The best Apple iPhone apps for photo and image editing, group test review

PhotoForge2, FX Photo Studio, PhotoShop Express, Lo-mob, Camera+, Color Leap reviewed and rated
Photo of The best Apple iPhone apps for photo and image editing, group test

Welcome to the first of our new-look Apple iPhone round-ups where we sift through a mix of new and established, free and paid-for apps from a particular category in the iTunes store – like games, productivity or navigation – to find the best app in its class. This month, we’ll be taking a look at photo editing apps.

Please feel free to give us your feedback on the apps we’ve tested, and let us know about at apps or categories you’d like us to look at in future.

PRICE: £0.59 inc. VAT
PhotoForge2 – which costs a hard-to-believe 0.59p – has the kind of editing features that ‘proper’ photographers enjoy discussing over a beer, like curves, levels, hue, saturation, lightness, white balance, noise reduction and exposure. We’re getting hot under the collar just thinking about it.

With its relatively small screen the iPhone’s not necessarily the best platform for hardcore image manipulation (and some of the control panels almost completely obscure the photo you’re working on, so you have keep hiding and revealing them), PhotoForge2 is still an amazing piece of software.

PhotoForge2 lets you edit photos at their full resolution, and has proper layer support for adding masks and transparency effects; as well as 25 effect styles, each of which has a simple ‘strength’ slider so you can control the amount of the effect that’s applied to the picture.

There’s even a neat, thumbnail-based undo feature that lets you roll back through the various edits you’ve made and revert to any one of them. Lovely, dense interface that keeps revealing itself the more you use it. This is a monster program, just monster.

FX Photo Studio
PRICE: £1.19 inc. VAT
FX Photo Studio (£1.19) is a great app for snappers who like to fiddle, but don’t necessarily know too much about what they’re doing. So, alongside clever cropping tools with plenty of useful presets such as 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, simple rotation in five-degree increments and basic gamma correction (just a single slider, really) you also get 187 preset effects divided into 20 categories (think Vintage, Frames and SFX) that make all the adjustments for you, automatically.

The app’s interface is solid without being outstanding, with one exception – the fish-eye lens in the middle of the graphic on the main screen is actually live. If you click it, PhotoStudio’s own camera loads, takes a photo and automatically applies a random effect; if you don’t like the result, click the dice icon and it’ll apply another one.

You can load photos from the library or your computer via iTunes, then save the results to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr or attach them to an email. FX PhotoStudio offers a good blend of manual tools and presets for the casual snapper.

PhotoShop Express
Adobe’s PhotoShop Express (FREE) is a sound choice for basic editing that takes you beyond the features offered by Color Leap (see below), while sticking to the same attractive budget. And despite Adobe’s addiction to making you sign up for accounts or buy things that are not included in the app, you can ignore all of that and just use the tools that are included for nothing.

The app’s feature set is pretty good – you can crop, straighten, rotate, flip, change the exposure, contrast, saturation, add simple effects like soft focus and choose from eight frames and seven different photographic effects. There’s not much fine control – edits are applied by sliding your finger left to right across the screen – but the results are classy (it is Adobe, after all). For occasional editing, it’s hard to beat.

PRICE: £1.19 inc. VAT
Lomography, a style of analogue photography that’s deliberately low-fi and where cameras are typically only able to produce a single photographic effect (for example fisheye or over-saturation) is all the rage. Lo-mob (£1.19) mimics this quirky photographic style, courtesy of 39 different filters that transform standard snaps into fashionable, grungy prints for a fraction of the price of a real Lomo camera (and no, the irony of selling a digital version of something so determinedly analogue isn’t lost on us).

The results are quite beautiful. The filters don’t just apply colour effects, they also add frames, filmstrip and Polariod-style edges, noise, emulsion effects and so on and once a filter’s been applied you can tweak it, altering the colour filter, blur effect, frame and vignette style; finished photos can be shared using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Picasa. It’s hardly versatile – and a bit slow on a 3GS – but the interface is faithfully low-tech and some of those filters are wonderful.

PRICE: £1.19 inc. VAT
While it doesn’t include ‘traditional’ photo editing features, Camera+ (£1.19) deserves its spot in the iTunes top 10 list of photographic apps thanks to a clever interface (the browser mimics a lightbox) and a wide range of easy to use tools for enhancing your photos – including frames, cropping and rotating.

A set of 16 ‘scenes’ is offered, similar to those on digital cameras (scenery, food, portrait, backlit, cloudy and so on), as well as 27 ‘effects’ such as Redscale, Tailfins, Lo-Fi and Polarize. Unusually, Camera+ also offers some features that you can use while you’re taking photos, such as image stabilisation, a timer (5, 15 or 30 seconds) and burst mode, all of which work well.

The double row of buttons across the bottom of the screen restricts the iPhone’s already small screen a bit, and there’s no proper undo – though you can cancel the entire edit or step back manually through each effect, choosing None each time. Against that, Camera+ is a pleasure to use and produces great results.

Color Leap
For some people, the idea of messing around with luminance and contrast, adding filters or cropping sounds too much like hard work – they’d rather just find something that works. For them, we’d recommend Color Leap (FREE).

A marvel of functional economy, Color Leap has one button (a tab, actually) labelled Enhance. Take a photo or choose one from your library, click the Enhance tab and Color Leap will brighten dull photos, sharpen blurred ones, sort out dodgy contrast and – if you pinch to zoom in – even crop the finished result. Click the Original tab to go back (you won’t want to), or save the new version while keeping the original intact, and that’s it. Sympathetic, automatic image fixing with a single finger tap.

All apps available via the Apple iTunes Store.