As a photographer, I never thought I’d use my smartphone’s camera much, given that it obviously doesn’t have the capabilities of a DSLR. But lately, I’ve learned to love it for what it is – a simple camera that’s on hand whenever I need it – and that’s really the best kind of camera you can have. Having come to terms with my phone camera, I now use it for discreet street photography, making note of locations and props I could use for upcoming photo shoots, and working on my composition.
I’ve been hankering for a solid photo editing app, though – something that offers at least a smidgen of the control over how pictures turn out that desktop apps like Adobe Photoshop do. There are a fair number of editing tools out there, but none seemed to have the complete package of features, usability and fine-grained control over various parameters that I wanted. Then, I discovered Aviary.
Aviary started out as a marvelous suite of web apps for image creation and editing that received critical acclaim, and is finally available for mobile devices as a comprehensive photo editing app compatible with Android 2.2 and up.
Weighing in at 4.4MB, it comes with 16 different tools to improve your pictures, and additional effects and sticker packs are available in the Play Store to use with it. It is extremely easy to use and suitable for everyone, regardless of experience.
From the very first screen, Aviary presents an easy-to-use interface that’s intuitive and attractive. When you fire up the app, you’re presented with a carousel of all the images on your device that are available for editing. You can also launch your default camera app from here to take a picture or use your preferred file viewer or gallery app to select one to work on. There’s also a button to share images from here.
Once you’ve selected a photo to edit, you’ll find a scrollable toolbar at the bottom of your screen with 16 tools to work with, including:
- Enhance – with auto, daylight, night and color balance settings
- Effects – similar to Instagram’s filters. Aviary comes with 12 filters in its Original set, and you can buy three more six-packs of filters at $0.99 each
- Stickers – fun vector graphics to dress up photos. There’s a free set available for download from the Play Store
- Basic editing tools that do what they say on the tin (Orientation, Crop, Brightness, Warmth (color temperature), Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness)
- Draw – for simple annotation and scribbles, with a variety of brush sizes and colors
- Text – add and resize text on top of your images
- Meme – allows you to create a meme-style image by adding two lines of text
- Cosmetic tools (Redeye for red-eye removal, Whiten for fixing discoloration in teeth and Blemish to smooth skin)
These tools can be reordered in the toolbar to suit your usage and preferences. You can also set a file size limit for Aviary to save your edits and also specify which folders the app should look in to find photos for you to work on.
Editing Your Photos
With Aviary’s vast array of tools at your disposal, there’s a lot you can do to improve your pictures. You can begin with the basic tools to fix the brightness, contrast, saturation and warmth, and even sharpen slightly to add a little more detail if you need to. You can then crop your image to remove unwanted elements in freeform mode or to suit a particular aspect ratio (for which a number of presets are available). The basic tools are operated with a simple horizontally rotating wheel that offers realistic haptic feedback and fine-grained control over the parameter you’re working on.
If you’ve shot portraits, you can try using the cosmetic tools to improve them. I found that the Redeye tool performs well for the most part but has problems handling the circumference of eyes, leaving a thin circular path of red which is visible on images at full size. The Whiten tool does a great job of whitening teeth with just a few strokes of your finger (if only keeping your real teeth clean was this easy!). The Blemish tool is fine for spots and pimples, but blurs skin if you try smooth patches by stroking, so use it sparingly.
The annotation tools are perhaps the weakest here; the Draw tool only includes a single round brush with various brush sizes and colors but no other brush tips or even shapes to highlight areas (to mark up a web page design, for example). There’s no multi-step Undo either – tapping the hardware Back button wipes everything you’ve drawn. The Text tool is also limited in functionality and doesn’t support backspaces beyond the last-typed word. The stickers are fun though: you can add these to images, resize them and rotate them for a little fun with your photos.
The Meme tool allows you to add two lines of text, one at the top and one at the bottom of your photo to create meme-like images which you can share with friends for a laugh. It’s fun to use, but you’ve got to get the text right in one go or start from scratch – which is mildly annoying.
Aviary comes with 12 built-in effects in the Original pack, most of which I found overwhelmed the image and were therefore unusable. The ones I did like are called Singe, San Carmen and Strato, which offer nice aging and color toning. There are presently three additional effects packs called Grunge, Nostalgia and Viewfinder which you can buy. The Viewfinder pack has some nice effects but it’s a pity you can’t toggle the replica viewfinder graphic elements.
You can layer effects and adjustments on a photo in a single editing session, which is great for adding subtle effects of your own. Try adding a bit of warmth to a black-and-white image, or layer multiple effects on each other for some zany results.
Aviary is perhaps the best photo editing app out there, save for low scores in the effects and annotation departments. The rest of the tools work really well and make the app a must-have for mobile bloggers who need image editing firepower on the move. Plus, Aviary’s SDK is also publicly available so its tools can be baked into any other app if you need them, for free.
It’d be nice to be able to control how much of an effect you apply to a photo and also add sharpness/blur only selectively rather than across the image. I’d also like to see the annotation tools beefed up so I wouldn’t have to rely on Skitch to mark up images. Still, the vast range of tools, the level of control over them and the ease of use make this app a winner. If you’ve been searching for a way to improve your phone photos, look no further than Aviary.