Apple is Good, Until it Doesn’t Work

ND – Dull, Grey, Very Blue

I’ve programmed computers for a long time, and have done so at a very low level. Yes Uni Graduates, there is such a thing as Assembler Language, or Machine Code as we used to call it.

I’ve also played around with a wide array of operating systems over the years; mostly Microsoft Windows in various flavours, many different versions of Linux, and more recently Apple OSX. My impressions?

Windows is the mainstream, but I’m sick to death of fending off constant updates, updates that require reboots the majority of the time and whilst all this is going on my machine gets slower and slower to boot and use, meaning that after a couple of years it becomes an unstable laggy mess.

Linux, I really wanted to work. I really did. I’ve tried a batch of different variants and many versions of some. My love-hate relationship with Ubuntu is the poster child here, but the Xandros on my Asus Eee901 and various other experiments with OpenSuse, Mandriva, Knoppix etc have shown that it’s not alone in one significant respect; WiFi doesn’t work at all if you’re using WPA encryption on your router. Don’t talk to me about ndswrapper, it’s NOT the solution. To be fair, the Xandros on my Eee did work for a bit but then fell over, and when I upgraded my router I failed to rectify the problem there. I’ve tried Linux on several different laptops/netbooks from several different manufacturers and honestly, until someone in Linux land really gets the message that WiFi is useless then I’m not going to try again!

OSX I like. My iMac has sat before me for about 18 months now and is no slower than the day I got it. Updates are less frequent than Windows (yes, I know, some will argue that Microsoft simply takes fixing security holes more seriously – get over it), and the vast majority of the time updates require NO REBOOT! I like the fact that updates even download in the background and the first I’m made aware of them is when they’re on my machine and ready to quickly install. The hoops you often have to jump through with the stupid stupid stupid Windows Genuine Advantage are a serious pain. Being told you need an update, clicking various “yes I’m really sure” boxes, sitting through the download, starting the install, doing the auto-reboot and then being told that my machine was up to date anyway and no update had been needed or was actually installed is not my idea of a seemless computing experience that’s focussed on letting me get on with it.

But, at the end of the day, if a computer doesn’t do what you want it to then it’s completely useless regardless of how pretty it looks. Yes Apple, today’s rant is about you 😦

I primarily post-process images with…
…Apple’s Aperture 2 (yes, I know there’s a “3” but my quick forays on forums have shown that “3” does not fix my issue with “2”), and then resort to Gimp for the more complicated stuff. BTW, as a side rant, could the people behind the GNU Image Manipulation Program please find a better name as every time I admit to using a Gimp rather than Photoshop, I and those around me remember the guy that climbed out of the box in Pulp Fiction just before Bruce Willis came in with a Katana.

I digress.

When you’re running a Blog and a Flickr page and need to process lots of images to keep a constant stream of things happening for all of you lovely people, you need a streamlined workflow. Lots of things I do with images are fairly repetitive on the computer, and many of them are accomplished within the confines of Apple’s Aperture 2 unless I need to start doing more complicated editing with layers at which point the Gimp, ahem, comes out of the box.

Two of the things I do last to prepare images for Flickr or the Blog are to resize them down to a maximum of 640 pixels in either direction, and add my little “(c) Nakedigit 2010” watermark. There’s nothing clever here, Picasso would have had a similar chore if he’d still been around and had embraced similar tech, though I suspect he’d have gained more attention for doing it than I will.

When you hit “Export” in Aperture you get a pre-defined list of export file options which are customisable. I created a couple of new ones; both specifying JPGs as the destination format, both resizing the images to fit within a 640×640 pixel box, and both automatically adding my copyright message to the files. The only difference between them in fact is which bottom corner of the resultant file my copyright message appears in.

This has really speeded up my workflow of multiple images for the Blog and Flickr as previously I had to save them out as TIFF files, ahem, insert them into the Gimp (!!!), resize them by hand, copy/paste my little copyright message layer into the appropriate corner, and then save them out as JPGs.

But it’s all gone wrong. Aperture 2 (and 3 according to my sources) has a bug that corrupts the files in a subtle yet annoyingly unusable way. Look at these three images – do you see anything wrong?

Bricks Missing

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G AF-S VR @ 230mm, Exposure 1/500 @ F6.3, ISO 320

Blue Broken Wood

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 50mm F1.4G AF-S, Exposure 1/3200 @ F2, ISO 200, D700's normal ISO range starts at 200, so on a very bright and sunny day where you require a shallow depth of field for effect (hence F2) the shutter needs to be fast

Concrete Decay

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 50mm F1.4G AF-S, Exposure 1/125 @ F7.1, ISO 500, Overcast but reasonably bright day, standing under a bridge casting a slight shadow. I wanted an aperture within the lens' sharpest range, choosing a fast enough ISO to ensure the shutter was fast enough to prevent (my) motion blur. TBH given the range and focal length, the ISO, and correspondingly the shutter speed, were a little bit unnecessarily fast

“Blue Broken Wood” and “Concrete Decay” I rather like, “Bricks Missing” I’m more ambivalent to, though another working over in post production might raise my enthusiasm. But the only thing I can see as I look at them is the corruption in the images.

If you look closely you can see a faint square grid pattern peering back at you, like a mesh that seems to affect the more evenly varied and regular textured areas more than the rest. Can you see it?

Look again. In “Bricks Missing BAD” I’ve marked some of the obvious areas with red outlines. Stare inside the red marked space towards the top/left and you can clearly see faint vertical and horizontal lines, evenly spaced, marking out a grid of squares. The other marked areas show this clearly too, but if you drift your gaze around the image between the red areas you can see this aberration throughout. Yuk! No part of this image appears safe.

Bricks Missing BAD

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G AF-S VR @ 230mm, Exposure 1/500 @ F6.3, ISO 320, Spat out with corruption by Apple's Aperture 2

In “Blue Broken Wood BAD” this effect is only really noticeable on the even areas of the wood, again marked with the red border. Interestingly, the rest of the image is spared and is nicely defocussed to keep attention on the nail and wood.

Blue Broken Wood BAD

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 50mm F1.4G AF-S, Exposure 1/3200 @ F2, ISO 200, Apple Aperture 2's horrible 'grid' distortion in full effect on the blue wood

In “Concrete Decay BAD” the effect is almost in full force again, visible clearly in the red areas, but noticeable throughout including across the dark band of water and photosynthesizing growth leading down from the top right corner.

Concrete Decay BAD

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 50mm F1.4G AF-S, Exposure 1/125 @ F7.1, ISO 500, Yuk

This has been going on for a little while now and unfortunately a number of my recent Flickr additions and Blog posts have been afflicted by it before I noticed. I dumbly assumed I’d done all the hard work before hitting Aperture’s Export button.

I did some digging…
…to see if I could find a cure. The news is not good. Firstly I wondered if the automated addition of my copyright message may have triggered this, so I disabled the feature to no avail. Next I (more seriously) considered that this was a JPG conversion problem. I hate JPGs, I tolerate them at small sizes for posting on the ‘Net, but you’ll never catch me sending one to a printer, even at its highest quality setting. No, I resort to TIFF files for all of that stuff. JPG is a lossy compression format, and this was the big obvious culprit in my view…

…until I switched to exporting my resized images as PNGs and TIFFs. No dice. The exact same corruption is evident.

Finally, I wondered if the rescaling process was relevant. My starting RAW files are coming out of 10 and 12 megapixel DSLR cameras. The larger, and most oft used one produces RAW files at 4256×2832 pixels. They usually get cropped a bit during post processing, but it’s normally not that significant to drastically alter the size. As stated, all my posted images fit within a 640×640 pixel box, but maintaining their aspect ratios during the shrink.

Bingo, sort of.

By changing the pixel limits to other neighbouring values (600×600, 700×700) I could see the same aberration in the exported files, and by changing my specification from a “fit within these pixel limits” to “shrink by x percent”, setting the percentage to recreate JPGs of similarly small size, I also found the same thing happening.

However, change either specification to generate JPGs at a larger target size (but still smaller than the original), say 2000×2000 pixels, and the problem vanishes. Indeed, I could export the images to fit within 1600×1600 pixels and they still seemed clean, but go much smaller than that and the grid aberration comes out to play.

This has been very frustrating, and I can not find a quick fix. The slow fix is the manual approach. The images below were all exported from Aperture 2 as 8-bit TIFF files at full resolution, ahem, sucked into the Gimp, scaled down to the 640×640 pixel maximum (maintaining aspect ratio), manually applied the copyright message and finally exported from the Gimp as JPG’s at 100% quality setting (an oximoron if ever there was one).

Bricks Missing GOOD

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G AF-S VR @ 230mm, Exposure 1/500 @ F6.3, ISO 320, Exported cleanly by the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)

Blue Broken Wood GOOD

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 50mm F1.4G AF-S, Exposure 1/3200 @ F2, ISO 200, Exported properly here by the GIMP

Concrete Decay GOOD

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 50mm F1.4G AF-S, Exposure 1/125 @ F7.1, ISO 500, That's better

As you can see the effect is not evident with this laborious approach, but it’s a manual pain in the 4r53 when you’re getting through lots of them.

Please Mr Jobs, ask someone to fix your software. Aperture is up against Adobe’s Lightroom, there’s not normally a clear winner here though they have slightly different feature sets and each wins in certain areas. However, they’re both used by professionals, and whilst many professionals wouldn’t look twice at a tiny JPG image, let alone consider producing one, it’s academic because this problem affects any format that’s been shrunk significantly regardless of which format it’s then exported in.

Rant over!

BTW, if anyone knows a better approach I’d love to hear it. I’m guessing there’s a scriptable solution for the Gimp, but i can’t yet find it on the ‘Net and I’m not a scripting expert yet.

Have fun,

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(c) Nakedigit 2010


About nakedigit

I have legs and a camera. I also occasionally use a passport. The camera with my brightest lenses can almost (almost) see in the dark. So the only thing stopping me from putting it all together regardless of where and when i am is, well, me really! However, when i don't completely muck it up the results may end up here on this blog and also my Flickr page. I now Twitter and a website is coming... ND August 2010
This entry was posted in Birmingham, Birmingham UK, blue, Colours, Graffiti, Nakedigit, Paint, Photography, red and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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