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Snapseed for iPad Review

What Is Snapseed?

Snapseed is a photo editing app for the iPad, offering a variety of filters and adjustments for you to apply to images.  You may be wondering whether there’s actually any room in the market for yet another image editing app especially when you’ve already got the likes of Adobe’s Photoshop Express which is available for free and the inherent boundaries put in place by the capabilities of iPad platform itself, but judging by app sales there’s obviously a good demand for image editing on the iPad and the portability of the iPad means you’re more likely to have it with you as opposed to a more restrictive laptop or desktop.


The main menu screen with the original image
The main menu screen with the original image


Similar to other photo editing apps, Snapseed offers a number of ‘filters’ which allow you to change brightness, contrast, etc. as well as apply a number of creative effects such as black and white conversions, adding borders, and vintage film effects.  Where Snapseed stands out from the crowd is in its offering of localised adjustments (via the Selective Adjust filter).  Apps offering adjustments which affect the entire image are common, but Snapseed offers a finer level of control with its U Point technology which allows you to restrict an adjustment to specific areas of an image based upon shape or colour criteria.  If you’ve used Adobe Lightroom (v2 onwards) then you might be familiar with auto masking when applying selective local adjustments.  U Point does a similar type of thing and makes it possible to apply specific adjustments (currently just brightness, saturation and contrast) to the sky of a landscape or the skin of a portrait without affecting anything else around it.


Selective Adjust with Nik's U Point technology in action.
Selective Adjust with Nik’s U Point technology in action.


Selective Adjust with multiple control points.
Selective Adjust with multiple control points.

This localised editing takes Snapseed a big step towards a truly comprehensive, tablet based photo editing solution and opens up a lot of avenues which were previously closed.

Aside from selective adjustments, Snapseed offers 10 additional filters:

  • Auto Correct – Colour and exposure are adjusted automatically with manual fine tuning available.
  • Tune Image – Adjust White Balance, Saturation, Contrast, Brightness, and ‘Ambience’.
  • Straighten & Rotate – A grid is overlaid to assist accurate levelling.
  • Crop – Grab the corners (to maintain aspect ratio) or edges of a photo to quickly crop down an image.
  • Black & White – A selection of conversion styles is offered along with manual adjustment of brightness, contrast and grain.
  • Vintage – Attempts to replicate the lomo look with various expired film styles, paper textures and vignetting.
  • Drama – A selection of effects which, as the name suggests, helps to make your images more dramatic looking!
  • Grunge – A huge variety of effects which aim to add some ‘grittiness’ to your images.
  • Center Focus – Adds variable blurring around a user defined point within the image.
  • Organic Frames – Puts a styled border around your image.


In Use

Using Snapseed is a pleasure and the built-in help overlays are very effective for quickly getting to grips with how to make use of the various functions.  Nik Software also provide tutorials and guidance via their website.  The layout of controls is logical and consistent.  The use of the iPad touch screen means resizing can be done with pinch gestures and swiping is used to choose between in-filter adjustments such as brightness and contrast and also to control the degree to which they’re applied.  Both portrait and landscape orientation is supported.  So, you can hold your iPad according to the orientation of your image to make full use of available screen real estate.


Screenshot showing Snapseed pop-up menu
Swiping vertically selects between adjustments, horizontally varies the strength of those adjustments.

On the original iPad, performance is very good.  Some effects do take a second or two to render, but most operations feel satisfyingly lag-free.  Extrapolate this performance onto the iPad2 and I’d expect a very snappy performance.

There’s a very handy compare button which when held down shows you the image before the current filter or shows you the original image depending on whether you press the one from within a filter screen or from within the main menu screen.

It’s worth noting that original image files are left untouched.  Any edits made using Snapseed must be exported as distinct image files.


Who Might Use Snapseed?

Despite the plethora of effects and levels of tweaking which can be applied, I find it difficult to suggest it’s the answer to a professional photographer’s search for an iPad based Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture.  It’s not possible to batch process and no way to define your own presets which means processing every image from scratch.  Also, there’s very limited control of colours.  So, sending off a processed image for printing is taking a gamble on whether or not the colours would be accurately reproduced.  Whether or not an iPad’s display screen is suitable for precise colour work is outside of the scope of this review.

Snapseed makes it very easy to apply a large variety of creative effects as well as carry out a number of standard adjustments.  For the social photographer wanting to process a handful of images at a time for sharing via email, Flickr or Facebook it’s excellent as there’s support built right into the app.  Printing via Apple AirPrint™ is also supported.


How Snapseed Could Be Improved

At the time of writing, Snapseed could well be argued as the best image editing app for iOS mainly due to its ability to apply localised adjustments, good feature set and ease of use, but there’s definitely room for improvement.  Not to mention, there’s a gaping hole where I feel some essential functionality has been left out such as:

  • Sharpening – localised and image-wide
  • Resizing/Rescaling
  • Red-eye correction
  • Magnified view for finer edits
  • Pre-defined crop ratios

As a workaround, other image editing apps can be used to take up the slack, but it would be more convenient to have everything available in a single app without the need to export/import images.

Additional functionality which would be nice to see:

  • Cloning & healing
  • Histogram
  • Colour correction
  • Curves adjustment – localised and image-wide
  • Export in non-lossy file formats
  • Watermarking
  • Batch processing
  • User defined presets
  • Layers

Whilst additional features might increase development costs and push Snapseed into a different target market, there’s nothing to prevent Nik Software releasing a ‘pro’ version to better cater for the professional or more demanding photographer.  At £2.99, the app is good value for money and I would be happy to pay the same amount again for the above additional functionality.



Overall, Snapseed is an excellent image editing app for the iPad and sets a new standard by which future apps can be compared against.

It’s a promising sign that development of image editing apps on the iPad (and perhaps other mobile platforms) hasn’t plateaued, but is progressing towards satisfying the demands of those who want to have more control over their image editing.  Nik Software have demonstrated this quite clearly with Snapseed which I feel is an evolutionary step forward in iPad based image editing.


The original, unedited photograph
The original, unedited photograph


The finished photograph.
The finished photograph.

24/06/2011 Update

Version 1.1.0 has been released to the iTunes app store.  The main benefits include supports for RAW images transferred with the Camera Connector kit and the preservation of EXIF data upon saving.



The photo I edited in the screenshots was shot on a Panasonic Lumix GF1 and imported onto my iPad using the camera connection kit.

Snapseed can be downloaded from the iTunes app store.

Hong Kong Life

During my recent stay in Hong Kong, I was able to capture some of the everyday goings on as well as document the two-day ceremony.  Of course, this is just a tiny slice of life in Hong Kong.  I could probably spend decades photographing within its 1,104.4 sq. km boundary and still only cover a fraction of what goes on.  So, for now, here’s a little something which you may not have seen before; a little less of the glitz and glamour, a little more of its inhabitants.

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Hong Kong Beliefs

I’m by no means a religious person, but there’s something irresistibly quaint about beliefs and tradition within Chinese culture.  No matter where in Hong Kong you go, if you look hard enough you’ll find something that points to some sort of religion or tradition.  It might be as obvious as a 112-foot bronze Buddha which can be seen from miles away, temples hidden in amongst the hi-rises, shrines in the streets and people’s homes, banyans designated as wishing trees laden with wishes tied to oranges, fortune telling through divination or the practice of ancestor worship.  I can’t help but to find it endearing that such things can exist within a society saturated with hi-tech.

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Hong Kong Maids on Sunday

One of Hong Kong’s interesting characteristics is its 300,000+ population of live-in domestic helpers from mostly the Philippines and Indonesia.  Due to the busy and time demanding work lives of their employers, the domestic helpers who typically look after the household and any children apart from Sundays when they all get the day off.  You may be wondering just what 300,000 people who are mostly housebound during the rest of the week do on their day off.  Well, they get together where ever they can and enjoy themselves much like how you or I might, but Hong Kong isn’t a place where space is plentiful.  So, some public spaces within the city tend to see a sudden surge in population each weekend…

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Hong Kong After Dark

Hong Kong at night is one of the most amazing time and places to be.  Public transport and the retail/leisure industry keep going until late evening which means it’s easy to get around.  With vast amounts being invested into the tourism sector (e.g. the famous Symphony of Lights show which runs daily at 8pm) there’s always plenty to see and do.  It’s also a very safe place to walk around with expensive camera equipment which means more time and effort spent on photography and less on worrying about being robbed.

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