Photo Editing on iOS is a mess

Why I think the iPhone and iPad are useless image editing machines. #iOS

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I edit a lot of images on my iPhone 6. Most of them are images taken on the phone with the native camera app or imported and then edited in one of the several apps. Sometimes I used the non-destructive editing tools and the "Edit In.." feature to edit my images via third-party editing tools that I access right from the Photos app.

The challenge is that only a few of the popular third-party editing tools or filter apps support this feature. Here is the list of third-party non-destructive editing tools and filter apps that support "Edit In..".

  • Afterlight
  • Photoshop Express
  • Litely
  • Camera+
  • ProCam

Here are the other apps I have installed in a "Darkroom" folder on my iPhone.

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Snapseed
  • RNI Films
  • AnalogFilm
  • VSCOcam
  • Darkroom
  • Prime
  • Photogene
  • Filters

If more apps were supported, my iPhone editing workflow would be simple. I would snap an image in the native camera app, then use the "Edit In..." feature of Photos to non-destructive edit or apply a filter.

But instead, my workflow involves snapping a photo in the native camera app, launching one of the filter and editing apps, opening the image in that app, making changes, and exporting a JPEG version of the edited image to Photos. If I want to use multiple apps to edit images, I end up importing and exporting copies of each successive image.

iOS edits JPEG images only. JPEG is a lossy compressed image format. Did you know that each time a JPEG image is edited and saved, it's re-compressed and image detail is lost? Only a few iOS photo editing apps — Afterlight and Darkroom are the standouts — use the “Edit in …” share sheet for non-destructive editing. Doing more than minimalist editing on an iPad or iPhone requires repeated import/exporting of JPEG images. I end up with several copies of the same image in various Photos folders.

Some editing and filter apps, such as Snapseed, Darkroom and Prime, allow the user to do non-destructive editing of images. However, the images have to be opened from Photos directly via those apps. Other than these three apps, I don't know of any other apps that allow this.

The situation is worse if I want to edit images taken with a DSLR or other interchangeable lens camera. The Apple Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader will import standard photo formats, including JPEG and RAW, but iOS doesn’t allow the photographer to edit RAW images. Just JPEG. I shoot images in RAW only. That makes the iPad almost useless to take on a photo excursion. Unless I set my Nikon to capture images in RAW and JPEG, I will not be able to make edits in the field. I guess Apple expects me to buy high-capacity SD cards or assumes that users only shoot JPEG. What's the point of editing the JPEG version of a RAW if I can't sync the changes back to the RAW image?

So I solved this problem by first importing my images to Adobe Lightroom on my iMac and then syncing them over to my iPad for editing in Adobe apps.

Here are the three Adobe iOS apps I use for photo editing RAW DSLR image on the iPad/iPhone.

The workflow is simple. I copy the DSLR images I want to work on into a specified collection in Adobe Lightroom. I then wait for the photos to sync to Adobe Creative Cloud. When I feel that the images have been copied, I launch the Adobe Lightroom Mobile app on my iPad. I wait for the photos to sync down to the iPad from Creative Cloud and then start working on minor edits and adjustments. If I need to do a bit more advanced editing — remove objects, work with layers etc. — I push the image to Adobe Fix or Adobe Mix. Adobe Fix/Mix pulls over the image with all current Lightroom edits. When I have finished my edit, the changes are synced back to Adobe Creative Cloud and available in Adobe Lightroom on my iMac.

Using these apps to edit the images in Adobe Lightroom requires a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud and sufficient storage on an iPad or iPhone. On a 64GB iPhone, this isn't a problem, but I have already exhausted the storage on my 32GB iPad. Before I start editing images on my iPad, I spend some time, removing unnecessary synced folders and images from Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

I can use the share sheet to export images from Adobe Lightroom mobile to other iOS editing apps, but none of the changes syncs back to Lightroom. The "Edit In..." feature only works with other Adobe apps.

If the photographer is willing to shoot and edit JPEG images only, is happy with reduced image quality, doesn't mind the extra administrative tasks of removing old edits, then the iPad and iPhone could be used as a mobile editing studio. But for me, using my iPad or iPhone as a serious mobile editing platform has too many limitations.

iOS App Review : RNI Films

I started on my photography journey with film back in college when I took a winter course. I spent a lot of time trying to capture artistic images of the architecture of the Drew University campus using Kodak Ektachrome film on my Pentax P3.

While I didn't enjoy the smell of the darkroom chemicals, I sometimes miss the film look. For over a year, I've used VSCOcam film simulation filters on my iPhone, and more recently VSCO Lightroom high-end film simulation presets to create that nostalgic look of the film in my iPhone images. I bought almost every VSCOcam preset available but have only used a few.

Import an image
Import an image

But recently I've discovered another app, the Really Nice Images (RNI) Films high-end film simulation filters app for iOS. The app does a great job of making my iPhone images have the look of Kodak and Fuji films from the 70s and the 80s. But the app has a downside.

Import, crop and align image
Import, crop and align image

Just like VSCOcam, RNI Films is free to download from the App Store. The app comes with a free set of presets for negative, slide, black and white, and instant films. Additional presets can be purchased for $2.99. My favourite presets are Fuji Velvia 100F, and Kodak E 100G slide film presets. They produce saturated images for landscapes.

Apply Film Preset
Apply Film Preset

RNI Films also has a reasonably decent set of image editing tools. I like using the fade tool to add a matte print effect to my images.

Edit the Image
Edit the Image

Sharing to social media is limited to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. RNI Films doesn't have a way to export to the iOS share sheet.

Export to social media
Export to social media

One downside of the app is the lack of a camera or in-app library and the ability to be called from the edit-in menu from the iOS Photos app. This makes for an awkward workflow. Currently, I do use the native iOS camera app to snap a photo, then launch RNI Film and find and load the image from Photos, apply a filter, make edits and then export back to the camera roll. It's unproductive.

My workflow involves snapping a few images then later, scrolling through the iOS camera roll, and tagging my favourites or moving the pictures I want to work on into a folder. I would typically import these images into VSCO Cam's library for editing. From there, I can edit/tweak a picture and then copy/paste the changes I made to each image in the library. Efficient.

Another thing that bothered me is the inability to organize the presets. There are a few preset that I will use often. I would like to put my most frequently used film types at the beginning of the list. Currently, I find my self scrolling through almost to the end of access the Fuji Velvia and Kodak E100 film types. That's frustrating.

I just want non-destructive editing of TIFF and JPG images that are accessible from the favourite folder. This has been available in iOS since version 8 and the lack of this feature means keeping my original image and a copy of the edited image.

The app is at version 1.0, so I hope that the RNI Films will address these deficiencies in the next release. Until them, I'm having a blast pretending that I'm shooting Kodak film on my Pentax P3.

Original Image
Original Image
Fuji Provia 100F
Fuji Provia 100F
Fuji Velvia 100F
Fuji Velvia 100F
Kodak E100 G
Kodak E100 G