There are hundreds of touch screen photo apps out there, some are toys, others are professional tools. Here are the ones that I use on a regular basis. From top left to bottom right: Photoshop Touch, Photoshop Express, Photoshop Fix, Photoshop Mix, Lightroom Touch, Snapseed, Paper Camera, Lidow, PhotoLab, PhotoDirector, Polarr and Pixlr.
The big question is which are the best? Before I get to that, there is a more fundamental question that I know many ‘serious’ photographers ( the ones who use a tripod and cable release to take a selfie) will be asking: why use them at all?
Like most snappers I use single lens reflex, mirrorless compacts and phone cameras. Horses for courses and each to his/her own.
Since I like to travel, camera size, bulk, weight and convenience is a key consideration, particularly when cycling, canoeing and walking. For these reasons I have come to rely more and more on my mirrorless compact, a Lumix LX100, and my phone, a Samsung S6. Both handle raw images, offer manual controls and have wifi. The camera’s wifi does not access the internet but connects the camera and phone wirelessly via a Panasonic App, to allow remote control of the camera and transfer of images for posting to cloud storage or social media.
All of this has made a huge difference to my mobility and flexibility when travelling. The biggest bonus, however, has come from touch screen photo apps. Processing on the move is probably the biggest single improvement in digital travel photography. Every photographer knows that feeling on arriving home after a holiday, adventure or photo shoot with hundreds of raw images and an urge to back them up, sift, categorize, select, process and post the best. For me, that hassle is largely over. I make my selection and do my processing on the fly, normally on my phone but sometimes my tablet. I post to my website and social media wherever and whenever I have wifi. When I get home I only keep the raw images of those already selected and/or posted and may do a more rigorous job of processing them on my laptop or desktop later. This is a major game changer and saves me an enormous amount of time. The quality of the output is rarely compromised, particularly on social media where the channel provider (Facebook for example) compresses the life out of them anyway.
So, back to the question of which of the hundreds of touch screen photo apps out there to use? In short, most of them are toys and not very good toys either. Some, however, are really clever and fun toys to use and others are professional level tools almost as good as anything available for a desktop computer. Used properly, I often find it impossible to improve on the image at home.
Over the last two years, I have tried dozens of these apps. Here is a personal overview of my favourites. It is not a detailed review of the functions of each app; a better way to get that is to download it and have a play.
Let’s start with the more serious stuff.
The Lightroom touch screen app has many of the familiar features of the full LR program. The app is driven from a built in catalogue and has flag and star tools for rating, selecting and categorising. The editing tools for cropping and straightening are good and easy to use. The options for tonal adjustments are very comprehensive. The tools for adjusting colour rendition are set out as a series of templates although fine tuning requires a return to the tonal adjustments panel. Overall, a very good app, albeit a bit ernest.
For phones, Photoshop Express deals with most of the standard adjustments with some useful templates, vignettes and frames. Photoshop Fix offers a series of retouching tools with all the usual suspects such as clone, patch and heal and some dumbed down opacity, smoothing, painting and liquify tools along with tonal and colour adjustments. Photoshop Mix is basically about cutting, blending and compositing but also has the usual range of cropping, tonal and colour adjustment tools. On a phone you will need very small fingers for this one.
One app – Snapseed – developed by Nic Software and offered free by Google, knocks all the above into a cocked hat. If you don’t want to take my word for it take a look at this YouTube video by Scott Kelby, Nils Kokemohr of Google and RC Concepcion then download the app and try it out. Once tried, you will use little else.
In Snapseed all the necessary editing tools are in one place and followed by a great set of adjustable filters and templates. After editing, Snapseed stores all the layers individually so that each one can be revisited, re-edited, deleted or painted into parts of the image. Comparisons with the original image can be made any time after an adjustment is ‘saved’ by touching the screen. Lastly, if muliple images are being processed in a similar way, it is possible to apply the previous edits with one tap and then revisit and re-edit as required. Most importantly: the results are stunning.
As for the rest? Well, in summary, they are all toys. But as I mentioned earlier, some are good toys and can be used to apply one effect, template or filter to an image before or after it has been processed in more ‘serious’ apps. Lidow and PhotoDirector, for example have some great filters, text, overlay, mirror, splash, cutout and blender tools. Pixlr has a great set of editing tools, brushes, effects, overlays, styles and frames and comes with the best collage tool I have seen anywhere. On the press of a button you can choose to put a collection of images into a wide variety of templates that would take hours to produce in Photoshop. Polarr has the usual range of tools with some nice additions such as a file resizing tool; great for converting images before posting. PhotoLab is a joke; but we all need a good laugh.
If you are in a cafe, waiting for a bus, on the train or standing in a queue at the checkout, there is a Paper Camera picture waiting to be made.
Here’s one I made on a railway station platform somewhere in Slovakia.
I’m sitting in the railway station.
Got a ticket to my destination. …
I wish I was,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.