UPDATE 03.10.11: We’ve updated this list for 2011. Be sure to check out our new post “The Ten Best FREE iPhone Photo Apps” featuring both free camera replacements and some great free iPhone photo apps. =M=
Recently, I wrote about The Best Free iPhoneography Apps: Camera Replacements. Now that you’ve shot your image, how are you going to process it? Here are nine great image editing apps and best of all, their price is free!
I realize that this list is not complete. There were several apps that I didn’t include for various reasons. In compiling this list, I found some apps that duplicated features of others. In those cases, I chose what I felt to be the app that did the job quickest, easiest and best. Also, there are great free apps being released all the time.
Some of these apps may be ad-supported, but none of them add a watermark to your images and all save at or really close to your iPhone’s full resolution, unlike many lite photo apps available. These are all full-featured apps and they produce good, if not outstanding effects. Again, for little more than bandwidth and real estate on your iPhone’s screen, there are some gems to be found in the photography section of the App Store. These apps should start you off with a well-rounded iPhoneography toolbox or enhance your existing iPhone “camera bag” — and all for free.
Free Image Processing Apps
Color Leap (formerly Zipix Lite)
Color Leap by Zipix is a quick, easy all-around image enhancer. In addition to exposure enhancement (simulated flash), Color Leap now also features image sharpening and noise reduction — reducing the grainy artifacts that you typically get in dark areas of iPhone photographs.
The app has a bare-bones camera and you can load any image from your iPhone’s Camera Roll. Settings aren’t adjustable, but Color Leap does a good job of fixing dark areas of an image, often times doing a better job than many commercial apps. It also does a good job of tweaking the contrast of a decently exposed image, compensating for the overall gray cast in some iPhone images. The sharpening is subtle, which is good as it’s very easy to over-sharpen in an iPhone app. The noise reduction didn’t eliminate, but it certainly reduced artifacts in my test image without blurring details into unrecognizability.
I often recommend Color Leap to friends who may be a little hesitant about spending money on an exposure enhancer. Definitely worth a download.
App Store link: Color Leap
Flash For Free
A single purpose app, but it accomplishes that purpose very well. Flash for Free is an exposure enhancement app from Free the Apps who produce several other free and commercial photo apps for iPhone. It’s easy to use. You can only open images from your camera roll. You then choose the best image from a nine thumbnail preview screen. I particularly like the multiple thumbnails showing you the various intensities of the effect. It’s a unique feature not found in any paid apps I’ve tried so far. The exposure correction is good with good brightness and color saturation — on par with many of the mid-level commercial apps. It doesn’t leave your photos looking flat and washed out.
Combined, Flash For Free and Color Leap are good, free apps that should cover many of your exposure tweaks.
App Store link: Flash For Free
Format126 by Chris Comair and Glyn Evans is one of the jewels of free iPhone photography apps. It makes your images look like they were shot with a number of retro cameras and films from the 1960’s and 70’s. All eight filters are well-rendered and very usable. They span the gamut of color effects from a stark monochrome (MonoHi) to the oversaturated look of the LOFI filter. The PolaColor filter produces results that are different than the look of the Polarize app — the images are a little more washed out with different vignetting. The three monochrome filters produce good results that look like a superfast film.
Format126 is a great concept and a worthy edition to your toolbox of Retro Camera apps. The filters are well-rendered, nicely done and the app is easy to use. It’s a fun and, especially for free, an essential app.
App Store link: Format126
Mill Colour by The Mill is a color grading app that gives you unprecedented control over your image. Rather than taking a broad slider-based approach to image adjustment, Mill Colour uses a dial-based approach allowing you to make extremely precise color control in editing the lift, gamma, gain and saturation of an image, with a level of precision and subtlety unavailable in any other image editing app.
Mill Colour also features 10 preset “looks” to quickly and easily apply effects like adding warmth to the image using the Golden filter, some great retro bleached effects and a really nice monochrome Noir filter.
There’s an excellent help page in the app to guide you through what everything does. Mill Colour supports iPhone 3GS resolutions. It’s one of the best image editing apps for iPhone period.
App Store link: Mill Colour
The little sibling to MonoPhix, MonoPhix Lite by Phoenxsoftware is a color-to-monochrome (black & white) conversion utility. It gives you much greater control over the contrast of your image than simply converting to black & white. The single slider control adjusts the contrast all the way from a smooth grayscale to a very high contrasty black & white. The Lite version doesn’t have the separate highlight and shadow adjustments and the sepia and antique filter that the commercial MonoPhix has. Having greater control over your black & white conversions is nice and the investment to upgrade is worth it, but MonoPhix Lite works very well in most situations.
MonoPhix Lite creates excellent monochrome conversions — better than most commercial apps. It’s quick, easy and creates impressive black & white images.
App Store link: MonoPhix Lite
From the developers of the mighty mighty PhotoForge, PhotoSharpFree by GhostBird Software is the sharpening component of their flagship image editor. PhotoSharpFree enhances the details of objects in your photo by applying an unsharp mask filter — something Photoshop users will recognize.
Tip: Don’t go crazy with the sharpening! Use it sparingly for best results. Cranking the sharpening won’t improve details that aren’t there — it’ll just make your images look ugly. Photoshop 101.
Once you figure out the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, the app behaves pretty much how you’d expect. PSF features a nice Undo/Redo for easy comparison. Another nice touch is that the app retains any undos when you quit as long as you don’t close the image.
The app also has Hue, Saturation and Brightness adjustments. PhotoSharpFree supports up to 1200 x 1600 resolutions — iPhone 2G and 3G. If you don’t already have an image editor like Photogene, PhotoForge or Perfect Photo, no other free app offers this combination of filters and this level of control.
App Store link: PhotoSharpFree
Click here to check out my full review of the app.
With the names Adobe and Photoshop in the title, you would expect an image editing juggernaut — the mack-daddy of image editing apps for iPhone. It’s a good app, but it’s not editing powerhouse you expect. Photoshop.com Mobile by Adobe Systems is fast and stable. It’s got a pretty lean feature set and some good filters. There are basics like crop, rotate and flip — PS Mobile performs these tasks quickly and easily. There are basic adjustments for exposure, saturation and tint. The Vibrant filter does very nice tweaking contrast and pumping up saturation. I use the border filter often to create a classic, plain white edge around an image. Missing are some of the Photoshop basics that are found in other iPhone image editors — features such as sharpen and overall blur. Within the app, you can upload and share our images to Photoshop.com.
Photoshop.com Mobile is not the only image editor you’ll need, but it’s a nice addition to your toolbox. If you overlook that it has the Photoshop name, you’ll like it a lot more.
App Store link: Photoshop.com Mobile
Another great app from Chris Comair, Polarize is a fun app that makes your images look like they were shot with an old, retro Polaroid SX-70 camera. You can use the app as a camera or load images from your camera roll. The effects are great. The app punches up the color saturation and adds a subtle vignette around the frame, eally doing an excellent job of recreating an old instant photograph. You can also add a caption to the bottom of the image in a handwritten font — a nice touch not found in any other Polaroid app.
App Store link: Polarize
I’ve found the iPhone is more likely to produce blurry images because of movement when I shoot in lower light situations. Tripod is the anti-shake component split out from CodeGoo‘s excellent commercial app Camera Genius. It’s pretty basic. You press the shutter release and Tripod waits until camera movement is below a threshold before firing the shutter. The less camera movement, the sharper your pictures. There are other apps with anti-shake, but I prefer CodeGoo’s settings. It just feels right and it’s helped me to get sharper low-light pictures.
App Store Link: Tripod
Got a favorite free photography that I’ve missed here? Tell us about it below in Comments!