Apple iPhoto - iOS App review

Apple iPhoto for iOS $4.99 / £2.99
Compatible with iPhone4 or later, iPad 2 or later, requires iOS5.1 or later (reviewed on iPad 3rd Gen)

Browsing and organising are particular highlights of iPhoto, thanks to multi-touch gesture support and fast operation. Image editing is restricted to JPEGs only; there's no Raw file rendering capability.

Apple has taken the well-known iPhoto Mac app that’s bundled with every new Apple computer and adapted it for the iPad and iPhone. Although the iPhoto app offers a range of image editing tools including, global and localised adjustment control (using multi-touch tools) there’s a lot more to it than that.

Despite sharing a name though, iPhoto for iOS does not integrate deeply with iPhoto for Apple's desktop computers. In fact, integration is limited to Apple's 'Photo Stream' service, which automatically synchronizes saved photographs between iOS devices and Mac desktops running iPhoto/Aperture. Synced images are saved at full resolution in the 'cloud' but are delivered to your iOS device at a reduced resolution, appropriate to the device. A 12MP 4.7MB JPEG file from the Fuji X-S1, for example, is delivered via Photo Stream at 3.1MP / 490KB to the iPad, but is available to a Mac computer (via Aperture/iPhoto) at full, original size.   

As you might expect, the social sharing aspects via FaceBook, Twitter, Flickr, and email are covered in iPhoto for iOS but Apple has also included an option to 'beam' images with editing adjustment metadata (sidecar files) between iOS devices, a potentially useful option for mobile photographers, especially. Moving RAW and large JPEG files off the iPad onto other iOS devices wirelessly via 'beaming' can be pretty slow though, and requires a lot of bandwidth.

If you want to transfer images to a computer, you can do this via USB option through iTunes (or better still using a RAW conversion utility – Aperture or Lightroom). 

Apple has also introduced Photo Journals into iPhoto for iOS - a cloud-based photo service with the option to add text alongside photos. Photo journals are published as web pages with a unique URL so they can be shared with anyone with a browser and net access.

(File) Size Matters

When images are viewed and edited in iPhoto, dimensions are restricted to a maximum of 19-megapixels (MP) per file for display. Images larger than this are scaled down to a quarter of the original image dimensions. Thus, a 22MP file will be downscaled to just 5.5MP, and a 36MP image from a Nikon D800 will be scaled down to just 9MP.

Image size restrictions also apply when exporting edited files. The maximum size image you can export after editing is 4096 pixels on the longest edge. Your original high-res images are still stored, and edited versions are simply saved as new files.

Before you write iPhoto off as an app exclusively for the mobile photography market, it has robust browsing capabilities that photographers at all levels can benefit from. 

Browsing and Organization

Apple is good at designing and implementing sleek UIs and iPhoto on the iPad doesn’t disappoint. Image organisation is one of the app’s strengths and the thumbnail browser and main viewer make it easy to quickly find, assess, flag, and caption images, though you can't rate them. 

You can mark images as flagged and tag them as favorites in iPhoto, or even hide them if you want to.

While you can enlarge images to check focus, composition and colour, and add albums in the Photos app, iPhoto also allows side-by-side comparison, image flagging (there is an option to flag individual images, those imported within the last 24-hours, last 7 days etc), and tagging of favourites. You can also add captions, view EXIF data and keep track of edited, flagged, beamed images, favourite, whatever is in your Photo Stream, your last import, all imports and so on. There’s an option to view images on an external display: using either a HDMI cable adaptor or using Airplay and Apple TV - potentially useful not only in the home but also for presentation to a client.

All this functionality is useful, but there is a little room for improvement. It isn't possible to create your own folders for example, so you're stuck with iPhoto's automatic organization of images as 'Events' by capture date (from the EXIF data) or as 'Albums'. Album names are pre-determined ('Flagged', 'Edited', 'Beamed' etc) so you can’t just add new Albums and name them as you might in the 'standard' iOS Photos app. It's worth noting though that any albums created in the 'Photos' app are visible and accessible in iPhoto.


Although at first glance it might appear that iPhoto for iOS can support the editing of Raw files, the truth isn't quite that simple. Most Raw files have an embedded JPEG for image playback and assessment in-camera and if you import Raw files onto your iOS device it is these embedded thumbnails that iPhoto works with. When you import RAW+JPEG images, iPhoto only accesses the JPEGs. (The RAW, of course, is still on your iPad/device and can be later imported onto a computer, but iPhoto only deals with the JPEG member of the RAW+JPEG pair.)  

Double-tapping on a thumbnail groups similar images and displays them in the main viewer, while a second double tap on the image zooms to 1:1 actual pixels, or, you can use a touch gesture to bring up a variable (1-3x) magnification loupe. All of it is typically sleek, but it’s also fast and efficient. The same goes for editing. Adjustments are non destructive until rendered for output, and it is possible to 'undo' edits - an Undo/Redo button is provided with unlimited history states. There’s also a 'revert to original' option.

Image editing and enhancement plays a big part in iPhoto, and while it's of little use in a Raw workflow, there's plenty here to like for those working on hi-res JPEGs and lets not forget the legions of mobile photographers who'll find compatibility with the iPhone and various sharing options all welcome additions.

Worth mentioning is a unique user-friendly loupe-based white-balance tool. Rather than use a traditional pipette/eye-dropper type tool, iPhoto has a loupe with cross hairs to sample colour for white-balance. You’re supposed to pick off a neutral gray, but it is easy/easier to drag it around as it updates the colour the whole time (in real time).

There's another loupe, too, for sampling skin tones.

There's a reasonable range of filters adjustments possible in iPhoto for iOS, including a quick auto-enhance for time-sensitive projects and quite a sophisticated levels tool with highlight and shadow clipping warnings. Sliders are used for quick global adjustments whereas brushes are applied using your fingertip are adopted for local adjustment.

Some adjustments, like sharpening, lighten/darken and desaturate can also be applied to the entire image, and some have strength sliders as well. In the main these worked well with only a slight delay but sometimes we needed to opt for the 'show strokes' setting when using some of the brushes, so we could keep track of where the effect had been applied. 

Local adjustments are made using brushes, you simply paint on the effect with your fingertip. However, some of the adjustments, such as lighten, darken, desaturate or sharpen (in this instance), can be applied to the whole image.


iPhoto for iOS is unashamedly aimed at non-professional image-makers and (inevitably) chiefly geared to the needs of mobile photographers. The lack of true Raw support is all but inevitable (none of the major photo editing apps for iOS allow Raw adjustment) and I doubt it will trouble the majority of people that download and install this app. 

I tested this app on an iPad, and iPhoto is the best app I've seen for browsing and organising photos on this device. But it's an effective editing tool, as well. If you have a JPEG workflow, say for example you work for a newspaper, where anything other than minor editing is frowned upon, then iPhoto on the iPad may prove very handy when you're working on location.

Even if you shoot Raw though, you shouldn't dismiss iPhoto for iOS out of hand. You can still import Raw files and use iPhoto to sort through images, for example, and to flag 'keepers' ready to transfer to your preferred Raw workflow utility on a computer (via USB, iTunes or if you shoot Raw only, via Photo Stream). My only serious reservations about iPhoto for iOS centre around the image size restrictions and lack of support for the original iPad, but at $4.99 we're not complaining.  

What we like: Price, sleek UI, quick to organise and browse, useful range of editing tools and sharing options

What we don't like: No support for original iPad, or raw rendering, resolution restrictions for display and output of edited images (orignal imported files remain stored at full resolution) Controls are small and cluttered on the tiny screen of the iPhone.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 26
By MalloryBose (Oct 24, 2012)

This looks fun. :) I'd love to edit my niece's pictures taken with the Maddie and Matt's Happy Earth app using this Apple iPhoto! Yey!

1 upvote
Tord S Eriksson
By Tord S Eriksson (Sep 23, 2012)

Doug is so right - the iPhoto app is useless with my iPad - money down the drain!

Doug Gilbert
By Doug Gilbert (Aug 6, 2012)

Yes, the original iPads are still being used. Unfortunately this app isn't supported on the original iPad.

By aaanouel (Jun 23, 2012)

EXIF (Mac):
Menu/Photo/PhotoInfo = EXIF

Victor Engel
By Victor Engel (Jun 15, 2012)

When reading this review, I find myself wondering if there are two iPhoto apps. Were I to review the app, I'd give it a score of D or maybe D+ if I'm feeling generous. Here are some of my gripes:

Syncing takes forever and frequently doesn't complete. Sometimes, things get totally confused. Try changing your album structure or the directory where things are synced, and you're likely to have a huge mess.

EXIF data from a camera are not ported to iPhoto. This article seems to indicate working with EXIF is one of the features. I'll take another look, but I couldn't figure out how to get EXIF from my computer to iPhoto.

Part of why iPhoto is so slow is that it doesn't sync your photos to the device. It creates "optimized" versions of the pictures and syncs those. This uses up extra space on the computer, and you wind up not even having your pictures on the device.

How hard is it to create a hierarchical folder structure? It's easy as pie, yet completely absent in the app.

By Mike4679 (Jun 11, 2012)

great tool. Of course it has it's limitations, but when used interchangeably with other program for iPad called Snapseed, I have gotten amazing results - well, at least according to me and my expectations.

1 upvote
By autojosh (May 30, 2012)

As a casual snapper I find the iPhoto workflow really suits me. At the end of a day's holiday I can connect my SSD to the iPad, organise and edit my photos in small batches, and avoid having to process 1,000 photos at the end of the holiday. It never fails to bring the whole family around and involve them. We all get more out of the photos and there's far less drudgery for me.

Getting the photos out of iPhoto is a pain though. They can't be accessed from the main Photos app without exporting them one at a time (is this a bug?) The only useful method I've found is to export via iTunes and a cable to a PC, which is monotonous and prone to user error. I have to remember which date ranges I've already imported and risk missing or overwriting photos. Remember that the iPad is not a storage device. What about export to SSD? So, Apple, please fix the export, add folders, tags and ratings and I'll be all yours!

By Jylppy (May 26, 2012)

iPhoto for iOS is a handy tool to share quick edits of DSLR photos taken on a road. Having said that the lates version (1.01) has some annoying limitations including lack of custom white balance setting or inability to see all your Facebook photo albums when sharing. But pretty handy tool still.

By TD912 (May 23, 2012)

While Photo Stream and syncing files manually can be annoying, you
guys forgot to note that Apple also offers a "camera connector kit"
which allows you to import directly from a camera's USB port or an SD
card without having to go through resizing/recompressing:

And if you have an iPhone and iPad with iPhoto, there's "Photo
Beaming" which also allows you to transfer full-res photos between the
two via WiFi or Bluetooth.

Still, exporting resolution is limited, but if you really need images over 12MP, I'm not totally sure iPhoto is the right solution anyway.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 11 minutes after posting
By TD912 (May 23, 2012)

Oh, to clarify, there shouldn't be resizing via the Camera Kit or "beam" unless the image is over 19MP.

The reason for the resolution limitations is probably because there's a bottleneck in the CPU and RAM in the iPad. While phones and tablets are quite advanced, it seems they're just not quite ready for stuff like this. Anandtech, a pretty reliable tech site, basically said the iPhoto software might actually be a bit too much for even the newest iPad hardware to handle.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
By darwiniandude (May 23, 2012)


The front facing camera limitation is a well known method to limit installation on incompatible devices.

The new iPad has 1GB ram. The iPad 2 has 512mb. The original iPad only has 256MB. iPhoto needs ram to load up a 19MP file and edit it, provide undo levels etc. That is the real reason for the limitation. When you multitask on an iPad 1 it keeps having to reload everything, it was ram crippled from day one unfortunately. I know this is frustrating, but what can you do.

By Firestorm2000 (May 22, 2012)

Not remotely interested; until it works on the original iPad 1, Apple states that it is incompatible due to the iPad 1 not having a forward facing camera!

WTF. I use the camera connection kit to connect real cameras and edit with Photogene and Snapseed Apps.

Someone at Apple needs to sort this issue out. They must be so embarrassed or should be! Similar issue with iMovie App. Originally incompatible with iPad 1; then after an update it allowed me to purchase and run the App OK. Next update arrives and yet again the update is now incompatible due to no forward facing camera on it. So now I have un update that can't be updated just sat there.. Way to go Apple!

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By DaveMarx (May 21, 2012)

I've been using this on my iPhone for about a month, and have been having a great time. Does it do everything I can do with a desktop editing program? No. Why should I expect that it should, or could?

As a tool for editing and organizing my iPhone shots? Brilliant! The image file size issues, raw? Not a limitation in this case. Yesterday I snapped bumblebees as they flew above the pavement by my feet, then edited them right there on the park bench - heavy cropping, lots of adjusting, but barely touched the app's full abilities. In Crop I could have manually adjusted tilt +-20 degrees (not mentioned in the review), and if it detects a horizon, it can auto-adjust to dead level. Previously, I'd have just cropped in Camera+, chosen a filter that gave the best results, and moved on.

Can we replace a laptop loaded with full-strength apps with an iPad? Not yet, but is that all that matters? This is version 1.0.1! Maybe by next version it'll let us work with the in-camera HDR layers.

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
By yoshi1080 (May 21, 2012)

Could you explain how you imported the images from the iPad onto the Mac so that the metadata from iPhoto was preserved? I used iPhoto a lot on my last vacation, doing light editing, but mostly hiding images that weren’t good enough (without deleting them). However, when I synched my iPad with Aperture, it was treated as a simple mass storage media and Aperture ignored iPhoto completely. All of the nondestructive edits were lost and flags and favorites were just reset.

I had hoped that Aperture would somehow assimilate iPhoto’s database upon synchronizing, but unfortunately I was wrong. Apparently it works for you, though?

1 upvote
By RAGordy (May 24, 2012)

Same here. It really blows to edit all of your photos while actually on vacation, only to not have them available on your Mac when you get home. I had to pretty much redo everything.

Steve 316
By Steve 316 (May 21, 2012)

A lot of photographers would like to use their iPad as a back-up device while shooting in the field. You'd think iPhoto for iOS would be the obvious software choice. But the lack of robust integration with iPhoto for the Mac, coupled with the really staggering compression in PhotoStream, raises huge questions. The magic of Apple is getting things to fit together easily and seamlessly, and yet here they haven't tried very hard.

I wish this review had a more similar format to Barnaby Britton's excellent Snapseed review--it would have made it easier to compare the two products. Still, this was helpful--thank you.

1 upvote
By Kotjara (May 21, 2012)

what I don't like for iPhoto, so it making the loooooong time Image Library refreshing on start. Other apps do it in seconds, but iPhoto could do it for minutes.
I have over 2000 pics in iPhone, I can't wait minutes to edit fresh pic and post it to Internet.

By Alithenake (May 22, 2012)

It happens only if you are running it on iOS older than 5.1 (e.g jailbreaked device and non genuine iPhoto ;) )...

By cambomj (May 22, 2012)

Incorrect - I am running 5.1 and a genuine iPhoto app and it takes forever to load. Cool app though :)

By Daxs (May 21, 2012)

Here we go again!
Photographers most "important" App (Program)!
Let's go!

By adiprcike (Aug 16, 2012)

Love this app. I really do.

Manic Tuesday
By Manic Tuesday (May 21, 2012)

yes i am certain the 'non-professional image makers' will be mad as hell because of that 19MP limit. it essentially renders the whole app useless.

dark goob
By dark goob (May 24, 2012)

You should have realized it was useless when you saw the name was "iPhoto" LOL

By hooly (May 21, 2012)

Thanks, that was very informative. Can you clarify if the RAW files are downgraded in size when re-importing from the ipad to a computer; or does that only happen to the jpeg version being viewed/edited?

Comment edited 17 seconds after posting
By Najinsky (May 21, 2012)

You load raw from the camera connection kit to the iPad. When you connect the iPad to the computer, those same raws can be copied to the computer fully intact with no loss whatsoever.

If you edit the image, the edit runs against an embedded JPEG that iPhoto reads from the RAW header (it doesn't process the actual raw data, although there are other Apps that do).

That edited image can be transferred as a JPEG in addition to the original RAW. Also, if the file is bound for a Mac and is imported into iPhoto or Aperture, the basic edits of Crop and Auto enhance are also transfer as non-destructive edits and automatically attached to the raw.

By epo001 (May 21, 2012)

And cue moaning by the fandroids about bias in favour of Apple ...

1 upvote
Total comments: 26