First look: All-new Photos for OS X

BY Kelly Hodgkins

Published 6 Feb 2015

Apple last year announced that it was sunsetting Aperture and iPhoto and replacing it with Photos for OS X. Though there has been much discussion about Photos for the Mac, the first version of the software was released today to developers as part OS X 10.10.3.  While still in the early stages of development, the app is receiving favorable accolades by reviewers at MacWorld and Yahoo Tech.  Read on the first impressions for Photos for the Mac. 

In both appearance and features, Photos for OS X is similar to the Photos app bundled in iOS. The two apps share the same approach to photo management with both versions featuring a robust organizer coupled with basic editing tools. These similarities are most evident on the main screen of the app, which provides several ways of viewing your photo collection.

Photos for OS X provides four different ways to interact with your photos and videos, including Photos, Shared, Albums, Projects and Import.  Most familiar to iOS users is the Photos view that borrows the time and location-based organization that is present in the iOS version.  In the Photos section, photos are grouped into Years, Collections, and Moments, allowing users to browse their photos according to when and where they were taken.


The gesture-based UI allows users to click on a thumbnail to view a larger preview of the thumbnail as well as drag to scroll through the thumbnail list. Mac owners also can use a pinch-to-zoom gesture to move between layers. A simple zoom out gesture will move users from the Photos layer to Collections, which shows the images captured at a specific time and place. Users can continue to use the zoom out gesture to navigate to the Moments and Year view as well as pinch to move back up the layers. The app also has a location feature that allows users view all the images associated with a location that is highlighted on the map.

Besides the Photos view, Photos for OS X includes a Shared and an Albums view that are similar to the corresponding sections in the iOS app. The Shared section displays all of the shared photo albums, including both photo streams that you share and those shared with you. The albums section, as its name hints, contains the photos grouped into albums. as well as several pre-configured albums such as Last Import, Favorites, Panoramas and more.

Last but not least are the Projects and Import tabs, which are unique to the OS X version of Photos. Also available in iPhoto and Aperture, Projects is the area that contains slideshows, calendars, books and cards. Creating projects in the new Photos apps is fast and easy thanks to tools like the automatic slideshow generator that adds animation and music to a series of selected pictures. Projects are meant ot be ongoing works and as such can be created, saved and then re-edited as needed. Import is similar to the existing Image Capture app in OS X and provides an easy way to import media from an iOS device, a camera or a media card.

More than just a viewer, Photos for OS X also contains a set of editing tools that provides basic options for tweaking an image. You can edit an image by clicking on the edit button while you are viewing it. This opens a list of tools, including Enhance, Rotate, Crop, Filters, Adjust, and Retouch.


Enhance is a one-step improvement that automatically analyzes an image and applies changes to improve the photo, while Rotate and Filters do exactly what their names imply — allow users to rotate and apply a filter to an image. Crop is not as basic as expected with an automatic crop option and an interface similar to iOS. The easiest crop option is the Auto button that will straighten an image and use the rule of thirds to create the best possible result. In manual mode, the crop tool features a wheel to straighten the image and pre-set aspect ratios to increase efficiency.

Adjust is a unique tool that borrows heavily from the iOS version. Similar to its mobile counterpart, the adjustment tool is meant to take the complexity provides three smart sliders for Light, Color, and Black & White. Users can drag the sliders to improve the lighting, change the color saturation and other attributes of the photo. Each slider automatically manipulates a variety of photo details, such as exposure, highlights, shadows and more, in order to create this effect.


The next step in the photo process is saving those precious photos for future use. Not surprisingly, Apple offers an option to save photos in iCloud Photo Library, which syncs photos and their edits across iOS and other OS X devices. This is useful for users who want to access their photos from multiple devices. This cross-platform syncing has its drawbacks as each photo uses a portion of the available iCloud storage quota. A large photo library will quickly fill up the free 5GB quota, requiring users to purchase additional iCloud storage space. Users who prefer to avoid the cloud can deselect the iCloud Photo Library option in the iCloud preference within Photos.

Overall early impressions of Photos for OS X were favorable with Macworld saying Photos “hits a sweet spot for the casual-to-enthusiastic iOS and digital camera shooter.” Reviewer Christopher Breen mentions that performance is significantly improved over iPhoto, and the interface is easier to use than Aperture.

David Pogue of Yahoo Tech is equally enthusiastic noting that “Photos is fast, slick, and very easy to learn and navigate.” He does point out that the app is missing key features such as batch processing and ratings, which may give existing iPhoto and Aperture users a reason to bypass Photos and stay with their current photo management tool until the Photos app matures.

Photos for OS X is available now in the developer version of OS X 10.10.3. The OS X app is expected to debut later this spring when the free Yosemite 10.10.3 update is released to the public. When released, Photos for OS X will only be available to users with OS X Yosemite.

Let me know what you think of Photos for OS X in the comments below.

You may also want to check:

10 Things you should know about iCloud Photo Library