Afterlight (for iPhone) review

If you love endlessly tinkering with your iPhone photos, Afterlight could be for you, but Instagram makes more powerful results simpler.
Photo of Afterlight (for iPhone)

There’s certainly no shortage of iPhone apps that can fancy up pictures you take with the smart phone. Undoubtedly Instagram is the big Kahuna in this bunch, but there have been plenty photo-effect apps before it and there will be many to follow it. Afterlight is the iPhone photo enhancer du jour, at number four in top paid apps in the iTunes store as of this writing. And it offers more than just filters, with adjustments, textures, cropping, and more. Best of all, you can still share its results to Instagram, as well as to Facebook, Flickr, and more.

Setup
Afterlight is formatted for iPhones 4 and 5, but also runs full screen on iPads running iOS 5.0 or later. After the initial purchase and download from the iTunes App Store, a couple of in-app purchase complete its options: The Instant Film Pack adds Hipstamatic-style filters recalling the days of Kodak film point-and-shoots, and the 99-cent Wallpaper Pack adds 15 hand-drawn patterns. Happily, you don’t have to sign up for a Web service to get going with Afterlight. I tested on my sweet new iPhone 5s with 32GM memory. 

Interface
On first running Afterlight, just two big buttons grace the home screen—for the camera, and photo gallery functions of the app. The camera interface looks a lot like the iOS 6 camera app, but when you hold two fingers against the screen, you’ll see that you can separately control the focus and aperture, just as in Camera+. You can also show a rule-of-thirds cross-hairs, but you can’t see any filter effects while shooting, as you can with Wood Camera.

Using
So shooting with the app has almost no advantages over the iPhone’s included camera app, especially that of the new iOS 7, and depending on which iPhone model you have, you actually lose some capabilities—HDR, panorama, and the 5s’s burst mode. Fortunately, unlike some photo apps, you don’t have to shoot in the app, since you can work Afterlight’s magic on any image in your camera roll.

Adjusting
An advantage of Afterlight over Instagram is that it actually lets you do some basic photo correction things, like adjusting brightness, contrast, exposure, color saturation, and even highlights (while we’re at it, a shadow adjustment would have been nice).

Effects
Next up are filters. Afterlight offers a whopping number of filters—56 in all. But aside from the well-done black-and-white ones, most of these didn’t result in very striking images. There is a slide that lets you adjust the strength of the effect, but it starts out at the top, so I could only reduce the strength, when I mostly wanted to increase it.

Many of Afterlight’s effect seem geared towards recreating problems found in photos from the bad old film days, when light got onto the negatives and chemicals were improperly applied. The retro thing can for sure be fun, but do we really need 31 different light-leak options? You can also re-create chemical splatters and dust on the image. The in-app 99-cent Instant Film pack adds even more of these imperfection options. Each also can be modified by rotating it, flipping, it or change its color cast.


Missing from Afterlight’s repertoire of effects are a couple of very popular ones—tilt-shift (aka selective focus) and art filters like those that simulate drawings, cartoons, water colors, or pencil sketches. Another thing you can’t do in Afterlight is add your own text titles, as you can with Aviary.

Frames
One of Afterlight’s cooler capabilities is creating image masks. For example, you can have your photo in the shape of a block letter of the alphabet. Lots of shape choices are available, too—diamonds, triangles, circles, playing card suits, even an anchor! Simple “instant photo” borders are also available. You can choose a white or black background for these cutouts, and set the background’s transparency. For 99 cents, you can add charming old-fashioned wallpapers to use as the background instead of just black or white.

Sharing
Once you’re happy with your photo embellishing, you tap the Done button, and are presented with a page full of output options. Three size choices can be saved to the camera roll or shared via email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. One interesting output choice is Postcard, which, thanks to Sincerely.com, lets you send an actual postcard in the mail from your phone—I will definitely be using this one on my next trip!

Is Afterlight for You?
If you’re really into tinkering with your iPhone photos and want a nearly endless number of adjustments, Afterlight could be for you. But when it gets down to it, Instagram makes more powerful results much simpler. Not only are its effect more arresting, such as its selective focus (aka tilt shift) and more realisting frames. But it also has its own built-in sharing community, and don’t forget—it’s free! For even more full-power photo editing, check out our Editors’ Choice iPhone photo editor, Snapseed.


Verdict
If you love endlessly tinkering with your iPhone photos, Afterlight could be for you, but Instagram makes more powerful results simpler.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc