App review: Photo Editor by Aviary for Android and iOS
Compatible with Android devices running Android 2.2 and later, and iOS devices running iOS 5.0 or later
Version reviewed: 2.1.91 for Android using an HTC One V
Photo Editor by Aviary is an app that combines vintage and other stylised filters with a range of conventional image-editing tools, from colour correction and cropping to blemish removal and drawing. It's available for Android and Apple iOS devices, and it's optimised for both phone and tablet screens. The app is free, with additional effects packs available for $0.99.
Aviary also licences its photo editor as a software development kit (SDK) for other developers to incorporate into their own apps – again, for free. The SDK is available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7, and there's a Web Widget too. As such, you'll find this editor cropping up all over the place, from the Halftone iOS app to the Flickr website and RockMelt web browser. One snag is that the effects packs are linked to the app rather than the user. If you pay to add them in one app, you don't get to use them in other apps or in Aviary installations on other devices.
We tested the lastest Android version on an HTC One V, but most of the features are identical on all platforms.
- Brightness, contrast, saturation, warmth and sharpness controls
- Basic text, drawing and clip-art tools
- 12 photo filters
- Additional filter packs available for $0.99 each
- Import from photo library or built-in camera
- Share to any compatible Android app (iOS sharing to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr)
- Android 2.2 or later
- iOS 5 or later (iPhone, iPod touch or iPad)
The app begins with a carousel of images to import, but it's a slow way to browse. Clicking the Gallery button works much better, with access to folders and – on the Android version – Dropbox cloud storage. Then it's straight on to the editor itself.
The various functions are presented as a strip of buttons across the bottom of the screen. Depending on your screen size, they'll be spread across two or more pages, so swipe left and right to reveal the full set. It's easy to apply multiple processes, one after the other, but each one is applied destructively so you can't go back and readjust settings. There's no undo history in the Android and iOS apps, either, so if you decide against an effect, the only option is to start again from scratch. Use your Android device's Back button to return to the menu without applying an effect.
The Orientation and Crop tools are good places to start. It's likely that the camera's orientation sensor will have tagged the photo so it's the right way up, but Orientation also includes a control for straightening wonky horizons, plus horizontal and vertical mirror functions. Crop is extremely well implemented, with the ability to lock to various aspect ratios, and to flip between portrait and landscape shapes. Dragging a corner adjusts the crop size, and we particularly like how it expands and contracts around the centre of the crop area rather than the far corner.
Some functions – Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Warmth and Sharpness – consist of a single process, controlled using a virtual wheel that can be flicked for big changes and gently nudged to fine tune. It's a smart system that works particularly well on a phone. Because the controls are all at the bottom of the screen, they can be controlled with one thumb. We could do without the vibrating feedback, but thankfully there's an option to switch this off in the Settings. Zooming into and out of the image is performed using the usual pinch and push gestures.
The processing quality of these effects is extremely high. For example, boosting the brightness stops short of turning brighter areas into solid white, and also avoids turning shadows into pasty shades of grey. More accurately, it could be described as a gamma effect, but Brightness is a friendlier name and the underlying processing is exactly as it should be. Similarly, boosting the contrast applies an S-shaped tone curve rather than simply applying a linear contrast boost, and the results are all the better for it.
The Sharpness tool applies a sharpening effect for positive values and a Gaussian blur for negative values. That makes sense, but we're not sure how useful these effects are in practice for applying to an entire photo. We'd like to see a Fill Light effect for lifting shadows, and the iOS version is currently missing the Warmth control to tackle white balance issues. Even so, it's impressive how much can be done to improve photos with this simple set of effects.
For a quicker fix, it's worth checking out the Enhance button. This reveals four processes, each of which is simply presented as an on/off switch. Tapping Auto optimises colours to give the maximum contrast without clipping highlights or shadows. Balance is an automatic white balance effect, neutralising colour casts. Both work well. The Night and Backlight effects are less successful, aggressively boosting and reducing contrast respectively but rarely giving pleasant results in our tests.
Clicking Effects reveals four filter packs. The first pack of 12 is aptly named Free, while the remaining three – Nostalgia, Grunge and Viewfinder – include six filters each and cost $0.99 USD (or equivalent local currency).
The Free pack offers a mixture of black and white, sepia and faded vintage filters, most with borders to resemble vintage prints or torn paper. They're decent enough but they don't quite match the enigmatic charm of other vintage photo apps, such as Pixlr-o-matic (also available for both iOS and Android). There doesn't appear to be much use of split toning, selective blur, local contrast boosting and textured overlays that can bring these types of effects to life.
The Strato filter overlays exposure information onto a black border. The information varies from shot to shot, but it's just random and not taken from the photo's EXIF metadata. The date appears in the corner of the photo, too, but it's the date that the photo is processed in Aviary rather than when it was taken.
The additional packs (which are absent from the web widget) offer more of the same. A dollar isn't much to pay for each, but we think there should be more than six filters in each pack.
The Viewfinder pack continues on the same theme as Strato from the free pack, overlaying a variety of exposure information and guidelines, and applying various colour processes.
The Nostalgia pack specialises in vintage effects. The first one, Fixie, does a fine job of delivering punchy colours, but the others are quite heavy-handed and tend to obliterate details in photos.
Grunge is our favourite of the three packs. It's far from subtle but we can see mileage in each of its filters. Alice is particularly attractive, with its high-contrast sepia tones, subtle scratches and rounded corners invoking 19th century photos.
The Draw tool is more about immediacy than subtlety. There's a limited palette of bold colours and six brush sizes, but no opacity control, textured brushes or undo button. At least there's an eraser for correcting mistakes. One useful touch is that the brush size doesn't scale automatically when you zoom, so it's possible to make fine strokes by zooming in. Even so, the Draw tool is pretty fiddly on a phone's small screen size, and works better on tablets and in the web app.
The Text tool is just as basic, with the same limited choice of colours and no control over the font or outline. Moving, resizing and rotating text is nicely implemented, though. There's also a Meme tool (missing from the web widget) for creating your very own Advice Animals.
The Stickers tool comes with an assortment of sunglasses, speech bubbles, cigars, bow ties and other cartoon graphics with which to adorn your photos. The iOS app has the option to install a collection of dashing moustaches for $0.99, but Android and web users just get the basic set. As with the Text tool, they're easy to resize, move and rotate to fit the image.
The remaining three tools remove red-eye, whiten teeth and remove blemishes. The first two work extremely well, applying with a single brush stroke and giving natural results. The Blemish effect is less successful, as its brush simply blurs the image. We'd prefer to see the odd spot or wrinkle in a photo than a weird smudge. It does have other uses, though, such as for simulating a shallow depth of field or soft corner focus to help the main subject stand out.
Exporting couldn't be any simpler. Just hit Done and the image is saved to the device's internal storage. Tapping the Share button on Android reveals a list of all the installed apps that might be able to do something with the image, including all the usual suspects. Sharing on iOS is limited to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, with uploads handled directly from within the app.
It's easy to see the appeal of Aviary. It's well designed for one-handed operation, and its basic colour-correction tools are surprisingly capable. Those who want to process lots of photos with vintage and other stylised effects may want to look elsewhere for a wider range of more sophisticated filters, but there's enough here for a quick dabble. The text, drawing and stickers tools are fine for occasional use, too. We experienced the odd bug and a few crashes on the iOS version running on an iPad, but the Android version was stable, smooth and responsive on our relatively modest hardware. Ambitious users may quickly grow out of it, but this straightforward app is a useful addition to any Android device.
We like: Simple, high quality colour correction; wide range of other tools; the best features are free.
We don’t like: Some of the creative filters could be better.
Ben Pitt has worked as a freelance journalist since 1997, specializing in music production, video and photography. When he's not reviewing cameras or software, he's writing children's songs or struggling to keep his video blogwww.shortsharpreviews.com up to date. He lives in Cambridgeshire, UK.
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