The other day I bit the bullet and purchased Apple's Aperture 2 software, along with a 500GB network attached storage device (Lacie) - and I spent the recent 2 days transferring a lot of RAW images into Aperture 2.
I was after something with very good metadata and keyword management, along with very smart organisation of imported media, and some limited editing ability (eg, remove dust spots, levelling, crop, colour and brightness and so on).
I'd done nothing more than watch the tutorial videos on the Apple website - before plunging in and starting the task of moving everything into Aperture.
The software seems well designed. It is simple to use, and the edits you make in Aperture are non-destructive, such as levels, straightening, colours, crop, etc. When you start the process of importing selected files, that is a background task and you are free to go on with doing other things in Aperture while that is completed.
You can export to PSD format (16bit) - so it makes advanced editing (stuff that can't be done in Aperture) easy enough to deal with. In my case, Photoshop is on a PC, not the Mac - so I transfer files across the network. If you had Photoshop installed locally, it'd be easier still.
I ended up sorting my collection into numerous keyword based smart-albums (see image below). These smart albums collection images together based on a number of different user selectable criteria. I used keywords. I've split things up into manufacturer folders/categories and airline categories. When I put in a image, it will have the following sort of keywords:
A380, A380-842, Airbus Industrie, landing, Qantas, rwy16r, Sydney, VH-OQC
|Aperture 2 main window|
So that image would appear under the ** All Airbus Industrie ** smart album, A380 smart album, and Qantas airline smart album. It would also appear under a number of other categories - if I created them. The search features and organisational features are however only as good as the metadata given to the image - so if your metadata (aka keywords) is poorly done - then the search features and smart albums will also not work well. But if you are methodical about it - the possibilities are impressive. If you need to apply or update metadata quickly across a number of images, based on the first one - that is possible too. You can also do batch updates of metadata.
I also had 4 images of the same plane in sequence, and they were all reasonable, so rather than throwing 3 away - I keep the others and assign them as a stack - grouping them together as the same thing. Once they are stacked, you can collapse the stack, expand it, or promote one of the images in the stack as the "pick" image. Quite handy.
On the adjustments HUD, the auto-levels feature seems to work pretty well, but you can just as well do your own levels adjustments, holding Command to see clipping of highlights or shadows.
The only thing I don't like about Aperture is the apparent lack of a full screen preview of a RAW image selected from the import window. You can use the loupe, but it's not the same thing. Apart from that - the software seems pretty well thought out.
It also has book making and website creation features - but I've not really touched them, and I doubt I'd use the website feature since I'm a web-developer myself and prefer to build my own sites. But if you needed to give a preview of some images to someone over the web in a hurry, it'd be handy. The book making feature appears to offer some reasonable scope for laying out images - but don't expect to be building the sort of books you might create in Adobe InDesign - it's not that sophisticated. You can have a finished book created by Apple's bookmaking service and delivered to your door - how much that would cost I don't know.
And on the 2.4ghz, 1GB RAM iMac I'm using to run it - it works very quickly. So on first impression - it seems like a good bit of software and pretty good value for money. You can't do away with Photoshop completely - but you can leave Photoshop for the more tricky editing tasks that aren't possible in Aperture. The fact that you can pick up the software and make use of everything it can do in a very short time, with only a minimum of watching tutorials is also a very big bonus.
[Edited 2008-12-29 02:00:52]