eXtensions - Tuesday 3 December 2019


Cassandra - Tuesday Diversion: Unwelcome Changes - (2) iOS and iPadOS Photos Editing

By Graham K. Rogers


The new iPhone and the latest version of iOS have not been best experiences with Apple products that I have had. Catalina has still not been installed on my MacBook Pro, even though it is working, but with some oddities on my Mac mini. The iPads are working fine, but he triple iPhone setup has left me cold. And then there is Photos

I think that although the changes to the camera setup are significant and are mainly brought about by the overkill of three lenses, most users (I include myself) will be able to deal with this. I will still grumble about the lack of a Square frame, but editing and 645 Pro will help (See Part 1: iPhone 11 Pro Camera). While I have continuing problems with image synchronization (we have been restoring from iCloud for around a month now), editing with the Photos app is another matter.

The previous Photos app was demonstrated to me in June 2015 by some smart Apple people from Australia in a Bangkok city-center hotel. The interfacing was clear and easy to use. It was closely related to the interfaced that was (and still is) available in Photos on the Mac, and that is a part of the weakness of the new app that I have identified.

Photos on the Mac
Editing in Photos on the Mac

The tools were limited, but the scrolling was so easy when making changes to a photograph: sliding the finger over the scrolling panel allowed users to see quick adjustments and select the best levels with the three adjusters, Light, Saturation and Black & White. Each of these had its own specific subset of adjustments so fine-tuning was easy to do, all with scrolling adjustments. And it was almost the same on the Mac, so there was nothing extra to learn with the basic controls.

Earlier Photos app Earlier Photos app Earlier Photos app

Previous Editing in Photos on the iPhone

There were a couple of specific tools that I always thought were needed: White-balance, and Sharpen. If I ever needed these adjustments I would use a 3rd party application, or wait until the image appeared in the Photos Library on the Mac. Needless to say, I was pleased when it was announced earlier this year that these tools (and more) would be included in the Photos app, but the update brought to mind the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for."

Earlier Photos app Earlier Photos app Earlier Photos app

Previous Editing in Photos on the iPhone (note simpler Crop interface)

Photos on iOS 13

The interface on an iPhone or iPad is in 3 main sections: function selectors to the left (Edit, Filters, Crop and Straighten), the edited image in the center, and the controls to the right. Unlike Aperture which has now gone for those with Catalina, or other software like Pixelmator Photo on the iPad, it is not possible to change the position of controls, left for right: bad luck for lefties like me (although I have learned to cope).

Crop and Straighten

Of all the tools in this update to Photos, this has seen some of the best changes. It used to be just a basic crop and straighten tool but some significant extras, like Perspective and Keystone have been included, as well as (at the top of the screen) a Mirror tool. Also at the top of the screen are selectors for image crops, including Original, Freeform, Square, and 6 ratios (e.g 7:5). The interface is similar on the iPad but easier to see and handle.

Photos on the iPad
Crop and Straighten tools in iPadOS 13 Photos


I had never been a lover of filters in Photos on the Mac or the iPhone. However, in the absence of Black & White editing, the user is left with choosing from three monochrome filters (Mono, Silvertone, Noir); or in editing, turning Saturation down to zero and using other tools to adjust the basic image.


Rather than the three options of Light, Saturation and B&W, each with their own fine adjusters, the user now has a wider range of some 16 tools at the bottom of the screen (to the right on the iPad), with a scroll tool. On the smaller screen of an iPhone, it is possible to make a further unwanted adjustment when trying to scroll through the tools selection. I have done this several times. Unlike the previous Photos, there is no obvious weighted mark for reference (apart from 0), so going back to the previously edited setting is guesstimation.

Photos on the iPad
Editing tools in iPadOS 13 Photos

The controls available are Auto, Exposure, Brilliance, Highlights, Shadows, Contrast, Brightness, Black Point, Saturation, Vibrance, Warmth, Tint, Sharpness, Definition, Noise Reduction, and Vignette. These have added to the tools, but were they all necessary and are they as effective as they might be in their current forms?

The simple Black & White controls are sorely missed of course and (as above) the use of filters and Saturation controls do not compensate for the fine-tuning that had been possible, which was particularly useful when editing scanned film negatives. I can of course do this on the Mac or in some of the other apps I have on iOS and iPadOS devices, but the swiftness with which this had been possible has been lost.

Of the new editing tools, Sharpen is most welcome and is quite effective. However the white balance adjuster, Warmth, is not what I was hoping for. The simple slider applies changes to the whole of the image, while the algorithm used in the white balance tool in Photos on the Mac works far better: one step forward, one step back here.

Admittedly some of the RAW images I work on are large (95MB) although this had not been a significant problem before. Images take longer to download from iCloud and then there is a further wait (that has improved slightly with the latest iOS update) while the image is loaded. Saving sometimes crashes the app which means all editing changes are lost.

The older Photos certainly needed some additional tools, especially sharpen, but I question the complete revision of the interface. The simple adjusters worked well, especially on the smaller screens of iPhones and also matched the form of the interface of Photos on the Mac: it was simple to switch from one to the other, and a user would not need to relearn the respective apps, although Photos on the Mac had a wider selection of tools as it should be.

Earlier Photos app Earlier Photos app Earlier Photos app

Editing tools, Filters and Crop/Straighten on iOS 13 Photos

The new complexity on the iPhone especially (and the iPad) is not welcome; and I sorely miss those Monochrome controls. Like the triple lens setup on the iPhone and other recent changes to interfaces (Health for example), there have been too many changes recently that disturb workflow and make it less easy to access the functions used regularly. This is not what I want.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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