The muddy state of photo editing on iOS
Posted on April 26th, 2015
I was pretty excited to get iCloud photos set up so I could start syncing, sharing and editing on all my devices and macs. I have been having a good time cleaning up old photos on my iPad when I have a few moments to spare. But the honeymoon period has worn off - at least on the iOS side. Compatibility issues, inconsistent image pickers in 3rd party apps and quality loss abound.
Using the non-destructive editing with the built in photos app is very cool, but as I try to use my 3rd party photos appsI';m running into lots of trouble. Once you edit a photo with the built in app, pretty much all bets are off when it comes to using that photo in a 3rd party program. Only a few newer apps will work with them. Some of my apps refuse to see them or open them at all. Some will open them but lose the edits, and some will 'seem' to work just fine but silently reduce the quality of your shots. More on that later.
Before iCloud photos, I used some photo transfer apps to sync photos back to my computer. One of them would just drop your edits - very frustrating. I deleted that one. The other one has an option to apply the edits but flattens the file so you can no longer revert any changes Better, but still not so good. This is one area where iCloud photos really shines, and helped me decide to pay for more storage. Other compatibility issues I have had are with file storage apps like Dropbox and Google Drive. I don't know if it has been fixed yet but with one of them you could upload individual photos and the edits would apply, although flattened. But the auto photo backup feature would only synch the original, non-edited versions. Again frustrating.
Inconsistent image pickers
This is pretty frustrating. You spend a bunch of time going through your photos and marking your favorites. Then you go to your favorite social app and try to upload them, but the app doesn't see the favorites album! Turning on iCloud photo library makes the situation a bit worse by adding yet another location for photos that most apps won't see. Same with iCloud photo sharing. Some newer apps will see them, but most won't. The final complication is that while you can see all the photos in your iCloud Library in the native Photos app, 3rd party apps can only see the photos on your device. It is a bit confusing but what you have to do is go and open up the photos you want individually to force them to download. Then they become visible in the camera roll in 3rd party apps.
This is the most aggravating. You constantly have to watch out for apps and work flows that reduce the resolution of your photos. This is especially true if you use a nice SLR camera. I first accidentally noticed this after running some photos through the Afterlight extension. The image started out at 20mp and came back as 2.8mp! When I noticed and tried to revert the changes it took away the edits but left the image at 2.8mp. To say I was surprised would be an understatement! After all this is the top rated iOS 8 extension! Even Pixelmator for iPad alters the resolution of a photo you edit! That is really disappointing. Another gotcha is iCould Photo Sharing. I've using it as a handy way to share photos back and forth with family members. After bumping into these app resolution issues I figured I better take a look to see what it was doing. Sure enough it downsizes the images you share as well. And there is no way to configure this. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, These are the same types of things I ran into years back with the Photostream. - I've already ranted about that enough.
So the bottom line is that while you can do some very interesting stuff with pictures in Photos and 3rd party apps on iOS it is really user beware. If you want to do more than a quick edit and post to Facebook or Instagram the work flow experience can be frustrating at best and permanently damaging to your photos at worst. I took a trip this weekend and took literally hundreds of photos with my camera (not Phone). I fully intended to use my iPad to manage my photos, do some sorting, light editing and sharing - just to see if I could do it. After hitting some of the speed bumps mentioned here, I switched back to my Macbook pretty quickly. Actually I hit my first frustration was just trying to import my photos into the iPad. I've done this occasionally over the years using the SD card adapter with mixed results. This is the first time however I tried to import a couple hundred 20mp photos at once. Just waiting for the thumbnails to load was unbearable. The process probably took close to 10 minutes. Doing the same thing on my Macbook was around 45 seconds. iOS is getting better an handling photos all the time, but clearly it is not yet ready for any heavy lifting.
Here is a hard learned tip about uploading photos through the iOS mobile Facebook app - DON'T!. At least not if you care about the quality of your images. Instead select your pictures in the Photos app and use the sharing button to send them to Facebook. The difference in size is very noticeable when you go back and download the photos from the web site. Using the Photos app sharing method you get photos that are 2048 on the longest side (the same as the Facebook web site when you click the option to upload HD photos), Uploading the same photo from the mobile Facebook app results in it being downsized to 960 x 480 which is pretty ridiculous. The mobile app does not give you any equivalent HD upload setting like the web site does.