It should come as no surprise that an iPhone app from Adobe, the world's premier imaging-software company, is jam-packed with excellent photo-editing tools that are (mostly) free to use. But don't be misled by the name into thinking of Photoshop Express as a mobile version of the main Photoshop CC program. It's not the killer, do-it-all app that Photoshop is on the desktop. It's more of a selection of very useful photo correction tools. There are other tools (from both Adobe and other publishers) that can do more in the way of fancying up your iPhone photos.
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For more advanced tools such as blur effects and local adjustments, Adobe offers other apps, such as Lightroom Mobile, Mix, and Fix. Like those, Photoshop Express requires a Creative Cloud account for full functionality. This will set you back $9.99 per month. But if you want to get your iPhone photos looking their best without pixel-level manipulation, Photoshop Express is a fine option, though competitor PicsArt offers an even fuller quiver of photo-editing arrows, and both Flickr and Instagram offer lots of photo tools along with established photo-sharing communities.
Photoshop Express is a reasonable 93MB download from the iTunes App Store, and it requires iOS 8.1 or later. I tested on my Apple iPhone 6s. When you first start up the app, it shows you a quick slideshow highlighting its features, and then asks you to sign in to an Adobe account. It's free, and if you prefer, you can bypass this step by tapping the Maybe Later button.
Next it's time to open a photo to work for editing, and you have good choices for source material. You can open any photo in your iPhone's Photos app, snap a picture with the app's basic camera interface, select from your Dropbox or Facebook photos, or open a Creative Cloud image. Of course, the last three options require signing into online accounts.
Working on Pictures
The Photoshop Express interface is clear and elegant, as we've come to expect from Adobe. Once you open a photo, you get six correction tool buttons along the bottom of the screen: Looks, Crop, Corrections, Fix Red Eye, Borders, and Blemish Removal. Looks are what the rest of the world calls filters. I counted 22 free filters, but Creative Cloud subscribers can avail themselves of 20 more, with snazzy options like Cinematic, VignetteGlow, and WhiteMist.
The free Looks are quite impressive, too, with choices of Vibrant, Autumn (along with the rest of the seasons), Invert, and Pastel. You can really do a lot with the free choices, and all of them include a slider control so that you can adjust their intensity. And if the preset Looks aren't enough for you, you can save your own My Looks, after applying whatever adjustments to an image you want.
The Crop tool includes a slider for straightening an off-kilter composition. Preset aspect-ratio choices are extensive. The Facebook Cover Cropping option should particularly be useful for big-time social networkers.
Of the 11 image-adjustment tools available, only two require a Creative Cloud account: Reduce Noise and Defog. Both of those worked well in my testing. The remaining tools that anyone can use include standards like Exposure, Contrast, Temperature, Sharpen, and Tint. But you also get some more arcane fixers that will be familiar to Lightroom users, such as Vibrance, Clarity, Shadows, and Highlights. All of these tools start out making no change to the image; you have to move the slider to see any correction.
If you want the app to guess how the picture should look for you, you can tap the wand-shaped Auto Enhance button. In testing, this usually brightened dark parts of my photos without blowing out the highlights, but it was less successful on images that started out overexposed. Next to the Auto Enhance button is another button that lets you view the original image after you've applied edits, for comparison—a feature I always miss in apps that don't have it.
Something I adore in a photo editing app is the ability to correct not only humans' red eyes, but also those of pets. Photoshop Express doesn't disappoint in this regard. I found a photo of a Golden Retriever with those unnatural blue-green pupils resulting from camera flash, and the app was able to restore the eyes to a natural look. Surprisingly, the tool-richPicsArt doesn't include this.
The app's only other pixel-level correction, the Blemish Removal tool, worked very convincingly with nothing but a tap on the offending spot. For more powerful spot healing tools, however, Creative Cloud members should download the impressive Adobe Fix. PicsArt, too, offers more control over Blemish corrections, along with teeth whitening, tanning, and reshaping.
The app also offers a decent selection of borders and frames, with vignette effects as well as circles, bevels, film edges, and old-fashioned wooden-style frames. Once again, there are a lot more options in PicsArt, but those in Photoshop Express offer plenty of creative leeway but with enough restraint to keep the end product looking tasteful.
Sharing and Output
Happily, when you save your edits, Photoshop Express creates a new copy of the image, rather than overwriting the original. The app doesn't attempt to create its own social universe the way PicsArt, Instagram, and EyeEm do. But you can easily share to Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—as well as to your Creative Cloud online storage, if you're a subscriber.
Phoning In Photoshop
Photoshop Express provides iPhone photographers with excellent, easy-to-use tools for getting photos to look better. You won't find the layers, drawing tools, and text overlays that you'll find in apps like PicsArt, but you can be sure you're getting the state of the art in the corrections and effects Adobe does offer. Photoshop Express is well worth the download, but its requirement of an ongoing Creative Cloud subscription to use all its features, its limited tool set, and its lack of community keep it from joining Instagram, Flickr, and PicsArt as PCMag Editors' Choices for iPhone photo editing apps.