Nik Software releases Snapseed for the Mac - a first review

In case you've missed this: Nik Software just announced the release of Snapseed for the Mac.

I had the pleasure of testing the application during the past few weeks while it was still in beta and I really enjoyed it - well, most of it....

Given the rather low price of $19.99, this latest software release from the creators of Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro targets the amateur photographers who cannot or do not want to spend $200 for "just" a plugin but still want their images to stand out from the crowd.

Here are my thoughts in two versions:

The (very) short version:

If you are a Mac user, love photography but have a tight budget you should consider Snapseed to bring your pictures to the next level. Snapseed has a very good black and white conversion tool quite similar to the Awarded winning Silver Efex Pro. This alone makes it worth to buy it.

The (rather) long version:

If you have been using Snapseed on the iPad you will have no problems at all getting comfortable with the user interface. The startup screen will provide you with a selection of "Basic Adjustments" and "Creative Adjustments".

Main Screen:





If you are using a editing tool like iPhoto or even Lightroom or Aperture you might not need the "Basic Adjustment" panels as you pretty much can do the same modifications right in those applications except for one feature that users of the Nik plugin's will like - Control Points.

Tune Image


The "Tune Image" screen provides you with the infamous "Control Points" that let you adjust brightness, contrast and saturation around resizable circles similar to what a layer mask in Photoshop would do:



Crop and Straighten


The next tool in the "Basic Adjustment" section is the "Crop and Straighten" tool that does just about what you would expect it to do. You can choose between preconfigured aspect ratios or crop it freely. The "Straighten" tool works pretty much like in Lightroom; you just draw a line along your crooked horizon and it will straighten it.



Details


The last item in the "Basic" section is called "Details" and takes care of Sharpness and Details. I did not find it useful at all as you have no control about what to sharpen or more important what NOT to sharpen. I don't recommend using this as it will create noise in areas that you usually don't want to sharpen - like the sky. The sharpening feature in Lightroom 3 is way better.

Now to the better part - the "Creative Adjustments":

1. Black & White


As mentioned above, this feature alone makes it worth spending the money on Snapseed and is a light version of my favorite Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop plugin: Silver Efex Pro 2.
I call it the 2nd best black and white conversion tool available today (right after Silver Efex Pro) that provides you with brightness, contrast and grain sliders. The best feature, though is the "Color Filter" with red, orange, yellow and green filters that will blow your mind.
Here is a short explanation of the different filters and what they do to your black and white images: (Source: http://www.schneiderkreuznach.com)

  • Red filter: Harsh reproduction, intense color deviation, strong cloud formation, good rendering of distance, even with haze.

  • Orange filter: Similar effect as red filter, but not such harsh contrast and fewer color deviation effects.

  • Yellow filter: Functions without color deviation.

  • Green filter: Best for landscapes with a lot of forest and meadows. Creates a contrast between different shades of green.



2. Center Focus


This adjustment panel lets you control the vignetting and blurring effect on the edges of the image. I couldn't find a good use for it and it doesn't suit my personal style - you also have no control over feathering, roundness and midpoint of both the blur and vignetting features.

3. Drama


This panel consists of 3 sliders: Strength, Brightness and Saturation.
What this tool does is adding contrast and details to the picture but I couldn't really find a good use of it as it tends to create haloes around the high contrast edges and adds noise. The effect is similar to the "Tonal Contrast" filter in Color Efex Pro 4 for those who are familiar with that tool but should be used with caution.


4. Frames


Have you ever seen me using frames for my photographs? Nope.

5. Grunge


My first impression was: NFW!
But then I started playing with different images and for certain type of landscape photographs and very subtle settings this might actually work if you like having textures in your pictures. In addition to textures, it also added some blur to the edges of the image that you can move and resize with a control-point but you do not have control over the how much blur to add.



6. Vintage


This tool is pretty much the same as Grunge but without the blurred edges and with more control over the strength of the filter. If you like adding textures to your images, this is the tool to use. If you keep the "Syle Strength" slider to very left and the "Saturation" slider to the very right with brightness in the middle you just get the desired textures (you have a choice of 4) added to the picture without any additional unwanted modifications.



7. Tilt Shift


Last but not least the tilt shift tool which is actually quite useful. I've done a few "fake tilt-shifts" in Photoshop lately and did the same in Snapseed and couldn't really see a big difference expect for the time I spent in both application. You certainly have much more control in Photoshop but for a quick tilt-shift effect, Snapseed has become my tool of choice.



Summary:


I think Snapseed is much better suited for the Mac than for the iPad but this is my personal opinion. I see it as a perfect tool for the amateur photographer who doesn't want to spend a huge amount of time and money to process his/her pictures in Photoshop and plugin's like Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro. For myself, I can see me using it for quick tilt-shift effects, adding textures and even black and white conversions if I don't want to spend time in Silver Efex.

If you are currently using iPhoto to manage and edit your photographs, I highly recommend spending the $19.99 to add Snapseed to your workflow. What I hope Nik Software will do for the next release is to make it useable as a plugin for Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop plus as an external editor in iPhoto. As of now, you will have to use it as a standalone app.