Walt Disney World Part VI: Snapseed User Review

I began using Snapseed after seeing the work of my Flickr and G+ contacts Edward Conde and reading about his iPad photography work flow. I've enjoyed his work and it inspired me to give this app a shot. I decided to incorporate it's review into this Disney series because I feel it provides a good example of what the general population would use this app for: quickly and easily process vacation photos with the intention of sharing across social media platforms. Also, I have a library of 1,299 photos from two trips to Magic Kingdom which allows me to provide a lot of samples while sticking to an overall theme. When I first launched the app and played with it a little bit, I immediately told my partner that he should download it to his iPad mini. I think my exact words were, "its like Instagram on crack", which I meant in a good way.

** Disclaimer
  • If you are only interested in photos of Magic Kingdom, skip to the bottom of this entry, all photos up too the conclusions section are screengrabs showing the Snapseed interface with an example photo. 
  • I have only been using this app for about 6 weeks at the time of writing and if you find something here to be an error or think I left something important out please let me know so I can add to my knowledge of this app.
  • Images used were transferred as RAW (.ORF) files from my computer to iPad, and were only edited using Snapseed.
  • I did not go into the abilities to share images across social media platforms because the offshore internet firewall I am working under restricted the full functionality of this app.

I. Ease of Use

The first thing I noticed was how intuitive and straight forward the user interface was. Even if you have no experience with computer based photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom you should not have a problem figuring your way around if you spend some time experimenting. If you run into a question, help is only a tap away in the top right corner of the "home" screen. Across from help, you will find an "open" where you select a photo for editing. This is where my first complaint stems... when you click on one of your libraries (in this case, mine was "Kingdom 20131225), a window opens where you can see approximately 20 of your photos at a time as tiny square thumbnails. If you tap one, it expands the photo and you have the option to use it (as in the screen grab above). I wish that I was able to swipe to view the adjacent photos at this size, but instead, to see another photo you have to go back to the 20 thumbnail view and select it. This is not a huge issue by any means; however, I often take the same photo two or three times with different camera settings and picking the "best shot" becomes cumbersome going back and forth. Another thing I missed coming from Lightroom is that there was no way for me to quickly check EXIF data. Utilizing some of the empty grey space to display shutter speed, focal length, iso and aperture this would be a great implementation on Snapseed's part. 

I suggest you skip over "Auto-Correct" and head straight on over to the "Tune Image" option which will allow you to make fine adjustments to the photo's brightness, ambiance, contrast, saturation, shadows, and warmth. Adjusting brightness, contrast (punch), and saturation (color) are basic photo adjustments and are fairly self-explanatory. Increasing the shadows slider will brighten the photos dark areas, and inherently impacts the overall brightness of your photo. I usually make adjustments here before altering "true" brightness. Warmth alters the color temperature or "white balance" of the photo. Here, dragging the slider to the right will make your photo warmer (more yellow) and dragging it to the left will make it cooler (more blue). It would be useful if they had a better white balance correction tool, however for the most part the slider is sufficient. Ambiance is unique and I do not know how to precisely describe what it does to your photo. To me it seems like one direction (right) lightens the mid-tones and slightly increased saturation while moving the slider to the left darkens them increasing the perceived clarity of the photo. Although I am not technically sure of what ambiance does, I love this tool. One reason is because I cannot seem to replicate the effect in Lightroom. This maddens me, but also makes Snapseed special in my eyes. After I am done "tuning" my image, I usually straighten and crop as needed. Both of these modules are easy to navigate so I will not go into detail here. The only thing I will mention is that I usually never "free form" crop and tend to use the provided aspect ratios.

You will find the "detail" button one over from crop, and in this module you have the option to alter "sharpness" and "structure". Structure is like ambiance, in that I am not completely sure what it does, but for either, I do not suggest going past 13 units, or the first small bar on the slider. This is because there is no way to mask your sharpening and when you sharpen non-detailed areas in a photo (such as the sky or skin for portraits) it can leave strange artifacts behind. Here you will also find a magnifying glass named Loupe. When you click this, it brings up a circle of magnification so that you can see how sharpening is effecting your photo as a whole and on a detailed level at the same time. I really like this function and wish Lightroom worked more like this. One thing to note is that this is the ONLY way I have found to look at your image close up. When you are at the home screen or in anywhere else there is no way that I have found to zoom in on your image. This is quite frustrating, as looking at an image's sharpness is the first thing I usually do after I import an image into Lightroom. Not having the ability to zoom in and out is my biggest gripe with this app but is not annoying enough for me to abandon it. I also think they should have included a noise reduction sider here, but maybe I am just needy, haha.

Often, this is where I stop processing and export my photo which is easy enough by pressing the save button (highlighted above). This line of functions also includes compare, revert, and share. Compare is great in that when you hold the button down it brings up the original image. Revert will remove all edits and you have to start over, but luckily it asks you if the button was pressed intentionally first.

II. Filters

I think Snapseed's filter options are where the app really shines. Putting every photograph you take through a filter may lead to your work down a "gimmicky" path and there are a lot of purists in the photography realm that frown upon their use... BUT I say, do what makes you happy. Usually those purists are the first to insult your choice of gear because it is not a $8000, 20 lb, full frame kit like theirs. I think they need to remember that it is not the gear making outstanding images, it is the photographer behind the viewfinder (god forbid its electronic!) and how well he/she is able to use their gear to execute their vision. If the occasional use of filters will help this cause or even better yet, inspire you to shoot, I say USE IT. The purist will be left in their -dark-aged, megapixel race- glory days wondering what it is like to possess creativity. I regress... The filters in Snapseed that will have the biggest impact on your image by changing its tone/texture include: black & white, vintage, drama, hdr scape, grunge, and retrolux. Within each of these you can change things such as saturation, contrast brightness and the filter's strength. When editing photos using Snapseed's filters, I had less success opening the photo and going directly to the filter and found "tuning" the original image first helped to get better results.

The black and white filter is great and my personal favorite! I don't know if conversion to monochrome actually counts as a filter application, however, there are options to give your photos a vintage film-like rendering. If you are like me and process photos in B&W just as often as you do in color then this will become a second home to you. On slice at the bottom of this module you can find presets and more importantly a color filter. I highly suggest you try out each of the color filters and see what it does for your image. This is because it differentially alters the color channels in your photo which can lead to some pleasant surprises. This is not unlike the ability to tweak each color channel individually like you can do in Lightroom, but is far less customizable. Besides the presets and color filters, you can also add grain to your photos using sliders.

The next filter you will come across is named Vintage and here you have the option of applying different cross process effects to your photo. There are nine "styles" to choose from and with each you can apply a texture which gives the photo even more of a retro- I found this in the attic- look. The slider menu also allows you to change texture strength, center size and style strength. The biggest tip here is that you can turn the texture off by moving the slider all the way to the left. Also center size and style strength let you fine tune the final look of the image and I suggest you spend some time comparing adjustments until you are pleased with the image. Luckily an undo and redo button can be found at the bottom of all the modules so you can delete any unwanted changes.

The drama filter adds a certain edge to you photos but I have found it is something best used sparingly. Here, the options are fairly limited with 6 options and the ability to fine tune only filter strength and saturation. I think this filter works well if you want to accentuate clouds in landscapes and the only way I can think of to describe what it does is give you photo a "hard" look... ie. I would think twice about applying this filter to a photo of Cinderella.

Speaking of Cinderella... when you visit Magic Kingdom, her castle is the epicenter of the park and can be seen from almost everywhere. I have taken photos of it from a host of different spots and angles, and the scene above is one of my favorites. This side view of the castle can be found as you crossing the bridge going from the end of Main Street to Frontierland and I though it made a good sample for next filter, HDRscape. It is honestly not my favorite and I think there is a more refined and subtle way of doing HDR (reviewed here) that involves the use of Lightroom. However, it is interesting to see the different effects the "nature, people, fine an strong" options give. Personally, I find "people" more balanced and your best bet using this filter is to start off with a slightly overexposed image. I initially tried with a properly exposed image and the castle ended up with a blotchy texture where the middle of the castle was brighter than everything else. You can still kind of see the artifact in the photo above, but it was a lot worse when I used a darker shot. After you have chosen an option you have the leeway to alter the strength of the filter and something called smoothing. I can't pinpoint what the latter does, as the effect is subtle, but it sounds like a noise reduction of some sort. I would steer clear of the saturation slider unless you want that that "knives in your eyes" HDR look. Cinderellas castle was the best example I could find, but in my opinion the photo still looks a bit un-natural to me.

The grunge filter is probably the most complex out of the bunch as it offers 1500 styles to choose from. Each of these styles can then  be paired with one of five textures and you are given the option to alter the usual brightness, contrast, and saturation in addition to texture strength. With so many customizations, Snapseed has added one of my favorite functions out of any photo editing app which is the "shuffle" button. Here you can shuffle between all of the possible combinations. If you set the texture strength to zero then this becomes a very adept cross processing tool. The only more detailed option I have used is the split toning module in Lightroom, but I think using this filter is a lot more fun. If you do choose to apply a texture, there is a shuffle button which alters the direction of scrapes, dust, tears, wrinkles etc... Also, if you "pinch" the screen it alters the center size which leads to a textured vignette (shown above) which is kind of cool. Using the grunge tool will allow you to make subtle changes to a photos tone or if you choose to, make it look like it was coughed up by a stray cat. The nice thing is that you have almost unlimited options here.

Retrolux is the last filter that will alter your photos tone and like the grunge filter it has a multitude of options to choose from. You are given the ability to choose from 13 styles and within each you can alter not only the texture, but the type of light leak by tapping on the properties button. My only advice for using this filter is to go exploring OR use the shuffle button until you find a look you like and fine tune from there. The sliders allow you to alter the usual brightness, saturation, and contrast in addition to style strength, degree of scratching, and light leaks. Like the catchy name suggests, this is Snapseed's ultimate vintage emulator and I give it a thumbs up.

III. Vignette, Blur, and Frames

The last tools to discuss in Snapseed's arsenal include center focus, tilt shift and frames. The reasoning behind separating them from the others is because I have had more success using them after initial edits and filter applications, but this is just a personal preference. For example, if you want to include a frame in your photo and also want it to be impacted by cross processing and texture applications, then add it beforehand.

Although I feel subject isolation is best accomplished in camera, center focus allows you to blur the edges of your photo and gives you a "weak" or "strong" option to do so. The neat thing about center focus that may not be apparent first hand is that it is a great tool to apply vignettes. The slider options here include blur strength, inner brightness and outer brightness. In addition you are able to adjust the center size and its location on the photograph. When used effectively you can add subtle vignettes to your photo, helping accentuate your subject.

Unlike center focus, the tilt shift function is solely dedicated to blur. There are actually kits such as the Lensbaby that allow you to achieve tilt shift in camera, but for some spending a couple hundred bucks on a novelty item is not an option. This is where Snapseed steps in... Within the tilt shift filter you can choose between a linear or elliptical style and sliders let you adjust the usual brightness, contrast and saturation in addition to transition and blur strength. If you want to emulate a tilt shift lens then I suggest you use the linear option and adjust the blur strength and transition so that the effect has a natural feel mimicking what you would see using a Lensbaby. The elliptical style is what I would consider to be a bokeh emulator. If used subtly and in the right occasion you may even be able to fool your viewer into thinking the blur is natural. For example, in the photo above I used the micro four thirds 7.5mm third party fisheye which does not offer much in terms of background blur, especially when used at infinity focus. Using the elliptical tilt shift function I was able to blur both the foreground and background which gives the impression I used a lens with a razor thin depth of field. Using the linear option in this instance would have been awkward in that everything in front of the tombstone would have been in focus but everything on the sides would be blurred.

Finally, the last thing Snapseed has to offer is the ability to add a frame to your image. I have enjoyed this more than I thought I would and it adds a special touch to some images. There are 23 frames to choose from, 11 white, and 12 black and the white become off-white if "colorize" is chosen from the options menu. It would be great if the colorize option turned the black frames grey, but I cannot detect a change here. Within the options menu you can also turn any photo square in case you want to upload to Instagram later ;) There are no sliders here, but you can adjust the frame width by pinching your iPad's screen. The last thing that I wish was an option would be to apply the frame OUTSIDE of the original image. As it stands now, the frame "eats up" the perimeter of your image so keep this in mind if you are cropping.

IV. Conclusion

If you have read this far, you deserve a virtual pat on the back! I tried my best to keep this the length of this post reasonable, but providing some detail on all of Snapseed's options made that a bit difficult. Overall, I think this is a fantastic app that will help to inject some creativity to your photos and in my opinion is a wonderful introduction to photo editing. It offers loads more compared to Instagram, but is not as daunting as Lightroom. As far as image quality is concerned, the app did fairly well at producing nice looking JPEGS, besides some instances where my ISO was bumped up from 3200-6400 or when I pulled up the photos shadows too much. In this case I usually opted for black and white conversion and sprinkled some artificial grain on top for good measure.

  • Great user interface
  • Easy to learn
  • Good JPEG processing
  • More filter options than you will ever need
  • Black and white color filters
Things that could be improved: 
  • Ability to zoom in and out
  • Way to see EXIF data 
  • Noise reduction 
  • White balance dropper

If you haven't given Snapseed a shot I suggest you download the app and give her a go... It may become one of your favorites. In comparison to other apps, my knowledge is limited, but I can say it is in a different league compared to Instagram and is more user friendly than PicsArt. What it lacks however is Instagram's huge following and association to Facebook but if used as a primer to Instagram may improve your social photography standing.   But enough verbage already, hope you enjoy the following photos...

Sam D.

Walt Disney World Series:

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Animal Kingdom
Part IV: Post Processing in China
Part V: Hollywood Studios
Part VI: Snapseed User Review

Photos from Examples

Additional Sample Photos