iPhoto to Aperture – Should I?

This article is obsolete. Images and broken external links have been removed.

I currently use iPhoto as kind of a digital asset management system. I have about 16,000 images in it that I’ve collected over these many years. I don’t use it for anything other than a quick crop or edit and I never save the changes back. So I decided to see what it would be like to move this library to Apple Aperture. With Aperture’s reputation as a resource hog could it even handle it?

What I have:

  • 16,705 images in the iPhoto library.
  • The images are almost exclusively jpg’s with some gif’s and png’s. There aren’t any camera raw images.
  • The library size is 7.1GB per iPhoto and takes 8.3GB on disk. The difference is caused by things like the thumbnail databases, library files and other overhead.
  • None of these files are my own personal digital photos, those are in another library.
  • There are over a hundred catalogs and folders.
  • There are less than a dozen smart catalogs. A smart catalog issue with an earlier version got me to stop using them.
  • I’ve done extensive tagging and rating of the images.
  • All of my iPhoto images are “originals” in iPhoto terminology. Because I don’t use iPhoto to track edits I did a “revert to original” to remove any copies. This would cause any edits to be lost.
  • iPhoto and Aperture are both at their latest versions. iPhoto is 7.0.2 and Aperture is 1.5.4

What I don’t like about iPhoto (so would want Aperture to address):

  • iPhoto wastes disk space.
    • Whenever I open a image in an external editor it creates a copy, even if I don’t make any edits.
    • If I want to make multiple version of a file I have to make copies of the original (or the image I will edit if not the original) and then edit each one. So two versions creates 4 files, three versions creates 6 files and so on.
  • Thumbnails are all stored in the same large files. This results in large backups even when making minor changes.

So I want Aperture to use less disk space while allowing me to maintain multiple versions of an image. I also want to to be able to backup more efficiently since I’d like to do online backups. Those thumbnail database files kill me.

Importing to Aperture from iPhoto

As the screenshot to the left shows (click for full size) Aperture includes an import from iPhoto library option. This will pull in the entire library, you can’t select parts of it. You could use something like iPhoto Library Manager to create smaller libraries with just the images you want.

I kept the option to store the files in the Aperture Library rather than keep them where they are. Since they’re in the iPhoto Library not moving them could cause conflicts. I selected “Version Name” for the “Version Name” field. This is the name that will be given to the image in Aperture. This will use the names that appear in iPhoto instead of the file names if they aren’t the same. I also applied this to master images.

The actual import took about an hour on my 24″ iMac. But that was followed by several hours where the thumbnails and previews were created. The thumbnails and previews are created as a background task so Aperture can be used while this happens.

The Results

The results were better than I expected.

  • All folders and regular albums were imported and the structure was maintained. Smart albums were not created.
  • Photos are imported once and referenced by the Aperture catalogs.
  • Within the library the photos are organized by event (as they are in iPhoto). There’s a folder called “Events” created in the Aperture UI, under that there’s a project for each event which contains the photos.
  • Keywords were imported. New keywords (from Aperture’s point of view) have “(iPhoto)” appended to them.
  • Ratings are imported
  • EXIF imformation is imported
  • “IPhoto Original” is added as a keyword for the iPhoto original photos. Since all my images were originals they all got the tag, but the copies created by an edit would not have the keyword.
  • Aperture, even with 16K images is very usable on my iMac now that the thumbnails and previews are created. Before that it was a bit slow. There’s a couple second delay if I load a folder with hundreds of images but it’s very acceptable. But, iPhoto is faster with the same number of images.

What about disk space? This is the bad news as it doesn’t even come close to accomplishing what I want.

  • The 8.3GB iPhoto library (on disk) grew to a 18.7GB Aperture library (on disk). This is due to the thumbnails and previews created for each image.
  • Aperture can do backups to a “vault”. I figured the backups would be smaller, and they are. But a backup still took 10.5GB on disk which is still more than the entire iPhoto library.

The Bottom Line

Using Aperture as a digital asset management system is certainly possible for me. The Aperture Vault doesn’t contain files of hundreds of megabytes so it may be slightly more efficient doing backups than iPhoto is. But just the backup alone is 25% larger than the entire iPhoto library.

If I needed Apertures editing abilities for these images I’d probably be making the move. I’d at least spend more time looking into the possibility. As it is, I’ll be staying with iPhoto as my digital asset management system.

Anyone using Aperture to manage thousands of photos? How’s it working?