While at Photokina 2006, we took a closer look, through a couple of demonstrations, of Apple’s updated Aperture 1.5, and the package looks very impressive.

Designed to be a RAW workflow solution for professional photographers, it manages to incorporate several consumer features without ever losing its cool, polished feel. For example, in the main interface are a couple of buttons to create photobooks and webpages, and although these are easy to use, they produce professional-looking results.

The Aperture library has changed a bit from the first version of the software. You can decide where to store and organise your images, whether through a folder system or through Aperture’s albums. It also integrates Smart Album that work just like Smart Playlists in iTunes. A professional photographer, for example, could tag his images with a shoot number, rating, and models’ names, and then create a Smart Album with all images rated five stars and tagged with the name Keith from that shoot.

In addition, Lighttables can be saved so that you can group images, lay them out, resize them and compare them, and then save exactly what you were working on while you do another task.

All edits or changes are preserved in versions, so that you can always go back to the original file. Any edits that you make will carry through all your albums.

Aperture also creates nice-looking previews of all your images, including ones that are stored externally, and lets you edit and organise them while you’re disconnected from the source. It can do this precisely because it is a non-destructive image editor that never touches the original files.

The tighter integration with other Apple software means that you never have to come out of Aperture to use your images. Emailing images is a breeze; you simply drop an image on to the Mail icon, and Aperture converts it from RAW if necessary and resizes to attach to the email.

Another feature that impressed us is the new image editing tools, including advanced Colour controls. These let you select blue, red, yellow, green, purple, or magenta colours in the image and then carefully tune Hue, Saturation, and Luminance in each colour channel. Those settings can be saved as presets and then stamped across a stack of images.

Other powerful editing tools include various spot and dust reduction tools, and a new edge-sharpening tool.

The Loupe tool, which was always a winning idea, has become even better. It now can be positioned to oneside, to enlarge whatever the cursor lands on without actually following the cursor around the screen, so that it doesn’t block parts of images.

Results of the image editing tools and RAW conversion tools will have to be examined more closely and compared to other software, but at first glance, Aperture looks pretty impressive on these counts.

Price when reviewed:

Should Adobe be running scared? Briefly, yes. It is still testing its RAW workflow software, Lightroom in beta, and was demo-ing it at Photokina. After wandering from the Aperture demo into a Lightroom demo, it certainly holds less initial visual appeal than its competitor.

With the new photo editing tools in Aperture, fewer photographers will feel the need to duck out of the programme in order to edit in Photoshop, although there will always be a need for certain tools that only Photoshop provides so far. And it’s not nearly as expensive as Photoshop and Adobe are.

I like Aperture. I like it a lot. In fact, I liked it so much I want a Mac just so I can use it.