The Definitive List for Mobile Photography Editing on Android
Looking around the web, there are a number of blog posts out there that point to (or list) various Android photo editing and camera apps. So why do yet another? For starters, these lists all tend to be out of date by a year or more and there seems no current list of the best of the best. Lists, it is well known, generate hits, and so it’s a sure fire post to make one yourself. Sadly, most of the app lists I’ve seen are recent lists that are crowd sourced and show preferences for mediocre apps. Some of this has to do with the fact that websites that don’t particularly specialize in photo editing on one’s mobile phone ask their audience, which tends in turn to not be especially engaged in the question of which apps to use or not use. In the end, some of the worst apps make those lists! There is, as yet, no definitive guide or list.
What am I offering here?
I am offering a list of smartphone photography apps based on my own personal experience and expertise. I use apps regularly, and heavily. I use every aspect of apps. I use them often enough to know them in and out. If I don’t use an app in this list that often, I still make certain to maintain an awareness of its various features, image sizes, quality of tools, functionality, etc.
So here’s a comprehensive list of quality editing and camera apps available on the Android market currently. The list begins with those high quality apps that save at highest resolution and do the least amount of damage to an image in the process of editing it. It is the quality of the save that, for me, is the defining point for whether an app is something for professional use, or falls into the category of toys. I focus here on professional editing tools and gradually work my way down into the lower end editing apps. The order the apps are presented in (within each category) is not an order of quality, but primarily a personal preference of mine, due to regular use and preference. The categories are in order of quality, excepting the last category, which is a short list (we’ll call it a bonus) of definitive camera apps for Android.
I’ll make a disclaimer here that none of these developers have endorsed me in highlighting their particular apps. I want to also mention that there are many lower resolution apps that are otherwise excellent in their own ways. I’ve tried to mention these others in passing within the list, though without highlighting them in their own right. I find that the further down the list I go, the lower the quality and the more the gimmicks. At some point a threshold is reached where the majority of what is produced is the app’s doing, rather than the artist. At that point, apps tend to all look very similar as far as what they are capable of.
A note that if there is a free version or a paid version, I mention the paid. In each case it is because I have used both, and prefer the paid version. In many cases, it is also true that the paid version saves at a higher resolution than the free, and is for that reason also preferred.
I do not claim to know all apps. The Android market is expanding rapidly when it comes to photo editing. I’ve seen in the last couple months alone numerous new apps, some of which actually offer unique features, where once the same old suggestions popped up.
The Definitive List
PS Touch – This app is by far the best app there is, and likely one of the best even side by side with iOS. It maintains image resolution, quality, all while packing a load of features, including layering, filters, touch up and selection tools. It’s basically a mini-photoshop on your phone, and is worth the price. Easy to use, once you get the hang of its various tools, it becomes a powerful go-to app for your mobile photography needs. All in all this is the premier app for professional photo manipulation off the PC. A must for any mobilographer. Here is a tutorial on motion blur using PS Touch, though it only scratches the surface of what this app is capable of.
Max save resolution: 16 megapixels on a tablet, 12 megapixels on mobile.
Snapseed – Snapseed is, and remains, one of the best apps around. It and Handy Photo below are my go to apps. The user interface is matchless, the editing tools are plenty. This is not the manipulation app that PS Touch is — you cannot alter, cut and paste pieces, move them around, layer them and so forth — but it is capable of a wide variety of editing styles within the range of the given image you are editing. One of its stronger points is Selective Adjust, which allows for brightness, contrast and saturation adjustments to specific portions of the image. Another of its great tools are its Retrolux filters. These are variety in a bag. They can add light bleeds, texture, vignettes, and many other features to an image. While you can make a black and white image by reducing saturation, or by using the monochrome tools, I prefer using the Retrolux filter to do so. A tutorial on that technique can be found here: Monochrome Tutorial Using Snapseed.
One weakness of the app — and it’s a minor point — is the inability to back up one or more steps of the editing process, instead of from scratch. This is not just an issue of backing out of mistakes. I use Snapseed (and primarily the Retrolux filter) to create multiple variations of the same image, which I then layer in PS Touch. Backing up would be an easier method than saving midway, continue editing, then opening that midway image to edit in a different direction.
Max save resolution: Camera resolution, up to 16 megapixels.
Handy Photo – Handy Photo is the most recent of the strong go-to apps on the market. Its creator, AdvaSoft, has packaged in this app many great tools in a very easy to use interface. The image adjustment features, such as brightness, saturation, etc, are virtually identical to Snapseed; a swipe of the finger allows you to manipulate these image settings directly, seeing the change (and the numbers) on screen. The app has numerous quality image filters and textures, and even an “un-crop” tool. Where Snapseed ends, Handy Photo begins with its Retouch, Clone Stamp and “Move Me” tools that allow heavy manipulation of images. It’s latest update brings us edge awareness, which allows you to create layer masks without care of overlapping objects in the main image itself. The masking tool senses object edges, and masks accordingly. Unlike PS Touch, it does not have a threshold setting to determine the sensitivity of this feature. Still, for the quick and easy UI, it’s a good alternative. Unlike Snapseed, the app allows you to back up to specific editing stages. The app is, put short, a happy middle ground between Snapseed and PS Touch.
Max save resolution: 16 megapixels.
Photo Editor – This app, created by dev.macgyver, is free, and is likely the best (non-tablet) phone app available for your basic editing of images on phones. Its filters are few, but they are quality filters which do little damage to an image. Resolution is maintained; you can save images at original size in png and jpg file formats. You can resize most images up to 16 megapixels as well. The app has the easy ability to modify pixels per inch/cm/etc as well.
Some of the app’s best features are its color levels, color curves, and image skewing. This is one of the few apps that has an easy to use skew tool, allowing you to adjust a slightly angled building so that it appears flush with the viewer. Though it begins with a very limited number of text typefaces, there is room to grow by simply downloading TTF fonts. The options for adding text to an image are superior. It’s greatest weakness is the poor quality suite of frames, which a number of other apps can easily outdo. It’s layering options are still in their infancy, and lack the ability to selectively edit or remove portions of different layers, as well as vary layer interaction. Despite this drawback, the app is a powerful must in one’s bag of tricks. I recently wrote a tutorial on how to bulk edit to add watermarks and changed exif data using the app (for sake of protecting one’s images from theft), found here: Bulk Editing with Photo Editor for Android. It can save in .jpg, .png, .gif or .pdf.
Max save resolution: 25 megapixels!
Pixlr Express – This app completely replaces its ancestor pixlr-o-matic. All filters of the former pixlr-o-matic version are available in this version, with the addition that opacity can be varied for them all. They can additionally be rotated and flipped, adding quite a bit of variety to these layers and textures.
Unlike Pixlr-o-matic, more than one filter of the same category can be added to an image, without saving the image and starting from scratch with the new one. The app comes with a complete set of editing tools. In my opinion, the best tool of all is the collage creator, which is by far the best there is for Android. The tilt shift and blur tools are excellent, comparable to some of Awesome Miniature‘s tools, yet can save at higher resolution. It is an instant best friend for image editing droids. Did I mention it’s both free and advert free? For a thorough description of this app, see my recent review: Review of Pixlr Express for Android.
Max save resolution: 20 megapixels.
DecoSketch – DecoSketch is a refined and well thought out app, designed for creative image editing. It offers a wide arrange of vector and shape tools for adding texture and geometry to one’s images. The app packs over 120 different brush types, which can all be adjusted in numerous different ways. Combined with your specific brush strokes makes for unlimited potential within the bounds of the app itself. The settings and adjustments one can control are also quite numerous, from brush angle and spacing, and opacity to grid snapping and drawing speed effects. Despite being focussed alone on vector geometry, and despite its lower resolution saves, this app maintains a strong place in my bag of tricks.
Max save resolution: 6.5 megapixels. (Tip: If you are using an image that is higher than 6.5 megapixels, and want a DecoSketch texture without losing image resolution, save the piece with your original image at zero opacity. You thereby make a lower res texture layer, which you can then layer onto the high res original image in other apps, such as PS Touch.)
VSCOcam – This is an obvious contender for the top in professional quality image editing. Its wide variety of free and paid for presets are second to none. This app doesn’t hide bad work, but it does enhance good work. These presets can, to some extent, be mimicked in Photo Editor by creating curve presets in that app, but combined with its other slew of editing tools, it makes for a go to app for clean, soft and beautiful edits. The app does very little damage to images, excepting where there are large, lightly shaded areas create by certain presets. These large swaths of grey tend, on close inspection, to be vertical lines of a solid shade. This is more noticeable on lower resolution images. Some of the best tools available on the app are those that manipulate shadow and highlight coloration. A good soft shadowed monochrome X filter, combined with the shadow coloration tools in small proportions, makes for beautiful duo-tone images! Below is an example using the X2 filter, with a purple shadow at strength 10, highlight in contrasting color yellow at strength 1.
Max save resolution: Camera resolution, maximum unknown.
Infinite Design – Infinite Design, created by Sean Brakefield, is not originally a photo app, and is therefore fairly unknown. It has a paid and free version. I found it because I was tired of the limitations of photo editing apps, and went looking through drafting and design tools. This app excels in designing vectors, has an infinite canvas size, and can save at 10,000 pixels on the longest side of any image or project (as png). It can save as jpg or png, and can open svg (scalable vector graphic) files as well. It is an app based around paths, and so, maintains a high resolution quality no matter what size you save your image at. Infinite Design has image capabilities, and this, in combination with layers and drawing and eraser tools allows for some extra freedom in image manipulation. It rivals Photo Editor (above) in its ability to skew images or layers. In fact it is better in this regard because one can skew a specific layer, rather than an entire image, as is the case with Photo Editor. I use this app specifically for texture layer creation and shape stencils (that’s a tutorial for another time).
Max save resolution: 16 megapixels, I believe. As a PNG file, this app can stitch together an image that I believe can be larger than 16 megapixels.
Infinite Painter – Infinite Painter does many similar things to Infinite Design, excepting that it is centered around brushes, rather than vectors. You will find much the same user interface, features, and variability in this app. The designer actively works to improve the app quite readily.
Max save resolution: same as above, 16 megapixels. As a PNG file, the app can also stitch together an image that I believe can be larger than 16 megapixels.
PicSay pro – PicSay, developed by Shinycore, remains an essential tool in the android creativity palette. Over two and a half years ago it was, practically speaking, the only app around for selective layering and masking techniques. How things have changed! I wrote only a year and some months ago “It is currently the only app on the market (developers, where are you?!) that can both layer an image over itself in identical position, and then selectively edit one layer away from another.” The app has kept up with the times, keeping image resolution at a strong 13 megapixels.
The app allows you to save the cut-outs of these layers should you wish to use them for future projects, as well as numerous other features and useful goodies. The ability to selectively edit layers, alter their opacity over one another, and alter the opacity of the brushes that add and remove portions of these layers, makes for a handy tool. It’s a quicker alternative to basic image layering than PS Touch. The app also has a masking tool, which is great for adding effects to specific regions of an image, also at varying degrees of opacity. The masking tool also has the advantage of memory, so that the same selected region can be adjusted over and over again. These two aspects are, however, only available to the pro version. It has a large selection of typefaces, with an extensive amount of variation to these. It has two additional font packs available for free, making it more than a rival to Phonto, beating it quite easily in quality and variety. Thanks to Eric Wijngaard of Shinycore for the update on this app.
Max save resolution: 13 megapixels.
Touch Retouch – A creation of Adva Soft, this app is a must. It doesn’t do much, but what it does is without par in any other app. Perhaps one could achieve its results using PS Touch, but with much wasted time. The app has simple functions. You can “lasso” an area, or draw a line over a region, and the app, using quality algorithms to copy/paste surrounding regions, fills that area or lined region as if an object was not there. If you get too close to another object and blurs it as a result, just back up and retry it. It is the brilliant pre-cursor to HandyPhoto’s un-cropping tool. The app has a free and $1 paid version (with a couple extra goodies over the free version).
Max save resolution: 8 megapixels.
Vignette for Android – Vignette is quite the interesting app. It’s strengths are is wide variety of filters and borders, all of which have numerous variable settings. The app has almost all effects available in camera mode, and the camera sports a double exposure feature which allows for direct editing after grabbing both shots. Vignette is highly customizable. It’s greatest weakness is the difficult user interface. It is tough to get used to, navigate around, and you are not able to view all settings as they happen when applied to an image. A stronger, more refined UI would make this app soar. Taking the good with the bad, it remains a quality app with a unique set of features and filters that are not replicated anywhere else on Android. For that reason it is a must have. As the app image shows, it’s on sale as of this post.
Maximum save resolution: 8 megapixels.
Touch Draw – Another, more lightweight vector graphic drawing tool. The interface is easy to use, has numerous tools and, for being a lighter variation on Infinite Design, is a bit quicker. It loses out to Infinite Design though on power, detail, and precision but for the price of its easy to work interface.
Max save resolution: Camera resolution, maximum unknown.
Aviary – is an all around clean editing and adjustment app for imagery. It comes with a standard suite of adjustment tools, as well as some filters that do surprisingly little damage to images. There are a number of additional filter packs for sale, which add some variety to this basic app. As for what kind of app it is, it is in the same group as VSCOcam, though of lesser quality in that it applies a filter, where VSCO alters light curvature.
Max save resolution: 8 megapixels.
Fotor is in a similar category to VSCO and more cosely Aviary in that it offers your standard adjustment tools along with a suite of filters for enhancing images. (There is an old and discontinued version of the app, no longer available in the app store, which is better than the new. This older version had papper and scratch layering effects which, on Android, are hard to come by. So if you have it on your phone still, don’t delete it. The paper filters are worth keeping in my view.
Max save resolution: 8 megapixels.
Camera Zoom Fx – Camera Zoom FX has your standard editing and crop tools and a number of filters. It has a number of additional goodies and, similar to Vignette for Android, comes with a camera that allows for shooting with all of its available effects. The difference here is the ability to see these effects in action when looking through the camera viewfinder. It has a number of mirror effects as well as the ability to make collages. The app is free, but add a little bit of cash and you can purchase numerous filter packs, some of which have great scratch effects.
Max save resolution: 8 megapixels.
Lower end apps but still of some quality:
Photo Viva makes for great painterly images. It has a large selection of brushes, and stroke styles to turn ordinary images into paintings. It has some layering effects which add to the variety.
Max save resolution: approximately 6.5 megapixels but don’t quote me on that.
Lyapunov Fractals – This is a beautiful app, allowing for numerous customization options to render traditional fractals. It comes with several built in gradients, and the ability to make your own to modify the look of fractals. For a taste of what this app can create, here is a series using its fractals.
Max save resolution: 6.5 megapixels. The app saves images in png format and in the proportions of your phone screen.
Sketchbook Pro is a great drawing app. Autodesk is well known for its well thought out user interfaces, and useful editing tools. The app is powerful enough and easy enough to use that you can draw really refined works of art with it with a bit of creativity and practice.
Max save resolution: 6.5 megapixels.
PicsArt – PicsArt has a whole slew of effects and editing tools. It comes with your standard adjustment tools, various collage tools, layering tools, etc. It has pretty much everything, including its own social network. What it doesn’t have, and I have criticized them often about it, is save resolution. At 3.1 megapixel saves, it’s suite of great tools are, for my taste, practically unusable. Were they to up their resolution to 8 megapixels, it would be a thoroughly strong app. What you CAN do to get around this is to edit images in this app, and then layer these PicsArt modified images onto a higher resolution image within, say PS Touch or Photo Editor.
Max save resolution: 3.1 megapixels.
PicsPlay pro has numerous layers, focus and blur tools, filters and texture layers. All of these combine to make this one of the best of the lower end apps out there. Two years ago, it, along with PicSay pro, were the best of the best. That’s all there was. It’s still a good app, but low resolution means it comes in near the end of the list. It, and PicSay pro go at the end because their respective effects can be reproduced by other apps. This is not the case with Photo Viva, Frex or Sketchbook pro.
Max save resolution: 5 megapixels.
Some image effect apps that I’ve found useful.
Pix – Pix is an app with your basic effects, filters, and frames. The frames are limited to white and black borders (which I try to avoid), and the filters and effects are not that many. However, you can choose up to three filters (some of which have about three degrees of strength apiece. The combinations are a good addition to any pallet. It has a few texture layers. A nice, free app.
Imagica+ Though the app saves at a fairly low resolution, the effects it provides are great. I use them regularly. Run images through this app to produce great layers to apply to higher resolution images. Here’s an example of the effects it can do. I won a small contest with this image.
SuperPhoto full is an app packed with hundreds of different modifying, distorting, and layered effects for transforming images into unrecognizable and warped pictures. It doesn’t do much else, but the full version does quite a lot for the money. In lieu of Decim8 for Android, this is as good as it gets. The free version has numerous effects as well.
Camera FV-5 pro – What can’t I say about this app!? It is the best there is, offering all the standard buttons and features of a DSLR camera interface. It is designed for just that. One great aspect about this app is its ability to tap into the phone’s film settings to create long exposure images. These long exposure are however of much lower resolution (3 megapixels), but the app is the must have camera app.
Shot Control – Shot Control is one of the best camera apps on the Android market for one reason: exposure lock. Camera FV-5 can’t do it. VSCOcam for Android can’t do it. (An aside: It’s rumored that VSCOcam, during Android beta testing, had its iPhone famous split exposure/focus available, but later scraped this option. Apparently they felt consistency over various Android phones was better than providing this feature for only some droids.) Well, in lieu of exposure lock in VSCO, this app is your best bet. It also has a white balance lock, unique to any camera app as far as I am aware.
The view finder is, unfortunately a bit small, but the app’s power more than makes up for this. The focus feature on this camera are also unique. One can highlight a “focus box” or region on the view finder, though it isn’t clear to me how much control this feature really has over the results of one’s images.
Add in a slew customization options makes this a must have app.
Pro HDR Camera – I have tried numerous HDR cameras on Android, and time and again I come back to this one. It exposes three images, one at high exposure, one at normal, and one at low exposure, and combines these into a real HDR image. After it has done so, you have a number of adjustment controls available, such as contrast, brightness, saturation, etc, to play around with. You can save each of these adjustments before closing the app. A tripod or stand (or a real steady hand) are recommended with this one.
Updates To The List