Product Review: Nik Snapseed for iPad

August 8, 2011

By Dan Havlik

There are a range of filters available in Snapseed including Vintage Film effects. Users can customize the filters by touching and swiping the screen.

There’s a reason Nik Software calls its new Snapseed program a “photo experience for the iPad” in its press materials. To label this merely an “app” would undersell its robust photo editing features.

Here’s just a little of what you get for $4.99 with Snapseed: over 11 built-in filters offering a range of photo editing effects; a nifty touch and swipe interface that lets you apply changes in a fun way; Nik’s innovative U Point technology for selectively tweaking color, lighting, saturation etc. in your images via gesture control; very good black-and-white conversion tool; cool photo frames; and easy to use sharing functionality.

I’d hardly expect anything less from Nik, a company that has produced some of my favorite photo software for the laptop/desktop world: Silver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro and Viveza, to name just a few. In bringing its computer-based editing chops to the mobile world, Nik has upped the ante on what a photo app for the iPad can do.

But as much as I like Snapseed and appreciate its image editing power, there are times when it feels slightly overextended. Does an iPad app need to do so much? Do I want/need this much control over my images on a tablet when I’ll likely work on them in Photoshop on my computer anyway?

Perhaps it’s just a case of a product being a tad ahead of its time. I’m so used to iPad apps doing one or two things very well, a serious multi-tasking program takes some getting used to. Play around with Snapseed for a few days, however, and it’s hard not to be impressed.

The best way to describe Snapseed is to say it’s a smorgasbord of mobile photo effects that have been reinterpreted from Nik’s desktop applications. Consequently, it’s hard to know where to begin with the app once you open an image in it.

What you’re presented with are two pages of filters: Auto Correct, Selective Adjust, Tune Image, Straighten & Rotate, Crop, Black & White, Vintage Films, Drama, Grunge, Center Focus, and Organic Frames. (For some reason, there’s a blank space on the bottom between the first and second page of filters, as if there’s one missing.)

I’d suggest diving into the second page of filters first since that’s where most of the fun stuff lies. Tap a filter and you’ll immediately see a preset effect on your shot. A toolbar at the bottom of the filter gives you basic controls: Back for backing out, Compare for comparing before and after, Styles lets you pick different variations on a particular filter, Texture gives your image a randomized texture, Undo negates the effect, and Apply applies it.

Swiping left or right in a filter will adjust a particular enhancement while swiping up and down lets you select an enhancement. Sound confusing? It is a bit at first, which is why Nik, as usual, offers some helpful online video tutorials that can be accessed directly from the app. There’s also an overlay guide in the app that shows you which type of swipe does what. Once you start playing around with Snapseed, it becomes fairly easy.

I would have liked it if Nik had included some kind of identifier or label to tell you which filter you were in once you were in it. There were times I thought I was in Grunge when I was really in Drama; or Vintage Films, when I was actually in Grunge. As I’ve found with Nik’s desktop software, playing with the filters and trying different combinations on your images is addictive. With Snapseed, you can stack as many filters as you’d like on a single shot, creating either a grungy, dramatic, black-and-white masterpiece or a complete mess. If your Snapseed photos are veering toward the later, check out the online help video entitled Creative Editing (or just step away from your iPad immediately).


Along with the funky Instagram-style photo filter effects, which have become de rigueur on iPhones and iPads (and, let’s face it, a little overused), Snapseed offers some more traditional editing tools such as straightening and cropping; contrast and color adjustments; white balance and other features. For instance, there’s an all-purpose auto correct filter and a way to use Nik’s U Point technology to selectively edit specific sections of a photo rather than change the image globally.

I’ve always liked using control points in Nik programs to get localized corrections but the technology really comes alive with the touchscreen capabilities of the iPad. Rather than having to move my cursor over a spot with my mouse and turn the control wheel or ball to adjust it, I just touch and swipe with my fingertip. What fun!

The black-and-white converter is a blast too but I would have liked it to have the actual simulated film types as on Nik’s Silver Efex Pro rather than Style 1, Style 2, etc. The Center Focus filter will selectively blur the background of a shot—just touch and swipe the blue dot to increase the size of the in-focus area—to create nice bokeh behind your subject. I’m not a huge fan of putting frames around my digital images—
always seems a little cheesy—but the Organic Frame filter does a nice job of making them look natural.

Though Snapseed is doing a lot behind the scenes, it runs fast. Never once did I feel I had to wait for it to catch up to my fingers. For the first version of such a powerful app, that’s an achievement.

If you’re used to iPad photo apps doing one or two things well, you’re in for a surprise with the multi-tasking, multi-layered Snapseed from Nik Software. For just under $5, you get a powerful suite of imaging filters and tools that have the ability to transform dull shots into strikingly edited images. The only thing negative I could say about Snapseed is that it tries to do too much and some users might find its wide range of functionality overwhelming and confusing. Others though are bound to be impressed with the veritable Pu Pu Platter of effects that Snapseed offers.

Snapseed for iPad

Pros: Wide variety of photo effects and editing tools in one app; runs fast; good price for how much it does.

Cons: Numerous tools can be overwhelming and confusing; would be nice to offer simulated film types in black-and-white filter.

Price: $4.99