Once upon a time the idea of editing photos on a phone or tablet was considered folly – akin to painting watercolours on a piece of sponge.
But that all changed as screens got sharper and touch control more precise. Plus, with many of us now using smartphones as our main camera, there’s no shortage of raw material on them that could benefit from a bit of judicious tweaking before posting to Facebook or Instagram.
There are hundreds of photo-editing apps out there clamouring for your attention, but the dozen you’ll find listed below are the best we’ve tried so far.
Google’s take on photo-editing is typically approachable. Need to crop or rotate an image, or add a filter? That just takes a couple of taps. Adding some great-looking text? No problem – select from a large choice of styles and fonts, and the app arranges everything for you.
But Snapseed goes much further than its rivals. There’s a powerful curves tool; filters can be tweaked and fine-tuned, as can text placement; best of all, Stacks enable you to view and adjust previous edits in a non-destructive manner. That’s a pro-level feature set, which makes it all the more astonishing that Snapseed is free.
On the desktop, Affinity Photo is a full-fledged alternative to Photoshop, but with a wallet-friendly price-tag. On iPad, it’s… basically the desktop version with an interface rethought for touch controls and Apple Pencil. Let that sink in for a moment: this is desktop-level photo editing on a tablet.
Affinity Photo, then, unleashes the potential of the iPad – and, unsurprisingly, needs one with clout (a Pro or post-Air iPad). You must invest time, too, in order to master its many tools. But have some patience and you’ll soon be revelling in multi-layered photo-editing bliss, mulling over whether you still need a PC or Mac at all.
Although wildly different from Photoshop in terms of its interface, Pixelmator is the closest thing you’ll get to Adobe’s desktop powerhouse on iPhone, and is a good bet on iPad if Affinity Photo feels intimidating. The app has fantastic configurable filters, tools for making adjustments to levels, and features for touching up and enhancing snaps.
You can paint on the canvas with all kinds of brush and media types, add shapes and text, create and blend layers, and mess around with crazy distortions if one of your photos is otherwise unsalvageable. Feeling uninspired? Pixelmator’s got you covered there, too, with its collage, card, frame, and poster templates.
This app sits somewhere between Snapseed and Adobe’s offerings. So while Polarr does include tools for making rapid adjustments, it also proves feature-rich when you delve deeper.
The interface is particularly well designed: in the adjustments section, simply tap a tool and plentiful configuration buttons slide out for tweaking all kinds of settings. There’s always a lot going on, but even on a smartphone, Polarr remains usable.
It’s worth noting that some features lurk behind a paywall, but you get plenty for free. And for the pro-oriented, even Polarr’s top tier of 20 quid seems reasonable, given that it unlocks features on a cross-platform basis.
The most focused editing app in this round-up, SKRWT is all about working with lens and perspective corrections. For lens distortions, you get individual tabs for mobile, wide-angle, fisheye and GoPro cameras. With architecture shots in particular, applying corrections to horizontal and vertical lines using SKRWT can prove transformative.
The app also bundles two further tools: MRRW skews photos and creates mirror images; 4PNTS has intuitive four-points correction tools. Annoyingly, each is effectively a sub-app, so you can’t quickly scoot between, say, SKRWT and MRRW. That niggle aside, SKRWT proves an essential part of any smartphone photographer’s toolkit.