I get the appeal of Lightroom, desktop or mobile. It’s really good software, actually excellent in most respects. It’s powerful, well designed (copied by many) and easy to use.
There are a few ‘buts’ though, such as the subscription fees, less than ideal handling of Fujifilm RAW files, and how difficult Adobe makes it to fully uninstall it’s software. Surprisingly it’s actually harder to remove from a Mac than from a PC.
Anyway, I moved away from Lightroom a few years ago and don’t intend to go back unless they do something exceptional. Now that I’m also turning away from laptops for most photo editing in favor of an iPad, I want software than can do what Lightroom (and Exposure X5 on desktop) can do.
In particular, I want software that is good at dealing with multiple images, for batch editing and applying consistent edits. Old favorites such as Snapseed and Polarr are good with single images, as is the most powerful iPad editor, Affinity Photo. As far as I’m aware though, there are three strong contenders for batch editing: Darkroom, Raw Power and Pixelmator Photo. Each can do non-destructive editing, image management and batch processing functions.
All 3 allow you to select images from the Files app, so you can access an external drives or iCloud or Dropbox, not just your Apple Photos.
One big frustration with Apple Photos for me is the inability to flag images other than as favorites. Raw Power wins here by allowing ‘selects’ and star ratings too.
Mostly I work from Jpeg files, storing the RAW files elsewhere in case I need them. So I haven’t done a detailed comparison here. These guys have though, and rate Pixelmator Photo ahead.
Darkroom is pretty straightforward here, allowing you to select multiple images then either favorite, delete or apply a saved edit to them.
Raw Power adds a few more options such as auto-enhance and export.
Pixelmator Photo includes those as well as options to rotate images and create custom workflows. So another win for Pixelmator.
All 3 apps provide a set of presets (or filters) and the ability to create your own. Only Raw Power includes LUT (Look-up Table) support and replications of the inbuilt Fujifilm camera ‘simulations’. Compared to the excellent Exposure X5 on Mac though I’ve found the results limited and somewhat prone to aberrations where an area of the image becomes pixelated.
Not long ago I would have immediately ignored any auto-adjustment features except for maybe white balance. But the algorithms are getting better all the time, presumably assisted by machine learning. It’s never fool-proof, but can be useful.
Raw Power offers a single ‘auto enhance’ option, but does have a few interesting features in Presets that I’d consider automation, such as fixing overexposure in a RAW file. I like the idea, although I’m not yet convinced by the quality of the results.
Pixelmator Photo offers a ‘machine learning’ enhancement, but also gives an auto option for cropping (successful sometimes, not always) and has a new color-matching feature that attempts to match the colors of another image.
Darkroom doesn’t yet have auto-adjustments as far as I know.
(It’s worth mentioning that, although Snapseed is starting to feel dated in some ways, it does still offer some clever features, such as portrait-specific adjustments.)
One important feature for me is the flexibility in converting from a color image to black & white, with the ability to adjust the red, green and blue channels independently.
Pixelmator Photos does offer that functionality but no more.
Raw Power goes slightly further in that it offers ‘filters’, which work like presets of settings for the color channels.
Darkroom does things a little different. It doesn’t offer a specific b&w conversion (so just reduce the Saturation to zero instead). But it’s color manipulation features are excellent (probably it’s strongest feature) and do the same job as the others.
This is really the main limitation of this trio of apps. Frustratingly only Pixelmator Photo allows for even just some basic object removal. It works well enough and you can adjust the size of the brush. But none allow you to selectively adjust a specific area, to dodge or burn for example. Old favorites Polarr and Snapseed both do.
Darkroom and Raw Power both have iPhone apps, although I’m not sure if Raw Power can sync non-destructive edits between the two.
Obviously there’s more functionality than I’ve covered in each of these apps, but the tools that I’ve covered above are the functions that matter most to me in selecting which to use. These editors are also all relatively new and still being regularly updated so the landscape could easily change. As much as possible I like to maintain a workflow that doesn’t tie me too heavily to one editor.
There’s always a certain amount of personal preference too. I never got on with VSCO for example, although many seem to love it. For most of my editing I’m finding that Pixelmator Photo is the most enjoyable to use and gives me the results I prefer. It can’t do everything, but what it does do it does very well. Dodge & burn functionality would be a welcome addition though.