Instagram is far from the only app in the iOS photo-fun game. Nik Software is a more venerable maker of photo enhancement software, having developed pro-level effects for Photoshop for years. The company’s Snapseed can not only add zest or interest to images shot with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch camera, but also share it on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter. Nik’s years of image-editing prowess shine in Snapseed and the app’s interface takes good advantage of the iPhone’s touch screen. Thanks to Nik being sold to Google last fall, the app is now free.
Snapseed’s interface is simple and clear, yet punches a lot of powerful and detailed capabilities. After you open or shoot a photo, you’ll see rectangles along the bottom of the screen (or along the side if you’re in landscape orientation), which you can swipe through to choose edits, adjustments, and effects. Simple swiping gestures let you adjust contrast, brightness, and color, or you can have the program choose those automatically or choose control points in the image. Back and forward arrows at the bottom corners take you through a workflow process from editing to sharing.
Once you learn that swiping up and down selects the effect, and right to left adjusts its strength, you’ve pretty much got the interface down. In the unlikely event that you do get confused, a question mark is always displaying in the upper-right hand corner; touching it overlays helpful hand-drawn instructions showing where to tap or swipe to perform a function. During editing, a picture icon lets you compare your work to its previous edit state, and in the menu interface, you can simply hold a finger against the screen to see the original, to which you can revert at any time.
Snapseed’s “Automatic” fix is pretty limited (to contrast and color correction), but the app adroitly handles photo-fixing basics such as brightness, contrast, cropping and straightening. And its sharpening capability, accessible from the Details option, Nik borrows from its pro-level Photoshop plugin, Sharpener Pro, even letting you adjust with sliders for strength and “structure.” This give you a powerful way to bring out hidden textures.
Special effects include Drama, Grunge, vintage, center focus, frames, and “tilt shift”–a popular technique that gives photos a miniaturized look. These go far beyond what you get in Instagram and Hipstamatic. I was also impressed that many of the adjustments and effects can be applied to specific areas of the image using control points.
The Drama tool added just that to a bleak looking landscape I tried it on, while Vintage offers nine old-photo looks and several texture options. Grunge is one of Snapseed’s most impressive tools, with a whopping 1500 settings, each a different degrees of color emphasis or fading. Once you’re done with tweaking the actual image, you can place it in a choice of frames that give the photo a mounted appearance.
Snapseed offers one of the hottest effects in digital photography today—”tilt shift.” I use quotation marks, because, although this is the popular term for the miniaturization and saturation technique, tilt-shift is actually a geometry effect only possible with expensive lenses. Snapseed lets you choose an elliptical or linear focus area for the effect, and the results can be impressive.
Snapseed lets you share your photo creations directly to your iPhone library, send it in an email, or upload it to Facebook or Twitter. For some reason (anger at Marissa Meyer for jumping ship?) Yahoo’s Flickr has been removed as a sharing option. Since that’s the largest and most active photo sharing service on the net, it’s an unfortunate loss, especially because the app previously did a good job letting me choose the photo set, privacy setting, caption, tags, and description for uploaded photos.
More than Speedy Snapping
Instagram certainly offers fun ways to doll up your iPhone photos, but Snapseed does the best job of combining powerful editing and enhancing capabilities with a clear, usable interface. Though Adobe’s own Photoshop Touch offers more Photoshop-like capabilities, Snapseed is a more complete package, with tools for red-eye reduction and straightening. If you just want to have fun and want another way to share, Instagram is for you. But if you really want to perfect and create with your iPhone photographs, then Snapseed is your best choice.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc