jonathan Ive and his team did their thing and scraped away anything and everything that wasn’t essential to the current list of features.
What’s left in some views is pretty much just your photos and a few buttons you will use to navigate around your photos.
Very importantly, like iPhoto and Aperture before it, all of the edits you do in Photos for Mac are “non-destructive.”
This means you can always undo changes you’ve made at a later time and return your photos to their original state when you imported them.
iCloud Photo Library
If you elect to turn on this optional flagship feature, in addition to having all of your photos and videos stored locally on your Mac, you can also have them on all of your other devices as well by tapping into your iCloud Photo Library space. Yes, I said videos too!
And to be clear, this is unlike the current Photostream where you are limited to only the last 1000 photos you have taken. With iCloud Photo Library, you are only limited by the amount of space you have in your storage plan. Additionally, photos and videos formally backed up in iCloud won’t be now, because they will already be stored in the iCloud Photo Library. This means you won’t have duplicates taking up double the iCloud storage space.
It’s fairly obvious why this feature is optional and turned off by default. Not only is an internet connection necessary (there are still places in the world without it), unlike in your Photostream, photos and videos stored in your iCloud Photo Library will come at a cost starting at $0.99 (USD) a month for 20 extra gigabytes of storage.
iCloud Storage Pricing
|iCloud Storage Pricing (Monthly)
|Prices are effective as of 12/17/2020. When you sign up for iCloud, you automatically get 5 GB of free storage. If you need more storage, you can upgrade to a larger storage plan (Prices USD Monthly).
Apple Support Page | International Pricing
The additional cost however will probably be outweighed by the tremendous convenience this will unleash on you having all of your photos on all of your devices at the same time.
This means you won’t have to spend time anymore creating special albums to sync from within iPhoto or Aperture to your iPhone just so you were sure you had important photos with you to show your friends and family while away from your Mac.
If you shoot a photo on your iPhone, it’s automatically added to your iCloud Photo Library, which means it will then appear on your Mac, your other iOS devices, and even on iCloud.com. (Cheating partners, here’s your fair warning!)
Are you getting excited yet!?
iCloud Photo Library automatically stores all of your photos and videos in their original formats, including JPEG, RAW, PNG, GIF, TIFF, and MP4.
Additionally, you can select “Optimize Mac Storage” for your computers and devices that have less storage space to work with. If you choose Optimize Storage, iCloud Photo Library will help make the most of the space on your device, keeping your full-resolution library in iCloud and storage-saving versions on each device. You will choose to have this “optimize” option on or off for each device in its settings for the app, as some of your devices will have more local storage space than others.
According to Serenity Caldwell of iMore.com in her article “What You Need to Know about Photos for OS X“:
If you select optimized storage, your computer will only store a percentage of your images on-device at high resolution, with the rest available from iCloud. That percentage changes depending on how much free space you have available on your Mac, and it intentionally doesn’t take up the entirety of your hard drive. (You won’t have to worry about your optimized library only leaving you 500 MB of free space to work with on a 128GB MacBook Air, for instance.)
High-resolution pictures and video are prioritized behind the scenes, with specific groups of images — say, favorites and recently edited photographs — chosen to be stored locally. Additionally, any time you open up an image to edit it, the high-resolution version is pulled down from iCloud’s central repository.
If you would like to know more details about how the iCloud Photo Library works, here’s a really informative FAQ on Apple’s website.
Not only can all of your photos be on all of your devices at the same time, they will also all be in sync. This is absolutely incredible. If you do something to your collection on one device, the change is also made to your other devices also running a version of Photos automatically.
This feature goes hand-in-hand with iCloud Photo Library, so it will only be active if you have turned on iCloud Photo Library and on the device you want to be in sync.
Here are a few examples how syncing works:
- Editing — If you edit a photo, for example you crop it and add a filter to make it black and white, the same photo will be updated within seconds on all of your other devices with the same edits applied.
- Deleting — If you delete a photo from one version of Photos on one of your devices, within seconds the same photo will be deleted on all of your other devices as well. Currently, if you were wondering, a photo can’t exist on one device and not on others with iCloud Photo Library enabled.
iOS users will feel right at home since Photos for Mac was written to look and feel similar. So if you’re already comfortable using Photos in iOS 8.1 or later, you already know how to use Photos for Mac.
Multiple Organizational Views
Like the iOS 8.1 and later version of Photos, Photos for Mac also organizes all of your photos in a chronological way so that you can see your entire life in photos quickly and easily without the complication of having to organize your photos in “Events” or “Project” folders like we were forced to do in iPhoto or Aperture.
Apple states on their website:
The beautiful all-new design of the Photos app uses Moments, Collections, and Years views to automatically organize your photos and videos by time and location. With dramatically more screen space devoted to your photos, you can easily scan your entire library at a glance and quickly find the content you’re looking for.
A new, streamlined toolbar puts the right controls at your fingertips, giving you instant access to the photos you’ve shared, the albums you’ve made, and the projects you’ve created. And you can even use gestures to browse your entire photo collection with just a touch.
Simplified Image Correcting
The all new adjustments interface makes the process of color correcting your photos much easier by giving you easy to use “smart sliders” that can globally change lighting and color by using “intelligent algorithms to analyze your image and apply the right mix of adjustments.”
A new “auto-crop” tool will analyze your photo and figure out where the horizon is, when it will then adjust it according to the “rule of thirds.”
And notice the “bandaid” tool icon near the bottom right in the screenshot below that will give you use of the retouch tool to remove blemishes in your photos.
Aperture users… take note of this here !!
Advanced users who might be worried Photos for Mac doesn’t at all have a pathway to advanced photo editing should be relieved to see this “add adjustments” panel opened.
Inside you will see additional adjustment controls that can be added or removed to customize your view. Notice how it’s divided up into basic and advanced — one way advanced needs could and probably will be serviced in the future.
Apple could update the application with more and more advanced controls, and in theory, even open it up to 3rd parties with plugins or extensions to add anything a photo enthusiast or pro would want.
Large libraries will now feel “zippier.” It’s no secret that many people all over the world have complained their massive collections in iPhoto are bringing their laptops and some older desktops to a crawl as they try to do almost anything in it.
These days are hopefully over since Photos was written from the ground up with an all-new method of handling your collection. “Buttery smooth” is a term Crag Federighi, Senior Vice President of Sofware Engineering, used to describe how flowing through an almost endless wall of your photos’ thumbnails will feel.
There is a much improved upon filter support built into Photos that should also allow for 3rd party extensions to bring in custom ones.
Faces is back to help you quickly group and tag multiple photos with someone’s name using built-in facial recognition algorithms. It appears to be a bit different in Photos and hopefully is even more accurate than we’ve seen before.
Basic EXIF metadata such as detailed camera info and GPS location can be displayed in an Information window similar to how it functioned in iPhoto and Aperture.
Photos also handles limited IPTC metadata support with captions and keywords.
Use the Share menu to easily share photos via iCloud Photo Sharing and AirDrop. Or send photos to your favorite photo-sharing destinations, such as Facebook and Twitter. You can also customize the menu and share directly to other compatible sites that offer sharing extensions.
Photo Books and Projects
The ability to create special projects is back as you would have have hoped.
Making special gifts for loved ones is easier than ever with Photos. Simple tools and new Apple-designed themes help you create beautiful prints, photo books, cards, and calendars that your friends and family will always cherish.
Fresh new designs and streamlined tools help you easily build beautiful custom photo books. Add full‑bleed, two-page spreads and include your own captions, maps, and more. You can create square books in new 10‑by‑10‑inch or 8‑by‑8‑inch sizes in both hardcover and softcover.
Order gorgeous prints of the iPhone panoramas you’ve taken. Just choose Auto-Sized to print your photos with no cropping in sizes up to 36 inches wide. Or choose from a variety of new square sizes.
What’s Possibly “Bad” For You With Photos for Mac
Now, after combing through all of the articles and videos I have found since the release of the first developer beta, here is my list of all of the things that stood out to me that have the potential to make switching over to Photos version 1.0 feel anywhere from a bit different for you, all the way up to very challenging or even uncomfortable.
All of these points below shouldn’t immediately be considered a bad thing to you. But, depending on how set in your ways you’ve become using iPhoto or Aperture, they may or may not be something that will cause you to rethink how you work with your photos.
Like before, this isn’t a complete list, but are just ones I was able to put together as I sensed concern and fear during my research.
Events/Projects Are Simply Albums Now
Photos doesn’t use “Events” like we have in iPhoto or “Projects” like Aperture uses to separate, organize and store your master images in. Instead, all of your photos (master images) are stored in one place — in one folder if you will — that you access by merely clicking on the “Photos” tab at the top of the application.
This is very similar to iPhoto and Aperture where you have the “Photos” quick-link at the top left of your library that when clicked, will display your entire library of photos all at one time.
But, now the real difference is you will no longer need to bother spending any time choosing a secondary “folder” — Event or Project — to store your photos in like you had to before while importing new photos in iPhoto and Aperture. Instead Photos will use your camera metadata to organize all of your photos in various orders.
The beautiful all-new design of the Photos app uses Moments, Collections, and Years views to automatically organize your photos and videos by time and location.
I really think this could end up being a very freeing addition for iPhoto users or anyone else that never appreciated this task of organizing photos into separate “Events” or “Project” folders. Now, using GPS, time and date information pulled from your camera’s EXIF metadata, your photos are all automatically organized for you in a chronological linear fashion.
But user-specified organization hasn’t been eliminated from Photos. Instead of focusing all of your attention organizing your master images into separate folders, now you just deal with creating albums and smart albums to bring together limitless “virtual” copies of your photos in groups of your choosing. And whether you use albums is completely optional.
Additionally for those who like their ways of tidiness, any number of albums can be put inside of folders to help create tighter and hierarchical organization.
Jason Linaschke from “The Photos Expert” says:
On migration from Aperture, Projects containing no albums become albums, while Projects containing albums become folders containing multiple albums; one album contains the entire project’s photos, and additional albums are created for each album in the original project.
Serenity Caldwell from “iMore” adds:
“iPhoto Events, and Aperture Projects and Stacks are all converted to Albums (and folders holding albums) so that you don’t lose any of your prior organization. These albums are Mac-only, however; they don’t sync with your iOS devices.”
iCloud Is All or None
From what I’ve read, and from what I can tell from the minimal Preferences window, iCloud Photo Library is an “all of your photos” or a “none of your photos” kind of a deal. So either you turn it on and all of the photos in your collection will be stored in your iCloud Photo Library space, or you keep it turned off and none of your photos are stored and synced with it.
There is a workaround though. In theory, all you would have to do to be a bit more discreet without your collection that you share with “the cloud” is to create a second Photos library. I believe the setting for iCloud Photo Storage is a per-library setting, so photos in this second library wouldn’t have to be uploaded.
As later versions evolve, and Apple becomes more confident in their syncing with all of our photos, they might opt to give us more control as to which photos we share in iCloud Photo Library. For example, they could allow us to select an album of photos and turn off iCloud syncing with that specific album.
Correct EXIF Metadata Is Even More Crucial (UPDATED)
(Revised – see below)
Those using Photos with scanned photos in their collection will find that it’s more important than ever to insure that the “date shot” is correct inside of your master image’s metadata.
If you scan a photo, and don’t use software to change the “date shot” EXIF metadata attached to this photo, if you were to import this photo into Photos for Mac, Photos will try and organize this photo chronologically based on the date and time you scanned the photo — which is near the current date and time, not when the image in the photo was taken!
So now as you’re scrolling through the Collections, Moments or Year view in Photos, you will see this older photo mixed in with current photos because Photos doesn’t know that you scanned an old photo taken a long time ago.
As of now, it doesn’t appear that Photos has the “Adjust Date and Time” feature like iPhoto and Aperture has. So currently, you will be on your own to use another application to adjust this date and time before you import them into Photos.
In the comments below this post, Mark brought it to my attention that while trying out the public beta that was just released, he discovered that Photos does in fact have an option to adjust the Date and Time of a photo. I just tested this in my beta version of Photos and he is most certainly correct! So, maybe this was added in a subsequent build from the original version journalists received.
Additionally, I tried to see if it could “batch change” multiple photographs. I highlighting two different photos and then selecting the option to “Adjust Date and Time” and I was given the option of changing the first photo’s date and time to the same specific date and time, and then the second photo would be time-shifted accordingly.
The ability to time-shift multiple photos is great in situations where a digital camera’s date and time wasn’t set correctly and a set of photos is off consistently. However, this won’t be helpful when trying to change multiple photos to the same exact date, such as when trying to change the shoot date of multiple scanned photos you knew were all taken on the same date. Instead, it appears to want to only change the first photo highlighted, and then time-shifts the others using its current date taken metadata — which is most often the date the photo was scanned into your computer.
Star Ratings, Flags and Color Ratings Are “Gone”
Star ratings, flags and color labels are no longer part of Photos — at least not in this version.
Instead, you have the option to favorite a photo by giving it a “heart” — clicking on the heart looking icon near the photo. All photos you’ve favorited in this manner are then accessible by the “Favorites” menu item under albums. (This appears to work like flagging did in iPhoto and Aperture — either on or off for a give photo)
Fear not though! All of your star ratings, flags and color labels you gave your photos in iPhoto and Aperture carry over to Photos, and are merely turned into keywords for you. Your photos previously marked as having 5 stars now has a keyword of “5 stars.” The same for the rest: e.g. “4 stars,” “3 stars” … “1 star.” Flags and color rating also receive an appropriately named keyword.
So, you can continue to add a star ratings with keywords to all of your favorite photos and then search for these selected photos in the search field. Or, you could create a smart album with the condition of showing all photos that contain the keyword “5 stars” if you want to produce the same result often.
Additionally, for quick application, you can assign your star ratings as keyboard shortcuts, such as to the number keys 1 through 5. After you’ve set it up, it’s as simple as just hitting a number key when a photo is selected and the keyword will be applied.
I believe more than ever that Apple is moving all of their applications to using keywords and tags, which they see as the future of organizing in all of its software.
Geotagging Photos Missing
You can view the geotag information with photos already tagged with this geo-specific information from your camera’s EXIF metadata. But, it appears as if currently you can’t add geotag information to those photos missing it once inside of Photos.
Edit Photos in Application Missing
As of the beta release, opening a photo with an external editor (such as Photoshop) isn’t currently an option.
But, like other missing features, this doesn’t mean it’s not possible the public version of 1.0 “this spring” won’t be released with the feature added in, or that it won’t be one of the early items added in with feature updates.
From what I am seeing with current software developed by Apple, they are moving forward with extensions (iOS with 3rd party extensions for photo filters etc.) and sometimes plugins (Final Cut Pro X) to allow externally controlled applications. So, I am really not too worried this is something they will never add in. I think it’s just a matter of time.
Aperture Specific Features (Currently) Missing:
- Batch-renaming photos during import — This is personally huge for me. Though, we can do this in another application first before import if we had to.
- List view — Very helpful with many aspects of organizing and labeling in Aperture when you don’t want to view just thumbnails.
- IPTC Metadata — All IPTC metadata thankfully is brought over and still stored within your photos, but sadly, much of it isn’t currently accessible and in much of a capacity.
- Custom fields — Not currently brought over at all! (Don’t import your collection with custom fields at all into Photos without a backup stored away!)
- Stacks — [sigh] I love using stacks!
- Metadata batch adjustments
- Merge/split libraries
- Split view
- Custom Metadata views
Seeing Photos In Action
Reading about Photos and seeing screenshots of it is one thing, but seeing video of the application being used is another thing entirely. I’ve good a few really good videos for you that I’ve found.
First, start with the 2-minute long video clip of Photos for Mac being shown off for the first time ever during the 2014 World Wide Developer Conference in June of 2014. It’s already cued up for you, ready to start right when the software is being introduced.
(Start time: 01h:17min:40sec — Problems playing video? Click here)
I’ve also found some really well-made “hands-on” video review posts. My favorite is by David Pogue on Yahoo! Tech. Additionally, here is one with Dan Seifert from The Verge, and Edward C. Baig with USA Today.
And finally, here’s one with Ste Smith at Cult of Mac:
(Problems playing video? Click here)
UPDATE: I just found this fun personal feeling walk-through video that’s less “polished” and rushed that you might enjoy as well.
(Problems playing video? Click here)
If everything missing and different about Photos for Mac makes you feel a little sick inside, please remember that all of us who have enjoyed Apple for many years have come to learn that Apple is willing to kill off some of their favorite children if it means moving forward with how it envisions the future.
So now, as you try and get your head wrapped around how your life will be with Photos for Mac, please keep in mind this is just the beginning. The very beginning. Even if version 1.0 isn’t released later in the Spring with new amazing features we haven’t seen yet, it’s still possible Apple will have new features added in updates shortly. Just getting the iCloud Photo Library syncing engine working smoothly is a monumental task in itself.
Maybe all of us being patient for a few “key” missing items, just long enough to give Apple enough time to make sure they don’t lose half of our photo collections on the way up to the cloud, will turn out to be a good trade.
Question for you — do you plan on using Photos for Mac when it comes out? What do you look forward to the most with Photos? And what are you going to miss the most from iPhoto or Aperture? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below after reading all of this.