I chose to start in on this series of “Best Apps” with high-end photo editors. I guess the first question is what exactly is a high-end editor? Photoshop is the high-end editor for the personal computer (or at least most would say that), so we’ll see what can come close to that for the iOS photo apps.

Wikipedia lists a wealth of features for an image editor including layers, histogram, noise reduction, color changes, sharpening/softening, and many more. The iOS photo apps I’ll go through here have most of those features. I’ll cover some of the similarities and differences for the apps in specific areas.

At this time I feel there are only two high-end editors on the iPhone, and three on the iPad. For the iPhone I have Filterstorm and PhotoForge 2, and for the iPad I add Photogene to the list. I’ve also included Iris in this review. It has recently been updated and seems to be moving forward.

Links of interest with current prices:

Basic editing

For the most part thing such as cropping, scaling, and flipping are the same in all the apps. Rotation is a bit odd in PhotoForge 2 since you have to do this under the Crop setting (and not Rotation) when you want to do something besides 90 degree increments. In Filterstorm this is listed under Straighten rather than the Rotate & Flip.

In Iris I couldn’t find a way to do small rotations (only 90 degree increments).

Winner: Photogene for iPad and Filterstorm.

PhotoForge Crop Settings, with Small Rotation

PhotoForge Crop Settings, with Small Rotation

Filterstorm Transformations, Rotate vs. Straighten

Filterstorm Transformations, Rotate vs. Straighten

Photogene Rotation

Photogene Rotation

Histogram/Curves

Photogene for the iPad shows the basic RGB histogram with the typical black and white endpoints and the midtone slider. The window view of this is very small. For the curve you have just a single RGB curve which is full screen. I will point out that there is in-app purchase for Photogene Pro that provides individual curves. Unfortunately it doesn’t show the histogram below the curve which would be really nice at this size.

Photogene Curves

Photogene Curves

PhotoForge has histograms and curves where you can select individual colors. This is the best of all the apps.

PhotoForge Histograms

PhotoForge Histograms

PhotoForge Curves

PhotoForge Curves

Filterstorm doesn’t have histogram controls, but does display the histogram at below the curves. The curves of each individual color can be selected.

Filterstorm Curves (iPad)

Filterstorm Curves (iPad)

None of the apps display a modified histogram as you adjust the curve.

Winner: PhotoForge.

Layers/Mask

In my mind this is where PhotoForge is far beyond everything else. The individual layers are shown with a really well done GUI. Each layer can have an individual mask, and the blending technique and opacity of each can be adjusted. Each layer can be copied so it is easy to keep a mask around for later use, and invert it with one click. This feels so natural to me relative to all the other apps out there right now.

PhotoForge Layers

PhotoForge Layers

Filterstorm sets things up a bit differently. There aren’t true layers, but when you want to perform a change (brightness, contrast, filter, etc.) on the image you can create a mask for that effect. As far as I can tell, you can’t keep that mask for later use (if I’m wrong please let me know in comments). In this app you perform the action and then draw the mask. I also didn’t find a way to go back and edit that mask after applying it, so be sure it is good the first time.

Filterstorm Mask

Filterstorm Mask

Photogene for iPad also takes the individual layer approach similar to Filterstorm, although it is implemented in a manner that feels a bit more straightforward to me. In this case you select an option from the Masking Overlays section, and then paint the mask. It will store one mask for each fo these items: Dodge, Burn, Blur, Grayscale, and one effect (dream, painting, comics, etc.). You can end up with five separate masks that you can go back to and edit a later time.

Photogene Mask (Contour View)

Photogene Mask (Contour View)

Iris will store layers, but unfortunately has no true GUI associated with the layers/masks, and it somewhat forces you to keep track of things in your mind. I’ve played with this for about an hour and am still not always positive what I’m doing at certain points. This app seems to have a lot of potential here if a GUI could be implemented.

Iris Mask Alerts

Iris Mask Alert

Iris Mask Alert

Iris Mask Alert

Iris Mask Alert

Iris Mask Alert

Winner: PhotoForge, although Photogene is good for the masks that it implemented.

Part 2 of this will continue with additional topics of noise reduction, metadata, presets, GUI, and more. Stay tuned :)

Update: Here you go…Part 2!

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7 Responses to Best Apps: High-end Photo Editors, Part 1

  1. Deanna says:

    I’ve been using Iris forever and still can’t figure out the layers beyond a simple blend. It says some of the layering is cumulative but it’s on me to remember which are and which aren’t! The interface for layers is clunky as well.
    Haven’t tried Photogene but now I just might do that.
    Thanks for these reviews. Best I’ve found!

    • Raman Pfaff says:

      Glad I’m not the only confused by Iris! It does a lot, but I won’t be using it for layers.

      For layers PhotoForge 2 is easily the winner. That is the only one with true layers.

      Photogene (for iPad) does a really nice job with the masking approach they took.

      Lots more coming in part 2 :)

  2. [...] post is the continuation of Best Apps: High-end Photo Editors, Part 1. I’ll continue to compare and contrast a few of the features in the high-end photo editors of [...]

  3. Jake says:

    I would add Moquu. you can take photo sequences and make them interactive. it’s lot of fun.
    you can make things like this: http://www.moqu.us/m/GhS9n

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/moquu-photo-scratcher-for/id443397719?mt=8

  4. Perry says:

    Did you make a more recent review. This one is great but so out of date.

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