iPhoto for iOS Review: Photo Editing on the iPad

by Matthew Elliott Reads (5,205)

Overview

With iOS 5 last year, Apple brought some basic editing tools to the native Photos app in iOS. Now, with last week’s new iPad announcement and the introduction of iOS 5.1, the company released iPhoto for iOS, which brings a wealth of photo editing tools to the iPad and iPhone. The combination of these tools with a number of preset, Instagram-like filters results in an appealing app, particularly for the iPad, whose larger screen provides the room needed to manipulate your images. The app also introduces a couple of sharing features in addition to providing the usual options for sending photos to Facebook, Twitter and the like. 

Before you can download the $4.99 app, you first must upgrade to iOS 5.1. And you’ll need to have an iPhone 4, Phone 4S, an iPad 2, or the new iPad (original iPad, older iPhone, and iPod Touch owners are out of luck). We are sure the app will look even more stunning and offer even finer control on the high-resolution Retina display of the third-generation iPad, but for this review we tested the app on an iPad 2.

iPhoto in Use
When you first launch the app, you’ll see virtual shelves with your photo albums. The two basic albums (blue in color) are your Camera Roll and Photo Stream. Additional albums (brown) are created when you edit, flag, favorite, or beam photos. At the top are four buttons that let you view by Albums (the default view), Photos (all your photos as thumbnails), Events (if you sync with iPhoto on a Mac), and Journals. We’ll get to the photo-beaming and Journal-sharing features in a bit.

iPhoto shelf

When you open an album, you’ll see a large work area on the right and a column (or two or three) of thumbnails on the left. You can choose to view one, two, or three columns of thumbnails by dragging on the right side of the banner at the top of the thumbnails, and you can position the thumbnails on the right or left side of the work space. There is also a drop-down menu where you can filter the thumbnails to just view all, flagged, edited, hidden, or all & hidden photos.

Tap on a photo and it appears in the work area for editing. If you double tap on a photo, iPhoto will populate the work area with your chosen photo and similar photos. We found this feature to be hit or miss, but if you’d like to compare a number of photos in the work area before deciding on which one you’d like to edit, you can use a flicking motion to add additional photos to the work area. You can also scroll through photos in the work area by swiping left or right, as you can in the native Photos app. 

Editing
To edit a photo, you must first tap the Edit button in the upper-right corner. It calls up the editing tools, which run along the bottom menu bar. In the left corner, there are five buttons: Crop & Straighten, Exposure, Color, Brushes, and Effects. In the middle of the menu bar are five more buttons: Auto-Enhance, Rotate, Flag, Favorite, and Hide. Let’s take a quick look at each.

  • The Crop & Straighten button lets you drag with one finger to resize the area to crop, and there is a button to lock the aspect ratio. You can straighten the image using two fingers or drag one finger on the gyro scale below the image to rotate the image.
  • The Exposure button lets you adjust the brightness, contrast, and highlights and shadows, and all of these controls are located on a single slider, which is surprisingly intuitive.
  • The Color button provides four small sliders to tweak the saturation, blue hues, green hues, and skin tones. And small white-balance button gives you six preset levels: sun, cloudy, flash, shade, incandescent, fluorescent and two custom settings that let you drag around a loupe on the photo to set its color. The custom setting — Face Balance — to balance the colors based on skin tones worked very well in our tests.

Tap the Brushes buttons and eight brushes (Repair, Red Eye, Saturate, Desaturate, Lighten, Darken, Sharpen, Soften) emerge for your custom tweaks. Select a brush and then tap the settings button (with the gear icon) in the lower-right corner, which lets you set the intensity of the effect, show your brush strokes (in red highlights), and erase all of the brush strokes you made with that brush. (There is also an undo button at the top that will let you undo any previous edits in reverse sequential order. You can tap and hold the undo button to redo an undone edit.) There is also a button in the settings menu for brushes that will apply a brush’s effects to the entire image. Next to the Settings button is an Erase button and a Detect Edges button, which lets you define an edge so your brush strokes apply only to certain areas of your photo. In our tests, we often had a hard time seeing the effects of our brush strokes, even when the brush was set to its highest intensity.

iPhoto Effects

To help you keep track of which tools you have employed, iPhoto puts a small blue icon above the tools you have used on a photo, whether it’s the exposure and color buttons or one of the brushes. Sometimes when using a tool, a layer of the photo you are working on will peel away, removing some previously applied effects so you can apply a new effect. The blue icons will turn red above the effects that aren’t currently being shown. After making your edits and tapping the Edit button to save your changes and exit edit mode, the peeled away layers will return to present the finished product.

iPhoto tools

For a more turn-key approach, tap the Effect button, which gives you six filters from which to choose: Artistic, Vintage, Aura, Black & White, Duotone, and Warm & Cool. The Artistic and Vintage effects let you choose a filter a la Instagram, while the other four effects provide a slider to tweak the look. Easier still is the Auto-Enhance button (with the magic wand), which does an admirable job of adjusting a photo for the better with only a single tap.


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