Version Reviewed: 1.2
iPhone Integration [rating:5/5]
User Interface [rating:3/5]
Re-use / Replay Value [rating:4/5]
The iPhone's camera quality (or lack thereof) may be one of its most talked about features. Regardless of the opinions of its capabilities, chances are that most people end up using the camera fairly regularly. Photo FX provides a robust set of twenty-six filters and fifty-four presets that allow users to easily edit your photos from anywhere. Layers, cropping and rotation are also added in the 1.2 update which greatly expands the capabilities of the application.
When opening Photo FX, you are sent to your photo library. From there you may select a photo, go to options or go to the camera to take a photo. The options page works in the same way that a lot of 3rd party photo apps on the iPhone work. You can select the resolution to use for saved photos (640, 800, 1024, 1280 or Full) and set Photo FX to save the original photo. These options allow for higher resolution photos than Apple's default settings.
Once you've taken a photo or selected one from your galleries, you are presented with five collections of filters. These collections consist of Face FX (generally for portraits), Outer FX ( generally for Landscapes), Fun FX, Classic FX and Wild FX. The effects vary greatly from light bloom effects to night vision simulation. Sometimes the presets are subtle (as with the various Black and White filters) and sometimes they are fun or over-the-top. This variance fits the App Store market. Casual users will find presets they like that can be quickly applied. More discerning users will be able to do wonders with sliders within each filter and preset. The subtlety that is achievable in the app with a little patience is hard to display in a few thumbnails, but I hope that those provided will give less subtle examples to interested folks. I should mention that shaking the phone on the filter selection screen randomly selects a filter, and shaking the phone in the filter resets that filter's settings.
Beyond the filters, the new features in 1.2 have added both complexity and usability to the application.
Layers have been added to allow the addition of several filters without saving. This can't be emphasized enough as a great addition. Layers add a level of complexity that couldn't be reached previously in the app. It should be the favorite feature of those looking for more complexity.
Crop and rotate are another welcome addition for those who need to send that quick photo in an email. Both of these are available when you select any filter. Just hit the reload/refresh button if you don't want the filter and tap the crop icon. You'll be given a set of handles to grab and manipulate the crop area. By default the crop area maintains the aspect ratio of your photo. If you want more control, simply tap the lock icon. If your iPhone was a little crooked when you snapped the shot, a clockwise and counter-clockwise arrow allow you to rotate the picture a degree at a time until it lines up to your preference. There is also a little button on the left beside a grayed-out crop icon that allows for freeform rotation. This consists of drawing a line at the angle where you'd like that side of the picture to rotate. Most of these controls work extremely well.
The stability of the app is good. Even when using high resolution settings the app rarely slowed. Of course, as with all 3rd party photo apps, a restart will boost performance.
After finding my way around the application there were only a couple of things that didn't work to my expectations. The freeform rotation tool does allow for faster rotation than the other two buttons but I could not control that rotation at all. I ended up hoping that some random swipe would get the picture close to what I wanted and then saved it. I also believe that going to crop and rotation thru the filters is counter-intuitive. Whether redesign involves adding a button at the top or bottom of the filter selection pages, adding it as an "effect" in the classic section, or some other interface solution, I believe at least casual users would prefer fast, hassle-free access to this important feature.
The only other thing is a minor interface opinion. It seems to me that four icons on the rotation/crop page are some form of arrow in an arc or a circle. I guess this is fine for the two incremental rotation buttons and the freeform tool, but begins to be confusing when all of them are there with the refresh/undo button. I don't know what sort of button would be a good replacement, but I'd throw out a button that simply says undo and switches to redo when pressed.
Lastly (this is probably impossible) I'd dearly love a way to manage, delete and edit layers. Just a wish.
I've included a video tutorial from the developer. Unfortunately it only shows the 1.1 interface.
If you're a user who is frustrated with the output that the iphone produces, chances are nothing will change your mind. If however, you use your phone's camera a lot but wish those pics could look a little better when you email them to your boss or Grandma, then Photo FX is worth the price. The addition of cropping and layers really adds value to this app. If rotation can be implemented in a more user friendly manner, any reservations I have about this application will be removed.