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Review: Photos for OS X is faster than iPhoto but less powerful than Aperture

Jeff Carlson | April 9, 2015
Last June, Apple announced the impending retirement of iPhoto and Aperture in favor of Photos for OS X, a new application it demonstrated briefly at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). For most of the intervening 10 months--a long lead time for a company that prefers to ship software soon after announcing it--we didn't know the new application's capabilities.

However, dragging works with only one face at a time; you can't choose multiple faces and assign them this way. Instead, you can take an alternate route and click the Add button to see which images Photos thinks contains a person already named.

I admit I was dubious about Faces, a star feature in iPhoto, being relegated as an album in Photos, but it works alongside several other special albums that collect favorites, panoramas, videos, slo-mo and time-lapse videos, and bursts (the multiple shots captured when you hold the shutter in the iPhone's Camera app).

Another former star feature, Places, is retained in Photos, but it's easy to miss. In the Years, Collections, or Moments views, click the name of a location to view the photos on a map. The iOS version of Photos exhibits the same behavior, which seems oddly hidden to me. If geolocation data is attached to a photo (such as a shot taken with an iPhone), a map also appears in the Info window, if the window is visible.

Unfortunately, there's no way to assign geo information to photos that don't already have it. For example, if I shoot several photos of a location with my iPhone, I can't copy that data to photos shot at the same place with my DSLR.

Easy keywords and speedy searches

All of these components are built in service of locating photos without endlessly scrolling through the library (even if that is faster now). Turning star ratings into keywords puts more emphasis on keywording as an organizational feature (an approach I applaud). The Keywords Manager is a separate window that you'd probably never open except for an important shortcut. To restore a semblance of star ratings, drag the rating keywords ("1 Star") to the Quick Group area, which allows you to apply the keywords by pressing a number on your keyboard. The catch is that the Keywords Manager must be open when you're doing the tagging. You can also simply type keywords into the associated field in the Info window.

The benefit of tagging is making photos easier to find. Aperture users will miss the ability to assign tags and other metadata during the import process (and speaking of importing, tethering a DSLR is no longer an option). However, the Search function finds matches beyond just keywords, including locations and Faces names. In my testing, searching was quick and accurate (although the Info window showed information for the entire library instead of the current search result).

I must admit that I'm a bit perplexed as to why the Info and Keywords Manager windows are free-floating entities, even when Photos is expanded to full-screen mode. Perhaps Apple is no longer pushing for applications to be limited to one self-contained window, or this is just the byproduct of developing a 1.0 product (albeit one with 10 years of experience behind it). As it is, I find myself moving the supplemental windows more often than I'd like. Many people coming from iPhoto may simply never access them.


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