Few people would dispute the near-magical features of Photoshop, as well as ancillary apps like Lightroom and Camera RAW, but there has been criticism about its high subscription fees. However, there are plenty of challengers for the photo editing crown, especially on the Mac.
We take a look at some pretenders to the crown here, and their benefit is chiefly in terms of value for money - most charge one-off purchase prices, rather than monthly subscription fees, and some are ridiculously inexpensive considering what they offer.
Adobe, on the other hand, charges an arm and a leg. True, you can get just Photoshop and Lightroom for around £120/US$120 per year via the Photography subscription, but even this is considered by many to be a form of extortion.
Generally speaking, there are two categories of apps reviewed here: actual image editors, and image processors. The latter category includes apps designed to take images straight from a camera and improve them by fixing things like distortions introduced by lenses, or correct colour balance.
Some might include basic image editing tools, but they're not about unbridled creativity like the actual editing apps, which typically offer toolbars offering direct image-editing tools.
Many image-processing apps focus on improving RAW files, which is the data taken straight from the camera's image sensor prior to any processing taking place within the phone or camera itself. This offers the most scope for improvement because as much of the image data as possible is present and none has yet been discarded or manipulated.
For this group test we were only interested in professional products aimed at the photo editor who needs power and flexibility. But if you're looking to pay even less than this and can compromise on features, take a look at our roundup of the best free & cheap photo editors for Mac.
1. Affinity Photo
Despite being in no way connected with Adobe, there's a strong whiff of Photoshop about Affinity Photo. This is, of course, no bad thing - especially considering that Affinity Photo's one-off price of just under £50/US$50 is massively cheaper than anything Adobe offers.
In fact, Affinity Photo can be forever yours for the equivalent of less than half a year's subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography package.
Although Affinity Photo might be priced at a level where amateurs can snap it up, its makers are keen to stress a professional feature set. You get CMYK and Lab colour space support, for example, which is a necessity when working accurately in the print design industry.
RAW image support is built in, with support for all modern cameras, and the app claims the best support for Photoshop's ubiquitous .psd file format outside of Photoshop itself.
If anything it feels as if Affinity Photo is a cousin of Adobe Photoshop, in that it looks kinda similar, and you'll find the everyday useful functions found in Photoshop.
However, Affinity Photo occupies its own branch of the family tree, with its own idiosyncrasies and useful features that might cause its Adobe relative to look on enviously.
First among these, and vital for any Photoshop switcher to learn, is the concept of Personas. Essentially, these switch Affinity Photo between various operating modes, which means a different toolbar, menu options and side panels.
Arguably the two you'll spend most time using are the Photo persona, which offers access to the main toolkit, and the Develop persona, which is designed for the pre-processing and trivial adjustment of RAW images (although it can also be used for any image file format).
The other personas of Liquify and Export are self-explanatory, although Tone Mapping requires some explanation and lets you play around with the image tone, brightness, exposure, shadows, highlights, curves and more to produce some interesting one-click filters.
Essentially, the Tone Map component is like a DIY Instagram filter tool and if you're the kind of person who likes to make their snaps look like washed-out 1970s film then you'll be in seventh heaven.
Affinity Photo's layers feature is also different to Photoshop because just about any adjustment or filter can exist as its own layer. You might add a curves adjustment on its own layer, for example, and a denoise filter as another. The benefit is that you can then edit any of what Affinity Photo calls "pixel" layers containing the actual image data without having to abandon these edits.
When browsing through Affinity Photo's toolbar and menu options it's easy to feel like a child in a sweet shop.
Particularly impressive is the Inpainting brush tool. Just draw over an object you want to remove from a picture - an irritating tourist, for example, or a telegraph line - and Affinity Photo will magically remove it.
This can also be used to restore parts of an image that are missing - for example, removing a tear within a scanned-in photograph. Inpainting works extremely well, to the extent that it might actually be some kind of voodoo.
Then there's the stacks tool that lets you combine several shots of the same subject or scene, automatically aligning them and letting you merge them into one composite photo in interesting ways.
To get an idea of what you'll find in Affinity Photo, we recommend you take a look at the video tutorials, all of which last just a few minutes. Some hugely impressive stuff is possible.
Indeed, it's almost impossible to criticise Affinity Photo but, if forced, we'd suggest that it's a little too biased towards creating new images, or making significant adjustments to existing ones.
It really is a power tool. Although Affinity Photo can indeed make subtle tweaks, just like any image editor, doing so feels like you're using a Bugatti Veyron to go to Sainsbury's. Competitor image editors like Photoshop or Pixelmator somehow manage to hide away all their power unless you specifically seek it out, which is curiously user-friendly.
With an asking price of just £48.99/$49.99, Affinity Photo is a bona fide bargain. For semi-pro and even pro-level editing it really is a competitor for Adobe Photoshop.
Affinity Photo is available now on the Mac App Store.
Pixelmator has a lot of fans in the Mac world, where its combination of amazing value for money plus extensive feature list makes it the most likely candidate for a swap-in Photoshop replacement.
In fact, it's hard not to notice the influence of Adobe's product when working within Pixelmator. You'll certainly find most of the key tools that have proven useful across the decades, and all within an interface that looks beautiful and fits in entirely with the macOS aesthetic. The integration with macOS is more than skin-deep - Pixelmator also uses macOS's underlying CoreImage and OpenGL technologies, meaning the results appear virtually instantaneously when you're applying effects or even making heavy edits.
This is not to say that every tool you might be used to is present in Pixelmator. For example, while Clone and Heal tools are present, there's no Patch tool, or Context-Aware Move tool, or History Brush. There are actually quite a few other omissions that come apparent the more you use Pixelmator. Depending on your level of image-editing sophistication, these absences might be annoying.
Similarly, when it comes to filter tools you typically don't get a huge number of options for each beyond a slider to control the strength of the effect. This is nearly often all you need, though - aside from those moments when you're looking for that little extra creative freedom.
However, none of this is not an accident. Pixelmator keeps things simpler than Adobe's effort, and it also lacks the legacy requirement to make older users feel at home by keeping obscure sliders and switches in place. This means that Pixelmator has found a home with amateur and semi-pro image editors who use it occasionally, rather than daily. It's also popular amongst people who create original art, with an extendable and easy-to-use brush tool.
It's hard to overemphasise the simplicity of the interface. Want to adjust the levels of the current layer? Just find the Levels thumbnail within the Effects Browser window, and drag it on top of the image window (or double-click it). Then adjust the sliders in the dialog box that appears. Want to remove a zit from your model's face? Just click the Heal tool on the toolbar, and then draw over the blemish.
Although there might be the most marginal of learning curves, if you've used any other image editor over the last 20 years then there's nothing disruptive in Pixelmator.
Alas, there are some notable weaknesses. Although it's compatible with the same extensive list of RAW image files as macOS, it can only open them for editing just like it would a JPEG or TIFF. In other words, Pixelmator is not a RAW image processor. You can't easily correct for notable camera defects, for example, because the image has already been processed in order to render it within Pixelmator and some data lost during the process.
Amongst some of its most notable omissions compared to Photoshop, Pixelmator also lacks a history browser, so you can't see what edits you've already made and switch back to an earlier one - although you can, of course, simply keep hitting Cmd+Z to undo your recent changes.
Sadly, the omissions listed above definitely nudge Pixelmator into the enthusiast rather than pro category. To use it daily for pro-level image manipulation will lead to regularly pushing against its limitations. Nonetheless the folks behind Pixelmator remain committed to the product and very responsive to the needs of users. Version 3.7 as reviewed here is perhaps the first third-party image editor to support the HEIF image format, as introduced with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra.
You can get Pixelmator from the Mac App Store.
3. DxO OpticsPro for Photos
Most people are likely to recognise DxO for its DxOMark website, which reviews camera and lenses, including phone cameras such as the iPhone 8 Plus. However, the company also makes its own phone camera add-on module, the DxO One, and amongst professional and semi-pro photographers its triumvirate of image editing apps are even better known.
DxO FilmPack aims to reintroduce the "magic of analog film", while DxO ViewPoint specialises in fixing lens distortions. But it's DxO Optics Pro that offers the most creative freedom when working with images, and offers an extensive image processing toolkit.
With a tagline of "Reveal the RAW emotion", there can be little doubt where the 'focus' of DxO Optics Pro lies (excuse the pun). While RAW image data can vary between models, DxO Optics Pro supports over 300 cameras (plus over 950 lenses), and the DxO Optics Module Library ensures that new models are easily supported and downloaded automatically upon demand. For RAW file formats that don't allow the saving of image tweaking metadata, DxO Optics Pro uses its own 'sidecar' file format. This means you'll end-up with two files post-editing. However, DxO Optics Pro is also compatible with the popular Adobe DNG raw format for compatibility with other apps (with a handful of minor provisos), and this does allow the combination of RAW and image metadata.
Notably, DxO Optics Pro isn't just about RAW images, and can handle JPEG too, although this will mean some features aren't available.
The DxO Optics Pro interface is the fashionable black colour that evidently all image editing apps must use nowadays. The image you're working on sits in the middle of the window, while to the left and the right are docked palettes offering image tweaking controls. Each palette can be expanded or contracted by double-clicking, although you need to be quick because in our tests often the app interpreted the initial click as a desire to move the palette. These palettes contain a range of controls that can be mixed and matched via clicking and dragging from one palette to another, and new controls can be added by clicking the menu icon at the right of the palette. Palettes can also be dragged away from the left or right of the screen to become floating windows. There's certainly a lot of flexibility in how you organise the screen, and you can save any arrangement via the Workspaces menu.
The bottom of the screen shows the contents of the project folder you have opened for editing, but this can be shrunk by dragging the divider, or even eliminated entirely if you don't want it.
Upon opening any image for the first time, DxO Optics Pro will automatically correct any lens distortion based on the aforementioned camera and lens profiles. This can be overridden using the Distortion tool within the Geometry palette, although we didn't find it necessary to do so in our tests. Other tools let you correct chromatic aberration and fix any lens softness.
Although there are a great many tools on offer to correct all kinds of lighting and colour issues, DxO Optics Pro's biggest shout-outs revolve around its noise reduction (DxO Prime), clever one-click light adjustment (DxO Smart Lighting), and its ability to remove haze (DxO Clear View). All are intended to be easy to use, with very few settings to adjust.
DxO Prime is the rather confusing name given to the noise reduction feature ("prime" usually indicates a type of lens, of course), although there's also a HQ (Fast) version of noise reduction too - and this is present for those who might get frustrated waiting a number of seconds for Prime to do its magic each time you drag the image to focus on a different area. This was evident even on the relatively powerful 2.8GHz quad-core i7-powered Mac used during testing. However, DxO Prime has a huge appreciation within the photography world, where its ability to rescue high-ISO grainy images is almost legendary. In our tests it worked very well, retaining image data without too much blurring, and it's certainly going to be better than the version of noise reduction built into any camera.
DxO Smart Lighting had a similarly magical effect, somehow giving the image the appearance of having been shot in entirely different lighting conditions. This primarily works on the basis of detecting faces in the images and optimising the image for them. Glancing at the histogram before and after applying the effect shows not too much data is lost, which is admirable.
DxO Clear View did indeed cut through haze in photographs, although perhaps needs to be used judiciously because it can also increase the contrast.
There's a lot to like in DxO Optics Pro. Our complaints are slight and revolve around the time taken to process the image when dragging it around while zoomed, as one example. Typically this was a couple of seconds, and on slower computers might be even longer. Additionally, there doesn't appear to be a zoom tool for quick zooming in and out, with the maximum zoom level capped at 200% too.
Outside of the world of Adobe apps, DxO Optics Pro's nearest competition is Capture One Pro (see below), but DxO Optics Pro is much cheaper and a lot easier to use too, relying largely on one or two sliders within each tool for the sake of simplicity. True, you don't get the incredible control over fine details that you do with Capture One Pro, but do you really need it? For simply pushing your RAW images so that you (relatively) quickly get the best out of them, DxO Optics Pro is a winner.
You can get DxO Optics Pro from the Mac App Store.
4. CyberLink PhotoDirector 9
PhotoDirector 9 is something of a dark horse because, initially, you might notice only its organizing and sharing features. However, dig a little deeper and you'll find powerful tools for editing images, despite the app avoiding a toobar-style approach and mostly eschewing the use of Photoshop-style pen/brush tools.
Launch the program and you'll find it's split into six sections. "Library" is where you import, view, rate, tag and generally organise your photos. There are plenty of time-saving tools on hand (face tagging, the ability to exclude duplicates when importing), but it's all very straightforward and easy to use.
The "Adjustment" section provides manual and fully automatic tweaks for colour, white balance, tone, sharpness and more, as well as crop and rotate tools, various healing brushes and a red-eye remover. The Manual tab offers slider-based control, including a histogram, while the Presets selection lets you click to apply readymade filters. For many this could be the main working area within PowerDirector 9, because you can adjust levels and curves, and make adjustments like lens corrections. These tools aren't token efforts either, because most tools offer a great deal of specific control via sliders.
However, the "Edit" tab ramps up the creative possibilities with a range of more powerful tools. The People Beautifier provides options to whiten teeth, remove wrinkles, perhaps reshape your subjects for a more slimline look. The program can remove unwanted objects from pictures, automatically filling in the background. There's a bracket HDR tool, panorama creator, filters, frames, a watermarking tool, and more.
New to PhotoDirector 9 is the ability to work with 360 degree images, and a lot of power is on offer. However, it can get very 'clicky' as you work through each of the options, which are arranged as a menu-like list on the side of the screen, and we longed for a more intuitive toolbar-approach.
The "Layers" tab supports up to 100 layers per photo, which you can manipulate with various tools (Pen/ Eraser/ Add Shape/ Text/ Selection/ Fill/ Gradient) and 14 blending modes.
When you're finished your work, the Create section helps turn your photos into a video file, or a slideshow you can share directly on YouTube. The Print tab provides a great deal of control over any printouts you might want to make, and your projects can freely be saved and shared online via CyberLink's Cloud Services (you get 20GB free for one year).
Enhanced RAW support means the program can handle more file formats than ever, and 100+ lens profiles allows it to automatically fix a host of common lens flaws.
Positioned firmly in the semi-pro area, PhotoDirector 9 takes a fresh approach that means it's packed with features but operates unlike most other apps reviewed here. Rather than take a tool-based approach, the app prefers to walk you through tweaks and edits. You can almost certainly achieve the same things as you might with something like Photoshop - and perhaps more, such as the ability to tweak 360 degree photos - but it can be a little frustrating getting used to the app and finding where everything lives.
You can get PhotoDirector 9 from Cyberlink here.
5. Capture One Pro 10
The price of Capture One Pro 10 - €279 for up to three computers - indicates we're in professional territory, an assumption backed up by the all-black user interface (somebody somewhere clearly decided that grey or white just weren't serious enough for pro-level Mac apps). Capture One Pro's professional chops are also emphasised by the fact it's made by Phase One, a company that manufactures seriously high-end camera systems - although it's important to note that Capture One Pro is designed to work with images produced by the majority of DSLRs regardless of manufacturer.
The app describes itself as an asset manager and RAW converter and, in translation, this means it can catalogue your images á la Photos or the older Aperture, and also specialises in readying RAW images for consumption by other apps like layout software or even rival image editors. Capture One Pro boasts that it's compatible with the RAW image output of more than 400 cameras.
There are two ways to import images into Capture One Pro.
The first is to create a session. This is intended to be a quick and dynamic way of dealing with images straight from a camera. You can prune out the duds, for example, and apply tweaks to those you'd like to keep. Notably, a session lets you create several different file types in addition to an original. You might decide to output some high-res TIFFs for emailing to a client, for example, and a lower-res set for uploading to Facebook.
Once you've settled on the images you want to keep, you can move them into Capture One Pro's second type of image library, which is referred to as a catalogue. This is intended to be a more permanent home for your images, although you can still do things like edit images if you wish - and indeed, you can entirely ignore the session function if you wish and import straight from the camera into a catalogue.
When it comes to image editing, Capture One Pro is about polishing the diamond. It expects you, as a professional photographer, to be importing images that you're already broadly happy with because you spent time thinking about the likes of composition, focusing and lighting out in the real word.
In other words, you won't find in Capture One Pro tools like clone or heal brushes because the app isn't interested in helping you turn a mundane image into something interesting, or creating an entirely new image via compositing several imaged together or applying a filter. For that kind of thing you'll need a tool like Adobe Photoshop.
However, if your image isn't perfectly exposed, or features chromatic aberration (distortions created by the lens), or has some other annoying fault unavoidable when the image was captured, then Capture One Pro can help. The folks behind it describe it as the most precise tool you'll find but this won't really mean much unless you've had your screen and output devices properly calibrated.
Capture One Pro's tools are unique in design and function to reflect this accuracy. As just one example of many, Capture One Pro is massively more advanced than simply swiping a slider to boost saturation. Here you get a pie chart of the colour spectrum and can click within it, and then adjust smoothness, hue, saturation and lightness of just that individual colour.
You can really dig down into details to get the image perfect, although if you're switching from a competitor product then there will certainly be a learning curve (a great many guides are provided to alleviate this).
Again, some of the editing tools anticipate working with RAW images. It's not possible to use the lens correction tools on a JPEG file, for example. These let you fix the likes of distortion and chromatic aberration caused by certain lenses. However, in addition to tweaks, Capture One Pro also includes high-dynamic range adjustment and vignetting, that can be used to add viewer focus to an image.
Rather usefully, Capture One Pro lets you connect your Mac directly to your camera to capture images, which studio photographers will appreciate. Indeed, this is where Capture One Pro makes most sense because as soon as an image is captured, a photographer can fully evaluate it and see what scope there is for improvement.
Capture One Pro exists to help those serious about photography create workflows that let them quickly eke the most from professional-grade images, as well as provide a permanent home for them. It has the feel of a reliable and sturdy tool - a kind of De Walt of the image editing world - and we doubt you'll find anything more powerful. However, the sheer number of controls and the subtle degrees of adjustments can feel like a labyrinth.
For the more casual day-to-day image editor - and for pretty much anybody beneath scrupulous professionals who need to ensure perfect images - it's actually quite hard to recommend Capture One Pro. If nothing else, the price is high and you'll need top-end colour-matched equipment to even begin to get the best out of it.
Capture One Pro is available from Phase One here.
6. Acorn 6
There's a theory that most popular apps used today, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, reached their zenith a decade or two ago. Since then the folks behind them have been packing in new features but ultimately it's a game of diminishing returns and, for most users, the apps are as good as they ever were.
In many ways Acorn feels and even looks like a snapshot of Photoshop all that time ago - with a selection of the more modern and useful Photoshop tools mixed in too. You get all the tools that made Photoshop so damned useful in the first place, such as levels and curves to adjust an image's brightness/contrast, as well masking and layers, and various filters - not to mention a toolbar with standard brush and selection options.
All of these are indispensable when editing images. However, while you avoid the modern-day cruft, you also miss out on the rare useful innovations that have come along, like the heal and patch tools, or advanced selection tools that let you select by colour range, amongst other things. If you make heavy use of these then their absence in Acorn can be frustrating.
Early in our testing of Acorn we encountered a strange issue whereby drawing tools (including the clone tool) were very laggy and slow to the point where they were essentially unusable. For example, attempting to draw a curve would instead draw an angled line. Other tools within the app, such as filters, worked fine and were applied speedily.
The app comes with a free two-week trial and we'd advise you to make use of that before purchase to ensure your system doesn't suffer from this issue, which is almost certainly a bug, and our earlier tests a year or two ago of Acorn 4 didn't have this issue.
(Flying Meat, the makers of Acorn, got in touch on 27 Jan 2018 to tell us the slowdown is "caused by issues in [macOS] 10.13, and we've got fixes in 6.0.4, as well as a complete solution in 6.1 which should be out soonish.")
As you might expect some tools are not where you'd expect if switching from Photoshop. To adjust the colour saturation and vibrancy of an image, for example, you'll need to use an entry on the Filters > Color Adjustment menu. Additionally, effects and filters are applied as soon as you select and adjust them, without the need for an intermediate stage wherein you click the Apply or Cancel buttons. However, within 5 or 10 sessions using Acorn you'll get used to this.
Acorn is also a capable drawing tool should you want to create artwork from scratch. There's a brush designer tool, as well as the ability to import brushes designed for Photoshop. The shape generator tool does exactly what it says on the tin.
Despite Acorn's somewhat retro feel there's support for RAW images in that the app uses OS X's own import filters, which are actually pretty comprehensive in their inclusion of most makes and models. Images are opened in a special RAW import window that lets you adjust things like exposure and colour temperature, although notably missing are any tools to correct for lens distortions, as you'll find with most RAW processing apps. Once you click OK the image is then opened in the main Acorn editing area, after which you can save it out in the usual file formats - but not, alas, as a RAW image.
If you're one of those people who long for the days when software was simple and kept out of the way then Acorn is for you. The price is pretty competitive too. However, it's hard for us to commend Acorn when something like Affinity Photo or Pixelmator offer substantially more image editing flexibility and power, yet are also still easily within the budget of professional or enthusiast users. Ultimately, Acorn is very good, but its competition is simply better.
Acorn is available from the Mac App Store.
7. GIMP 2.8
GIMP has historically been problematic on the Mac platform for several reasons.
The first is that it's non-native, which is to say, GIMP is really a port of a Linux/Unix app. This is true of many open-source applications, of which GIMP is one, and it certainly feels more at home on something like Linux. On macOS it looks alien and its interface feels overly complicated. However, this issue can easily be overlooked once familiarity builds, especially if the feature set makes it worthwhile.
But this leads us directly to the second reason why GIMP is problematic: GIMP has always seemingly promised a powerful alternative to Photoshop, but the reality has always been that GIMP isn't a clone of Photoshop and nor does it want to be. GIMP recreates many of the tools found in Photoshop, but the developers behind GIMP see absolutely no reason to mirror Photoshop's way of doing things. As an open-source project, GIMP hasn't any desire to pretend to be commercial software.
Take something as elementary as selecting an area of the image and then moving it. In Photoshop you would use any of the selection tools, then switch to the Move tool, and then drag. Job done.
In GIMP you use a selection tool and then, without switching to another tool, hold down Shift+Alt (Option)+Cmd and drag to create a floating selection layer. GIMP's help file explains a selection layer is "a type of temporary layer which is similar in function to a normal layer, except that before you can resume working on any other layers in the image, a floating selection must be anchored".
It can all be a little baffling and this is a shame because GIMP has a truly tantalising feature set.
It's true that in recent releases Photoshop has edged ahead with the likes of near-magic tools like context-aware fill, but GIMP does a neat impression of Photoshop maybe five years ago. In terms of brush-style tools you'll find a heal tool, for example, although this requires you to Cmd+click to define an origin point from which a sample can be taken (yes, there is also a clone tool that works in the same way).
And when it comes to the likes of layers and/or masks, you're going to find everything you're used to within Photoshop - and in all likelihood, some more besides. It's just that you might have to hunt to find it, and then will probably have to train yourself to use it when you do.
GIMP on the Mac is pretty slow. Applying filters like a blur to an image take several seconds to complete, for example. Sometimes it can seem like GIMP has crashed, especially when tweaking settings in dialog boxes. In reality the app is just working and the interface has become unresponsive while it does so. However, this performance is much better than the last time we reviewed GIMP, when it was simply unacceptable and rendered GIMP virtually useless. At least now GIMP is a usable app, albeit potentially frustrating if you hate waiting around.
There were also a handful of glitches here and there. Selecting presets in some dialog boxes caused their name not to appear, although the preset was indeed selected. This is confusing although something it's arguably possible to live with. Additionally, clicking the OK button in some dialogs did nothing although hitting Enter was sufficient to "click" them. These kind of bugs are commonplace in open source software, unfortunately, especially those apps ported from another platform.
Despite the somewhat negative tone of this review, there's much to recommend GIMP - especially if you literally can't afford to spend any money but still need genuine image editing power above and beyond applying silly filters to images. We're grateful GIMP exists simply for this reason.
Indeed, you'll find people who swear by GIMP. These people typically have a few characteristics.
Firstly, prior to the GIMP they'd rarely if ever used an image editing application, so were essentially blank slates uninfluenced by the world of Adobe. More importantly, these individuals put in the hard work to learn how to use GIMP. We reckon it'll take about a month of occasional use to become competent and relaxed enough to actually enjoy using GIMP. And if you can do that then, bugs and lacklustre performance set aside, GIMP can become an incredibly powerful bit of software.
8. Fotor Photo Editor
Apparently, the BBC has claimed Fotor Photo Editor is "lite Photoshop", so we found ourselves having to include here in our roundup. The fact it's free of charge made us even more eager.
So, is this a Photoshop clone? Or even a Photoshop wannabe? Nope. Not even close on either count. However, there are some powerful tools built in that belie the free price tag, and considered for what it actually is - which is an image tweaker and improver like those countless apps for your iPhone - then it's actually very good. But it is to Photoshop what a ZX Spectrum is to the iMac Pro - a relative, perhaps, but laughably not in the same league.
The main difference between Fotor Photo Editor and Photoshop are that the later uses a toolbar and layers approach, offering tools that let you directly work on the image - cloning out a stray hair on a model's face, for example, or lightening a patch of clothing using the dodge tool. Fotor Photo Editor, by contrast, only lets you apply effects and edits to the entire image. There isn't even a selection tool, and you can forget about things like layers.
However, don't think Fotor Photo Editor is basic. Click on the Adjust icon and there's curves and levels tools. Elsewhere there's vertical and horizontal distort tools that can help fix perspective too.
But there's no getting away from the fact that, for the most part, Fotor Photo Editor takes its inspiration from apps like Snapheal. In other words, one-click filters and fixes are the order of the day.
Often these produce terrific results, and can certainly make for striking images, but it's less about subtle corrections and more about making something stylish for your Facebook wall or Instagram feed. Most if not all filters have only one adjustment slider to alter the level of intensity although a handful did catch our eye, including Bokeh, which introduces subtle and attractive lens leakage into the image.
Rather irritatingly, several very useful features require you upgrade to Fotor Pro. If you don't then a watermark is placed over the image when you use the tool in question. Upgrading costs £11.49 per year, or £3.99 if you want to pay monthly, but until you pony up the cash then rather useful tools such as noise reduction, lens correction, defogging and HSL adjustment remain out of bounds.
Whether you'd want to spent £11.49 on an app like this is questionable, especially if you're looking for high-level image correction and editing. Although Pixelmator is nearly three times the price, it still comes in at less than £30, and that's a one-off payment that means you can keep the app for life.
9. Movavi Photo Editor for Mac
Adobe Lightroom along with the now-deceased Aperture app showed that there’s space in the pro-grade image-editing marketplace for apps that offer quick fix solutions, whether that’s to correct trivial errors like less-than-perfect exposure, or to do things like subtly adjust an image’s overall histogram plot.
Of course, there are many Mac image editing apps of a one-click nature out there, but typically they’re aimed at the lower-end of the market. Movavi Photo Editor has one foot in this camp but has some tools that could make it a useful installation for professionals.
Chief amongst them is Object Removal, which lets you define an area of the image that will then be magically removed. Everything from facial blemishes to telegraph wires to photobombing seagulls can be eradicated by using the provided brush tool to draw over the object, although there's also lasso and magic wand selection tools for this purpose. The end results are impressive provided you make good use of the Variation slider to avoid the tool becoming too aggressive (or tame). There’s also a standard clone brush tool to fix any mistakes, or indeed remove objects manually if you wish.
Alas, the second big hitter within the app - Background Removal - was less impressive in our tests. This supposedly isolates a subject from its background, and requires you do define not only the object you want to keep, but also the background you wish to remove. Results in our tests were akin to somebody who’s new to Photoshop using the lasso selection tool to cut something out - messy and very likely to be unusable. We're sure if you spend time zooming in and finely defining the object and its background then you might have better results but if we have that kind of time and energy available for editing then we'd fire up a "proper" image editor like Photoshop instead.
The tools under the Retouching tab unfortunately aren't much better. In theory they offer a variety of simple yet effective tools to improve an image, especially when it comes to portrait pictures. For example, you can remove the shine from cheeks, and even iron out wrinkles. Unfortunately, many of these options turned out to be simple brush tools that had no intelligence built in. Using the Lip Color tool simply attempted to apply a colour tint to where we clicked within the image, for example, and if we strayed beyond the lips then Movavi Photo Editor simply didn't realise and coloured the skin a different colour too. Again, we’re not sure what this offers above and beyond using a "proper" image editor.
Other tools provided with Movavi Photo Editor include the usual sliders to adjust brightness, exposure, sharpness, and so on, as well as the ability to rotate, crop, and resize. There's a number of filters but these are no better (or worse) than you’ll find in most Instagram-style apps, and it’s hard to imagine a professional ever using them. We noticed that some of them took several seconds to be applied, too, which is unacceptable.
There might be promise in this Movavi Photo Editor’s one-click approach but it's not there yet. Its price puts in the same bracket as the likes of Pixelmator or Affinity Photo, both of which are simply several times more impressive and useful, and are to be recommended instead.