Image-Editing Review: iPhoto for the iPad
Pros: Some nice editing tools, good local filtering and rating, cool journal facility.
Cons: Metadata is not standard IPTC; edits have limited latitude; iOS sandboxing makes for complex multi-app workflow.
It's taken a surprising amount of time, but Apple has finally released a version of iPhoto for the iPad. Apple no longer seems to be wrestling with the iOS identity issues that they had at first: they now accept that the platform can be used for content creation. While they had previously added simple editing tasks to the Photos application for the iPad, the lack of a mobile version of their wildly popular desktop photo manipulation tool was conspicuous.
iPhoto for iOS now puts Apple squarely in the middle of consumer image editing on mobile devices. Apple faces some stiff competition in this realm, but professional users are most likely wondering if the new application is suitable for serious photo work. The short answer is: kind of. Bear in mind that I’m looking at iPhoto for iOS from the perspective of a working photographer.
Having single-handedly invented the world's first viable tablet platform, the engineers at Apple know very well that a touch-based environment often needs new interfaces from what you'll find on the desktop version. Consequently, they built the iOS version of iPhoto entirely from the ground up — you'll find very few parallels to the desktop version. For this review, we'll be focusing on iPhoto on the iPad, not the iPhone. Note that iPhoto for iOS works on the newest iPad, the iPad 2, and the iPhone 4 and 4S.
As with all image editing applications on iOS, iPhoto provides access to the same images that you'll find in the Photos application — your "camera roll". So, any images that you sync to the device, shoot with the built-in camera, or import using the Camera Connection Kit can be edited in iPhoto. From within iPhoto, you can browse any albums you've created, as well as any events.
Figure 1: iPhoto’s browser provides a simple interface for getting to the various albums, events, and photos on your iPad.
Like its desktop counterpart, iPhoto is a non-destructive editing system. Edited images reside in their own special album. You can alter or remove the edits on an image at any time, and your original image is never touched. These edited images don't appear in your camera roll, though, so you won't see them in other applications. When you're done editing, you can export an image back to your camera roll as a JPEG.
Of course, you've also got access to all of the iOS 5 social media options — direct export to Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook, as well as automatic attachment to an email. You also have the option to print. Another sharing option is through the new Beam feature that allows you to pass images to other iOS devices running iPhoto. Images are transferred over the device’s network connection.
A simple browser lets you see a scrolling list of thumbnails along with a good-size preview of your image. While browsing, you can mark images as favorites, flag them, or hide them. You can then filter your current view to show only flagged or favorite images, and favorites go into their own, dedicated album.
Figure 2: The browser on the left lets you call up a large preview image. Editing and rating tools show up on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.
These ratings and flags are not any kind of standard IPTC tags, so there's no way to use iPhoto to produce any tags that can be used with other applications. The workflow features are fine if all you want to do is deal with images that will live on your iPad and be disseminated from there. But if you were hoping for a workflow tool that runs on your iPad, and then integrates with the asset management system that you use at home, iPhoto's probably not gonna cut it.
You can’t delete an image from the iPad from within iPhoto, which can be annoying. If you’re browsing your images to select your choices and decide you don’t like some images, it's quite a process to delete them. You’ll have to go back to the Photos application, find the images, delete them there, and then return to iPhoto. Because Apple has decided that iPad users don’t need image names, finding the image you want to delete can be a pain, especially if you have a lot of images on your device.
All of this makes image handling more cumbersome than it should be, especially if you want to take an image across multiple applications. This limitation isn’t actually iPhoto’s fault. It’s a flaw in the sandboxed architecture of iOS applications. Apple only allows the Photos app that level of control.
iPhoto provides a decent set of image editing features. You can crop and rotate using a very intuitive interface. For tonal corrections, Apple has eschewed any kind of normal Levels or Curves interface (approaches that are hard to manage on a small touch screen) and instead invented a very clever single control that gives you easy access to white and black clipping controls, as well as midtone contrast.
Figure 3: At the bottom of the screen is iPhoto’s single, integrated tonal correction tool. The squares on the end adjust black and white clipping. The middle slider alters brightness, and the two circular sliders adjust contrast.
The Auto Enhance tool has been brought over from the desktop iPhoto. It does a good job of automatically correcting simple tone and color problems. For quick edits of snapshots, it's a good tool.
For color correction, there's a white balance dropper that works very well, a saturation slider, and three sliders targeted at specific color ranges: skies, skin tones, and foliage. Pulling a page from nik Software's Snapseed, you can tap on a specific color in your image and drag back and forth to alter it. iPhoto will automatically adjust the relevant slider. Note, though, that unlike Snapseed, this is a global edit. There's no automatic masking as there is in Snapseed.
Figure 4: iPhoto provides four simple color adjustment sliders which can also be accessed by tapping directly on colors in your image.
A selection of brush tools provide simple spot removal, red eye correction, saturate/desaturate, lighten and darken, sharpening, and blurring. Each of these effects can be automatically applied to the entire image, or selectively brushed on specific areas. However, due to processor limitations, you won't be able to see your other edits while working with the brush tools. While this often isn't a problem, there are times when it can be frustrating. For example, if you increase the contrast in an image and reveal some dust, iPhoto will hide your contrast adjustment when you select the Repair brush, which means you might not be able to see the dust anymore.
Figure 5: iPhoto’s brush tools let you brush on specific effects.
The iPhoto application highlights any tools that you've used, but it can take a while to figure out exactly how to re-access an edit you've applied, or change or remove it. The program has okay built-in help, and it's worth spending some time reading through it.
While the basic, global edits are quite good, I found the selective tools —: especially the Lighten and Darken brushes —: to be underpowered. None of the tools have tremendous latitude, so making a dramatic alteration to an image can be difficult, simply because the tools just don't offer a great amount of adjustment. This might be Apple trying to protect you from the dangers of over-editing an image, which might be good for the typical snapshot shooter, but for the experienced editor who wants to dramatically control tone, iPhoto’s tools are limited.
Finally, not to be outdone by the myriad assortment of effects apps that are currently available for the iPad, iPhoto includes a selection of effects that let you skew the color in your image, convert to black and white, and add vignettes, grain, and toning.
Figure 6: You can apply a range of effects directly within iPhoto.
The effects interface is a little strange. Some effects are simply canned effects that you can apply with a click. Others, like Black and White, provide a good amount of manual control. None of these take you too far afield — you won’t get Hipstamatic or Instagram-type looks — but I was impressed with the black and white conversion tools.
One of the most interesting features in iPhoto for iOS is the Journal that lets you lay out multiple images alongside text and other widgets to create a simple presentation.
Figure 7: Journal pages can include photos, text, weather, and calendar widgets, and more.
Journals can be multi-paged, and you can view them on the iPad itself, or export them as web pages. In addition to automatically posting a journal to your iCloud account, you can sync them back to iTunes for posting on your own web server.
For the consumer user, Journals are a fun way to provide travelogues while traveling, or make photo-blogs directly from your iPad. For the professional shooter, they might have utility as a way to quickly deliver previews of images with some simple commentary.
Is iPhoto for you?
If you’re a consumer user, then iPhoto for the iPad is a decent imaging tool. Its intuitive interface and simple effects make it fun to mess around with and share images with friends. Many of the complaints I’m leveling here still apply, but in general, for five bucks, it’s probably worth a try.
If you’re a pro shooter who’s been waiting for an iPad application that will give you a pro-level selection of features, then you’ll still have to wait. Currently, nik Snapseed still holds the title as best image editor. Photoshop Touch has more high-end features, but it's limited by a 1600-x-1600 output size, and it strips all metadata from your images.
Obviously, an iPad can’t be a full substitute for a desktop system with a big monitor and full-featured software. But there is room for it to be a good field workflow tool; one that would allow you to sort, rate, and keyword images in the field, and apply some basic edits. Because of its metadata limitations, iPhoto is not that application.
Still, if you need a quick way to process some images and get JPEGs delivered to a client, iPhoto is worth a look.
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