Apple’s Photos App Is Here

applephotos

Update: I held quick periscope Q&A session. If you use the app, you can watch it here.

I just spent an hour playing with the new Apple Photos App and here are a few very early first impressions.

Let’s get the most important question out of the way right now: no, it’s not a full replacement for Aperture or Lightroom. Will that hinder its success? I don’t think it will. And here’s why.

Speed

This thing is blazing fast. So fast that I’m not sure if there’s magic at play. If you scroll through vast lists of photos, they simply are there when you stop. No waiting for loading. The occasional short blurred low-res image when you stop scrolling, but they get swiftly replaced by higher resolution thumbnails.

Migration

When I started the app for the first time, my iPhoto library was already there. I don’t have Aperture on this system, but as both share the same library format, I assume the same will be the case there.

Clarification: If you’re an Aperture user, Photos will convert your library, so you can try out Photos, but it won’t delete your Aperture library, so you can still go back any time.

Simplicity

The Photos app looks deceptively simple when you start it for the first time. Much like Photos app on iOS. It works well with a trackpad, you pinch to zoom, hit enter to edit, and so on. If you’re a sidebar kind of person, you can open that with the according command from the View menu or via a keyboard shortcut.

Shortcuts

As a Lightroom user, I love my keyboard shortcuts. Here are a few that you can use in Photos:

  • OPTION-CMD-S: toggle sidebar
  • CMD-I: show details, including some EXIF data
  • CMD-K: show keyword manager
  • F: open filters in editor
  • A: open image in adjust mode (this is where I’ll spend most of my time)
  • . (period): add or remove a picture from your favorites

Folders

You organize your photos in folders, subfolders and smart folders. They are in the sidebar. Pretty straight forward drag and drop operation. There are some built-in default folders that filter the pictures for you: Favorites, Panoramas, Videos, Last Import and the Faces view that lets you interact with face recognition.

Adjust mode

This is what’s closest to Lightroom’s Develop module. Here you get to play with exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity (Apple calls it definition), sharpening, noise reduction, vignetting, white balance and levels. And you even get a histogram on the top of the right sidebar.

When you open this module at first, it looks very similar to the adjustment module on the iOS8 version of Photos though. It’s quite empty and you’re greeted by a sidebar with three adjustments at first: Light, Color and Black & White and they act very much like the ones on iOS. Twirl them open and they reveal a host of additional detail sliders. Pro tip: if you’re not happy with the range of these sliders, hold down the ALT key and some of them will expand their range.

To add some more tools to the sidebar, click “Add” at the top and there you’ll find what you were missing.

Well, almost… there are no local adjustments at this point. Also no geometry operations, such as lens corrections. Split toning is missing as well as more detailed settings in the noise reduction department.

It’s not that I use those tools all the time, but there’s still something reassuring about them being there, just in case.

Will 90% of photographers (even serious ones) need them? Possibly not. Will seasoned Aperture users be unhappy about some of their functionality having gone missing? I think we can agree on a yes here.

Making Products

Photos makes it super simple for you to make things out of your pictures and I believe that that will be one of the big drawing cards. It took me minutes to get my pictures into a photo book. The same is true for calendars, postcards and regular prints. You compose your product and you order. Payment goes through the credit card that Apple has on file for you. Couldn’t be simpler. I’ll report back on the quality once my test book arrives.

iCloud

This is the scary (and at the same time cool) part. If you enable iCloud Photo Library, all your photos will be uploaded to the cloud and made available on all your other devices. Change one on device A and the change will be visible on device B. At least in theory. It didn’t quite work in the short time I played with it, but as this is just out, there must be massive onslaught on Apple’s servers right now, so I’ll give it a day or two. Also, while I’m writing this, my former iPhoto library which has now been migrated to Photos app, is still being uploaded to the cloud. I love living on the edge… but I also love knowing where on earth my photos are.

Update: it’s one day later, all my photos have uploaded and syncing of changes now works. I change a picture on my iPhone, it updates on all other computers and devices and vice versa. Reverting a picture to its original state reverts it everywhere. These changes aren’t instant, they might take a minute to propagate everywhere, but eventually they’ll get there.

Apple better do a rock solid job here. Photographs are one of the most valuable things people have these days. Especially so if they are photos of the children or a loved one. As much as it’s a pity, most of us don’t really print photos anymore, they live on our digital devices. If Apple messes this up in any significant way and people start losing their beloved photos, the reputation damage to Apple would be beyond anything they could imagine. So I’m willing to bet that they have tested and tested and tested this and that at this very moment, there is a small army watching over the servers to make sure everything goes as smooth as possible.

Pricing for iCloud storage is here.

Conclusion

I think the Photos app is a great start if you’re coming from iPhoto or haven’t really done any photo editing at all. It does a good job in bringing iOS and the Mac together even closer, it cleans up a few things that were quite messy before and even though it tries to be simple, it still has a lot of power under the hood.

If you’re coming from Aperture, this first version of Photos is probably still not quite what you’re looking for. At least not yet. That’s especially true if you depend on things like custom metadata which Aperture had but Photos doesn’t support. Some of the more detailed IPTC metadata will still be in your old photos, but right now you can’t access it through Photos’ user interface.

My hope is that — similar to what Apple did with Final Cut Pro X — Photos will see some updates soon that will help alleviate the pain points and maybe we’ll even see them open it up for external plugins.

Update: After having a closer look at the internals of the library format, I’m now certain that Photos will support plugins in the future, if not already. There just aren’t any installed yet.

Is it worth switching from Lightroom? If you consider yourself a power user then the answer is a clear no.

But here’s how the new Photos app and framework will fit into my workflow: it’s a natural environment to keep all my iOS related photos and videos and with the new found speed and (hopefully flawless) cloud integration, this could be the first time that things seamlessly work across several computers and devices without a huge amount of customization or configuration. And if that’s the case, chances are that I’ll start adding my 5-star pictures and my portfolio material pretty soon to have everything available everywhere.

Update: iMore has a good FAQ that should answer most of the questions

Update 2: If you want to experiment by importing RAW files, make sure you don’t import too many at a time. In its first version, Photos app will use up too much memory if you import too many at a time.

Author: Chris Marquardt

Chris Marquardt is co-author of The Film Photography Handbook and Absolut analog. He's the host of this podcast and a few others. Chris teaches photography all over the world. He is a regular on the TWiT Network.