Mike Rundle, an independent designer and developer, is today releasing Filters for iPhone ($0.99), a visual effects photo editor. Rundle’s integrated development workflow, both writing the code and designing the interface, shows through in his work. This is how Filters describes itself.
You don’t take photos with Filters. You transform them. Filters has over 800 ways to transform your photographs including fully adjustable authentic vintage film recreations, hand-painted textures, vibrant colored gel overlays, special multi-effect adjustments (Shine, Luna, Color Boost, Intimidate and Smart Fade) as well as standard image adjustment tools like brightness, contrast, color temperature, exposure and more. All features are included with nothing extra to purchase.
The app features over 800 different image effects presented with some of the best UI design I’ve seen. However there’s no getting away from the fact Filters enters a crowded market with stiff competition. It’s interesting to see how Rundle has tried to differentiate his app from the rest. Read on for our full review of the iPhone’s newest image app.
Filters boils down to one canvas view. Along the top row of buttons are import and export actions. Share is probably a better description than ‘export’ — you don’t save anything in Filters itself. There’s no album complexity to worry about. The workflow is very straightforward — import from Photo Library, edit using Filters, share back out again. There are also the other miscellaneous help and undo buttons. To signify their relative insignificance, these four buttons are colored in a dull gray.
Meanwhile, the rainbow themed icons are where the interesting stuff happens. The four icons represent filters, overlays, effects and favorites. These are the things that actually change the image which sits in between the two toolbars. On first launch, these buttons slide into place with a nice spring — Rundle’s experience as both designer and engineer starts to show through.
When you select an image, the background changes to a dynamically blurred version of the same photo. This is pure eye-candy but it does look good. A clever touch is Filters never has a blank canvas. If you don’t load an image yourself, Filters opens with one of a few preloaded images. You can start fiddling about with the app’s features without worrying about which image to pick. It takes the pressure off.
Clicking on an effect button opens a popover tray with subcategories to select from. I was happy to see that Rundle coded his own popover views, as I personally think native popovers are atrociously designed. The ones used in Filters are nicely color-matched with the icon color and are, of course, accompanied by a spring transition.
The popovers are essentially used to create an icon based menu. Clicking on one of these icons opens up the options for the corresponding filter. For example, clicking on the snow-flake opens up a selection of Cool Filters.
‘A selection of filters’ is a bit of an understatement. There are loads of different variants in every category (over 800 in total), maybe too many that it becomes overwhelming. The wide range of offers does mean that you can produce a lot of different end-results though. Most of the options are different enough to warrant having their own option. Every filter is numbered so you can find it again later or you can explicitly favorite it as a bookmark.
When you pick a particular filter, the ‘intensity’ screen opens which features a single slider. Dragging the slider changes how much the effect is applied to the picture. At any time, you can long-press on the canvas to compare with what the image looked like before. Press the green tick to confirm and you are done. The second button, Overlays, work in the same way except it lets you add things like light leaks and superimposed textures.
Personally, I found the app works best when you combine filters with overlays to create the final image. Unlike apps like Pixelmator though, you can’t rotate overlays to position them how you want. In fact, you can’t crop or rotate your image at all. For version 1.0, Rundle expects those transformations to happen in other apps.
The third set of features, represented by a magic wand, is labelled ‘Effects’. This contains typical image adjustments like brightness and contrast but also mixes in some ‘smarter’ effects that use image analysis to dynamically apply them.
These special effects look cool but they are hard to describe. I don’t think the iconography Rundle chose for this works great either — I was really lost about when and how I use these options mainly because I don’t really know what they do. I open the Effects toolbox as a bit of a gamble to try the advanced effects. Sometimes, it works and the resultant photo looks good. It’s a bit of a shot in the dark.
However, even if you don’t take advantage of these special effects, you still get a lot of mileage out of the first two categories by themselves: filters and overlays. I find it really fun to quickly flick the list of filters, pick one that I like from the preview, add an overlay and post. It isn’t just a gimmick either. Rundle has some examples on his website of professional photos being enhanced by his app.
Once you are done, there are direct menu options to share back to your Photo Library, send to Instagram, as well as a way to get to the system Share Sheet so you can use any third-party sharing extensions.
Filters also looks good on your Home Screen.
For future updates, Rundle has announced that he is working on landscape mode, realtime intensity adjustments and more settings for previews. Landscape support is particularly important to me for a photo app and was the thing I particularly missed during my time testing Filters.