If you're an iPhone owner, you're probably taking tons of photos with its powerful camera. Yet what do you do with all of those pix after you've snapped them? In this review, we take a look at MacPhun FX Photo Studio, a 99 cent app designed to deliver extensive photo sharing, sophisticated special effects, and basic photo editing to smartphones.
Today's camera-equipped smartphones aren't just about taking pictures. They're also about sharing photos almost instantly, whether by posting them to Facebook or some other social networking site, or -- for us old-school-types -- emailing them.
However, the photo you've shot isn't necessarily the image you want to send. You might want to crop the image and/or make some other touch-ups, and/or add some cool special effects. Plus, you probably want to send a smaller-sized web-quality image rather than a multi-megabyter that will munch through your monthly mobile broadband bandwidth.
Spiffing up and sharing digital photos on a Mac or a Windows PC is easy enough, with either a software program like Adobe PhotoShop or a site tool like Google Picasa or FlickR. Yet using a PC to enhance and send transmit photos taken on a smartphone requires you to have your PC with you (along with a way of getting the photos from the phone to the PC).
Meanwhile, the Camera app that Apple includes on the iPhone 4 will let you send a photo via e-mail of MMS (text message), as well as assign it to a Contact, use it as Wallpaper, or print it. With iOS 5, Apple's added a number of new access and composition features to Camera, including "open from lock screen," volume-button-as-shutter, and "Share as Tweet."
However, if you're looking for any of a number of other photo features that aren't present in Camera, you'll need additional apps. The 99 cent FX Photo Studio app from MacPhun is one of these.
Essentially, FX Photo Studio lets you add cool special effects, do photo sharing across a variety of different services, and perform some photo editing tasks, all in one app.
Touted by MacPhun as an "artistic post-processing app," the software we're reviewing here is for the Apple iPhone and the iPod Touch. (MacPhun also offers a full-fledged FX Photo Studio program for Mac, and FX Photo Studio HD for iPad.)
FX Studio lets you add special effects filters to an image (hence the "FX"), save a pic to your iPhone's Photo Albums, print it out, email it, or share it through a choice of social network sites/services (Twitter along with Facebook, FlickR, Tumblr and InstaGram). In December, MacPhun released the most recent in a series of updates to the iPhone app.
The new FX Photo Studio 4.5 app brings a new user interface (UI) design, new text labels, full compatibility with iPhone 4S and iOS 5, and a direct link to a MacPhun photo contest for end users. Also, MacPhun has updated the app's built-in camera software, to make it the same as shooting with a native camera without leaving the app.
What's more, MacPhun is now negotiating with various other photo sharing networks as well as with image printing services around the possible addition of more new features, said MacPhun's Alexander Tsepko, in an email to Brighthand.
As I see it, though, there's still room for improvement in some of the existing features of this app. I'll go into detail about that further on in this review.
Hundreds of Cool Special Effects
FX Photo Studio's roughly 200 free built-in "FX" effects include frames (borders) along with filters aimed at letting you enhance the image. The free filters include blur; distortion; "Groovy Lo-Fi" Grunge, pencil or color charcoal sketch; vignettes; vintage; and finger-drawn "masks," to name a few.
Another free filter, texturize, lets you "leatherize" a photo, or make it look like "crumpled paper," for instance. MacPhun also offers special effects in three other categories: Color Strokes, Hollywood FX, and Color Lenses. these cost an extra buck per category. You can apply, tune, and/or mask these filters.
In addition to working with the Photo Album or Documents in your iPhone, FX Photo Studio can import photos from Facebook.
Basic photo editing tools in FX Photo Studio include cropping, resizing, brightness/contrast, and so forth. MacPhun also produces a separate app called Perfect Photo, with higher-end image editing features such as noise reduction, spot healing, and light level correction.
Under FX Studio's new UI, access to the special effects is handily located at the top of the screen, with image adjustments, the text labels, and image adjustments on the bottom.
Putting FX Photo Studio to the Test
If anybody knows FX Photo Studio inside and out, it's Alex Tsepko, who is MacPhun's head of marketing. To show how photo filters can transform an image, Alex applied a series of effects to a photo he snapped during a recent trip to New York City. The results appear in this article.
I, too, have spent time with FX Photo Studio. I've used MacPhun's app concurrently with Phone 4's native Camera app to take, save, and send pictures. I've shot photos of local flowers, buildings, dogs and cats, and the like nearby where I live -- the kind of thing I would take pix of anyway. You can see some of my photos on this FlickR page. (Note: Some of those photos were taken with MacPhun 4.0.)
I've found that FX Photo Studio is simple enough to use, and that it does what the company says it does. It took me a few tries to get the hang of the "cropping" feature -- resizing the crop marks, versus zooming the image -- but that became simple soon enough.
I also tried some of the image correction tools, such as brightness/contrast and "gamma," I'd used similar features in Google Picasa, but I didn't seem to achieve the same noticeable results in MacPhun. (Maybe, though, this was just because of the images I used.)
I got good results, though, with a number of the effects in FX Photo Studio, such as converting the image to charcoal sketch, and tinting. These definitely work as claimed. I don't expect to use these on an ongoing basis, but you might. (By the way, there's also an easy "back" control that lets you undo changes to the photo before you save it.)
I also found FX Photo Studio to be a convenient tool for saving, emailing, Twittering and FlickRing images. By the way, when you tap to send a photo, Photo Studio offers several sizes if you're interested in photo reduction.
A Few Negatives, but Worth the Price Overall
It did seem odd to me that FX Photo Studio doesn't offer red eye removal. I would expect this to be a feature that lots of people would want. While MacPhun's own Perfect Photo does include red eye removal, it's a probably unneccesarily cumbersome process to download (and pay) for this extra app if red eye removal is all you really need ifrom Perfect Photo.
Another criticism: Unlike the iPhone's own Camera app, FX Photo Studio doesn't let you scroll through (advance and backup) the Camera roll on the full screen. To select a new photo to work on, you have to get back to the grid-view of photos -- and once done with a particular photo, it takes three clicks (taps) just to get back to the grid. There's no faster way.
As for the enhancements in 4.5, although the new UI is nice and the text labels are a good idea, the labels still leave something to be desired. For one thing, in creating a label, you can only use "Latin characters and digits" -- what I would call "alphanumeric characters." You can't use a character (or a character set) like :, -, (), &...Tsk! Also, once you've created a text label, you can't edit if -- or at least, I wasn't able to do so.
Yet for 99 cents, the ability to do a little quick cropping and resizing -- and easy sending/posting through a variety of services -- is well worth the money, even if you don't have any interest in borders, funky color changes, or other special effects. Worst case, you're out a buck and a bit of your time -- but I'm betting that you'll decide MacPhun's FX Photo Studio is a keeper.
Service, Warranty & Support
Ease of Use
* Ratings averaged to produce final score
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