REVIEW: Apple iMac With Aperture 3

by Mike on August 12, 2011

image courtesy of Apple

Well halleluhah! My photography business has been picking up and my lil’ ol’ Macbook is getting ready to die.

So I finally decided to splurge on Apple’s 21.5″ iMac.

Since I don’t travel with my computer, an all-in-one desktop was the obvious choice. Otherwise, I’d have gone with a Macbook Air, which performs pretty dang well with Aperture.

If you’re interested in picking up an iMac they’re available with a decent discount off Apple’s $1,199 price:

Adorama – $1,126 with free shipping, zero sales tax if you’re outside New York State

Amazon – $1,134 with free shipping, zero sales tax in some states

So if you buy from these guys, you can save as much as a $100-150 off buying directly from Apple, depending upon where you live.

I also bought AppleCare, which is Apple’s extended-warranty program. Frankly, I just don’t want to know how expensive this thing is to fix should it break outside the one-year warranty. Apple gives spectacular service within its stores, so to me it’s worth the money.

Here are the basic specs:

  • 2.5GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 processor
  • 21.5″ LED-backlit display
  • 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500GB Serial ATA Drive
  • AMD RadeonHD 6750M 512MB GDDR5
  • Facetime HD Camera
  • High-Speed Thunderbolt Port
  • As far input devices go, I opted for the Magic Trackpad over the Magic Mouse. I love the Magic Trackpad for web browsing and general office work, but I’ll be picking up a Logitech MX518 for photo editing shortly.


    Dead easy. All you have to do is set the iMac on your desk and plug in the power cord. Power up the keyboard and trackpad, and then the computer.

    And we’re off!

    The iMac will then ask if you want to move your stuff from an old computer (Mac or PC) or from an external drive.

    I chose to update my new computer with an external drive that contained my most-recent Time Machine backup. This method basically slaps a carbon copy of your old computer’s hard drive onto your new one.

    The data-transfer process took about an hour and fifteen minutes.

    Two Problems with Aperture 3

    Everything on my new iMac worked 100% fine, but I had two problems with Aperture 3.

    The first was that I had to enter the serial number for my copy of Aperture 2. For some reason, Aperture would not accept my Aperture 3 serial number, saying it was an upgrade.

    Thankfully, I had my Aperture 2 packaging, so I had my serial number on hand.

    I had no such problems with any other software, including my Nik plugins.

    My second problem was that all of the files in my Aperture 3 library (I use referenced files) were coming up as offline. This was bizarre, because the previews showed up in Aperture just fine – I just couldn’t edit, export, or play with them. After some searching online, I concluded that this is just some kind of bug in the system that hasn’t been worked out yet.

    After I spent about 20 minutes hooting and hollering, a friend of mine figured out how to fix it.

    WARNING – back up your hard drive before trying this, or any other fix! I’ve heard some real horror stories about screwed-up Aperture libraries, so tread carefully!

    So here’s the fix that worked for us:

    Step 1) My buddy brought up all the photos in my library by selecting Photos under Library on the upper left hand of the Library Inspector:

    She then hit Command-A to select all the photos, clicked on File, and then Locate Referenced Files:

    This screen pops up:

    In the bottom pane, we navigated to the file that was shown on the upper right-hand of the screen. Then, we hit Reconnect All, and then Done.

    It fixed everything. I’ve read that Aperture 3 can be buggy when moving to a new computer with a Time Machine backup, and this method happened to work for. Again, make a backup before you try to fix ANY problems related to your Aperture library.

    Now, back to the review:

    Aperture 3 Performance

    I plan on upgrading to 12 gigs of RAM, which costs under $70 from Crucial. FYI – you can get 5% off at Crucial via this link. They are dirt-cheap and they ship super-fast – don’t pay for premium shipping, because you’ll get your memory really fast anyway. I’ve used them four times and have always received my memory in three business days or less.

    But for now, I’m very impressed with Aperture 3’s performance on the new iMac, even with the standard 4-gigabyte RAM count.

    In Aperture 3, I played with import processing, RAW exports, batch processing, preset applications, adjustment brushes, view changes, plugin launches, and slideshow generation. Everything is really snappy – no beach balls or real delays to anything. It just works. I’m especially impressed with how responsive the adjustment brushes are, and that’s big because I use them quite a bit.

    Photoshop and Nik Software plugins also run really, really well, and all problems load really quickly.

    I did all my testing with and 15 megapixel RAW and JPEG images. However, I also played with 33-megapixel RAW files from a Leaf Aptus medium-format back in a New York Apple store. Even with those giant files, the 21.5″ iMac performed much better than I expected.

    I assume Lightroom 3 users will be equally happy with the iMac.

    And obviously, the iMac has zero problems with large Excel spreadsheets or Powerpoint presentations – it simply screams when it comes to general computing work.

    Screen Quality

    The screen looks very vibrant and sharp compared to any of my old computers. However, it is glossy, so it definitely looks best in a dark room where on-screen reflections will be at a minimum.

    I plan on getting a calibration device for more accurate color and exposure, but out of the box, the iMac screen looks pretty nice, even with zero adjustments. Whites are white, blacks are black, and shadow areas look nicely detailed. Obviously, the iMac won’t look quite as good as a high-end professional monitor, but it performs very well considering the reasonable price of the machine.

    I popped in two standard-definition DVD’s, including Black Hawk Down and House of Flying Daggers, and they both looked fantastic. After that, I viewed some HD video on the video-game website, and everything looked awesome.


    The iMac’s speakers are pretty loud and provide decent sound quality, but they distort a bit at high volumes. I plugged in a 2.1 Cambridge Soundworks system, but for most people, the iMac is more than enough for playing music and watching movies.


    The Imac’s got plenty of ports:

    • headphone jack
    • audio out
    • four USB 2.0 ports
    • one FireWire 800 port
    • one Thunderbolt port

    I leave my speakers, iPod cable, and back-up drive connected permanently, which leaves me plenty of ports for other uses. And since the iMac has an SD-card reader built-in, I no longer need an external card reader – nice!


    I love my new iMac. Even if I wasn’t editing photos, I’d own one because it’s an amazing general-computing machine for the business or home.

    If you’re interested in picking one up, I recommend Amazon or Adorama, both of which will save you $100-150 off Apple’s prices, depending upon your particular configuration and location.


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