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App Review: Photogene for iPad

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Photogene by Mobile Pond $2.99 for iPad, iOS 4.2 and later
Version reviewed: 3.4 using iPad 3rd Generation

Photogene is an iPad photo editing app with an impressive feature set that will appeal to users looking to approximate the flexibility of a full-fledged desktop photo editor on a tablet.

With the surge of tablets into the mainstream, app developers have had the opportunity to reimagine what a photo editor should be. While we’ve seen innovations that hit and miss, Photogene owes its strength in part to its tradionalism: it includes much of the functionality users are accustomed to in desktop photo editors packaged in an interface that, while touch optimized, will be familiar to anyone comfortable with the likes of Photoshop. Thus there are levels and curves adjustments, the ability to tweak both color temperature and color balance, and noise smoothing with separate luminance and chroma sliders. But the app is also in touch with mobile fashions -- there are plenty of the obligatory toy camera and vintage effects.

Key Features:

  • Advanced exposure controls, including curves, levels and highlight recovery
  • Dodge, burn, and blur with paintable masks and gradients
  • Batch export with links to a range of photo sharing services
  • Flexible photo viewer for selecting images to edit 

Operating Requirements:

  • iPad with iOS 4.2 and later

Import Specialist

Photogene gets off to a strong start with a slick image browser that makes it easy to select photos for editing from the iPad’s library or a specific album. Thumbnails load in a flash and scroll smoothly, which is not the case with all the apps we’ve seen.

Thumbnails can also be toggled between three sizes, with the largest showing enough detail to distinguish between similar shots in a series, especially on a Retina-equipped iPad. This is more functional than most apps that force a single thumbnail size on the user. Long-pressing a thumbnail brings up EXIF metadata, a nice touch.

Near-full screen browsing of photos from within the editing pane, a la Apple’s iPhoto, is also possible, but poking the tiny arrow keys to move between images is much less convenient than that app’s finger-flick navigation.

Photogene’s import process is streamlined with a browser that offers selectable thumbnail sizes and the ability to check EXIF data with a simple long-press.

Global Corrections

Photogene’s wide range of image editing features is its strongest asset. The basics are well implemented. Cropping is a cinch, via free-hand selection or with constraints to common aspect ratios or user-configured specifics. Preset and arbitrary rotation is also possible, though the fine-tuning straightening slider could be less twitchy. 

Exposure controls are very complete for a mobile app. In addition to brightness and contrast controls, there are “Lighten Shadows” and “Darken Highlights” sliders that do a convincing imitation of Photoshop’s “Shadows/Highlights” function (minus the ability to fine-tune tonal width and with the addition of a subtle color shift). A levels control allows for adjustments to the white and black clip points and gamma, while a curve adjustment cleverly overlays the entire image.

The “Lighten Shadows” and “Darken Highlights” sliders are more useful for pulling detail from both sides of the histogram than some other implementations we’ve seen. The curve adjustment supports up to six control points and is large enough for fine tuning.

Tweaking color is possible with not only saturation, temperature and tint controls, but also RGB balance sliders. The range of change on the color balance sliders could stand to be taken down a peg: tiny movements cause dramatic shifts in the image, so fine adjustments take a little patience.

The Adjustments bar scrolls vertically and the various functional groupings can be hidden or revealed by tapping the triangle next to the name. Here, we’ve applied some sharpening and color correction. Pressing the “A|B” button (which could stand to be a little larger) reveals the unaltered image to check the effects.

Local Adjustments

Photogene lets users dodge (lighten), burn (darken) and blur parts of the image by painting a mask onto specific areas. The strength of the effect is tuned via slider independently of the painting of the mask itself, which makes it possible to fine tune the effect rather than relying on repeated tries and undoes to get things right.

The red area, painted with a brush of configurable size and hardness, shows where burning will be applied. The intensity of the burn is variable independent of the application of the mask. Dodging and blur, as well as special effects like cross processing, high key black and white, posterization and soft focus can be applied with masks.

There’s a reasonably effective spot healing tool that lets the user select where the healing sample will come from: it’s not Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill, but it’s more than many mobile editors deliver.   

The app features a gradient filter that does an impressive imitation of an adjustment layer, something typically relegated to the desktop. The vignette, center focus and gray filters are also highly configurable.

Special Effects 

No mobile imaging editor is complete without a stable of canned effects, and Photogene offers plenty of one-click tricks under the Presets tab. Effects are organized into categories (including black and white conversions, vintage looks, and the dubiously named “Fun” section that includes offerings like “Psychedelic” and “Mars”). There’s also a handy My Presets category that lets users save any series of edits to be reapplied in a snap.

Instagram fans will find a fair selection of effects in the Presets section. Configurable presets make it easy to quickly apply frequently-used groupings of adjustments.

Export Action

The restrictions of the iOS environment mean a photo must be exported to be useful (otherwise, it’s only accessible in the app that created it). Photogene can write edited files to the iPad’s Camera Roll, as well as a notably comprehensive list of photo sharing and social media sites, include Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google’s Picasa web space, and Tumblr. It also lets users send the image as an email attachment, save it to Evernote, plop it on Dropbox, or copy it to the clipboard for pasting into another app. Images can be exported at any resolution up to that of the original file (likely to be the maximum supported by iOS during the import process), in contrast to many apps that export lower resolution images and give the user little or no control over image size. They can be sent individually from the editing screen or, handily, selected in the image browser and batch exported.

Conclusion

Photographers who are already comfortable with Photoshop-caliber desktop editors will likely find Photogene appealing. Its interface model will be immediately familiar, and the wide range of features minimizes (though doesn’t eliminate) moments of “I wish I could do that” frustration.

On the other hand, the traditional interface design doesn’t have the cool factor of something like Apple’s iPhoto, with its novel interface that strives for universal intuitiveness rather than catering to the expectations of experienced users. That said, elements like the transparent curves overlay do show attention to optimizing for the tablet rather than simply echoing what works on a desktop.

Photogene’s completeness puts it at the opposite end of the spectrum from dead-simple apps that offer only the most basic exposure controls and focus instead on speedily transforming images via preset effects. While Photogene will happily slap the color cast of badly processed 1970s film onto a fresh digital photo, users primarily interested in those effects might be better served by apps that cater specifically to that demand.

Considering its reasonable price, we’d recommend that anyone serious about editing images on the iPad give Photogene a try. At worst, you’re out the price of a lens cap. Some may even decide to splash out an extra $7.99 for the in-app “PRO” upgrade, which adds separate RGB curves, star ratings, IPTC batch editing, more customizable local adjustments and a few other extras. 

We like: Very full feature set, interface intuitive for experienced users, slick import and export process.

We don’t like: A few twitchy sliders make some fine adjustments hard, browsing images at full screen is fiddly.


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

Comments

windmillgolfer

A (very) long time Windows and Photoshop Elements user, I bought an iPad 3 for travel photography editing and uploading. It took a while to find the 'best' editor for LX5/FZ150/600D images and for me that is Photogene. It is very easy to use and has extensive capabilities. I wasn't aware of the Pro upgrade and will certainly look at it. A note worthy option on Export is the ability to resize images to speed upload for web posting - via Flickr. Wifi is available in most places these days but can be very slow. Uploading a 4MB image can take forever but a 700KB image rarely fails.
See images on DPR and on Flickr (ID: dieslegolfer)

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