Update: Feb 24, 2013. I’m hoping to do a new post with a few newer editors included. Apps never stop! Laminar Pro has replaced Iris Photo Suite, and Photoshop Touch is another option. I need to dig through some other apps as well.
This 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 Photogene for iPad, PhotoForge 2, Filterstorm, and Iris.
I used an image that was taken with the camera on my iPad in mediocre light. Let’s just say it is very noisy. I didn’t play with any other images, so this is a very limited test. I tend to not use noise reduction very often since a) sometimes noise is nice to give it a feel, and b) I don’t have to worry about what others think of my images
Photogene for iPad uses the two slider technique for Luminance and Chroma. PhotoForge also uses two sliders but calls them Luminance and Color. These both feel very similar to Adobe Lightroom. Iris does noise reduction with three individual channels (RGB), and Filterstorm has a single strength slider.
Filterstorm uses a single slider for overall noise reduction.
A small part of the original image and the reduced noise version from each are shown here. This one is hard to call, but it is clear Iris isn’t the best option. The others are similar, but not identical, in this particular test. I’d probably give a slight edge to Photogene for iPad.
Winners: Photogene for iPad, Filterstorm, PhotoForge.
Filterstorm and PhotoForge both use s similar technique here, showing small images of what you’ve done with each step. Filterstorm is a bit quirky in the fact that when you apply an automation it just shows the last step performed on the image rather than the name of the automation (multiple actions, similar to a fancy preset). PhotoForge currently has the Pop! Cam as an in-app purchase (I highly recommend it). When this is applied to an image it just shows up as Pop! Cam and doesn’t show the individual settings in any way.
Photogene for iPad and Iris have have buttons that support multiple undo/redo without the visual indicators (or names of your action).
Winners: Filterstorm and PhotoForge.
Not all people make use of this, but this is very important to some photographers (or folks in the photo business).
Photogene for iPad provides full access to the metadata. It’s easy to view the EXIF data, and allows editing of the IPTC and location data. You can also save default settings for the IPTC. This can be very useful for people that make use of this data. Filterstorm provides access to the EXIF data and lets you edit the IPTC data, as well as saving “sets” so you can apply this to future images.
In PhotoForge I couldn’t find a way to view the EXIF data, but access/editing of the IPTC was easy. However, it didn’t allow you to save settings for future use.
Iris doesn’t seem to have any method for dealing with the metadata.
Winners: Filterstorm and Photogene for iPad.
Photogene for the iPad has a Heal/Clone that feels similar to Lightroom. You can apply multiple instances of a two circle configuration where the image from one circle will get placed in the other circle. You can then adjust the size of this region. It works rather well.
None of these apps can really compete a more complete healing tool such as Touch Retouch (which is superb). Filterstorm both have a cloning tool. Iris does not have cloning tool.
One thing I do find odd is that none of these apps have square cloning tools.
As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any square masking/cloning tools in other photo editing apps. Some high-end sketching/drawing apps have them, but photo apps seem to avoid including square tools. I’m not sure why that is, but my guess it is something in the Apple set of APIs that makes it difficult to do square. Or maybe no one wants them
The one reason I’d like such things is to deal with corners of images. In some apps it is very difficult to get to the corners for drawing masks and such. This is primarily due to the apps not allowing you to drag the image partially out of the main window area (so the corner sits in the middle of the screen). Photogene and Filterstorm do not have this problem, so it is easy to put a mask in the corners, but Iris and PhotoForge do. Many other apps that I can think of also use the method, which makes it hard to get to the corners.
Winners: Photogene for iPad, and Filterstorm.
Many apps let you apply filter after filter where they continue to process further and further. Photogene for iPad is different in this regard. If you want to apply the posterization filter, followed by sepia filter, you would have to save your image in between. I find this just a bit odd (maybe I’m missing something…always possible). Other than that, the rest of the apps lets you apply multiple filters to an image.
PhotoForge, with true layers, really gives you far more potential here since you can apply multiple filters to different layers to achieve your look.
Winners: PhotoForge, Iris, and Filterstorm.
Presets: Use and Save
Many editing apps (ranging from high-end to rather simple apps) have presets, which perform multiple transformations on an image with one click. The apps take different approaches here.
PhotoForge does not include any presets, although I believe from the forums that this will make it in a future version (the GhostBird team is very active on the web).
Iris includes presets, but does not allow you to save your own. [Note: The graphic pen preset seems to crash on my iPad 2 every single time I try to use it.]
Photogene for iPad includes many presets, and allows you to save your own.
Filterstorm includes a few with the app, but also allows you to download additional presets. Some are done by the author, and some by users which have emailed them to the author. You can email a preset to others. Maybe the author (or someone else) will set up a site where presets could all be stored. Nifty.
Winner: Filterstorm, although Photogene for iPad is close behind.
Preview of Effects Using Before/After
Being able to get a preview of the changes you are about to make in comparison to the current image is always useful.
Filterstorm has a really nice preview feature. The app lets you preview an effect on the left, right, or full screen, and you can switch these at any time. This is very useful so that you can get a feel for the amount of change required (such as brightness or contrast). You can tweak the value before clicking apply.
I will mention that this seems to be a bit unstable in Filterstorm. The app has crashed on me about five times in the past three days, and it was always when deciding to change the preview region. Often half the image would become black, and then the app would shut down. Unfortunately I haven’t be able to replicate this in a reliable way (the worst type of bug – ‘seems to do yada, but I’m not 100% sure’). Maybe my iPhone could use a full restart. [Note: Filterstorm was updated yesterday and this problem may have been fixed.]
Photogene for iPad added a before/after toggle switch when it was updated recently. While adjusting the parameters for a filter you can toggle the view so you can get a quick view of the image with and without the effect.
PhotoForge and Iris do not have anything similar, but you could always use the undo/redo in Iris or jump back/forth in the timeline of PhotoForge to quickly see the full change.
Winner: Filterstorm, although Photogene for iPad is close behind.
Although a minor point – I’ve gotten used to zooming in and out by double tapping on an image. PhotoForge and Photogene for iPad do that. Iris doesn’t respond to double taps. Filterstorm zooms out on double tap and your tap location moves to the center of the screen. That is unique among the iOS editing apps that I’ve tried. Mild inconsistencies when using multiple apps (and I think I use far too many some days!) can be just a bit annoying, at least until I get to know them all.
I personally prefer the zoom in/out approach, but that is just me.
Winners: PhotoForge and Photogene for iPad.
And The Winner Is…
Competition is good, and there is no clear winner. It somewhat depends on what you are looking for in your editor.
Iris is still behind Photogene for iPad, PhotoForge, and Filterstorm, but it has potential. It has 72 built in presets (more than any others in this post), and has the “Color Sense” feature that the others don’t. If Iris would improve the GUI related to masks it would become a much better app.
For those that like the feature set of Adobe Lightroom I’d say Photogene for iPad is the best choice. It feels similar to Lightroom and the GUI isn’t that far off. The downside of this app is that it isn’t Universal and the iPhone version is a bit older (although still very nice). Iris isn’t Universal, but the iPhone and iPad versions are equivalent in features. [Note: Photogene Pro (in-app purchase), not reviewed here, includes additional features such as improved masking and individual color curves.]
Another tiny little detail that you’ll find in Photogene is that double clicking on a slider will reset it to the zero value. I think that is impressive work by the developer (at least in my mind). I love little things like that.
For those that find layers important the only choice is PhotoForge at this time (Filterstorm is working on layers). PhotoForge is Universal.
Filterstorm is a powerful editor that has one of the most unique methods for sharing presets. It is also very similar to Lightroom, but the GUI is not as close. It is Universal. [Note: Filterstorm Pro, not reviewed here, includes additional features such as batch processing.]
Right now PhotoForge is my favorite high-end photo editor for the iPhone/iPad. The layers alone make this an amazing app. The in-app purchase of the Pop! Cam feature is also superb.
I find Photogene for iPad and Filterstorm to be close in features, although the GUI is a bit different related to masking in particular. Since I started using Photogene very early on (probably the first photo app I bought) I still find myself using it quite often, and just don’t feel as comfortable in Filterstorm (I’m sure many feel the opposite way).
I plan to keep Photogene and Filterstorm in my camera bag, but I’ll go ahead and make the call…
Overall Winner: PhotoForge.
At least for the moment. Competition is good.
For more information:
Also, if you have any thoughts on any other high-end editors, please drop a though in the comments.
From the author
Hello. This blog started in April 2011 and continues to grow.
If you are interested in photography with your iPhone and iPad be sure to drop by every now and then. I'll try to let you know about any photo apps that I happen to be using that day, or things that I notice about iPhoneography.
To contact me just drop me a line on the contact page.
-- a guy in Charlottesville, VA
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