Software Review: Nik Snapseed for Desktop

Nik's Snapseed for Mac brings all the best bits of the popular iOS application to Mac and PC desktops

Snapseed for Mac/PC $19.99

Photo editing software maker Nik has been making applications and plug-ins for digital photographers with deep pockets for years. Their collection of plugins for Aperture, Lightroom, and Photoshop costs a whopping $599 but their reputation is as grand as their price tags. Their Efex Pro editing series has earned the praise of both professionals and hobbyists looking to make their photos pop.

Following the release of Snapseed for iOS in 2011, Nik has started venturing into the more affordable stand-alone applications. PC and Mac versions of the Snapseed were announced earlier this year, and the Mac version quickly became one of the biggest selling Photo editors in the App Store. At $19.99, it costs $5 more than Apple’s iPhoto but is still much cheaper than Aperture and Photoshop Elements and $4 cheaper than CameraBag 2. The PC version costs exactly the same amount.

We're testing the Mac version here, and the first thing that's obvious is how similar Snapseed’s interface is to the mobile version for iOS. It contains all of the tools that iPhone and iPad users have come to rely on such as U-Point technology for precision exposure editing as well as color adjustments and a range of customizable vintage photo effects.

Key Features:

  • Cropping, straightening, and rotating tools.
  • Depth of field simulators.
  • U-Point technology for quick, selective adjustments.
  • Customizable lo-fi effects and frames
  • Facebook, Flickr, and Email sharing straight from the app
  • Adjustable black and white, film grain effects

System Requirements:

  • Mac OS 10.6.8, 10.7.2, or later 
  • Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP2, and Windows 7 SP1 (or later) 
  • 2GB RAM or more 
  • 256MB or more Video RAM

Getting Started:

When you first open Snapseed, you will be asked to drag a photo into the main window. You can also do an import by clicking on the main window or choosing File: Open.

For this review, I chose an unedited RAW Nikon file (.NEF) from a portrait shoot in a graffiti-covered shack. This photo has harsh, natural sunlight on my subject as well as bright, distracting colors, and deep blacks. I will try to use Snapseed to bring better attention to my subject.

Tuning

I started in the 'Tune Image' section to make basic adjustments. Here, Snapseed has six, pre-made exposure adjustments - automatic, neutral, dark, bright, balanced, and moody. The auto-effects are visible in the thumbnail. Once you have chosen an effect, you can further adjust the Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Ambiance, and Warmth of your photo by toggling sliders in the 'Global Adjust' section of the window. (Ambiance seems to be a combination of shadow darkening and color temperature and Warmth is color balance).

The U-Point controls are adjusted by clicking and dragging your cursor to either the right or left of the buttons. (Left to decrease the intensity and right to increase it.) You can see how much you are affecting your image by the colored rings that will appear around the letter you have chosen. The start of a red circle around 'C', for example, means you have decreased the contrast and a red circle means you have increased it.

The 'Tune Image' section is where you will find Snapseed’s U-Point technology. To use U-Point, you click the 'Add Control Point' option in the panel. Next, you choose the area that you want to affect. I picked the dark background of my portrait. From here, you can change the range of the affected area by clicking on size button below your U-Point. After choosing your area size, you can adjust 'B', 'C', or 'S' - for brightness, contrast, and saturation.

After you have decided on your adjustment, look long and hard at the changes you have made. Once you apply a filter, you cannot Undo just one step, you must start from scratch. You can undo adjustments from within a filter editor, but once you have applied them, you are out of luck if you change your mind. When you are ready, click the 'Apply' arrow on the bottom left of the window. For my 10.1 MB .NEF file, the edits took 10 seconds to go through (5 seconds for a 950 KB .JPEG).

At any point in an editing process, you can take a look at your original photo by clicking the 'compare' icon on the top-right of the screen.

Details

Aside from exposure controls, Snapseed also offers advanced sharpness and contrast adjustments in their 'Details' section. Here, you can change the sharpness and structure of your image.

In this example, I wanted to bring out the details in my subject’s hair. I ended up not keeping the changes, though, because what was enhanced in the structure of the hair also made the subtle lines in my subject’s face super harsh. The U Point technology would be a great addition to this section so photographers could selectively bring up the details without sharpening the whole photo.

Cropping and Straightening

After you are finished doing your basic tune-up, it is time to decide exactly how much of your photo is necessary for the composition. In the 'Crop and Straighten' tab, you view your photo in a grid and use either the angle slider or arrows on the corners of the photo to straighten your shot.

You can crop your photo using its original aspect ratio, choosing one of the six pre-made ratios, or free-styling it. A rule-of-thirds grid is superimposed on your photo at all times during the cropping and straightening process so you will never forget what you were taught in Photo 101.

Focusing

Snapseed offers several different focusing features. Its 'Center Focus' tab opens up to six different focusing styles - Blur, Vignette, Old Lens, Foggy, Dark and Bright. 

The other option for focusing in Snapseed is the 'Tilt-shift' simulator. Tilt-shift or miniature mimickers are abut as common as the sepia filter in popular camera apps but unlike the added grain and color manipulators, tilt-shifting can insert some drama without turning your photo into a blown-out mess.  

Each of these styles is applied by choosing a single focal point and adjusting the size of the in-focus radius around that point. You can then adjust the amount of blur and vignette that will be applied to the shot. In the tilt-shift simulator, you can choose between either linear or radial focal planes and you can adjust the center and size of your tilt-shifted zone.

For my photo, I first used a 'dark' Center Focus filter before adding a circular tilt-shift layer - each one with the focal point on my model’s nose and the ring of focus ending at the edge of her head. My goal with these filters was to take the focus away from the distracting colored pillar the left of my model.

It would be nice to have the option in one Snapseed’s focusing filters to choose more than one focal point or to use the U-Point technology to choose a focal color instead of just picking one radial spot. I would have liked to just choose my model’s skin tone for a precise, subtle focus, but I was forced to include some surrounding areas.

Lo-Fi and Drama Filters

Cue the groans of a million photo purists. Snapseed offers four filter categories for the digital photographer who pines for the glory days of Holga and Diana.

The 'Black & White' tab will take you to a window where you can adjust the brightness, contrast, and grain of your now black and white image. You can also choose either a red, orange, yellow, or green color filter that will further specialize your effect. 'Drama' will increase the saturation of your photo and give it a quasi-HDR effect. In small doses, this filter adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, but in large doses, your scene risks turning into something from Alice’s trip to Wonderland.
'Grunge' does exactly what you think it does. It will make your photos look as dirty as Kurt Cobain’s hair. Here, you can apply tipped and wrinkly-paper textures as well as adjust the saturation, brightness, and contrast in its six different styles. 'Vintage' has nine film styles with adjustable vignettes, paper textures and saturation to make your photo look like a color film print from the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s. You know…if you’re into that sort of thing.

For my photo, I scaled down the 'Wes' effect in the 'Vintage' filter collection to the point where it was barely noticeable at applied it to add a little spice to my scene.

Frames

Once you have finished editing your photo, you can put it in a frame. Snapseed has 10 customizable frames that vary from the simple white stroke line to a jagged and ripped paper imitator.

Each frame’s size, spread, and grunginess can be adjusted using sliders and if you are feeling crazy, there is a shuffle option that will randomly produce a frame for you. For my photo, I chose a paper-mimicker and scaled it down so it isn’t super distracting.

Sharing

At any point between filter edits, you can File > Save As and Snapseed will save your photo in the same dimensions that it started at. When you are finished, you can print, or share to the web straight from the app. Snapseed is currently compatible with Facebook and Flickr sharing as well as through email.

Conclusion:

Nik has used its expertise in desktop plug-ins to take its affordable mobile app to a new level. Snapseed is easy to use and can produce high-quality edits quickly. It can also be integrated into a workflow centered around Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (and we can hope iPhoto in the future). I would like to see Nik utilize Snapseed's useful U-Point technology more in the focus and details control though.

The user interface of Snapseed for Mac/PC is extremely similar to the iPad version but has a few welcome changes - for one, you can actually zoom in on your photos - a feature that is frustratingly absent from the iOS version of the app. The app also runs more quickly on a powerful desktop computer, and applying images and saving takes less time on our 27in iMac than it does on a latest-generation iPad. Still missing, unfortunately, is a batch processing feature, but overall Snapseed is a great app when it comes to making your photos unique without having to spend hours in Photoshop or oversimplify your photos in a lo-fi editor.

We like: U-point controls, Aperture and Lightroom integration, thumbnail previews of effects, adjustable lo-fi filters and frames, focus control

We don't like (Relatively) slow processing times for large files, U-Point controls not utilized in some effects.

Comments

Total comments: 39
bibiki78
By bibiki78 (10 months ago)

I like Snapseed, but the biggest Con for me is that there is no way to save custom "presets". Every photo has to be processed from scratch.

0 upvotes
Barbee
By Barbee (Apr 18, 2013)

Is SnapSeed compatible with a laptop, if it has windows operating system
Anyone that knows the answer please help
Thanks barbara

0 upvotes
Barbiehg
By Barbiehg (Nov 7, 2012)

I have a program PSP X4 for regular editing, but I often turn to this for quick editing. I reckon it's a bargain, I love using it on my desktop. I've had it for about 2 months and paid $19.95 for it - money well spent. It's good if you have a second laptop (I have an ACER Aspire One Happy, 10" with 2 GB RAM) that I take when on holidays, because it's light and easy - I can edit pics and it keeps me occupied on the plane because the smaller netbook can't take such a big program as PSP X4. I love using photo apps for desktop, I also have Camerabag. I'm a Samsung camphone junkie too. I'm no professional, I just love to play - I say bring on more apps for desktop, I'll shell out 20 bucks for anything new and different

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
scotbot
By scotbot (Aug 10, 2012)

Why is the desktop version far more expensive than the iOS version?

Comment edited 7 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
matthunterphoto
By matthunterphoto (Jun 28, 2012)

yeah, you'll always have apps like these that will make digital photography easier.. and i guess i am a little against it as i don't use these & it will no doubt make everyone think they are a professional..

At the end of the day though, you can't have a good photo without good composition, and there will (hopefully) never be an app that is solely based on doing that.

0 upvotes
MaciekPio
By MaciekPio (Jun 5, 2012)

I paid 99 for Viveza 2 ... and now I see they offer something very similar for 20$. Tell me what is the difference ?

0 upvotes
akjos
By akjos (Jun 3, 2012)

I use it as main editing ap on iphone . For what it is its awesome. I used every nik product with photoshop when i had pro gear and time for real photography. Now i dont have neither so im always on the road and every now abd then snap away with iphone. I wish the added just a little more features like better vignette control tint feature to wb tool , and more options to selective adjusting points like expanded option for separate colors ,sharpening and structure adjustment. But still , dont hesitate to get it for either platform you wont be disappointed.

0 upvotes
Heather Protz
By Heather Protz (May 31, 2012)

Great list of features. Itching to get it soon. Hope I could afford it.

0 upvotes
mauro paillex
By mauro paillex (May 30, 2012)

Great software!

0 upvotes
iAPX
By iAPX (May 30, 2012)

Decided to bought it, $20 is worth a try, and from my point of view, there's no good or bad tools, it all depends on the people that use them.

Using Photoshop and LightRoom, I decided to limit picture modifications to the possibility enabled by film photography, but I understand some other may have other limits or want to push think further, art is something personal and subjective.

0 upvotes
JacquesBalthazar
By JacquesBalthazar (May 30, 2012)

Am I the only one to think apps such as these are making so called "creative photography" increasingly easy, trivial, gimmicky, lazy, boring, repetitive and ultimately irrelevant?

At least PS and the like require some training and knowledge, and benefit from an understanding of the mechanics of photography. But the new generation of apps are too brilliant for our own good.

Basically, within 6 months from now, nobody will raise an eyebrow for any similar output, and, unless you live on a desert island with no Internet, the only reaction facing a "creative" image will be to yawn and deride the Snapspeed filter that was used. Even if the picture is in fact truly a 19th century wet plate print or a 40s Kodachrome slide retrieved from a sunken ship or the outcome of a complex experiment at sophisticated cross processing.

I might be overly elitist, but the only way forward for meaningful photography might be in going back to the basics.

11 upvotes
Lu Heng
By Lu Heng (May 30, 2012)

You can say the same about any modern "abilities" we have now for granted. Just change "photography" etc. to "planes", "computers", "cell phones", "cars"... "medicine"... and even "photo camera" again.

there are 2 ways - one either goes with the development or falls behind. Like it or not - this never gonna change.

3 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (May 30, 2012)

I agree with you JacquesBalthazar, it seems that the 'real' world just isn't good enough anymore. Although I use snapseed a lot (together with a few other apps) on my iPad, my photography is just fun and I don't take it seriously. I mean, I mainly use my iPhone.

http://500px.com/wyephone

I don't even use Photoshop anymore. Photography is becoming increasingly unreal and fake.

Bottom line: Computers and Software are in control, it's just too easy! People just want to go click, click, click and can't be bothered learning real skills.

1 upvote
Jdspar
By Jdspar (May 30, 2012)

JB

I think your question touches on the art vs. kich debate. A professor of mine defined it simply by stating " when you have worked an image too far, and it no longer resembles the negative, the net result is an under-whelming response by the audience."
Of course this was some 20 years ago but his statement is even more valuable today given the ease of image distribution and the sheer number of "photographers" ( every cell phone is a camera ).
So what defines pure photography...film, trays and chemistry?

In my opinion photography has transcended the "is it art" debate to become a real time language complete with dialect and location. Images are how we communicate now which is probably why Instagram fetched $1B while FB stock nose dives.

5 upvotes
skytripper
By skytripper (May 30, 2012)

Applying snazzy effects to boring images may impress viewers who wouldn't know a work of art if it smacked them in the face, but it absolutely does NOT make artistic photography boring or irrelevant. But the training that Photoshop requires is also irrelevant. Art is art, however you make it. And rubbish is rubbish.

2 upvotes
LukeDuciel
By LukeDuciel (May 31, 2012)

"Few people know how to do" does not make it more "art" or "creative". It's actually more of a gimmick.

Everyone can pick up a brush but there is only one Picasso.

1 upvote
plasnu
By plasnu (Jun 2, 2012)

Very True.
This type of app will kill some professionals who constantly over process their boring photos.

0 upvotes
G Davidson
By G Davidson (Jun 3, 2012)

It will enhance, but not replace good photography. Great photos have always been about understanding composition and the play of light and for me at least, whatever the dangers of making ordinary photos more interesting, it won't supplant the best ones. Esoteric effects that formerly has to be done through painstaking analogue (or complex photoshop) operations will be a lot easier to access.

For me, though, this is what photography has always strived to be, the equipment and processing power have just stifled it's creative potential by limiting most photography's relevance. If more people can benefit from the emotional communication offered by cross-processing, or limiting the depth of field digitally, then this can only be a god thing and one reason why we are stepping into a realm of visual communication for things which words previously struggled and stumbled to convey.

Techniques may not stand out so well, except perhaps even more complex ones, but truly artistic photos will.

0 upvotes
fritzb
By fritzb (Jun 4, 2012)

I agree effect filters can cheapen things to a degree. One thing however that you can't fake however is content.

You need to have the right subject in the right angle in the right lighting with the expression, etc. This is very obvious in movies. All the special effects in the world can't fix a bad script and some films are wonderful without any effects. But, sometimes, effects can serve a script (or picture) and make it come alive. And, if computers can help us knock those effects out so we have more time at the gym, planting flowers, etc. that is good.

In the end, I fall in between. Effects make an image stand out and yes, have become de riguer. But, it still takes an empathetic mind, the desire to find the right angle and motivation to capture a decent picture in the first place. In short, we need to make sure that kids keep getting art classes through college so they aren't bewitched by effects and can make decisions about what is quality and what is sugar frosting.

0 upvotes
ArturoDG
By ArturoDG (Jun 5, 2012)

That's too bad. It is elitist. There is truth to what you say, but c'mon, remember the fax machine? Accessibility to technology advances civilizations...okay, that's a stretch. Do you use a lot of Dutch angles in your creativity?

0 upvotes
Wilsing
By Wilsing (Jun 17, 2012)

Re the previous two comments...

when Picasso was asked "What is Art?" he replied
"What isn't"

Moving away from photography when visiting a Modern Art Gallery do we really know what is or what is not ART?

For me the answer is relatively simple. If I respond emotionally to it or not. Stuffed sharks don't work for me regardless of what the crits say.

Ultimately, the medium may or may not be the message however, the 'message' is the operative word and if there is one it matters not a jot if its SOOC with a pinhole cam or using a Noctilux or even a cheap effects filter.

0 upvotes
photo perzon
By photo perzon (May 30, 2012)

I was able to use it right away. It is simple and easy. I tried Aperture. Photoshop, Lightroom and could not get the hang of them. Snapseed gives you zone control that is easy.

1 upvote
akjos
By akjos (Jun 3, 2012)

Photoshop , i understand . Took me weeks to learn even the basics. Aperture can be little confusing , but lightroom ?? Cmon man take few minutes to watch some great turorials by Matt Kloskowski and youll see how really simple it is. I hardly participated in forums lately but as i remember ... Id you spend SO much money and effort trying just about every cam out there you should really stop and focus some of that on mastering photo editing. It makes a huge difference! Just a thought...

0 upvotes
Ryan0081
By Ryan0081 (May 29, 2012)

You say it can save the file with the same dimensions, is the file compressed though, I'm guessing an edited RAW file will be saved as a compressed JPEG?

0 upvotes
Duncan Dimanche
By Duncan Dimanche (May 29, 2012)

you can save them as TIFF with the new update.
I love this software and i manage to get some amazing photos whith a "whatever" photo. And it does do a better job with black and white then lightroom with certain photos

0 upvotes
wokphoto
By wokphoto (May 29, 2012)

All this and more features in Nikon Capture NX2 software. As a Nikon user why would you bother with this limited version.

0 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (May 29, 2012)

The $100+ price difference...?

7 upvotes
klopus
By klopus (May 29, 2012)

Lack of filter level undo is the most frustrating aspect of this app on any platform. Plus inability to zoom-in on iPhone or even iPad (why?). I also agree that it's frustrating to have such a powerful and easy to use feature as U-point but then not let it to apply selective sharpness and blur.

Still on iPad and iPhone Snapseed is my go-to editing app despite inexplicable omissions of non-destructive edits and zoom. But why anybody will pay for it on desktop with all its limitations is beyond me.

0 upvotes
Duncan Dimanche
By Duncan Dimanche (May 29, 2012)

I'm a semi-pro photographer/pro cameraman and I bought this ap after a friend of mine (stefano Borghi) recommended it to me (and he doesn't spend a $ on anything unless it will be useful or help him out in anyway) and i'm starting to love this ap. It's a young ap but it has a promising future.
with multi photo editing, history of the changes made, a better way of zooming while editing, a brush for precise work and a few more

I hope that helped
cheers
Duncan

Comment edited 38 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
MikeNeufeld30
By MikeNeufeld30 (May 29, 2012)

Its a nice addition to Lightroom 4. Been using it for a while now and quite enjoy how quick one can edit an image and share through various ports of social networking and so on and so forth.

0 upvotes
Ray Sachs
By Ray Sachs (May 29, 2012)

How does it integrate with Aperture? It seems like you have to export a file from Aperture and then open it in Snapseed, process it, save it, and then import it back into Aperture. Is there a more direct workflow option I'm missing here?

0 upvotes
Ray Sachs
By Ray Sachs (May 29, 2012)

Never mind - figured it out. Just make it the external editor in preferences. Just make sure to hit "save" and close Snapseed to save the changes back to aperture - if you use the little icon in the upper right, it will do a "save as" and put the processed file god knows where...

1 upvote
KonstantinosK
By KonstantinosK (May 29, 2012)

I'll download it for my PC. I enjoyed the read ;)

0 upvotes
Activatedfx
By Activatedfx (May 29, 2012)

I like Snapseed, but the biggest Con for me is that there is no way to save custom "presets". Every photo has to be processed from scratch.

2 upvotes
Duncan Dimanche
By Duncan Dimanche (May 29, 2012)

I agree... it's a pain in the A°° but i'm sure it will come with future updates

0 upvotes
akjos
By akjos (Jun 3, 2012)

Yes forgot that... Together with undo and zoom.

0 upvotes
TimR-Niagara
By TimR-Niagara (Jan 7, 2013)

which snapseed app are you referring to? the desktop app or the iphone app?

on the iphone app it doesn't have the custom presets nor the ability to undo but the desktop app does have these features

0 upvotes
ELLIOT P STERN
By ELLIOT P STERN (May 29, 2012)

I agree with everything you wrote except I would like to see the changes implemented on the Mac and the Ipad especially in regard to control points.

It is a great program on both platforms but needs the improvements you stressed.

0 upvotes
FeliciaCorrine
By FeliciaCorrine (May 30, 2012)

Wow....I am amazed by the features.......can't wait to try it out....!!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 39