Category Archives: Best Apps

Best Photo Apps of 2013 (According to Apple)

At the end of every year Apple releases the top apps for the iPhone and the iPad. They list picks from their editors as well as the top sellers, free, and grossing apps (there were no photo apps in this bunch). Games tend to rule in terms of downloads (and also $$$), but those of us that enjoy iPhoneography focus on the photo apps.

best of 2013 image

Below are the photo apps included in the Apple listings for 2013, along with any comments I might have on the particular app. Some of the apps listed under iPhone are Universal apps (run on both iPhone and iPad), and some of those listed under iPad are also Universal. In some cases where there were a lot of In-App Purchases I made a mention of that, but some of the others also have the dreaded bonus purchases.


For the iPhone

Editors’ Choice:

  • Runner-Up App of the Year: VSCO CamTM. This app seems pretty nice for editing with tools or presets. It does seem to do a good job, but I just am not a giant fan of the GUI. Others may find it more to their liking. It’s free with a lot of In-app Purchases.

Trends, Stylish Photo Apps:

  • Mextures. I haven’t tried it. I realized I may say that for a lot of these trendy/stylish apps. Guess I’m not hip enough. 🙂
  • Repix – Inspiring Photo Editor. I’ve played with this a bit. It does let you create some interesting work. I just never quite got used to the GUI.
  • Rhonna Designs. I haven’t tried it. Let’s you add nicely laid out text on your image. Lots of In-App Purchases. It does look pretty nice from the screenshots.
  • Tangent. This let’s you create some nice geometric effects on your photos and does a nice job of it. Fragment, a new app from the same developer, is getting released tomorrow (stay tuned for a review later this week).
  • Afterlight. A photo editor on my list of things to try.
  • Facetune. I haven’t tried this app that let’s you tune up a face.

Top Paid:

  • Afterlight. See above.
  • Camera+. One of my favorite photo editing apps. They just released a big update that I can’t wait to try.
  • Wood Camera – Vintage Photo Editor. Well done photo editing app.
  • A Beautiful Mess. This is mostly to make photos look cute with various bubble shapes/text. I’m guessing this is more for the younger crowd and I’ve never tried it.
  • PicPlayPost. Let’s you add images/movies in various frame setups and do some editing before posting your creations. I’ve never really played with this one.
  • Facetune. See above.
  • Over. Let’s you add text/shapes on top of your photos. I’ve played with it a bit and it seemed decent – but I don’t do a lot of that sort of thing on my photos.
  • PicFrame. Haven’t played with this framing app.
  • InstaCollage Pro – Pic Frame & Photo Collage & Caption Editor for Instagram. Make prettier stuff for Instagram.
  • Picfx. I’ve played with this effects app a bit, but it didn’t make it in to my rotation of apps.
  • Superimpose. An app that let’s you combine images with different inks and such. It seemed pretty nice, but I got hooked on Image Blender early on and tend to use that one.
  • Diptic. Put photos in multiple frame layouts with various effects. Does it’s job very well.
  • Color Splash. A classic app if you are looking to isolate colors in a photo. Always the app I use for this sort of thing.

Top Free:

  • Instagram. I think everyone uses this. Except maybe for me! Hmm…perhaps I should start posting a few shots. The app seems nice when I’ve used it.
  • Pic Stitch. A collage app with many In-App Purchases. I’ve never tried it.
  • InstaCollage Pro – Pic Frame & Photo Collage & Caption Editor for Instagram FREE. Yeah…more Instagram-ish stuff. I haven’t tried it.
  • Photo Editor by Aviary. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of any app that uses the Aviary engine for editing. For a free app Snapseed is a vastly better choice.
  • Split Pic Photo Editor – Clone Yourself. Have never tried this app. One of me is enough.
  • InstaFrame – Photo Collage, Picture Frame, Pic Editor for Instagram. Instagram stuff. What’s up with this In-sta-gram thing?
  • Pic Collage. A collage app I haven’t tried.

For the iPad

Editors’ Choice:

  • None were photo apps.

Top Paid:

  • Adobe Photoshop Touch. Not my favorite photo editing app, but I did pay the big bucks just to see how well they did.

Top Free:

  • Instagram. Same old story.
  • Padgram – Instagram Viewer for iPad. And the last Instagram app of this blog post, I promise. I haven’t tried this one.

Was anything surprising to you? The one thing that surprised me was the fact that Snapseed wasn’t listed among top free apps. Very surprising! Is that due to some Apple vs. Google squabble since Google bought Snapseed? Guess we’ll never really know.

Since the holidays are here I’ve got a bit of free time and I’ll have to try out a few of the apps I haven’t yet played with.

Speaking of holidays, if you are looking for a last second gift you might want to think about some nice pottery created by a local artist here in C-Ville. Drop by her website on etsy: Raffaele Designs. Probably a bit late to get it in time for Christmas, but think ahead for other holidays or the new year! I don’t do any advertising on the site, but I figured I’d help out a local artist every now and then with a quick mention.

Pottery: 10inch serving bowl

A 10 inch serving bowl by Raffaele Designs. Materials: clay, ceramic, stoneware, and glaze.

Best Apps: High-end Photo Editors, Part 1

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!