Photos for OS X has finally arrived, replacing the dusty and worn-out iPhoto with an image management application that Mac users will actually want to use — but is there enough here to satisfy Aperture users?
Last year Apple announced that they would be discontinuing iPhoto and its more powerful cousin Aperture, and replace them with a revamped photo program that better fits a climate of iPhones and iCloud.
Though the replacement app shares nearly all the features of iPhoto, Photos is more streamlined, cleaner, and faster. In short, there’s a lot of reasons to upgrade OS X and admire Apple’s hard work.
Photos is a free upgrade as part of OS X Yosemite’s 10.10.3 upgrade, available through the App Store application. The upgrade requires OS X v10.6.8 or later, 2GB of memory, and at least 8GB of available storage.
For more information about upgrading from previous versions of OS X and other requirements, check Apple’s official requirements.
From iPhoto/Aperture to Photos
If you only have one library installed on your Mac machine, launching Photos for the first time, you get the opportunity to copy your current iPhoto or Aperture library over to Photos. This process will migrate (copy) all your photos, including metadata, albums, album structures and projects to a new Photos library. Depending upon the size of your original photo library, this process can take a significant amount of time.
The new library will be saved to the Pictures folder on your Mac, and it will become your System Photo Library. You also will be asked if you want to backup and sync your library to your iCloud Photo Library. Here you have several choices to consider and make.
You can now choose to upload all of the photos in your library to your iCloud account. However, if you have a large library (more than 5GB of photos), that will take up your free allotted iCloud space. If you plan on keeping your photo library synced and backed up to the cloud, then you will need to pay for extra space, starting at $0.99 per month for 20GB.
As shown in the screenshot below, you can also select to Optimize Mac Storage to keep full-resolution photos and videos in iCloud and on your Mac, but if your machine gets low on space, photos copied to it will be automatically replaced with optimized lower versions. The full versions will always be stored in your iCloud account.
Your new Photos library will retain all original iPhoto/Aperture albums and album hierarchy, including the smart albums. However, Photos does not contain the rating system used in iPhoto and Aperture. The ratings applied to your original photos are turned into keywords in the Photos library. In Photos for Mac, you simply check the heart icon to identify photos as favorite, as it is done in the iOS Photos app.
Fortunately, nothing is changed in your existing iPhoto and Aperture libraries after you copy photos from them into your new Photos library. However, you should know that any changes you make to photos in iPhoto and Aperture won’t be carried over to the same images in the new Photos library. They’re two separate libraries. In my experience, the process of copying over photos went okay, but my custom slideshows and book layouts from the Aperture library didn’t copy over well to the new Photos library.
Another option for setting up your new Photos library, is to migrate your your iPhoto/Aperture photos to your new Photos Library, and select not to use the iCloud Photo Library, but to use My Photo Stream instead.
Photo Stream will sync between all your enabled device up to a 1000 of your recent photos, for 30 days in your iCloud account. With this setup, you can actually have all your Mac and iOS photos in one library, but you don’t have to upload all your original Mac photos to the iCloud Photo Library.
As shown in the screenshot above, you can also enable iCloud Photo Sharing in Photos, which will display any albums you’ve created and shared with other people. iCloud Photo Sharing does not count against your iCloud storage allotment.
Multiple Photo Libraries
If you have more than one existing iPhoto and/or Aperture library, you can choose to migrate those individual libraries to new Photos libraries, but note that you can only have one System Photo Library on your Mac that is synced to your iCloud account.
To create a new Photos library that is not a System Photo Library or to migrate another existing library to to a new Photos library, quit Photos, press and hold on the Option key, and then relaunch Photos. From there you will get the option to choose another library or create a new one. And yes, photo libraries can be saved to an external drive.
At some point you will want to fully migrate all your photos to one or more Photos libraries, because while you can still use iPhoto and Aperture, Apple is no longer providing support and at some point they will cease to work effectively with future OS updates.
The User Interface
The new user interface provides quick access to your photos, including albums, Moments, Faces, and a folder of Favorites. If you don’t already know, Moments displays your imported photos arranged chronologically by the date they were taken and grouped together using location data.
With the sidebar of Photos closed, four sections of Photos appear in the toolbar: Photos (Moments), Shared Albums, Albums (the ones you create on your devices and share to your iCloud account, and Projects (slideshows, cards, calendar, and book layouts.)
Just like iPhoto, the sidebar of Photos is used to navigate your content more directly. Albums and projects can be organized into top-level folders, and albums can be hidden when not needed. In my view, the sidebar makes Photos feel a little cluttered (but fortunately you can close it for a better look at your content).
As with iOS Photos, the Mac version includes the universal share sheet, and widgets for exporting selected images to the usual places, including Pocket, Tumblr, and other supported Mac applications.
Photos also contains smart albums (File > New Smart Folder), which are useful for automatically managing your content. As an example, you might want to create a smart folder that captures only the images taken in the last 24 hours or week.
Another smart folder could capture images based on the camera you use, or one or more keywords you assign.
Your smart albums will also sync to your iCloud account, though you can’t create or edit smart albums on iOS devices. Smart albums are a powerful way to bring some automated management to your photo collection, but they do take a little effort to setup. The smart folders feature could also use a few additional parameters, similar to the ones available for iTunes smart playlists.
There are a selection of included default smart folders that capture your last imported images, and another folder for all your videos.
Hidden inside of Photos is an advance collection of image enhancement and editing tools to make your photos look better.
Just like iPhoto, Photos includes a histogram, white balance correction, noise reduction, spot removal brushes and and adjustable levels for editing photos. The UI makes use of sliders for edits and enhancements, and at any point in the process, users can revert an image back to the original with a click of Reset Adjustments.
Photos is a non-destructive editor, and that means your originals always stay in tact. Photos also allows you to copy and paste edits (adjustments) between two photos, but sadly it does not allow for batch-processing of photos like you can in Photoshop. You also can’t create custom image presets like you could in Aperture.
As you might expect, Photos retains the photo project features found in iPhoto for creating slide shows, photo books, cards, calendars, and print photos.
As we wrote about maintaining an iPhoto library, the same goes for Photos. Your best photos should be backed up as well as exported to paper projects.
Since iPhoto and Aperture are now officially discontinued, there’s little choice for Mac and iOS users when it comes to using Photos. Overall, managing and editing photos will probably never be as enjoyable or easy as actually snapping photos, but the new app does feel lighter and more streamlined than iPhoto.
Most of its features can be triggered with assigned keyboard shortcuts, but one huge missing feature is batch processing. You can’t apply image edits to multiple images and title changes also can’t be applied to groups of photos en-masse. This is truly odd, because batch changes were available in iPhoto, and time and date changes can be applied to a selected “group” of photos in Photos.
Personally, I’m going to miss not being able to use Aperture, because of its advance photo capabilities. I may look into using Adobe Lightroom.
Let us know what you think of the new Photos for Mac and how well the process of updating your existing photos library worked for you.