Almost a year ago, Ben Long wrote a pretty nice article about how to move away from Aperture. He outlined a plan that would ensure that you would be able to preserve much of the work you have done in Aperture, should you decide to adopt a different application.
Back then, and even now, there has been much speculation as whether or not Aperture will make it. People have suggested that if Apple doesn’t grab hold of a certain portion of the market they may just dump the whole project altogether.
These types of rumors have been running around the internet since Aperture was launched, and while I don’t really see Apple dumping a product like Aperture anytime soon, talk like this does prompt me to think a little about things like image permanence in the digital world.
With film, the study of image permanence was a huge deal. All sorts of studies were done to prove or disprove the “archivalness” of film based materials. They studied the affects of UV radiation, humidity, and all sorts of other variables to determine how long we could plan on keeping our precious negatives around.
But, when digital photography became readily available to the public, we saw a whole new onslaught of issues arise along this same vein. The first ( and quite possibly the most talked about ) issue was the concept of RAW images.
Camera makers began offering their proprietary RAW image data from their cameras in addition to a processed Jpeg or large TIFF file. I think this was partly due to a demand for more control over the image and partly a way for camera makers to sort of show how much they cared about their customers. Remember, there is nothing stopping Canon or Nikon from only writing TIFFs and Jpegs, aside from the influences of their customers.
But, photographers never really even knew about RAW until camera manufacturers started offering it. I’m not really sure which came first, but the point is, somewhere along the line, we photographers got obsessed with the word RAW.
Along comes Aperture
When Apple announced Aperture, one of the biggest selling points was its ability to simplify a RAW workflow. Apple showed us that one software application could handle all sorts of RAW image types and with a seamless and enjoyable user experience. And I believe they did a fine job. I personally shoot nothing but RAW anymore, and Aperture continues to be the focal point of my workflow.
It’s a pleasure to be able to work with RAW files so easily in Aperture, and I have to say, I’m hooked. But one other thing that Aperture introduced ( for me anyway ) was a really seamless and non-destructive work environment. Now I feel like I can work without having to worry about hurting my original artwork. My “negatives” are always safe, never touched by human or computer hands, and stored neatly and in an organized manner within my archive.
But what if Aperture dies? What if all of the sudden Apple drops the product, or even worse, what if for some reason I just can’t get Aperture to open on my machine?
Obviously the later is a temporary problem I will probably be able to solve, but the former is much more daunting. What do I do?
Well, I suppose it would really have to do with how extensive the work I had done with Aperture had been. I mean, all of my original files are always going to be safe and sound, even though they are in proprietary format. I have them all stored neatly in a referenced archive, so I can always get at them with other applications without a problem ( and I should probably be doing this already), but what about all my Versions and Masters, and Metadata.
Well, Ben’s article describes some good ways to deal with this stuff, but I have to wonder how “universal” of an approach this would be, and how labor intensive this would be? In other words, what should I be doing differently to preserve the data I am creating on a daily basis in Aperture.
Many people have been talking to me about exporting XMP sidecar files. I think XMP has always been a good idea in some ways, but fails in others. The idea of a standardized approach to metadata is really good on paper, but may never fly in the real world. We shall just have to wait and see how it evolves. But the idea of a sidecar file is something sort of odd to me.
I guess sidecar files came from the non-destructive school of thought. Like, just create a little file that sits next to the “real” file that holds all the metadata. This way you are never actually touching the file.
To me this approach sounds a lot like the card catalog at the library. A system that was replaced by, you guessed it, a computer some twenty or thirty years ago. ( Well, they still use one here at the public library in Dominica, but that’s another discussion altogether. )
So where am I going with all of this. Well, I think what really needs to happen, aside from an open RAW format, or agreement on the DNG approach, or Canon and Nikon playing nice together, or peace in the Middle East, is a much more universal system with regards to digital imaging.
I’m not just talking about the image data, I’m talking about the meta-data, and all of the database instructions that Aperture or Lightroom writes when you make any changes to an image Version.
There should really be some type of package file thing. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but I am brainstorming here a little bit. There should be some type of single unit entity that can house a RAW file from any camera, its DNG equivalent (if you like that sort of thing), and all the metadata associated with that image. All stored in one, non-destructive format that anyone could read, openly.
Okay, maybe I am dreaming of a utopian imaging society somewhere in Bizarro World. But, really, what would you do if all of the sudden there was no more Aperture? Same goes for you Lightroom aficionados! How would you deal?!?!