I’ve been waiting quite a while for photo extensions to really come into their own on iOS. They were first introduced in the iOS 8 keynote in 2014, and they promised a way for you to do more of your editing right within the Photos app. I really like this idea, since Photos are where all of my media is stored on iOS. It isn’t just an app, it’s a storage location for my media. Empowering the Photos app to help me add extra details like grain, highlight colouring, and brush-on exposure changes would save me a lot of time. I could use Photos’ built-in controls for basic photo tweaking, and then add final touches with photo extensions like the one VSCO demo’ed at WWDC.
Unfortunately, that never came to pass. Many photo editing apps neglect photo extensions entirely, either due to technical limitations or to require you to spend more time in the actual apps. VSCO never did come out with a photo extension, and the extensions I have been able to try haven’t offered me the filter flexibility I’ve been seeking. Camera+ offers a lot of options, but their filters always feel a little too heavy-handed. Afterlight is a little lighter on the Filter effects, but I felt like I had to apply too many layers of filters to get results that I liked.
The closest solution I’ve found is Flare Effects, which is basically a receptacle for the custom filters created by Flare App on the Mac. There was a lot of promise with Flare Effects because I could choose exactly which filters to sync over from OS X, and because I could tweak them, I felt like I could give my pictures a look that was all my own — instead of some pre-packaged Instagram filter effect.
The big caveat was that photo extensions on iOS 8 seemed to have a size limitation on their output, and users weren’t really educated on this. It took a few weeks of use for me to realize that my Flare Effects shots were being scaled down to 3 Megapixel images. Afterlight seems to max out at 12 Megapixel. However, behaviour is inconsistent. The Pixelmator extension is able to edit my photos and output them at resolutions up to 24 Megapixel. Unfortunately, Pixelmator seems to focus more on colour and warping changes, so it isn’t really a great filter solution either.
This means that, to apply the effects I’d really like to use for my photos, I need to venture outside of the Photos app. The closest solution I’ve found is to use apps like Snapseed and Pixelmator, which can open photos straight from the camera roll and save the changes non-destructively. The downside to this is that it’s a more laborious process. Each time I choose to save the changes back to Photos, I get a pop-up asking me to allow the app to modify the photo. I really wish that I could just set a permission and permanently allow Pixelmator or Snapseed to make non-destructive changes to my photos, but for now, these apps are best saved for special shots I want to take the time to tweak.
What I’d really like to see is an app like Flare App updated to output photos at full resolution on iOS 9. I don’t want just a set of pre-packaged filters, but a set of customizable ones that I can tweak and then apply within the comfort of the Photos app. However, photo editing apps are a dime a dozen, and it is a very competitive space to exist in. Which is why, after more than a year and a half after its introduction, I’m still waiting for the right photo extension to fulfill the promise of making the Photos app my one-stop-shop for viewing and editing on iOS.