PhotoForge in Review – The go anywhere, do anything photo editor

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The iDevice is such an overachiever – there are fathomless possibilities that are yet undiscovered. Fortunately, clever designers have coaxed the platform to do things that, had I known were possible in 2007-2008, would have made my nose bleed excitedly. PhotoForge is a new addition to my personal favourites at the App Store. It joins the ranks of truly amazing software such as AirSharing and my all-time favourite, The Quest and stands head and shoulders above its peers.

What, was that my conclusion? No, read on, but get your wallets ready for a two-dollar injection into developer GhostBird‘s account.

I have used Photoshop both professionally and in leisure for 4 years now – a sometimes torturous time punctuated by exciting jobs such as removing a hairy person from a leafy background, squishing people’s big head to fit into graphical directories; in short, nothing glamourous.

PhotoForge isn’t a Photoshop replacement by any stretch of the imagination. Firstly, the iDevice just ain’t the powerhouse that an iMac or Mac Pro is, and its screen? Well, it is even worse than the glare-ridden MBP and the horrid MacBook. But, for photo editing on the go, PhotoForge is the only app that can coax the belaboured device into doing actual work.

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Click for the highest res image at TMA - my masterpiece

Firstly, though the iDevice is not your 8-core digital processing monster, it generally flies through every PhotoForge process. Filters and effects are for the most part, instantaneous; painting, redo and undo are speedy; and a whole slew of commonly used functions run fast – very fast on the platform. During large saves and after running through an uncommonly long undo phase, PhotoForge will cause your device to halt, but not for too long – it is amazing enough that the device can cope with this software, more so when watching it keep up wit rather complicated processes.

The list below is from GhostBird’s website and is a good glimpse at what the software is capable of.

A D J U S T M E N T S

  • Curves
  • Sharpen & Unsharp Mask
  • Noise Reduction
  • Simulated HDR
  • Auto White Balance
  • Auto Exposure
  • Manual Exposure
  • Manual Vibrance
  • Hue, Saturation & Lightness
  • Brightness & Contrast

T O O L S

  • Crop tool: Crop, rotate, and flip.
  • Brush tool: Experiment with 8 different brush strokes. Choose from unlimited sizes, colors, and transparency options.
  • Smudge tool: Smears the pixels along the direction of the brush stroke.
  • Clone Stamp tool: Sample pixels at one location in an image, and paint them in a different location.
  • Eraser tool: Erase away portions of brush strokes, filters or effects applied to the image. For example, this tool will allow you to colorize black and white filtered images, among countless other uses.
  • Magnify tool: Zoom in, out, and pan.
  • Eye Dropper tool: Selects the color of individual pixels in an image.
  • Fill tool: Fill the visible area of the image with color.

F I L T E R S

Black & White, Dreamy, Enhanced, Lomo, Sepia, Water Color, Oil Painting, Night Vision, Heat Map, Pencil, Neon, Blur, Emboss, Sunset, Blue Sky and Television.

O T H E R F E A T U R E S

  • Load photos from your camera and your photo albums
  • Start painting from a blank canvas
  • Edit in portrait or landscape mode
  • Hide the toolbars in full screen mode
  • Resume previous sessions if interrupted
  • Unlimited undo and redo options allow you to revert your editing mistakes
  • Save to 4 different output sizes; 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, 1600×1200 (Change through settings menu)

Let me explain. While PhotoForge doesn’t utilise photo editing layers, it doesn’t really need them; and if they were present, they might only slow down the platform. Functions which always canvass themselves atop each other in order of use. If you have imported a photo from your picture library, that picture will remain safe from harm. No matter how many custom curves you implement, or how many brush strokes you bury it under, PhotoForge’s unlimited undo/redo cycle will take you back to square one.

So too will the eraser tool. Consider an original image like the locked background in Photoshop. You cannot make changes to it – changes are only made to subsequent layers. This is an excellent implementation of a simple protective measure, especially as it is used on the iDevice.

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Considering the upgraded camera with the iPhone 3GS, pictures can be taken in higher resolution – resolutions that are now supported by PhotoForge – which means that the device can be used as a better augment to your digital memories and work. The straightforward way in which a photographer/editor can make adjustments to photos is stunning. In fact, items such as curves, sharpening masks, noise reduction and simulated HDR are simpler to use and more direct via the touchscreen than they are on Photoshop.

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Like Brushes, having hands-on directorship of painting (and editing), does to a certain extent, beat out the combination of Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. When it comes to Tools, there is hardly a comparison. Yes, the iDevice has a horrid screen that isn’t optimal – that is, if you are used to a big screen with full 8-bit colour – but it can become a great tool when used in conjunction with the zoom function to emulate some of the best hands-on tools in the industry.

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In particular, the smudge and brush tools are intuitively direct – smudging or painting with your finger using an array of 8 brushes that come in a gamut of sizes from single a pixel to dozens of pixels across is perfect on the iDevice. Erasing to the original image or transparency, filling, and the ubiquitous eye drop tool all benefit from the direct input of the touchscreen. In fact, in combination with the unlimited undo/redo engine, the tools section of PhotoForge is nearly flawless, surpassing my expectations. Are you interested in desaturating a photo? You can do it. Care to bring back colour into that poignant point? Use the erase tool. As long as you can suss out formulas to create an effect, you can nearly do anything within reason using PhotoForge.

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While I have yet to find a good written tutorial, tinkering around will get you quite far in understanding the ins and outs of the app. Many tools double up on functionality. Crop will take you to rotation and reflection functions, for example, while curves allows for a good selection of masking options.

The entire app is generally intuitive and features hi-res support, but there are some limitations. The first is iTunes. If you use the app on an iPod touch and import photos from iTunes, they will be extremely low resolution – it doesn’t matter if you have selected max resolution from the settings app, your images will be granular and pixelated. I have heard this problem resonated by 3GS users too prior to version 1,6. But that is largely Apple’s fault – it is their job to allow the iDevice to import photos at a higher resolution, or through the use of third-party apps such as Air Sharing, allow access to the original photos. But Apple, it would seem, have other ideas of what the customer needs.

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Other caveats are few. One is that button responsiveness isn’t great. The top row (tools section) is full of rather tiny buttons that, when pressed with either small or large fingers, sometimes fail to respond. When they do, there could be lag, or worse, they may be pressed inadvertently. The latter happens often when painting, tracing or selecting pixels in the extremities of the screen. Doing so will often bring up the GUI rather than allow your work to continue to the edges.

Finally, in direct comparison to another excellent app, Brushes, PhotoForge emerges on high ground for features. But, if you are a painter or doodler, Brushes makes the process easier, quicker and more intuitive for exporting to high-resolutions. PhotoForge is amazing though; there isn’t a better do-all app photo editing/painting app in the App Store and I can foresee it remaining the top for a long time. GhostBird are quickly updating their software to comply with new hardware and adding useful features. For the usual price of 3$, PhotoForge is a steal, but for 1.99$, it screams to be bought. Amateur, professional or app hoarder, there simply isn’t a better bargain in the App Store.

PhotoForge won’t be deleted anytime soon from my Springboard and its simple, direct touchscreen interface has me wishing my Photoshop set up was as good. There are tools aplenty, filters, a deep undo/redo pipeline and all of it accessible from your seat on the train. Even with the small interface problems, I am not able to merely Grab this app – every fibre of my being is reaching out with a sloppy kiss to this unique software.

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App Summary
Title:PhotoForge (V 1.6)Developer:GhostBird Software
Price:$1.99App Size:2.1 MB
  • Intuitive interface
  • Powerful tools
  • direct interaction with photos and paintings can be on par with Wacom
  • Hi-res support
  • Unlimited undo/redo
  • Excellent adjustments and effects selection
  • fast, even on the iDevice
  • Only 2.1 MB!
  • iTunes support from Apple’s end sucks
  • some buttons hard to press
  • editing/paiting to extremities defaults GUI activation

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Below is a simplified tutorial walkthrough of the PhotoForge from GhostBird’s website.

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