First look: Photos for OS X

First look: Photos for OS X

User interface

When you start Photos, the first thing that strikes you is its flatter and cleaner interface. It appears closer in looks to the OS X Yosemite. There is only a thin top menu bar, with photo thumbnail previews dominating the rest of the interface.

There are only a few buttons on the top menu bar. On the left is a slider for enlarging or reducing the preview images, with the Back and Front buttons beside it. On the right are the Add and Share buttons, as well as Search bar.

At the middle of the menu bar are four buttons - Photos, Shared, Albums and Projects.

Click on Photos and you will see all the photos in your library. Clicking the Back and Front buttons will toggle you through Years, Collections and Moments views, similar to the iOS Photos app.

The Shared panel lets you see the photo streams you are sharing when you enable iCloud Photo Sharing.

The Albums panel includes several default albums. They are All Photos, Faces, Last Import, Favorites, Panoramas, Videos, Slo-mo, Time-lapse and Bursts. Those who have an Apple iPhone will find these albums familiar.

The Projects panel is where you can create slideshows, books, cards and calendars.

All in, I found the interface really intuitive. Most users should have no problems getting used to it.

Library transfer

Photos for OS X supports your existing iPhoto and Aperture libraries.

It took me 19 minutes to import my iPhoto library - all 43.2GB of it - on my four-year-old MacBook Air. I was surprised to find the resulting Photos library taking up just 28.4GB. So it looks like you can save some storage space in your computer when you upgrade.

Photo viewing

To view, edit images and make adjustments, double click on the thumbnail display of the photo for it to expand and fill up the user interface. When you do that, a new set of tools will appear on the right of the top menu bar, among them Favorite, Info and Edit.

The Favourite button lets you tag the photo as a favourite. But there is no way to vary the rating, such as by assigning the photo a four or five star.

The Info button lets you access the photo's metadata, including the camera type, shutter speed and ISO settings. You can also add a title, description and keyword to make searching for the photo easier later.

Photo editing

Click on the Edit button and the interface's background turns black, with a set of editing tools appearing on the right of the photo. These tools include Enhance, Rotate, Crop, Filters, Retouch and Adjust.

The Enhance tool is for the lazy photographer, as it enhances the photo with just one click. That said, this tool gets it right most of the time in terms of exposure and contrast adjustments.

The Crop tool lets you crop a photo in different aspect ratios, such as square or 4:3. I like that the software automatically zooms in when you are cropping tightly so you can see whether the image is sharp or not at that crop.

The Filters tool gives you eight filters - Mono, Tonal, Noir, Fade, Chrome, Process, Transfer and Instant. The Retouch tool lets you remove blemishes on your photo, such as sensor dust spots.

The Adjust tool is where the serious photographers want to go. Click on it and you will see the Light, Color, and Black and White options.

Clicking on each option reveals a slider bar, which can itself be clicked on to show another more advanced slider for more fine-tuning.

For example, the Light slider lets you tune the general brightness of the photo. The advanced slider lets you fine-tune things like exposure, highlights, shadows, contrast and more.

You can also customise the Adjust panel by adding more tools, such as Sharpen, Definition, Noise Reduction, White Balance and Levels.

Serious photographers will find the Levels tool to be the most useful. It allows plenty of latitude when adjusting the shadow, mid-range and highlight tones of the photo.

One more thing: You can copy the adjustments you made on a photo and paste it to another photo. However, you cannot do batch processing like you can on Aperture.

Closing thoughts

Photos for OS X looks like a great replacement for iPhoto, but it is perhaps an inadequate substitute for Aperture.

For serious photographers currently using Aperture, I think it might be time to look at Adobe's Lightroom photo management software.

However, for casual photographers and iPhone shutterbugs, Photos should more than suffice. It is clean, intuitive and powerful enough for most of their uses.

This article was first published on Mar 25, 2015.
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