Snapseed for iOS Review: High-end Photo Editing on the Go

by Reads (9,164)

Does the world really need another iOS-based photo app? Already, there’s a seemingly endless supply of other mobile apps that let you apply trendy looks to your photos through filters such as “vintage” and “noir.” There are also some fairly powerful editing apps like Photogene, Filterstorm, and Luminance. Taken together, these existing apps can let you capture a photo with your mobile gadget, apply a distinct filter or two, give the photo an edit, and send it on its way. So why should we care about Nik Software’s Snapseed 1.2? Does it bring anything new to the mix? Indeed it does.


Snapseed ups the ante by providing a remarkably intuitive user interface (UI), along with editing tools for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch devices that would be perfectly at home in Aperture or Adobe Lightroom on the desktop. You certainly wouldn’t confuse the full range of modules and tools in desktop apps with the more limited toolset found in Snapseed. It’s also true that Snapseed lacks a couple of capabilities present in Luminance, Moreover, some of Snapseed’s capabilities don’t operate as well on the iPhone and iPod as on the iPad.

Yet given Snapseed’s low pricetag of $4.99, and the modest amount of RAM available in the current crop of iOS gadgets, it’s amazing how much this app can do. Snapseed will be a welcome surprise to anyone who doubts that you can achieve high quality photo manipulation on an iOS device.

Snapseed, A “Universal App”
Nik Software comes to iOS already well known for impressive desktop photo-manipulation software tools such as Silver Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2, and Define 2.0. Nik’s redesign of its standard toolset for Snapseed shows a real understanding of what makes a touch-sensitive tablet different from a keyboard-based computer.

With version 1.2, Snapseed is now a universal app, so you’re free to use it with an iPhone or iPod Touch, as well as with an iPad. This version also supports camera captures from within the app. So if you own an iPad 2, iPhone, and/or iPod Touch 4th generation, you can grab a shot and it will appear immediately inside Snapseed. Otherwise, you can import a photo (or any other type of image) from your device’s Photo Library.Snapseed

Snapseed 1.2 functions essentially the same on all three iOS devices, although the smaller screens on the iPhone and iPod touch can impact the results. That’s not a knock against Nik, as this can be an issue with any app that runs on smaller screens. Apple’s retina display helps immensely, especially for judging color and compositional elements. However, with a smaller screen, it can be harder to see altered details within the image. Yet much depends on what you’re trying to do. Some of Snapseed’s functions operate quite well on an iPhone or iPod touch, while others are more difficult to manage.

Camera Capture and Sharing for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch
Snapseed offers Camera Capture and Sharing functions, in addition to a choice of 11 filters that you can apply to your photo. In exploring this app, I found that Camera Capture and Sharing operate equally well on all three iOS devices. The selection buttons are large, and the labels are easy to read.

To access the Camera Capture function, you select the Open button from the main screen and then choose Camera (the only other option is Photo Library for bringing in a saved photo). Across from the Open button is the Share button. The Share button brings up a group of other buttons that will let you send your photo via e-mail or upload it directly to Facebook or Flickr. You can also print your photo to an AirPrint-compatible printer or save it to the device’s Photo Library.


Auto Correct Is Easy
Snapseed makes it easy to apply a filter to your photo. You begin by selecting a filter from a scrolling filter deck. The 11 available filters include what Nik refers to as “basic filters”(Auto Correct, Selective Adjust, Tune Image, Straighten & Rotate, and Crop) and “creative filters” (Black & White, Vintage Films, Drama, Grunge, Center Focus, and Organic Frames).

If you’re new to photo editing, or if you simply don’t feel like experimenting, the Auto Correct filter can be a good place to start, Auto Correct does a decent job of recovering dark or poorly color balanced photos. It corrects only contrast and color. Swiping to the left or right decreases or increases the amount of correction that the filter has chosen for your image. You can then quickly reverse the process by backing out of the filter.

Yet where Snapseed steps far beyond the competition is with its unique Selective Adjust filter. Selective Adjust lets you set a control point with a defined center and effective range. You can then use the control point to apply brightness, contrast, or saturation to a specific portion of the image (much like the dodge-and-burn technique used in a traditional darkroom). The effect will be stronger at the center point and weaker as you move out from the center. That way, the changes tend to blend-in better, especially if you apply them carefully.

Selective Adjust provides much of the creative control that’s available in Nik’s high-end software. You can copy a control point to another area of the image with the adjustments intact. You can cut, delete, or reset a control point by tapping it. You can shrink or expand the area affected by the control point by using two fingers to pinch-in (shrink) or pinch-out (expand) the circle of influence.

Basic and Creative
With most of the basic filters, you can perform sophisticated editing through directional swipes. With the Crop filter, which is new to version 1.2, you can use two fingers to pinch-in or pinch-out the crop lines, while keeping the original aspect ratio. If you tap and drag one of the four highlighted corners of the photo, you can crop the image without keeping the original aspect ratio.


On the other hand, each of the creative filters offers from two to five enhancements to help you define the use of the filter. For example, with the Black & White filter, you get brightness, contrast, and grain. Vintage Films gives you brightness, saturation, texture strength, and center size, which is used for applying a vignette effect

After choosing the filter from the opening screen, you tap the photo and swipe up or down to choose the enhancement for that filter. Swiping to the right increases the enhancement (more brightness, for example), while swiping to the left decreases the enhancement (less brightness).Snapseed

The creative filters also have one or more additional buttons at the bottom of the interface that let you alter the style or texture of the enhancement, shuffle through literally hundreds of variations of the filter effect, or compare your altered photo to the unedited version.

Any change you make with a basic or creative filter shows up immediately within the photo. Once you’re satisfied with the changes, you can tap the Apply button to accept them. Alternatively, you can tap the Back button at any time to back out of the changes, leaving the photo as it was before you selected the filter.

There’s an Undo button, too. You can tap and hold that button to undo or redo that filter’s changes one step at a time. This might sound complicated, but the gestures and buttons will become second nature once you go through the process a time or two.

After applying the changes from a filter, you can go on to another filter and stack its changes on top of the previous changes. You can keep working this way — adding in more filters until you’ve found the look you’re hoping to achieve.

Special Considerations for Smaller Screens

With any of the filters that are applied to the entire image, such as Grunge or Tune Image, the smaller screen of the iPhone or the iPad touch is not an issue. However, the smaller display can be too confining for filters that are applied in different ways to different areas. It can also be problematic when you want to evaluate just a small portion of the photo.

Surprisingly, perhaps the Crop filter operates just as easily with an iPhone as with an iPad. This is because you don’t have to be that exact when grabbing the corners of the photo. Also, with Selective Adjust, it’s relatively easy to place a point, and then pinch-in and pinch-out the selected area. The trouble comes when you try to judge the results of these alterations. It’s hard to see exactly what the Crop has removed, or whether or not Selective Adjust has been seamlessly applied.

What’s Missing?

So what’s missing in Snapseed? Topping the list is the ability to save your edit sequence as a preset. If you come up with a great look for your photo, there is no way to save it or apply it to multiple photos. Once you close down the app, the edit sequence is gone forever. Good luck trying to recreate the different directional swipes and button taps that got you to that particular place.

Second on the list is a zoom-in/zoom-out function, to give you a closer look at your edited photo, This is especially important for the iPhone or iPod Touch, but even on the iPad, there will be times when you’ll want a 100 percent view of the image so you can more carefully consider how the filter has modified your photo.

On both these points, Luminance is superior to Snapseed. You can save your filter steps in Luminance as a preset which can be applied to other photos. Luminance also lets you zoom-in and zoom-out while editing.


With its wide range of powerful filters, Snapseed 1.2 can replace a truckload of specialized camera apps, including apps that apply vintage hues and vignette effects, crop or straighten your photos, or let you apply custom frames to your photos. Also Snapseed offers that these other apps don’t is the ability to target some of its effects to specific portions of the image. At the same time, Snapseed is easier to use than the competing apps, and the end results usually look much better. All in all, Snapseed for iOS is an excellent bargain.


  • Highly intuitive UI
  • Undo and redo feature
  • Allows adjustments to specific areas of photo



  • No zoom-in/zoom-out
  • You can’t save edit sequence as a preset





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