Aperture isn't for the faint of heart. Apple's new professional digital photograph manipulation program costs $500, requires the highest-end...

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Aperture isn’t for the faint of heart.

Apple’s new professional digital photograph manipulation program costs $500, requires the highest-end PowerMacs and tons of memory, and works best on large LCD displays — two would be better than one, in fact.

But just as Apple trickled down advanced features into GarageBand, iMovie and iDVD from professional music- and video-editing programs the company acquired and aggressively developed, so, too, Aperture portends iPhoto’s future.

Aperture is not Adobe Photoshop, a point made not just by the marketing departments at Adobe and Apple, but by anyone who has used the program.

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Aperture provides fine adjustments of color and tonal values, along with spot fixes for sharpness, a virtual lightbox for examining photos, a service for creating photo books and a host of other pro photo features.

Where Aperture exceeds and complements Photoshop is in its unique combination of three elements.

• First, it works nondestructively, leaving a source image untouched.

• Second, Aperture records modifications to an image as a series of instructions rather than creating identically sized intermediate files, which require huge amounts of temporary disk space. Finished images have these instructions applied when exported.

• Third, Aperture works with the raw data captured by the camera.

Raw data, sometimes capitalized as RAW for clarity, isn’t a file format like JPEG or TIFF, which store data in a standard manner no matter what hardware or software creates or edits them.

Rather it’s minimally processed image-sensor data captured by a camera that varies in format by camera maker and even model of camera. Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) includes a variety of raw data filters as part of the underlying system that handles image data.

Camera sensors capture a somewhat different view of the world than how we see it and a digital camera processes that view into a familiar file format. In the process, a lot of subtlety especially prized by professional photographers is discarded.

At the coarsest level, the distinction in tones that cameras capture is enormously reduced. Looking at just a grayscale image, for instance, a consumer camera transfers an image containing just 256 tones from white to black.

But that camera might capture the difference among thousands or even tens of thousands of tones. What’s the difference? Details in the shadows disappear, and the brightest areas blow out, among other problems.

I tested Aperture on a Power Mac G5 Quad, Apple’s new dual-core, dual-processor system, with four gigabytes of RAM. Aperture ran acceptably fast. Tasks such as using the adjustable size Loupe for viewing details of a photograph’s actual pixels occasionally lagged a moment. That may tell you something about the juice required for this program right now.

Aperture is intended to reproduce what a photographer might do in a darkroom with many hours or tens of hours of work, if it were even possible. Photoshop and Aperture nicely complement each other, and files can be exported from Aperture to Photoshop with modifications applied; Aperture can open Photoshop files, as well as JPEGs and TIFFs.

In reviewing pro photo discussion forums, such as the talk at Rob Galbraith’s site, the feeling is generally positive about the unique features in the program, which is in its 1.0 release (http://forums.robgalbraith.com/ubbthreads.php).

Expect more in the not-too-distant future from Aperture — and from iPhoto.

Back up a little, stop there

My column two weeks ago on backing up your Mac produced a large volume of slightly to very angry e-mail.

Most wanted me to remind others readers that backups are a personal responsibility like showering or taking out the garbage.

Computer makers can’t prevent tooth decay, apparently, but I would argue that they need to hand you the toothbrush and show you how to floss properly.

Several folks wrote in to note that Apple does include a full backup and restore option on the bootable startup disc that comes with every Macintosh. The Disk Utility program can be run from a menu in the bootable installer or within a Mac OS X system — find it in the Applications folder’s Utilities folder.

The Restore tab of that utility offers a way to create a complete duplicate of a hard drive or restore that duplicate onto an existing hard drive. It’s not quite what I had in mind for users without technical expertise — understanding how to use that tab has a learning curve. (Step-by-step instructions can be found at www.macmaps.com/clonedu.html.)

Many readers also wanted me to note that RAID (redundant array of independent disk) setups in which one drive is mirrored by a second don’t protect against the software corruption of a disk or against a total hardware failure of a computer that ruins disks.

This is entirely true. RAID 1, or the mirrored flavor, is a great pair of suspenders coupled with the belt of backing up important files to DVD or a removable hard drive that, ideally, is stored in a safe-deposit box or off site. What RAID 1 really offers is hassle-free constant cloning.

I mentioned Carbon Copy Cloner as a useful donationware tool for duplicating a disk manually. Several readers also like Super Duper, which can update existing cloned hard drives: instead of copying all the files again, it just copies changed items (www.shirt-pocket.com, $27.95 for advanced features; basic version, free). Carbon Copy Cloner requires a free program called “psync” for a similar effect (www.bombich.com).

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to gfleishman@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists