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Home » Reviews

Photo App Review: Leonardo – An Ambitious Photo Editor

Submitted by on August 19, 2013 – 4:30 am 12 Comments

leonardo app, photo editor, iPhone, iPad, iphoneography

Since the earliest iPhone photo apps, iPhonegraphers have been searching for “Photoshop for the iPhone.” For a long time, not even the actual Photoshop for iOS could claim that honor. Leonardo is a powerful new image editing app with many advanced features not found in other image editors.

With the recent App Store deletion of PhotoForge2, there is definitely a big hole in the high-end iOS image editing market right now. How does Leonardo stack up? It’s very impressive, but….

Keep reading to see what I think. >>>

leonardo app, photo editor, iPhone,Leonardo is a Universal app. It’s designed to take advantage of the screen of the device it’s on, which means its tools and menus will layout differently whether it’s on an iPhone or an iPad. As this blog mainly deals in iPhoneography, for the sake of this review, I’ll be talking about Leonardo and how it works on an iPhone 5. This is important.

Leonardo is one of the more full-featured and ambitious image editors I’ve found yet for iPhone. In addition to all of the standard image editing tools, it has a lot of the high-end editing and creating tools. On paper (in pixels?), Leonardo compares favorably with desktop photo editors. The tools and features of Leonardo are very impressive and you have to dig into the app to fully appreciate what’s there. Leonardo is not a toy. It’s a powerful image editor.

leonardo app, photo editor, iPhone,

Leonardo has some of my favorite advanced tools from Photoshop for desktop, including versatile and powerful masking tools and power-user adjustment tools. Some of these tools appear scattered in other photo apps. Many of these are the tools I use on the desktop when making precision color moves, retouching, and compositing. It’s convenient to have them all in one app.

If you are familiar with the toolset of Photoshop for desktop, you’ll have an easier time finding and identifying Leonardo’s tools. If you don’t work in Photoshop or Lightroom, there’s a good chance you’ll have a more difficult time getting the hang of some of the app’s more advanced tools.

On the surface, the user interface of Leonardo is straightforward. The basic tool groups are arranged in icons at the foot of the screen. The top of the main screen contains a row of operational icons. This is a good layout that keeps the two different sets of menus separate.

Editing

All the tools you expect in an advanced image editor are here in Leonardo, as well as a bunch of well-done, useful color and grayscale presets. These presets are one-click and are stackable, but not editable beyond adjusting the intensity of each effect. You can’t use these presets as a starting point for your edits and tweak them.

The light leaks are pretty slick in that they are a combination of preset overlays but with complete control over position, rotation and scale. Moving, pinching, and rotating gives you unlimited options with the light leaks feature.

The focus of Leonardo is not so much in the one-click filters, but more in the powerful Photoshop-like image editing capabilities of the app.

You can pretty much make any basic or advanced color moves with Leonardo. All the tools you likely to need on an iOS device and many of the advanced ones from Photoshop — Curves, Histograms, Exposure, Contrast, Hue, Saturation, Clarity, Blur, Vignette, Color Balance, Sharpness and many more. Tweaks and adjustments preview onscreen in real time. The app lacks an Edited/Original preview toggle. While not essential, I find such a tool is more useful than the Undo/Redo buttons.

Two of my favorite tools from Photoshop are here — Color Balance and Shadows & Highlights. Color Balance lets you make precise color moves to either correct or radically change a color. Shadows & Highlights lets you easily recover dark and light areas from an image. It restores detail in shadows and can restore some weight and detail back into blown-out highlights.

If you’ve used a Clone tool in Photoshop, you’ll feel right at home using Leonardo’s. Setting the clone source is as easy as dragging a target. Brush size and hardness are easily adjustable. It’s a great tool for removing items, glitches, or blemishes from a photo and it’s well done here.

The app has excellent selection tools — among the best available in iOS. Tools range from Magic Wand to a color range tool that’s similar to Photoshop’s Select > Color Range tool. You can brush, lasso or grab selections. It’s very comprehensive.

Layers and Masking

The app has excellent Layers and Masking features — among the best for iOS. These are full-functioned layers and masks that really give you a lot of power in making selective edits, blends and composites.

I really like Leonardo’s Layers. They are easy to use, create, move and manage. To reorder them, simply press, hold and drag in the slideaway layers menu. Visibility is easily toggled on and off and is clearly labeled. There’s a great button that quickly turns off all but the current layer, making edits and masking easier.

Implementation of Masks differs from Photoshop in some ways. All the functionality is there, but the implementation has been adapted to the menuless interface of iOS. Once you learn where all of the commands are, Masks are easy to create, add to, subtract from, invert, and remove.

I love that Leonardo’s Layers and Masks let you do some — some — edits that are non-destructive. In addition to easily (but painstakingly) be able to make creative composites and blends, you can also use duplicate layers and masks to perform very precise color moves on specific parts of your image. For instance, you can mask out a dark area of a photo, fix it with curves and Leonardo’s excellent Shadows/Highlights tool without affecting any of the well-lit parts of the photo.

Leonardo’s “Quirks”

I really like the capabilities of Leonardo. It’s a very ambitious app with an excellent toolset. Unfortunately, I found the toolset to be very frustrating in its implementation and this for me is where the app needs a lot of work.

The entire user interface seems sticky and non-responsive. Some sliders are slow to respond. Others are frustratingly sticky. For instance, any slider control that is moved to either edge of the screen in the 0 or 100 positions were difficult to grab to reposition. I’d have to try several times to “grab” them with both my finger and the more precise tip of a stylus. For me, this is very frustrating. I prefer not to fight the UI while I’m making this level of adjustments in a photo app.

Some of the Transparency sliders are buggy. For some tools, the slider opens in the 100% position but previews as 0%. Only jogging the slider slightly fixes this.

While I like the way Layers and Masks are designed and how they are supposed to work, they don’t work smoothly for me much of the time. There is no dedicated move and zoom tool, similar to Photoshop’s Hand tool. In editing mode, to move or zoom the image, you use standard iPhone gestures of a two-finger grab or the pinch and zoom gesture. Leonardo often did not recognize these gestures for me, though, and I found myself making a lot of unwanted edits to my masks when I really just wanted to pan the preview.

Once you’ve painted or selected the area you want to mask, setting the mask is not intuitive. If you watch the tutorial video, you need to select the “X” at the bottom of the screen. The is no check mark. Typically, an X means cancel your edit. This is a bit of very non-intuitive UI design. I wasted 10 minutes to try and figure this one out. Then I watched the tutorial….

The Crop tool is halfway useless. As far as I can tell, it works on the active layer only. It crops one layer at a time which is not how I expect a crop tool to work. In some ways, it’s great for trimming excess data from a layer, but that can be masked out easily. As far as I can tell, in order to crop your entire image, it must first be flattened in the Layers window, removing any further editability of the project. I suppose you could use the app’s Undo feature, but the first thing it’ll undo is the crop itself. Without a History feature, cropping in Leonardo is not intuitive. Having to flatten the image to crop it negates saving a layered file as a project.

As far as I can tell, the Straighten tool works on the active layer only as well, but here it’s a much more useful feature. Either way, having the ability to crop and straighten one layer or all simultaneously should at least be an option.

The User Interface is a little unconventional at times. For instance, the clone, paint and text tools are in the Crop menu, along with Scale, Flip & Rotate, and Straighten. These are tools I’d expect in an Edit menu. The Gaussian Blur tool is in the Adjustments menu, but the Radial Blur and Directional Blur tools are in the FX menu. These quirks aren’t enough to put me off Leonardo on their own, but combined with the stickiness of the masking tools and sliders, add to the frustration of using this app.

The Bottom Line

Leonardo is a very ambitious app. The feature set is really incredible. Especially if you’re a desktop Photoshop user, you will be amazed at the tools that are available in this app.

Leonardo supports image sizes greater than 8 MP. It not only preserves EXIF data, but lets you edit some if it. That’ll clear your iPhone of an app or two.

Where this early version of the app fails for me is the frustration of trying to work in a sticky interface. The very powerful Photoshop Touch, which I’ve seen this app compared to, may not have all of Leonardo’s features but it’s more responsive and more intuitive and that makes it more pleasant to work in.

Leonardo has a steep learning curve. There are several tutorial videos available and I recommend investing the time to view them in order to get the most from this app.

If your iPhoneography workflow can tolerate Leonardo’s quirks, it’s a very impressive app. The tool set is comprehensive and its features are designed as best-in-class. Unfortunately, for iPhone users at least, the app seems to be experiencing some growing pains. Until at least the smoothness and responsiveness of the tools are addressed, I’ll only be using it when I need its advanced features and not as my everyday image editor.

Leonardo has the potential to be a game changer. Time will tell if it adapts to the hardware or the hardware adapts to it.

Again, this review is for iPhone only. iPad users — with a bigger screen — may have a better experience.

Leonardo is $4.99 in the App Store. It’s on sale now for a limited time for $2.99. It’s a Universal app. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation), iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G, iPad (3rd generation), iPad Wi-Fi + 4G, iPad (4th generation), iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (4th generation), iPad mini and iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

App Store link: Leonardo – Photo Editor with Layer, Selection and Mask

=M=

Leonardo Gallery

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Since the earliest iPhone photo apps, iPhonegraphers have been searching for "Photoshop for the iPhone." For a long time, not even the actual Photoshop for iOS could claim that honor. Leonardo is a powerful new image editing app with many advanced features not found in other image editors. With the…

Leonardo 1.0.1

Toolbox
Resolution & Image Quality
User Interface
Price / Value

Powerful

A very impressive app. Its tool set is comprehensive and its features are designed as best-in-class. Sticky sliders, masking issues and other quirks currently make this app frustrating to use on an iPhone.

73
Marty Yawnick

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.

  • Marie Matthews (kaphinga)

    Leonardo has become my go-to app for photo editing. It’s truly the app I have always wished for in iOS — a stable app with multiple layers, multiple image adjustments, and multiple masking options. Admittedly, I am a long time user of the developer’s other apps, Superimpose and PhotoWizard, and I spend more time editing on the iPad.

    My experience with Photoshop Touch has been very different from yours. I assume that PST will crash and lose my work most of the time, and I am pleasantly surprised on the rare occasions when it doesn’t. I use it only for masking and only as a last resort.

    • http://lifeinlofi.com/ Marty Yawnick

      Hi, Marie,

      Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience with Leonardo, especially since your experience with the app is much smoother than mine. I appreciate the guidance you gave me in the forums at iPhoneArt.com on this app as well. Great thread there, which inspired me to take a deep look at this app.

      Unfortunately, my experience with the app on an iPhone 5 (where I do 100% of my iPhoneography image processing) was not as smooth as I’d have hoped, as reflected in my review.

      I hope others share their experience with Leonardo here as well — both good and bad. This really is an impressive feature set for an iPhone photo app.

      =M=

  • Pankaj Goswami

    Hi Marty, I am the developer of this app. Thanks for your review and for brining up the issues that you experienced.

    Regarding the sliders getting stuck at 0% and 100%, I will try to fix it soon. I tend to touch the slider knobs from the inside (on the left when it is on 100% and on the right when it is at 0%), so probably didn’t notice that issue. In the current version, if you touch outside, it indeed may not move.

    In filters and effects, before you press the “Apply” button, there is a hidden way to preview the image with or without the edits. Touch and hold the image to view the original image (without filter/effect) and release to view the one with the filter/effect. Also you can swipe the image from the left to the right to “undo” and right to the left to “redo” (when no filter/effect/selection tool etc are active).

    I have invested a lot of time writing this app and will definitely do my best to improve on the user experience with the upcoming updates.

    -Pankaj

    • http://lifeinlofi.com/ Marty Yawnick

      Hi, Pankaj,

      Thank you for your comment. I like it when a developer joins the discussion.

      My list of critical fixes for iPhone:

      1. The masking issue. Trying to pan and zoom on iPhone is frustrating when I’m trying to make tight masks. Anything I can do to help with this one?

      2. The sticky sliders. I don’t try to drag the outside. My fingers are fairly big and I try to land right on top of a tool.

      • Pankaj Goswami

        1. The app is expected to zoom in/out as well as pan on two finger touch. And edit, on one finger touch. But I noticed that pan has a bug and it may end up editing instead, while dragging with two finger touch. Until I fix that, the workaround could be to zoom/in out slightly and then pan.

        2. I see. Fixed slider hopefully would address this too.

        3. When a filter/effect is selected, they are not previewed immediately, until you actually move any of those controls. This is by design and was done that way to avoid annoying delay in generating a preview, only to cancel that filter, if that was pressed by mistake. This is just like PhotoWizard. I will rethink on this, since on Leonardo, preview generation is much faster and does not have any noticeable delay in most cases.

        4. Selection and mask tools do not require a tick mark to apply, since they are applied in real time. So, undo/redo buttons are made visible while editing with these tools. But I see your point that the “X” button could indeed be confusing, making the user feel that it would cancel the edits, just like in the filters/effects or tools. I would see how best this could be addressed.

        -Pankaj

    • http://lifeinlofi.com/ Marty Yawnick

      3. The broken slider previews.

      4. A check mark to set the mask instead of an X would be nice.

      I’ll keep an eye on this app. It’s an amazing piece of software. I’ll be happy to post updates as the app evolves.

      M

  • ashcroft54

    This might be an app more for the iPad rather than the iPhone for editing, so I’ll do the iPad version of this app.

    • http://lifeinlofi.com/ Marty Yawnick

      That would be great, Tina. Are you having the same sticky issues and mask issues on iPad?

      M

      • ashcroft54

        I have the app on my iPad but I haven’t really played with it yet. In fact I haven’t done any real photo editing because I’ve been writing, researching and reading on marketing. All I know is this is what people will tell me when the Kik me, some of the people complain the app is not user friendly and complicated. I’ve got the request to write about this app along with Photo Station.

        When my niece is done playing Pocket God, Plants vs Zombies 2 and Tiny Artist. I might be able to get my iPad back and try to do some editing. Then I can really play with Leonardo. I heard this app was actually beta tested before going onto the market. What I want to know is why the developer didn’t find me to test this app before it went on the market ???

        I also have 100 pictures to transfer onto my iPad from my iPhone.

        One last thing I wanted to add is every since I’ve gotten my iPad, I hardly use my iPhone to edit photos. In fact I took out about 30 to 40 apps of my iPhone. I know people who’ve had iPads way before me would agree with me about prefer to edit on an iPad or even iPad mini than and iPhone.

        I will link my blog post with yours too.

      • ashcroft54

        Marty I played with the app on both devices. It’s not as great on the iPhone in comparison to the iPad. The buttons are sticky and hard to use on the iPhone. I had no problems with masking or anything else using the iPad version. I feel the app is over priced BIG TIME !!! If you’re wondering why it’s because of Filterstorm, FX Photostudio and iColorama are all under the price of Leonardo. They are all powerful editing apps and are under the price of Leonardo. Also I was to request that they add 2 more buttons on the masking feature. One and erase button while masking and better way to zoom in and out for maligning in or out details. Two I would like to be able to change the layer with an orange mask. It helps to find what you’ve missed when masking and layering photos. I feel the orange mask should be a standard feature in any masking editing software or app. Everything else you can read about it in my blog post.

  • Pingback: Combo Apps/Leonardo iPad Version | COMBO APPS: Mobile Extreme Editing

  • Marc Roman Bravo

    Thanks for the review! I’ve never heard of this app. I do most of my iPhone photo editing on my iPad anyway, so I’m giving this a try. It seems to have a lot of features I normally have to jump around from app to app to do. I also appreciate that the developer responded to this review & is interested in improving things based on your criticisms. $3? Why not? Sold!

  • AstronomerAdam

    I have to say that I am finding the results from this app to be disappointing. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it’s not going to replace Snapseed or Aviary for me just yet.