MachMachines Reviews: Photos for OSX

Photos is the bomb.

No, we’re not referring to the old days when a Mac would crash and throw up a bomb icon on the screen.


Photos is the name of the new OS X program that is replacing iPhoto, and to a lesser extent Aperture. It has a reasonably familiar interface because it is modeled after the “Photos” app on iOS devices. Apple is taking a step towards creating a cohesive experience across all of all their products.

 Before Updating

Photos was installed as an update with the latest version of OS X (OS X 10.10.3, or as I like to call it OS X X X .3) and for me the update went pretty smoothly. There are stories online of people having issues, and we can’t speak directly about their problems, but here’s some advice. Before you do any major OS upgrade, you should run a “permissions repair” on your Mac (even do it periodically). This means going to your Applications folder > Utilities folder; open Disk Utility. Then choose your hard drive, and then click the “repair permissions” button; wait until it’s done.

You also want to back up important files or documents– it’s a good habit to get in if you aren’t already doing this. If we may digress for a moment, for those not using Apple’s Time Machine (a built-in backup utility) you don’t know what you’re missing. External hard drives are fairly cheap now, you can get an external hard drive for an extremely low price nowadays. Here’s our writeup on external hard drives if you’re interested. 

Anyway, after the install, I was asked if I wanted to migrate from iPhoto to Photos; I clicked “yes” (after reading the full Terms of Service– ha!) and Photos went to work, looking through my files and uploading pictures and videos.

I only had one instance where Photos seemed to lock up; and this was confirmed by the name highlighted in red in the “All Processes” window of Activity Monitor. This program is found on your Mac at Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor. Anyway, a near-sure fix for this lockup, after waiting 5 minutes or more to confirm it’s going nowhere fast, is to look for the process named “spindump,” highlight it, and click the little “X” at the upper left of the window, to terminate spindump (with extreme prejudice).


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

Most of the time, and you may have to click the “X” more than once, by stopping spindump, the program that is locked up will now resume. And you can use this for any recalcitrant program, not just Photos.

Feature Set

Photos is similar to the iOS photo app, so iPhone and iPad users should feel right at home. There’s a main window that shows your pictures, a sidebar, and some basic picture-editing tools. It works with almost all picture types, even RAW format files, and the app supports most video types. You can also upload Photoshop .PST files, but we’d recommend against importing them as they’ll take up a lot of storage space.

Photos layout

Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

There is the option to store your pictures and videos as duplicates inside Photos or just use their cloud links. I preferred the former, but that really depends on your hard drive’s free space.

This means if you import 500 MB of pictures, that’s another 500 MB of hard drive space consumed; if you use the link feature, importing that much uses maybe 100 KB to create the links. There is also the option to use what is called “optimized storage,” where the picture that stays on the Mac is low resolution, and the high resolution picture is stored in iCloud.

At the “Get Info” screen for a picture, you can enter a name for the picture as well as a description and keywords.


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

You can also see a zoomable map if there’s any geolocation information attached to the photo:


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

You can now use the System “sharing” tools to email a photo or post the picture to social media. Right-click (or control-click) a photo, and you’ve the option to: get info, rotate, duplicate, hide or delete it. When you “share” it you have the option to use iCloud photo sharing, Mail, Messages, Airdrop, Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr. You can also choose to set the selected photo as your desktop background.


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

On the sidebar you’ll find all your projects that were carried over from iPhoto. You’ll also find some of the categories from your iOS device, such as Panoramas, Slo-mo, or Bursts.


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins


The editing tools work well. They are no substitute for Aperture, so I’ve heard, but they seem to do a fairly good job. I didn’t use iPhoto editing tools much, so I can’t really say if the new tools are better or worse. Really they’re “correction” tools (e,g, color, brightness); you can’t edit your creepy neighbor out of that cookout photo without something like Pixelmator or Photoshop.


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

The functions offered include: Light (exposure, highlights shadows), Color (saturation, color contrast), Black & White (remove color, tune intensity and tone), Levels (adjust highlights, and shadows) White Balance (options include neutral gray, skin tone, temperature/tint), Definition (image clarity), and Vignette (add shading to a picture’s edge).

What I Love About Photos

Speed – Photos imported my 60 GB iPhoto library in less than an hour.

Photos also feels snappy when compared to iPhoto. For example, it took 20 seconds to analyze a couple thousand photos and five minutes to import. As you import, the little circular icon at top left fills counterclockwise from light to dark. Furthermore, the program checks to see if there are any duplicates in the selected group while importing.


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

I also like the fact that – in theory – my digital pictures and videos are both safe from loss/damage, as well as accessible from my MacBook Air and iOS devices.

One note – the “checking for duplicates” feature only works on the photos already imported by Photos; it does not look at what was in the inherited iPhoto library.

What I don’t like

When I went to create the new Photos album in iCloud, it informed me that the pictures and videos I had needed a larger storage account. This confused me, as my iPhoto library was about 60 GB. I checked a bit, and realized that Photos scanned all the attached hard drives for all pictures and all movies; this includes iMovie projects, archived home videos, as well as film and other movies that may have downloaded (legally of course).

As it turns out I do want these backed up, so all-in-all I’m happy; but perhaps Apple could make the reason for the size discrepancy clear.

One other unusual thing which we discovered while writing this article (and shows you why you should come to MachMachines, as we haven’t read this anywhere else) is apparently Photos will import PDFs!  I found this out by importing all contents from a folder that happened to have PDFs in them; assumed only pictures and videos would be imported, and other file types would be skipped.

As it turns out the PDFs would not be a problem if you’re got a large enough hard drive and iCloud storage space. However, multi-page PDFs are not viewable inside Photos. Maybe they would be on iOS devices, but right now they just take up space in Photos. Fortunately you can search for “.pdf” and delete them.


What are the iCloud prices?

You get 5 GB for free. Don’t forget– with high resolution pictures and 1080i videos, it doesn’t take much to fill up your free space. After that it’s $0.99 / month for 20 GB, $3.99 for 200 GB, $9.99 for 500 GB, or $19.99 for 1TB.

Where are my projects?

These have been turned into albums. Apple also has new book styles available.

What are those hearts?

No star ratings anymore, you either love a photo or you don’t.


Credit: Mark Lee Rollins

How long can a picture’s name be?

50 characters, and you can add keywords and tags.

No sidebar?

It’s hidden by default; View menu > Show Sidebar.


We would really like to have the ability to manually geotag a picture by dropping a marker on a map.

We think the action of being able to import PDFs should be an option you can turn off or on; at the very least it’s confusing, and at the very worst it wastes storage space.


Photos for OSX is a step in the right direction. Apple seems to know what they’re doing here.


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About the Author
Mark Lee Rollins is a Partner at the Isosceles Group, an environment, safety and sustainability consulting company in Boston. Mark is in a 12-step program for technology addiction, and lives in Connecticut with a very understanding wife, two kids and four dogs. A confirmed zythologist, his musings can be found at Club Belgique.

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