Photo editing apps on smartphones as a necessity to deal with early low-resolution cameras. Instagram even built up a social network off of the idea of filters and editing to make low megapixel shots look decent. Today, smartphone cameras have gotten significantly better, even replacing smaller point and shoot cameras for many people, but many of the editing apps have managed to evolve and stay relevant alongside the new, better cameras.
We went through some of the best available apps for tweaking your camera shots a couple years ago, but over the past few years the landscape of the best apps has changed. In this guide, we’ll go over the top apps for fine-tuning your shots to look perfect on whatever social media site you plan on uploading them to.
Snapseed is a fantastic photo editing option that’s currently operating under Google’s wing. It recently saw an interface update bringing it in line with Google’s material design standards, too.
The app isn’t flashy, but offers a simple, efficient way to start editing and tweaking your photos. The first screen of the app allows you to pick a photo to begin editing, and links into Android’s default file selector. You can grab stuff off of your phone, including camera photos and anything else saved to your device, but it also hooks into cloud storage options like Box, Google Drive, and Microsoft’s OneDrive. No support for Dropbox, which might be a deal breaker for some, but you can always manually download your Dropbox photos to edit them.
Snapseed has enough tools to get very fine control over your images. You’ll get your standard tweaks for adjusting brightness, sharpness, contrast and other image qualities, but it also allows some smaller things like spot repair for specific blemishes on a photo. Once you start digging into effects, you’ll find plenty of things to apply to your shots, including several different filters, tones, and tweaks, the option to add vignettes and borders, and a tool to draw on your photos. Many of those filters and modes also have different presets, giving you a quick way to add some flair to your photos without putting in too much work.
The interface in Snapseed relies heavily on Google’s love for swipe motions. When you’re playing with a filter, for example, swiping up and down changes which part of the effect you’re altering, and swiping left and right adjusts the strength of that detail. This approach means you’ll always have a very clean screen to work with, which is good, but it can also make things a little more difficult when you’re looking for that one specific menu item but it’s constantly tucked away.
Overall, Snapseed offers one of the more simple, cleanly designed approaches to editing your photos. It’s completely free, there are no ads, and since Google’s running the show you’ll get an app that sticks to their design standards. This one should definitely be at the top of your list to check out.
Spinly offers a slimmed down version of photo editing, which is perfect for someone that wants access to some of the fancy filters and effects that other apps have without all of the fluff. It’s slightly less cluttered than some of the other apps on this list, and is a relatively small app to boot.
While Spinly doesn’t have all of the tools that other apps do, it handles basic filters and editing perfectly. Filters are divided into four main groups, including Main, Urban, Vintage, Soft, and Mono, each with their own distinct looks. Each of these filters break down into sub-filters with minor differences, and once you’ve selected the perfect effect to put on your photo, you can adjust the strength of the effect, making it very easy to get the perfect tone out of your shots.
Aside from the main filters, Spinly offers all of the normal photo corrections and edits you’d expect, like exposure and contrast control, plus color warmth, sharpness, and saturation. There’s a vignette filter included, too. You’ll also find a light leak feature that’s unique to Spinly with a ton of different angles to give your photo that professional-amateur look. It might not be for everyone, but it’s cool to have the feature regardless.
Another nice feature that Spinly offers is quick cropping, so instead of doing everything freehand you can pick certain aspect ratios to fit whatever screen or app you’re planning on exporting the photo too. Once you’ve saved your edits, Spinly gives you quick button to share your photo to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr, plus a button to jump into Android’s share menu.
Spinly is completely free, and very simple to jump right into to, so this might be worth checking out if you need something lightweight, The app is ad-supported with no method of removing ads, though, so if that’s a deal breaker for you, look elsewhere.
Afterlight is one of the best apps for users that need extensive filters and effects to put on their photos and quick social sharing. It offers a simple, effective interface, tons of different tools, and even a built-up Instagram social following. It’s perfect for smartphone photographers that rely on social media sites to share their photos.
The different effects is really where Afterlight shines. There are a whopping 59 filters, 14 of which were created by guest Instagram users, 66 different film textures, and 77 adjustable frames to tweak your images to perfection. That gives you roughly 300,000 combinations of filters, frames, and textures to apply to your photos, and that’s not even counting the strength effects you can apply to the filters and frames.
Outside of the filters, Afterlight still handles all of your traditional photo editing just like you’d expect. There are the standard brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, etc. controls that you’ll need, plus cropping and transforming tools. Once you’re done editing your photos, sending photos to different social media sites is extremely easy. And if you use Instagram, tagging your photos with #Afterlight offers you a quick way to get a ton of exposure from the app’s massive social following.
Afterlight isn’t free like most of the other photo editing apps here, but it makes up for that with the sheer number of effects and fantastic interface that it offers. Plus, you won’t have to worry about any ads interrupting your photo tweaking sessions. If you don’t mind spending a buck on an app that’s as high quality as this (and really, it’s more than worth the asking price) then give this one a spin.
Autodesk Pixlr is made by the same developers that offer several other fantastic productivity programs, including Autodesk SketchBook. It’s definitely more productivity-oriented and less focused on touching up pictures for social media sites, but it handles both tasks exceptionally well.
Pixlr is probably one of the closest apps you’ll find that can replace a traditional desktop photo editor thanks to it’s powerful editing tools. The app has some very useful tricks, including a focal blur tool, a color pop tool, and tons of filters, effects, and tweaks.
The focal blur tool helps to simulate a focused subject in your photos, allowing you to select a specific point in an image and create a soft de-focus on everything outside of a certain range. This helps to draw attention to specific details, and gives a very professional look to your photos without much work. The color pop tool works similarly, letting you pick a certain area to colorize while making everything else black and white. It’s a great trick for making one specific detail the focal point of an image, and it’s incredibly easy to set up, especially compared to the work you’d have to put in on a desktop photo editor.
If you’re looking for the other effects and filters, Pixlr has that covered, too. It can’t compete with other apps on the sheer volume of effects, but it has enough to make it worthwhile. You’ll still get your standard tweaking tools, too, and there are tons and tons of collage options so you can quickly set up multiple photos arranged in different ways. That definitely appeals more to social media users, but hey, more features never hurt.
Pixlr offers a free experience with a few in-app purchases, so it’s worth test driving to see if it fits what you’re looking for. If you’ve ever used SketchBook, you’ll probably be very familiar with Pixlr, so this app would be worth adding to your productivity toolbox.
Adobe makes some of the best desktop photo editing software available, so naturally they’ve tried their hand at tackling the mobile market too. Adobe Lightroom is their mobile solution to picture editing, and it offers a more professional way to get things done compared to most other apps.
A big standout feature of Lightroom is its support for RAW (DNG) files. For those of you with newer phones that have the ability to capture RAW images (ie HTC One M9 and LG G4), you will be able to edit and apply effects to those photos right from your phone or tablet. I know that’s only a limited audience, but Lightroom can also edit RAW images captured from a DSLR via the cloud.
The app also has Adobe’s fantastic history feature, meaning you can make as many edits and changes as you’d like while still being able to undo every one of them back to the original image. Most other apps permanently apply filters and effects, so it’s much harder to go back to previous versions of the image.
On the feature front, Lightroom has tons of preset effects and filters to make things quicker and easier for you, plus as many manual editing tools that you could ask for. Sharing photos is easy, and Lightroom will sync your photos, edits and metadata included, across all of your Lightroom-enabled devices. This is especially handy if you’re dealing with anything like editing RAW files, as you probably won’t be connecting your DSLR directly to your smartphone. But you can, however, upload the files to your computer, begin making edits, and then pick up where you left off on your tablet or smartphone later without any extra work on your part.
The only drawback to Lightroom is that you’re going to need an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to take advantage of it. It’s hard to justify spending money every month if you only need an app to do some quick edits on your Instagram photos, but if you’re invested in serious photography and you’d use all of the other perks that Creative Cloud offers, Lightroom is likely going to be a better fit for you than any of the other apps available.
These apps cover most photo editing cases you might need, including different effects perfect for sharing photos on social media, making a few quick touch-ups on vacation pictures, and just about as close as you can get to professional editing on a mobile device.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.