Snow Leopard for Photographers: What’s on your plate?

Snow Leopard loves Photographers

Weighing in less than 0.5 kg, the package arrived late Friday afternoon. Apparently they don’t deliver on weekends, so accompanied by a friend I decided to head over to DHL’s storage facility, and self-collect the package instead. That was the beginning of what will become a very exciting weekend.

Announced just a year ago by CEO Steve Jobs, Apple set a date for September release; but being Apple they just couldn’t wait and deliver Snow Leopard almost 1 month early on August 28th last week, the news came fast too, no big press gathering, no big launch party, just a humble notice over at their online store a few days before the launch date saying that Snow Leopard is available for pre-order, shipping Aug 28th. The blogosphere went mad, tech geeks, writers & bloggers tweet, write and reviewed this different kind of OS upgrade, people loved it, and I can’t wait for myself to put my hands on it, did, and now I can see what the fuzz is all about.

How unusual Snow Leopard as an OS upgrade is? Well, let’s start with the big news. Rather than adding new features, they wanted to stick with the existing ones (Leopard has enough of that, really) and decided to do what others never done before, what others promised and failed to deliver: faster, smaller & more reliable OS. Boy, they did it. They did it marvelously; 1 month earlier than promised, $100 less than its predecessor with countless improvements across the board.

We photographers live & die with our machines, it’s the air that we breath, the food we eat & the constant companion that never betrays, along the way, we picked up a couple of things or two to complement our machines to help us live better, do a better job, so we depend on those Apps also. Being impatient kills in this industry, and only those who are crazy enough (like me) will dare to take the risk, but they said no risk, no gain, right?

Lucky enough, there are people who were there first, those bloggers I was talking about? They’ve been running & testing Snow Leopard for months much earlier than the rest of us, Apple gave them access to new beta/test builds since the day it was announced, and some of the have been posting their thoughts, reports & findings for the world to see. Lovely. Days prior to the launch, Macworld, the ivy-league publication of the Mac posted many useful things, some dedicated group reported and lists Snow Leopard Apps Compatibility, Apple also published a simpler version of similar list but only the incompatible ones, while Macrumors put together links to Snow Leopard compatible official printer drivers .

With the preflight checks off, I’m all set and Snow Leopard is cleared for landing.

First Impressions

Snappy, snappy, snappy.

With a smaller install base and shorter installation time, this new OS is indeed faster (especially with 64-bit capable, Core 2 Duo machines) by all measures; visual effects, graphic animations, UI interactions all feels snappier. Upon my first restart, a quick check on my Macintosh HD shows 17gb more disk space available before installation began on my old 10.5.8 Leopard install, while retaining my old system’s custom settings & addons–this may have something to do with Snow Leopard’s new disk space calculation method, but it’s always a good thing when we see more space remaining on our drive regardless of the calculation method.

Snow Leopard’s new Gamma setting (2.2, old one was 1.8) gives a slight boost in overall contrast across the desktop without loosing too much shadow integrity & saturation, this means that you have a closer image rendition to your Windows-using printer vendor.

Next is the Finder. Along in its list of refinements are the big rewriting of the Finder, it’s now a fullyCocoa based App like the rest of Apple’s default. Changes are almost invisible outside, Apple made sure of that, but it’s a totally different story under the skin.


Without the luxury of a second, or third display, I relied heavily on Spaces’ to manage my workspace. Mail & Safari on Space 1, Writing & Blogging App on Space 2, Imaging Apps on Space 3, Windows Visualization on Space 4, etc. Yet, it often breaks rather than improving my overall workflow, this writeup by John Gruber will explain how frustrating Spaces can become. This problem, however, may not be Apple’s after all, being the application that experiences difficulties dealing with Spaces are those behemoth coming from Redmond & San Jose, California., the overall behavior of Spaces is largely improved in Snow Leopard, not only it’s snappier, but animations & movements appear more liquid and solid than before.

What about Graphics?

Snow Leopard sports an integrated RAW image format support for major camera manufacturers, not only that I need not to install Nikon View for the Mac to recognized Nikon’s NEF format, rendering speed has been vastly improved. Opening a full-size D700 RAW file in Preview takes less than a second (it usually takes about 3-4 seconds previously with my leopard):

Snow Leopard supports RAW image files from over a hundred digital camera models from most major manufacturers, including Canon and Nikon. By using the GPU-accelerated pixel processing capabilities of Core Image, Snow Leopard lets you quickly view your RAW images in the Finder, Quick Look, and Preview without plug-ins or additional software.

A quick test with RAW files from Canon, Ricoh & other manufacturer showed consistent results, brilliant previews with accurate color rendering are displayed with a blazing speed; combined with the new Cocoa-based Finder, icons can now displayed up to 512 pixels, which means that you no longer need to rely heavily on image management app for editing your photographs, just adjust the icon size from the new icon size slider on the bottom-right edge of a Finder’s window and you’re Finder is your new light-table!

Another small improvements in Finder, is the ability to ‘Put Back’ deleted files right where it belongs, I have problems in the past in deleting duplicated backup files/folders and not being able to restore it back to its original parent folder, this solves that particular annoyance.


The new Quicktime X is also an awesome upgrade, it no longer requires registration to unlock some of the Pro features, and the HUD styled UI is amazingly clean & fun to interact with.


3rd party App Compatibility

As the list suggested, major apps are compatible with Snow Leopard, I have yet to record any crash/problems with Apple Aperture, Adobe CS4, Expression Media, iLife, TechTool Pro 5, etc. Those of you who rely on some 3rd party add-ons/plug-ins might have to wait for a bit before everything’s back to normal.

Due to the 64-bit nature of most Apple’s built-in Apps, none of the existing plug-ins seem to work in Snow Leopard (e.g. Safari’s GreaseKit, WideMail, including those of SIMBL/InputManager based plugins).

By the end of the day, this is an upgrade like no others, Snow Leopard has shown that reliability, speed & refinements are the most important & relevant upgrades a technology consumer can ever get, features are nice, but only as good as how well & easy it works for the users, this could spur a different trend in future developments where other industry could also learn a thing or two, including how to put a price tag on technology.

As a finishing touch, Snow Leopard now has the capability to set time zone automatically based on your location (good news for traveling photographers) & let application minimize to the original icon dock, instead of next to the trash can (good news for power users), these are one of those tiny features that makes up big time.


Nikon USA just issued a statement urging users of Nikon’s proprietary imaging software not to upgrade:

Initial testing of Nikon software with Apple’s new “Snow Leopard” Mac OS 10.6 indicates that there are incompatibilities with Nikon Capture NX 2, Nikon View NX and Nikon Scan, users of these applications should not upgrade their OS at this time. When more compatibility information is available it will be posted on the Nikon web site.

Head over to Ars for an extensive review about Snow Leopard.

P.S. Head-2-Head Blog has a related piece, go check it out.