When Apple itself chooses an app as the best of the year out of the hundreds of thousands in the App Store, you know you've got a winner. In its iTunes App Store Rewind 2011, the oracle of Cupertino bestowed the title of Best iPad App of 2011 on Snapseed for iPad. The photo enhancing app comes from Nik Software, a venerable player in the image software business that's developed pro-level effects for Photoshop for years Snapseed for iPad can not only correct and add zest to images shot with your Apple tablet's camera, but also easily shares them on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.
Snapseed's interface is simple and clear, yet it packs in a lot of power and in-depth detail. After you open or shoot a photo, you'll see rectangles along the bottom of the screen (or along the side if you're in landscape orientation), which you can swipe through to choose edits, adjustments, and effects. Simple swiping gestures let you adjust contrast, brightness, and color; or you can have the program choose those automatically or choose control points in the image.
An always-present icon lets you compare your edited work with the original, and the original image is always saved?the editor is non-destructive of your original image. A question mark is always available in the upper-right hand corner, and touching it overlays helpful hand-drawn instructions showing where to tap or swipe to perform a function.
The app adroitly handles photo-fixing basics such as brightness, contrast, cropping, and straightening. For Snapseed's sharpening capability, accessible from the Details option, Nik borrows from its pro-level Photoshop plugin, Sharpener Pro 3.0. This even lets you adjust with sliders for strength and "structure," providing a powerful way to bring out hidden textures.
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Special effects include Drama, Grunge, vintage, center focus, frames, and "tilt shift"?a popular technique that gives photos a miniaturized look. These go far beyond what you get in Instagram and Hipstamatic.
I was also impressed that many of the adjustments and effects can be applied to specific areas of the image using control points in the app's Selective Adjust and Selective Focus sections. These let you apply brightness, contrast, and saturation to an adjustable circular region of the photo. You drag one finger in and out while holding the other on the control point to enlarge or shrink the affected area, which is shown by a red overlay. The selective stuff is one area where Snapseed outdoes the also good Adobe Photoshop Express (free, 3 stars) app, and it's mighty useful for cases where, for example, a person's face is dark with a bright background.
The Drama tool added just that to a bleak landscape I tried it on, while Vintage offers nine old-fashioned photo looks and several texture options. Grunge is one of Snapseed's most impressive tools, with a whopping 1,500 settings, each a different degrees of color emphasis or fading. Once you're done with tweaking the actual image, you can place it in a choice of frames that give the photo a mounted appearance.
Snapseed offers one of the hottest effects in digital photography today?"tilt shift." I use quotation marks, because, although this is the popular term for the miniaturization and saturation technique, tilt-shift is actually a geometry effect only possible with expensive lenses. Snapseed lets you choose an elliptical or linear focus area for the effect, and the results can be impressive.?
Snapseed lets you share your photo creations directly to your iPhone library, send it in an email, or upload it to Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter. When I uploaded to Flickr, I could choose the photo set and privacy setting, and add a caption, tags, description. Hipstamatic, by contrast, only lets you use a title and its own auto tags, as does Instagram.?
More than Speedy Snapping
Instagram and Hipstamatic certainly offer fun ways to doll up your photos, but Snapseed is the most capable and powerful. Some of its capabilities approach things you can to in the Grand Poobah of image editing itself, Photoshop. If you just want a fun way to share besides the well-established Flickr and Facebook (and good old email), Instagram and Hipstamatic are for you. But if you really want to perfect and create with your iPad photographs, then Snapseed is the best choice, and an Editors' Choice for photo editing on the iPad.
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