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App review: iPhoto for iOS

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iPhoto for iOS ($4.99 in Apple App Store)

Compatible with iPad, iPod and iPhone running iOS 6.0 or later.
Version reviewed: 1.1 using iPad 3rd Gen

 More than just an editor, Apple’s iPhoto offers features to help identify and organize your “keepers.”

Apple’s iPhoto for iOS has something surprisingly rare in the mobile photo editor space: an interface that leverages touch at every opportunity. You can accomplish a lot by interacting directly with the image rather than poking at sliders, which is as it should be. iPhoto also goes beyond image optimization, packing in impressive browsing, organizing and sharing facilities.   

Key Features:

  • Full-featured, touch-centric photo editing tools
  • Strong browsing and organizing features
  • Support for 36.5 megapixel images (device specific)
  • iCloud integration

Operating Requirements:

  • Requires iOS 6.0 or later
  • Works with iPad 2 and later, iPod 4th gen and later, and iPhone 4 and later (tested on 3rd gen iPad)

More than an editor

Unlike many apps in this category, iPhoto helps organize images as well as edit them. It speeds sorting wheat from chaff by letting you compare multiple images side by side, including the ability to zoom in to check details. Double-tapping a shot in a series of similar images automatically selects all of them, a thoughtful detail that reflects the general polish of the app.

You can mark photos as favorites or simply “flagged,” useful for marking keepers. More flexibly, iPhoto can add custom tags to images. It takes a certain kind of personality to scrupulously label photos like this, but iPhoto simplifies reusing tags and it makes finding images later much easier. Exported images retain the tags as widely readable IPTC keywords.

iPhoto’s emphasis on organization shines in its Albums view, which also displays special folders for images that you’ve flagged, tagged or favorited.

iPhoto’s polished browsing spotlights some irritating omissions in Apple’s native Photos app. Say you’ve dumped a thousand images from your vacation onto your iPad and you want to review a shot you took on the last day. With the native Photos app, you’re looking at lots of frantic flick-scrolling to get to the bottom of the gallery because there’s just no other way. But go to the Photos section in iPhoto and the new “Power Scroll” function lets you zip to the end in a flash. Or, you can simply reorder the photos, showing the newest first. What a concept.

 iPhoto’s “Power Scrolling” feature makes zipping though large collections of images much easier than in Apple’s native Photos app. The month-by-month display helps you home in on the shot you’re looking for.

Mo’ pixels, no problems

iPhoto can now handle 36.5 megapixel images on the third and fourth-generation iPads and the iPhone 5, enough to satisfy everyone but users of medium format backs and the Nokia 808. Other iOS devices remain limited to 19 megapixels (and unfortunately, the original iPad and pre-4 iPhones aren’t invited to the iPhoto party at all). Photos synced through iTunes may still be downsized depending on source resolution and target device; you need to use iTunes file sharing to import the higher-resolution images directly into the app. Using iTunes file sharing has the added advantage of letting you delete images from within iPhoto.

Editing by feel

It’s not quite accurate to call iPhoto intuitive, but it quickly becomes easy to use thanks to the contextual help function: tap the “?” button and explanatory labels pop up all over the current screen, with some leading to more in-depth explanations. Would you know that holding two fingers on an image in the Edit view brings up a handy magnifying loop? With help, you quickly find out.

What’s the deal with that icon that looks like a bottle of nail polish sliding down a hill? Hit the “?” and all is revealed. The contextual help makes getting used to iPhoto easy. Tap items with a “>” to get more details.

The “Edit” button brings up a ribbon of editing task categories across the bottom of the screen. First from the left is a magic wand icon that does a one-touch image optimization. It’s pleasantly restrained and avoids the over-amped look of quick-and-dirty fixes in some other apps.

The real editing options are five boxed buttons arrayed in the right corner, logically laid out in the order you’re likely to need them.

First up is the well-implemented cropping function, which also includes a nifty wheel for straightening an image. Next down the line is Apple’s cleverly designed exposure correction control. You can disregard the cryptic contrast and brightness slider and poke directly at the picture. This brings up a two-axis control: the x-axis always controls contrast, while the y-axis manipulates shadows if you’re touching a dark area and highlights if you’re in a bright zone. As you make corrections, the mysterious icons on the slider at the bottom of the screen move accordingly, giving you a feel for how they work. It’s very slick.

iPhoto’s clever exposure correction ends up working like a levels adjustment, but the two-axis contextual control nicely leverages the touch interface.

The paint palette button calls up the color correction band. The best news here is the white balance tuning, which does a good impression of a RAW processor as it lets you rebalance your baked-in jpeg colors (the app doesn’t really handle RAW files, though it pretends by using the jpeg thumbnail embedded in most RAWs). Touching blue, green or warm colors in the image brings up more contextual two-axis controls. The y-axis is always saturation, while the x-axis shifts the intensity of the color region you’ve touched. The idea seems to be that you can target adjustments to sky, foliage and warm tones (potentially, skin). Again, these adjustments are repeated as sliders at the bottom of the screen, but that’s not as fun.

iPhoto’s color corrections can punch up skies and foliage, and the white balance control is particularly powerful. Besides the usual presets like sun or incandescent light, you can sample from neutral grays or skin tones in the image to more precisely find a pleasing color balance.

If specific regions of the image need tweaking, iPhoto offers a range of paintable effects in the next tool grouping. You can lighten, darken, sharpen, soften, saturate and desaturate. Brushing these effects on the zoomable image feels very natural. Gentle strokes lay down a minimal effect, or you can press hard and repeatedly to go full bore. Once the mask is painted in you can handily vary the overall strength with a slider.

iPhoto has range of effects that can be painted on specific areas of the image. You can opt to show the brush strokes of the mask as you apply it, and a slider lets you scale the intensity of the effect you’re painting on for even more control.

 There’s also a “repair” tool that’s good for snipping out skin blemishes and dust spots in the sky but chokes on anything that involves duplicating detail to fill in the repaired area. A redeye eraser effectively casts the devil out of your subjects.

Special effects spruce-up

iPhoto has a decent range of canned special effects. You can frame your photo within an ink wash or convert it to a duotone of various colors. The “Artistic” effects include a nice tilt-shift simulator that can now be arbitrarily positioned and tilted, as well as a vignette tool and adjustable gradient filters. The six vintage filters do their jobs but won’t impress users with Instagram experience. Possibly the most flexible effect is the black and white conversion, which can be adjusted to simulate different color filters on black and white film and can add grain and a sepia tint.

iPhoto offers traditional vintage film filters ...
artsy pen-and-paper motifs ...
an impressively flexible black and white
converter ...
and well-implemented tilt-shift and gradient effects.

Sharing and publishing

iPhoto ties neatly into in Apple’s iCloud service, making it easy to send images to a sharable Photo Stream. You can also create “Journals,” which are scrapbook-style assemblies of photos that can also be uploaded to iCloud for public consumption as ready-made web pages. The layout process is a little clunky but it’s a nice feature for anyone who prefers presenting assemblages of images and text.

iPhoto lets you arrange photos, text, and features like maps and weather reports into scrapbook-style “Journals” which can be published to Apple’s iCloud service and the web at large. Viewers clicking on a published Journal page image get a large, Photo Stream-sized version of the photo.

The app fulfils the basics of non-Apple social media integration with the ability to export images to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Shots can also be sent to the Camera Roll, back to the desktop via iTunes, to an AirPrint-enable printer, or “beamed” directly to another iOS device.

You can also hand off images to apps that support the function, like Photogene, Evernote, Dropbox and Camera+. iPhoto has a built-in link to Apple’s iMovie (which must be purchased separately), letting you send stills to be inserted in a video project, as well as the free Cards app for making greeting cards.    

Conclusion 

iPhoto is a very capable image editor with a refreshingly touch-centric user interface that makes it fun to use on an iOS device. It breaks substantially with the desktop-centric editor model of Photoshop and the like, which for many users is a good thing.

Its slick browsing and organization features are an added bonus.  

The upping of the maximum photo resolution to 36.5 megapixels suggests Apple hopes to satisfy “serious” photographers as well as those who just want to spruce up their casual snaps. For the most part, the app succeeds in this regard: the ability to paint corrections on regions of the image while varying both the opacity of the mask and the intensity of the effect should mollify users who think first of adjustment layers and curves.

There’s room for improvement. The paintable effects would be more flexible if a single effect could be applied in differing degrees to different parts of the image, which is currently impossible. The app doesn’t have true RAW support, which remains very sparse on iOS in general. 

iPhoto’s social media linkage covers the major bases and any shortfall is offset by both the slick iCloud Photo Stream integration and the ability to essentially spit out whole websites via Journal sharing.

Given its wide range of capabilities and polished approach to photo editing, iPhoto is a bargain for the price.      

What we like: Powerful editing tools optimized for touch interface, nice browsing and organization features, impressive web publishing via Photo Streams and Journals, decent social media integration.

What we don’t like: Editing capabilities are strong enough to make you wish for a little more flexibility, RAW support limited to thumbnail edits.

 Rating:

 

 


 Peter M. Ferenczi is a freelance writer and avid photographer. He lives in Paris.

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