Trying Polarr

I’ve tried a few photo apps for iOS. Quite a few. None have quite measured up for one reason or another, but Polarr is looking pretty close.

Most of the time, I’m ok with the editing tools in the standard Photos app. It’s quite capable, on macOS. On iOS, though, it lacks quite a few features. I often use the ‘detail’ slider, and that’s missing. There’s limited ability to tweak colours, too. I don’t do selective colour photos, but I do sometimes emphasise specific colours, or fade down others.

(Left: from camera; right: edited in Polarr with a saved filter.)

My preferences:

  • I’d really like to open photos directly from Photos – it’s where I’m organising my photos anyway, so that’s easier than opening another app then trying to find the photo again.
  • If that’s not possible, it’s got to be reasonable to find the photo I want to edit. It’s amazing how many apps fail at this, flattening out the list of albums, and sometimes not even listing them in any sort of order. I have hundreds of albums, so trying to find the one that contains the photos I need to process can take a while when they’re just all in a random list.
  • Some sort of detail or local contrast control. On the desktop, ON1 is amazing for that, but I’m fine with a lot less, as long as it can bring out some detail and texture.
  • The more control the better, but a decent set of quick filters is pretty handy too. Being able to make custom filters or saved presets would be a huge advantage. I often do quite similar edits to multiple photos, so it makes life a lot easier.
  • It has to work on iPad. Most do, but one or two photo editors are iPhone only, which is a bit fiddly. Editing is easier on a bigger screen.
  • It has to be able to open photos that came from a real camera. One or two apps I’ve tried just crash when fed a photo that wasn’t taken by an iPhone. Most of the photos I post are taken with my A7, not my phone. RAW processing is very useful. I shoot RAW+JPEG, but only occasionally actually use the RAW files, so it’s not critical.
  • While I have good options for editing on the Mac, it’s nice if the same app is available there too – it saves having to use different tools on the two platforms I use. This becomes a much bigger advantage if there are custom filters, so I can save the same set and use them on each platform.

Polarr seems to have some rough edges. The app itself won’t open any photos with a RAW file as well as JPEG. When I paid up for the ‘pro’ subscription, it appeared on my phone straight away, but the iPad and Mac versions wouldn’t recognise that I’d paid until the next day. The latter problem sorted itself out, though, and opening through Photos works fine when there’s a RAW file, which is how I prefer to use it anyway.

Speaking of the pro subscription, for my use, it’s quite reasonably priced – £2.29 a month for all platforms. Yes, there are cheaper apps, but the only alternative I know of that works on Mac and iOS, and syncs saved filters between them, is Adobe Lightroom, which would cost a lot more. Even then, it’s not the cost that ruled it out for me, it’s the need to move all my photos into their cloud service. Polarr works with the Apple services I’m already happy with, and fills in for the bits I’m not.

It works on iPhone and iPad, and there’s a macOS version too. Once the pro upgrade went through, they all seem to work. There’s a ‘clarity’ filter that does a decent job of adding detail. A lot of the main adjustments can be painted in to specific areas. There are plenty of filters, though they’re mostly organised as sets of types of film – I think they could be better organised, as most aren’t actually emulating a specific film.

I haven’t done a lot with the saved filters and syncing yet, but it seems to work, and I’m expecting it to be very useful for me. I used to make a lot of use of my own filters in ON1, so being able to do the same thing on my iPad is a big deal for me. Once you’ve applied a filter, you can then adjust all the settings that make it, so filters can be a sort of baseline, ready to tweak for individual photos as needed.

From the limited testing I’ve done so far, it’s certainly nice to be able to do all the sort of editing I’d usually do, on my iPad. Yes, the MacBook is bigger and faster than my little iPad Mini 4, but the iPad is nice to work on, and I have it with me most of the time, while the MacBook stays at home. It’s another piece of the process I can do anywhere – one more thing I don’t need to use the Mac for.

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