AMITIAE - Friday 8 May 2015

Seeking Replacements for Aperture (Part 2): Darktable, Nikon Capture NX-D and Corel AfterShot 2 Pro - Putting them Through their Paces

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


With the news that Apple will cease development of Aperture, users will need to find alternative workflow software. Neither Photos nor Adobe's Lightroom are in my plans, although I do use Photos for some purposes. I sought out alternatives and installed Darktable, Nikon Capture NX-D and Corel AfterShot 2 Pro on a new Mac mini to see which I might prefer.

One of the reasons behind my recent purchase of a Mac mini was to have a machine that would allow me to run test software. I chose the 256 GB SSD option along with an additional 8 GB RAM, bringing it up to 16 GB. The specifications are similar to my current 13" MacBook Pro although NovaBench indicates that the Mac mini is slightly faster.

Mac mini

I have noticed that in recent years Apple has shown a move to smaller, but more agile SSD technology, with the basic Mac Pro starter disk being only 128 GB. Apart from OS X and applications, there is little room for content. Data, it seems, is expected to be accessed via external media or the cloud. This evolution was factored into my decision to choose the 256 GB SSD. I could have had the 1 TB Fusion Drive option for the same price.

With Darktable, Capture NX-D and Corel AfterShot 2, I used an external hard disk that contained several Aperture libraries. Although I was doubtful this would work with such third party software, it was worth a try. Rather than run the risk of conflicts, I quit each application before working in one of the others.

Each application has its own download and installation process: Darktable and After Shot Pro requiring the user to drop an icon into the Applications folder; the Nikon software needed a download of an app to download and install the software .

Instead of a single application, the Nikon software resides in a folder that contains other applications (Capture NX-D, Nikon Message Center and Picture Control Utility), each in its own nested folder, along with three separate installers. This, along with the generally bland Nikon site, moved this choice down the most-favoured software list.

I started each app separately for a sense of how it might work and to avoid any interference from the others. I began with Darktable. I was warned when I started each of them that the app had not come from a known site. My first task was to see if the Aperture libraries were visible and available. If so, this would save me a considerable amount of work. To be honest, I was not expecting to be able to access these; but at least I tried.

The Darktable interface was just what I would expect, although with no images yet imported, the full range of tools was not available.


An Import tool to the left of the panel opened to offer 3 options: image, folder, or scan for device. No devices were found although a disk was connected to the Mac. I will have more on this in Part 3 when I look at importing images from a camera.

I tried the folder option. The display showed a Unix-like hierarchy and I saw in the display, Volumes, which led to the hard disk I was after. I had to navigate into a Pictures folder where the Aperture libraries were stored, but nothing was shown. I would have to export images using Aperture (or other means) and then import the originals.

I cancelled the operation and tried Image: there was a single JPG on the desktop. Dragging the image into the application, displays it on the Lighttable. I was able to view metadata (slightly more than is available with Photos) as well as edit certain parts, such as copyright information.


I clicked on Darkroom and the image was displayed with a fair selection of editing tools, some of which (like Lens Correction) would have to wait until I had imported some RAW images to work with. This initial look suggested a good general array of tools, but I would need to examine these in more detail. I would also need to import a selection of images to see how Darktable allowed me to organise images and folders.

I had some problems opening AfterShot initially as Apple's security told me it was from an unidentified developer. As the full Pro app is available in the Mac App Store, either Apple or Corel may need to update some information.

I found the application in the Finder and used Control + Click to bring up a menu. The top item was Open. This time I was asked if I was sure. I was asked to select a location for a folder which would store settings, cache and user data. For now, I am using the default, but note that this could be changed later. A folder for the catalogue was also needed. For the time being I accepted the default location: the user's Pictures folder.

It is said that first impressions are most important. I immediately liked what I saw when this opened although some of the selectors seemed a little odd as their titles were displayed vertically. This was really quite instinctive though.

AfterShot Pro

To the left were Library (at top), to show file organisation within the application; File System, showing the disks and Home folder; and Output (Batch and Printing). It was easy enough to navigate using the file structure, but again the Pictures folder was not giving up its contents.

I was able to see the libraries using the Import menu, but they were all greyed-out. Instead I used the Open file option and brought in the same JPG I had used earlier. I noted then that screen-shots on the Desktop were greyed-out. These are PNG files which are not supported.

AfterShot Pro

There is a wide selection of editing tools, along with several presets in 6 sections: Standard, Color, Tone, Detail (including lens correction), Metadata (simple) and Plugins. There were only two plugins shown, but more can be added. Over two dozen (32-bit and 64-bit) are available for download. Some may require an online purchase.

This initial look at Darktable was promising, but I needed that larger image import to make a better assessment.

Capture NX-D Nikon's Capture NX-D had an older look and feel to it, with colored buttons (minimise, etc.) that I had not seen in recent versions of OS X. The overall view of the main panel was similar to the other two applications and when opened, the file structure was shown.

When I tried to look inside some of the folders on the external disk, the application crashed. It only did this one time. When I tried again, some images were found, but (like the others) the Aperture libraries were not accessible. I brought in the same image I had used before but at this early stage it was not clear how (or if) I could import to Capture NX-D. This was a problem that would be reflected in each of these applications.

Nikon Cqpture NX-D

There was a reasonable selection of tools, but these were not as comprehensive as the selection in Darktable or AfterShot Pro. An interesting feature allowed me to "undock" editing tools and the histogram panel, leaving me a full screen display and the ability to move these out of the way. They could both also be closed, leaving me considerable latitude to create a clear working environment.

My initial intention here was to have a quick look at each of the applications and to see whether it was possible directly to import images from Aperture libraries. I had not been confident that this would be possible, and merely confirmed my suspicions.

I also wanted to see if it were possible to remove one (or more) of the applications from my assessment. Each has its own good points and weaknesses, so there is no quick-death option for me here.

To try and choose which of these might be a valid replacement for when Aperture eventually disappears, I needed to try some realistic tests, including direct imports from a camera which Aperture does so well (Photos a little less).

See also

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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