Product Review: Mobile Photo processing with Handy Photo

April 26, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

handy-photohandy-photo One of the great things about attending Macworld is getting to see new applications that haven't hit the radar yet and see demos from the developers themselves.  Being a photographer and iPhone and iPad user means photo gadgets and applications always catch my eye.  This year I found Handy Photo by ADVA Soft. .

There are many, many, photo processing apps available on iOS so why would you be interested in Handy Photo?  One of the downsides of having so many photo processing apps, is that good applications often do one or two things well, but that can mean moving an image from app to app to complete a project. I'm looking for a single mobile processing application that can do basic tone adjustments; add filters frames and textures; and retouch and remove unwanted objects.  If it's not too much to ask, I'd like this application to be inexpensive.  Handy Photo meets this criteria.

The application is for iOS and Android, but not being an Android user I can only share my experiences on iOS. Handy Photo is a universal application, but you’ll want to use it on your iPad to take advantage of the full real estate of the screen.

Handy Photo is a full featured image processor.  Like many editors, it does a nice job adjusting brightness, contrast and saturation. Unlike more elementary applications Handy Photo also adjusts levels, shadows, highlights and warmth. These adjustments can be applied globally, but even better, you can use linear and elliptical gradient filters to apply the adjustments to portions of an image, (changing the color of the sky from dark blue to lighter blue from the top of the image to the horizon for instance). The application also includes brushes and masks to control the areas of the image being processed.  The application's “edge aware” detection helps limit the adjustments to areas of an image by recognizeing changes in color and contrast to contain the editing.  There’s also a “color picking” tool too limit the adjustments to particular colors in an image (let’s say you just want to boost the red flowers in an image without over saturating the other colors).  These are powerful tools normally found in professional level desktop applications and they work really well as implemented in Handy Photo.

Like many other mobile processing applications Handy Photo can add filters and frames to images.  None of these are terribly unique in appearance, but unlike some other apps, Handy Photo allows the filters to be applied globally or to parts of an image.  Again, this is not remarkable, but it means images don't need to be exported you to multiple applications to complete a project.

The feature that caught my eye at Macworld is the ability to erase and move objects in photos and do basic retouching to images.  If you've seen Adobe's "content aware" editing you have an idea how this works.  Explained simply, it’s a tool that erases objects and allows the program to automatically fill in the newly created empty space with content the application thinks is consistent with the space it is filling. A step up from content aware erase and fill, is cutting an object out and moving it to another location in the photo. Handy Photo also allows what they call "magic" uncrop and straighten. When images are straightened it often it creates empty space in the corners.  Ordinarily the image is cropped to eliminate the empty space.  Handy Photo instead fills the empty space with appropriate content. For intense, if you crop an image with sky at the top that creates an empty space in the corner above the sky, Handy Photo fills the space with more sky.

All of these “content aware” edits can be a huge time-saver and can do a really good job.  But not always. This works with varying degrees of success, even in very expensive applications, depending on the image content and the application algorithm. The more complex the image the less likely it is to work.  Handy Photo is not the first or only app to offer this technology in an iOS app, but it is one of the better implementations of the process I’ve tested. It's not perfect, but I was impressed often enough to recommend the app.

I particularly like how well the features work on the touch screen of the iPad. Most corrections are completed by painting on the image with a finger and swiping to increase and decrease effects.  A typical problem with this kind of editing on touch screens is that your finger blocks your view of what you're doing.  Handy Photo solves this problem by calling up a magnifier that enlarges the area you're working in, just next to your finger, and shows a cross-hair target of the active edit area. This is very well implemented and addresses one of the frequent problems encountered trying to process images on the iPad.

In general, the UI is refreshing and takes advantage of the real estate and clarity of the iPad. The controls look good and are easy to activate, even if they're not always immediately intuitive. Since the application includes so many features there's also a bit of a learning curve. This can be expected as  an application does more things it will become more complicated. Even so, I found myself picking it up fairly quickly. As a bonus, the application includes handy pop up tips when you open a module for the first time or hit the help button at any time.  Even better, the application includes a section of video tutorials that link you to you tube videos demonstrating all the main features.  The tutorials are short and clear.  

In addition to the learning curve, which I don’t really consider a critique, I found what appears to be a bug.  At Macworld and on line the developers tout the app's ability to handle RAW files.  In my test, the app sees RAW files in the camera roll, but when I tried to open any of them it didn't work.  I contacted the developer and they confirmed that not all cameras are supported yet, but they intend to release updates. I'm shooting with a 3-year old Canon, I was surprised it wasn't supported. Still, most users won’t be processing RAW images on their iOS devices so I don’t know if this is a major flaw, but it’s an advertised feature that won’t work for all users. 

This is a powerful and full featured processing app at a bargain price of $1.99. There's a free version that doesn't include some advanced features but it will let you check out the UI.  The price for the full app is much less then other apps that have similar features.

I’ll continue to process my important photo projects on my computer using professional grade applications. But the ease and power of Handy Photo encourages me to process more images on my iPad beyond simple tone adjustments or the application of simple filters. I recommend this app to anyone that is looking for that increase in photo processing power in iOS.


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