Last June, Apple announced the impending retirement of iPhoto and Aperture in favor of Photos for OS X, a new application it demonstrated briefly at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). For most of the intervening 10 months — a long lead time for a company that prefers to ship software soon after announcing it — we didn't know the new application's capabilities.
Would it be friendly enough for casual users but also include the depth to satisfy Aperture's professional photographers? Would it be like a few other notable Apple software rewrites, like iMovie and Final Cut Pro X, that took bold steps forward at the expense of stripping away features and alienating users?
It's time to find out. Photos for OS X is available now as part of the OS X Yosemite 10.3.3 update. The new version of the operating system is required, since Photos takes advantage of a new system framework to function.
A modern photo library application has two jobs: organize the photos you add to the library so you can locate them easily, and edit photos to make corrections or change their appearance. (Sharing photos, uploading to social media, and ordering prints are also important, but I don't cover those features in this review.)
Photos for OS X handles them with varying levels of success, but it also stretches to take on another, more ambitious task. Apple hasn't been simply creating a new photo application for the Mac — this is the Mac component of the company's grand photography effort that connects the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, Apple Watch, and the Web. With iCloud Photo Library, Apple is attempting to make all of your photos — not just the ones you capture with any one device — available on every Apple product you own.
All that said, I'll offer one spoiler up front: Photos is not an Aperture replacement, even though it can open Aperture libraries. If you've only scratched the surface of Aperture's tools, then you can probably expect a smooth transition. If you're a photo professional or enthusiast whose workflow revolves around Aperture, you'll want to stick with it for as long as you can, with an eye toward switching to another application like Adobe Lightroom at some point. Aperture and iPhoto continue to work under Yosemite, but they're no longer being updated.
Also note that this review is based on the latest developer beta versions of Photos for OS X and OS X Yosemite 10.3.3. At this stage of development, main features are nailed down and showstopper bugs are usually sorted out, but if anything changes between the beta and the shipping release, I'll update the article.
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