One-click photo editors based around filters have been around for a while on smartphones, and some of them (such as Snapseed) made the leap to the desktop. However a new generation of these apps is promising to bring the benefits of machine learning and A.I. to photo editing and to streamline the whole process of getting an image ready to share or to print.
Skylum are probably best known for their Aurora HDR software that was created in conjunction with HDR champion and latter-day influencer Trey Ratcliff. They also released their comprehensive photo editing suite Luminar (which I reviewed here) and its sidekick Flex. Their drag-and-drop one-clicker filter apps have been getting a bit of attention thanks to the smarts built into the software and I thought it would be nice to put these apps through their paces and show the kind of results that are possible with them.
Before and After
Let’s start with Photolemur and this sunset shot I took quite recently. The results aren’t bad actually. It has performed a lens correction, boosted the shadows and dropped the highlights – the three things I do to pretty much every photo I ever take. It’s not over-saturated (which I was kind of expecting) and it’s done a good job dehazing the sky. The central issue with this photo is that blown-out sun and if a highlight reduction is taken too far it will not look great.
Let’s see how Photolemur does with a daytime shot. As you can see from the original shot, it’s kind of washed out and there’s a haze over the entire image that is affecting the black point. After running it through Photolemur quite a few changes have taken place. The white haze has gone and the white and black points look well balanced now, saturation and contrast have been given a boost and the overall colour temperature of the image has been set perfectly. It also looks like some special sharpening has taken place on the foliage. It’s actually a great base-line RAW to JPG conversion that I’d have no issues with sharing on social media.
Here’s a classic reverse sunrise shot. The original is okay but lacks a bit of punch. Run through Photolemur, the image has been sensitively processed. It’s not over-saturated, the white balance looks good, there’s been a lens correction and some sharpening has been applied to the foliage and the surf. If anything this is too tame a conversion – there’s a lot of unused information in the RAW file that the software has not brought out – particularly in the sky, which would have benefited from a stronger dehaze and/or localised contrast tweaks.
So how does AirMagic do things differently? Well to show you that I’ve processed the same image once with Photolemur and a second time with AirMagic and you can see the results below.The most obvious difference is that the AirMagic version is much more saturated than the Photolemur shot – you will also notice that the clouds have been sharpened so as to accentuate the textures. The foliage has seen a saturation increase and the white balance and colour temperatures have been changed such that the Photolemur version has much whiter sand.
And finally – here’s how both of the applications dealt with an image shot in very bright midday summer light. As you can see, there’s not much difference between the two. Saturation has been pushed slightly harder by AirMagic (not necessarily a good thing) and some decent sharpening has taken place by AirMagic such that the windows of the boats are better defined. Air Magic has also done some slightly more aggressive dehazing, which is most notable on the treeline just above the houses.
Both of Skylum’s one-click apps also include the option to add an Instagram style filter to an image. You get a modest seven filters in the box and you can add more at a cost of $20 per pack in Skylum’s store. I can’t attest to the quality of those add-on filters since I don’t have access to them, but the default ones that come with the software indicate that none of them are going to stray too far from the try-and-tested Instagram filter look. In the carousel below you can see five of the looks – of all of them the Cinematic filter (basically your old friend tan-and-teal) is probably the best, so if you’re desparate for your photos to look exactly the same as every other wannabe influencer/content creator – then knock yourself out.
Instagram Filters for the Desktop
Photolemur and AirMagic are solid little applications and both do their jobs well. As someone who’s used Photoshop since version 2.5 it’s hard to hand over the entire photo editing process to an app, but in some ways Adobe’s software has been drifting this way too, with its Auto settings of one kind of another. I suppose people who are not very technical and who just want to quickly and efficiently improve the look of their photos will get some mileage out of these apps, but I’m not convinced anyone as picky as me (and I’m not actually that picky) will.
The other issue I have is with the cost of the software – $73 is a lot of money – sure it might have some clever machine learning going on in the background, but ultimately they don’t do that much more than any run of the mill filtering software will. I suspect that AirMagic might find a niche market since a lot of the folks moving into drone photography do not have a background in photography and might struggle with their post-processing. So for those novice photographers, a simple drag-and-drop app might be the perfect solution. Also Skylum claim that the software has profiles for all of the well known brands of drones such as DJI, Yuneec, Parrot and Ehang, so you get the best results possible from your RAW images. So all things considered – I’d never spend any money on these apps – but I do not think I am the target demographic and that there are plenty of folks who would.