iPhone App Review: Adobe Photoshop Express – Is the Upgrade Worth It?


Adobe’s Photoshop Express for iPhone and iPad got a new update this week. The 2.0 update is free. Most of the new features — in particular the good ones — are not. They’re a hefty $3.99 which is a lot for an iPhone photo app. Is it worth it? Click past the jump to see what I think.

The new 2.0 update sports very few new features — an improved camera module, full retina display support, and support for multi-tasking and background operations. There’s an optional in-app purchase for $3.99 where all the good stuff in the update is. There is a self-time and auto-review feature which is basic and included standard with every other camera app. There’s also the new noise reduction feature and that’s where the upgrade gets interesting.

The improved camera module is basic but it’s fast. it’s easy to fire off it’s easier to to do multiple captures quickly it’s got a pretty fast refresh rate — faster than most. On an iPhone 4, the refresh rate averages about 1 second. It’s basically the Apple OS camera with a redesigned UI and a 5X zoom lens and access to flash and front facing camera if your hardware supports it.

Auto-review is annoying and really slows down the otherwise speedy camera. It can easily be turned off from the lower righthand side of the viewfinder.

The new noise reduction feature is really the single crown jewel of this upgrade.

The new noise reduction feature of Photoshop Express is amazing. It will immediately draw comparisons to the same feature in Athentech’s Perfectly Clear. In all of my test photos Photoshop Express reduces more noise, in some cases significantly, with very little loss of detail. It’s especially effective with noise and artifacts in the shadows of dark images. Results were visibly smoother with less noise and grain. At both default and 100% settings Photoshop Express’ noise reduction performed better than similar settings in Perfectly Clear. Perfectly Clear’s noise reduction created extremely little blur. Photoshop Express’ has a tiny bit more visible blur, but in a large image, the difference will be negligible. See my sample images below, including my horrible, very dark, worst-case image:


Original image with frame showing detail area


Photoshop Express: 2X Exposure fix, NR @ 100%
Photoshop Express noise reduction @100%, detail
Perfectly Clear for iPhone test image
Perfectly Clear: FixDark with noise reduction
Original, detail
Photoshop Express noise reduction @50%, detail
Perfectly Clear for iPhone test image
Perfectly Clear FixDark, plus noise reduction


Perfectly Clear does a lot more than reduce noise. Its overall automatic processing is often still much better than what can be done with the basic controls of Photoshop Express. Photoshop Express lacks many of the other great automatic Dynamic Range Correction tools that Perfectly Clear has.

Currently, though, Perfectly Clear saves images at a maximum of 5 MP. Photoshop Express will handle much larger images.

Photoshop Express is still frustrating with what isn’t in this latest update. For instance, there’s no automatic white balance correction which would really help make the noise reduction feature much more usable. As the app gets more advanced features, the screen swipe motion for adjustments without any visual cues is very frustrating. There is no way to zoom in the preview to get a detailed look at how sharpen, noise reduction and other filters really effect your image.

Another frustrating  issue with this app is it still strips out EXIF data and Geo-tag info from your photos, which is critical to many iPhoneographers.

Is Adobe Photoshop’s noise reduction worth four dollars? If you regularly shoot in low light without a flash, it’s definitely worth considering. The new noise reduction filter drastically reduces the noise from underexposed images and can save some otherwise unusable photographs. Even with the iPhone 4’s more light-sensitive camera, the device still captures images that are too dark. Brightening the images or normalizing the exposure creates noise and other artifacts, which is why any good noise reduction filter is a good utility to have in your toolbox.

Remember, the best way to prevent a lot of noise in a photo is to shoot it with good light. No amount of noise reduction will completely fix badly underexposed photos.

Photoshop Express’ new NR feature does a better job of reducing noise, especially in dark areas of a photo, than any other app I’ve tested, including Perfectly Clear, PhotoForge and Filterstorm. But without the benefit of the other killer features, this four dollar update this is pretty expensive. Photoshop Express 2.0 is still an excellent free app. This in-app upgrade with just the one cool new feature is pricey right now for an iPhone app. It may be more of a want than a need for many iPhoneographers.

Photoshop Express is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Adobe Photoshop Express - Adobe Systems Incorporated



About Marty Yawnick 1826 Articles
Marty is a self-employed graphic designer in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. He is an avid Rangers baseball, Chicago Cubs, Packers and Highbury Arsenal fan. In addition to capturing random moments with whatever camera is close by (usually his iPhone), his other interests include coffee, film, music, and traveling in seats 5E and 5F with his fiancé.
  • Great review, as always, Marty.

    • Thanks, Fredrik. I bought the upgrade *begrudgingly*. For $4, I really wanted the noise reduction to suck and not be worth it. I still think it’s expensive and overpriced, given what the rest of the photo app market charges. But I was surprised and very impressed with how well the NR works.


  • Thanks for this review!! I love Perfectly Clear but it doesn't WORK! Something about memory and it freezes and I have to reinstall. I didn't get the Photoshop Express NR add-on because of the price but may reconsider after your review! Thanks again!

    • Due to all the problems I've had with Perfectly Clear after the last updates I gave this a chance prior to the review — despite the high price — and I can only agree with Marty. If you can spare the money, the noise reduction won't betray you. I've run a 11.2 MPX thru it and after just a few seconds it gave me an almost perfect picture in the same size.

      One warning before you buy the add-on. This is just noise reduction and nothing else (no virtual flash, no sharpening, no tint correction).

  • Thanks for the review!!!

  • For *really* excellent noise reduction with a lot of tweaking options (if you know how to handle 'em), check out Neat Image (PC software).

    Otherwise, the best way to get noise-free images in low light is to use longer exposure and a tripod. I use the SlowShutter app in 'Automatic' mode.

    Gives Noise-free, well-exposed images even at almost night. I guess that isn't what the author intended, but hey…

  • Thanks for the review. I have been wanting a noise reduction app that doesn’t blur too badly. I’ve been sitting on the fence between these two app purchaces for sometime. I wanted to see a comparison. I am completing a Project 365 on my 3GS (a link is provided if you want to take a look) and for days when I forget to shoot earlier in the day, the image I get is often grainy from being shot late at night in my poorly lit apartment. I also hate the $4 price but the test images kinda spoke for themselves. I pretty much read this blog everyday to keep me informed on iphoneography but never post anything … So i thought i should start. Thanks again for the great review!