Some photographers are fighting a losing battle. The artistry once required when shooting is now being largely replaced with after-the-fact editing, as imperfections, the wrong pose, unwanted street lamps, or even closed eyes can be easily fixed. Why carry a bunch of filters or complicated adapters and be stuck with a single effect on your shot, when you can just shoot with a bare lens and simulate hundreds of effects after the fact? Of course, the art is still important, but now you can easily save otherwise unrecoverable shots or make a mediocre shot outstanding.
Photography purists will scoff at the idea of replacing filters with digital equivalents, but Tiffen’s Photo fx Ultra iPad app does just that, and it does it well enough that even serious photographers should consider this app indispensable. On just one iPad you can now carry 77 of Tiffen’s most popular filters, but the pest part is the price: 77 filters cost just five bucks.
(pre)Set it and Forget It
The app works on a basic principle of filters+presets. You can choose from Tiffen-specific filters such as Glimmerglass, or more generic filters such as center spot and high contrast. Filters are sorted into eight categories—including Diffusion and Grads/Tints—while other digital filters such as Film Lab and Photographic, offer additional manipulation options. Each filter contains a number of presets, which can be anything from the intensity of a special effect to the warmth/grade of one of Tiffen’s hardware filters.
The combination of filters and presets gives you more than 900 no-brainer image options, so you can do anything from applying a diffusion filter to balancing the lighting in a shot. This requires just two taps: pick a filter, then pick a preset. For example, you could choose the Light Balancing filter then the 81C Yellowish preset to warm up a coolly-lit scene. Done. Can’t find the perfect filter/preset? There’s a search function for that—just tap the magnifying glass icon.
If you want more control, every preset comes with a set of sliders that control the changes being applied to the image. The Light Balancing example from above offers control over the Amount, which adjusts the intensity of the yellowing effect, and control over how much of the image’s original highlights are preserved. Most of the time it’s easy to find the exact look without touching these additional settings, but to get an image just right is still only a simple, three-step process.
Photo editing apps can be complicated, so Tiffen’s relatively simple and uncluttered interface for Photo fx is appreciated (though as of this writing it hasn’t been updated for iOS 7). You have the ability to quickly show/hide various onscreen elements such as the presets tray and control sliders, while tapping the crop, rotate, and paint buttons zooms you into a full screen view with relevant controls running along the top. In general the ability to work full screen is fantastic, especially to compare before/after (by toggling the thunderbolt icon), though I found it mildly frustrating that you have to manually exit full screen mode before you can make any additional edits. Tapping the Presets tray icon should automatically take you back to editing view.
Not content merely to be a filter app on steroids, Photo fx also offers a robust layering and painting options, too. You can apply only one image filter at a time, so if you want to color correct and add diffusion effects you simply tap the arrow icon in the upper right to add a layer. It is possible to combine multiple changes such as cropping, rotating, and a single filter without adding layers. The painting interface offers the ability to selectively mask an image with a filter by painting or erasing, and you control the brush size/softness/opacity with a simple slider mechanism.
In general, highlighting a killer feature should focus on something the app actually does, but I couldn’t get over Photo fx’s price. For only $4.99 I could replace an entire camera backpack worth of gear that I used to carry for my DSLR with more flexible options. All the pictures in this review article were taken using a DSLR with a CPL, imported to my iPad via the Camera Connection Kit, then edited using nothing but Photo fx.
If I had to pick a favorite software feature, it would be the ability to simulate a neutral density filter. I love the sky darkening abilities they offer, but generally don’t like their fixed nature because it limits your scene composition options. With Photo fx I can apply an ND after the fact and change the angle/size of the filter area easily, allowing a diagonal rather than strictly horizontal subject.
Once you’re done editing, you’ve got a staggering number of options for sharing. Obviously there’s Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, but you can also email your completed picture or “Open In,” which lets you move the picture to another app on your iPad. Best of all, though, is the ability to “Email Setup,” which takes your edits and bundles them into a .dfx file, which you can open in Tiffen’s desktop software to make more precise adjustments. This is perfect for starting your edits on the road and fine tuning when you get home; the only limiting factor is you are stuck emailing one pic/settings file at a time.
Photography ain’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing. Photo editing apps usually offer some pieces of functionality associated with desktop software, but Tiffen’s Photo fx offers a compelling iPad replacement for even very serious photographers. On my iPad 2, the previews were lightning fast and renders were acceptably snappy, so on a newer iPad you’d likely never encounter any speed issues. Just as a DSLR or iPhone’s instant preview lets you see your shot as soon as its taken, Photo fx gives you a serious editing suite while you’re on the go for instant enhancements.
Category: Photo & Video
Seller: The Tiffen Company
Requirements: iOS 5.4 or later
File Size: 19.3 MB
Version Reviewed: 5.0.1
Age Rating: 4+ (though I doubt any four year olds are doing major photo editing)