First Look at OS X Photos – Pleasantly Surprised!

PhotosIconI’m a Lightroom user first and foremost but have used iPhoto extensively over the years for family snaps and for making books and calendars. I’ve also used Aperture for books and, more recently, Photos on iOS for snaps. iOS Photos is “fun” to use and surprisingly useful on an iPad despite not being able to tag or title photos (my pet peeve).

This morning, I’ve starting dabbling with Photos on OS X (10.10.3 Yosemite) – Apple’s most recent OS X upgrade, which is free) and am very pleasantly surprised with what I’ve seen so far. I was planning to spend only a few minutes with Photos, but became intrigued with its depth.

Many of the pundits have written off Photos (before really working with it) as a dumbed down Aperture that’s meant simply for iPhone and iPad photographers. Wrong! While it’s not an Aperture replacement, Photos is a very mature photo editing app that borrows the best from iPhoto/Aperture with a more modern UI and many tools that takes it well beyond the beginner stage.

While in this first iteration, Photos doesn’t have all the in-depth pro tools of Aperture, it is far superior to iPhoto. What I like best is that it is only as complicated as the user wants to make it. You can start off with the basics and gradually add complexity as you become more interested, technically savvy or daring. Did I mention Photos is FREE? And, better yet, it is a great improvement over than any other free photo editing app out there, the main contender being Picasa.

Photos-ScreenshotI am very pleased I can add Titles and Descriptions and keywords – which I couldn’t do in iOS Photos. But, I cannot geotag photos made with a non-GPS camera (my D800E, for example!). Photos will read GPS data and display photos on a map, but only if the GPS data is already baked in.

More importantly, though, the UI is elegant, at least far more so than LR or iPhoto, and cropping and straightening are easy – I especially like the auto-straighten feature. The beauty of Photos, though, is the variety of very powerful adjustment tools. I can turn on and off various Adjustments as needed (like LR), and I can use the “Save as Default” to keep the most used adjustments always visible. Adjustments also include a Histogram (which I turned off in the screenshot because I have Levels turned on).

Photos-AdjustmentsNow – take a closer look at the Levels: users can adjust them in quadrants similar to LR’s Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. There are also Levels controls for each colour channel and for Luminance. In fact, each of the Adjustments have drop-down selectors to allow further refinements. While this can lead to more clicking than you are used to, the functionality is pleasantly surprising in a free app that’s supposed to be “dumbed down” (according to the photo editing snobs out int he ethos!)

Another surprise is how well the healing tool works – it’s more intuitive than LR and more along the lines of Aperture. While you cannot revisit and change or delete previous “heals” as you can in LR, I find the tool to be more accurate and you can preselect the source area with an Opt-click.

No doubt, there is far more here than the average user will ever use, but I see this as one of Photos strengths: users can grow into the app as they become more interested in furthering their photography or as they become more technically inclined.

Sadly, at this point, there are no adjustment brushes and gradients, so helpful in LR and Aperture. They would certainly make Photos more of a contender as a replacement.

As I have a book project on the go, I spent a few minutes with “Create > Book” (which I finally found under the “+” sign). Photos is much closer to Aperture in book creation than iPhoto ever was. There are far more choices available and options within each choice (perhaps too many for those who might be overwhelmed by choice). Page colours and photo layout options are greatly expanded from iPhoto (but still not customizable by, for example, moving and rotating), as are font selections. While this can lead to a dog’s breakfast of design, to someone who knows what they are doing, one can do a lot more to achieve even better results – certainly Photos has LR beat in this respect!

Photos-BookThe Book module in Photos also works much more smoothly than in iPhoto or Aperture. I do wish both the Page Options and Text Options windows can be open at the same time, but I’ve not found a way to do that (the screenshot is a compilation to show both). The window does change instantly from one to the other, but I find that distracting to the creative process.

Let me be clear, though… Photos does not replace the professional options offered in Aperture or Lightroom (due to lack of brushes, gradients, history, B&W Split Toning, etc.) and I will continue to use LR for DAM and processing, but Photos will remain an important app for creating calendars (which my family loves each year) and for books.

My hat goes off to Apple for the improved UI, the great variety and depth to Adjustments and the much improved Books in Photos. Any improvement from here can only make an already very good product even better, and remember, it is FREE to Apple users.

One comment

  1. Bob Melnyk says:

    Thank you for the information Terry. I’m not an Apple products user but interested in what they have to offer. Who knows, someday I may make the switch (scares me) that would make my son-in-law very happy. He is ‘married’ to everything Apple.

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