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Nik Snapseed for iPad: Quick Review

June 2011 | By Barnaby Britton


Review based on performance using an Apple iPad 2 running iOS 4.3.3

Although hardly a household name, Nik has been making software for digital photographers for years. The chances are, if you're a keen photographer, that you will have come across its range of Photoshop and Apple Aperture plugins, and it is Nik's technology that drives Capture NX/NX2 - Nikon's flagship image manipulation software. The unique selling point of Nik's software is the company's U Point technology, which allows you to make precise exposure, contrast and color adjustments to various user-defined control points in an image.

Nik's plugins have an excellent reputation, but they're not cheap. Two of the most popular: Silver Efex Pro 2 and Viveza 2, cost $199 each, and the complete collection, which contains all of Nik's various plugins for Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture, costs $599 - not much less than Photoshop CS5.

At first glance then, the price of Nik's new Snapseed application for the Apple iPad looks like a typo. At $4.99, Snapseed is by far Nik's cheapest payware, even if it is one of the more expensive photography apps on the market right now. For that price you get U Point exposure, contrast and saturation control, as well as more conventional cropping and rotational adjustments, plus a range of effects filters and frames. On paper at least, Snapseed is impressively well-featured.

Nik Snapseed: Key Features

  • U Point technology for precise selective exposure and color adjustments
  • Universal white balance, saturation, brightness, ambience adjustments via 'Tune Image' palette
  • Rotate, crop and straighten tools
  • Black and White adjustment with customizable grain and contrast filters
  • Customizable 'grunge', 'drama' and 'vintage films' effects filters
  • Auto Correct function for quick auto-adjustment of color and exposure
  • Share and print finished images wirelessly straight from iPad

For the purposes of this quick review, I've created a basic example workflow, from importing an image onto the iPad, and opening it in Snapseed, to the finished version, after adjustment.

Step 1: Importing and opening your photograph

The photograph I want to work on is currently sitting on a memory card, so the first step is to import it into my iPad's 'camera roll'. I did this using Apple's optional Camera Connection Kit.

The Camera Connection Kit consists of two adapters: one to connect a digital camera via USB and one to connect an SD card. Once connected, images on the attached media appear on the iPad's screen and can be imported, either individually or as a batch. Once the image is imported into my camera roll, I just need to open Snapseed, and hit the 'open image' button, then select the photo that I want to adjust. Opening images is one of the very few number of operations in Snapseed which takes longer than a brief moment, but even with this 12Mp file, it was ready for adjustment within a couple of seconds.

Step 2: Basic Adjustments

Before delving into more specific, targeted enhancements I want to make a couple of quick adjustments to this image, just to liven it up a little.

In the Tune Image palette I can chose from brightness, contrast, 'ambiance', saturation and white balance adjustments, and by swiping across the image horizontally I can increase and decrease the intensity of the adjustment.

This method of control is becoming more common in photography applications on the iOS platform, and works very well. The adjustments are smooth, and the swipe left/right method of adjusting intensity keeps the screen clear of 'button clutter'.

Step 3: Targeted Adjustments

The basis of Nik's success as a creator of plugins for Adobe Photoshop and Apple Aperture is its U Point technology. Put simply, U Point allows you to define specific 'target' points in an image, and pin specific adjustments to these points. In Snapseed, by defining a control point you are creating an automatic mask, with a radius or 'sphere of influence' that you can determine by pinching the iPad's screen. The control points (and their associated adjustment masks) can be moved freely around an image. All this happens smoothly, without any 'lag'.

You can make three different types of adjustment - brightness, saturation and contrast, and all three parameters can be tweaked from a single control point.

After placing a control point, you can adjust its radius by pinching the iPad's screen. When you do this, the masked area is highlighted in red. I want to darken the background slightly and increase the warmth of my subject's face, which is in direct sunlight. To that end, I have placed three control points - from left to right, B (brightness), S (saturation) and C (contrast) and adjusted all of them accordingly.

Step 4: Fun with Filters

No self-respecting photography app would be complete without a range of effects filters, and Snapseed is supplied with plenty. Between the 'Grunge', 'Drama' and 'Vintage Films' controls there is a lot of scope for experimentation, and the intensity of all the filter effects can be fine-tuned if you don't like the 'off the peg' look.

Here, I've applied a basic 'Drama 1' filter. This has evened out the tones in my image without quite approaching HDR territory, and a slight increase in saturation reemphasizes the cool tones that I really like in the background of the original image. For the sake of exploring all of the available options I experimented with the various styles in the 'Vintage Films' palette, using a 'shuffle' button positioned in the bottom toolbar (which applies styles at random), then adjusted texture strength, saturation and contrast until I got the look I was after.

The number of drama filters is relatively small, but the intensity of their effect, and image saturation, can be fine-tuned. There are 1500 Vintage Film effects, and again, all are fine-tunable by swiping down to select the desired parameter, and across to increase or decrease its intensity.

Like the Black and White and Drama effects, Vintage Films are selected from a small 'Style' selection menu, but to select from the 1500 possible 'Grunge' filters you have to either swipe horizontally across the image (which scrolls through them one by one) or hit the 'shuffle' icon in the toolbar.

It is worth noting at this point that presumably for the sake of operational speed, Snapseed does not support zooming, so the effects of texture strength adjustments are rather hard to judge accurately on the relatively small on-screen preview image. This can also be problematic when adding grain to images from within the Black and White adjustments palette.

Step 5: Adding a frame and finishing up

At this point, my street portrait is starting to look a little overworked, but for the purposes of this review, I'm going to go one step further and add a frame effect. First though, I want to crop my image slightly to tighten up the composition. Cropping in Snapseed is very straightforward - in the crop palette you simply adjust the crop by pulling in the corners of the frame, drag the frame to your desired position and press 'apply'. Snapseed's crop tool looks, and works, a lot like equivalent tools in more fully-featured desktop editing software like Photoshop, but at present, the crop is 'free'. We'd like to see an option to pre-select different aspect ratio crops.

Frames can be added from the 'Organic Frames' palette - like the Grunge filter effects, there are too many frames to select using a simple drop-down menu. Instead, you must hit the 'shuffle' button to preview them one by one. I counted more than 30 frames, but the differences between many of them are subtle. Frame width and offset can be adjusted by swiping vertically on the image then horizontally, left-right. Like all such adjustments in Snapseed, these interactions with the iPad's capacitive touch screen are very smooth with no lag or stuttering.

Cropping images is very easy, simply drag in the corners of the crop, and drag it around the image as desired. The final touch for my street portrait is an 'organic' frame. Offset and width can both be adjusted using horizontal swipes on the screen.

Once you're happy with your image and you've pressed 'apply' for the last time, you can preview the effects of your adjustments compared to the original file, and revert to the original if necessary. If you're happy, you can save the final image to your iPad's camera roll, or share it via email, Flickr, Facebook or wireless printing using Apple's wireless print protocol (built into iOS). Unlike some applications written for the iOS platform, Snapseed saves the final image at full (original) resolution.

Conclusion

In terms of sheer versatility, Snapseed is one of the best photography apps that I've used on any mobile platform, and treads the line between professional and amateur-focussed functionality very well.

If you're serious about photo editing, you'll appreciate the U Point technology, and the fine-grained control over key adjustment parameters. If, on the other hand, you only use your iPad to prepare snapshots for uploading to the web, you'll love the ease with which you can apply fun creative effects to your images, and the speed with which you can send them on their way, via the integrated Facebook and Flickr uploaders. On an iPad 2, Snapseed is extremely quick and very smooth in operation, too. The only action that takes longer than a moment is opening large image files to begin editing, but even this is achieved in a couple of seconds.

At $4.99, Snapseed is a steal, but there are a couple of things we'd like to see included in future updates. Like many photography applications, Snapseed is hamstrung slightly by the fact that you can't zoom into images to see the pixel-level effects of your adjustments. This isn't a problem most of the time, but when adding texture effects and grain filters, it does mean that you have almost no idea about how images will actually look close-up until they've been saved.

We'd also love to see some batch editing functionality added, but right now, it seems churlish to complain. In its current form Snapseed is a must-have photography app, and Nik should be congratulated for making its first iteration so effective, and so much fun to use.

Snapseed for iPad | Nik Software | $4.99 (£2.99/€3.99)
We like:
Good balance of fun and serious tools, lots of filters and frames to play with, plenty of control over adjustments using U Point and intensity controls, quick operation (on iPad2), built-in Flickr, Facebook integration
We don't like:
No zoom control means that pixel-level adjustments (like grain and texture effects) are hard to preview, no batch processing
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