How to Improve Your Image(s)

First-Class Photo- & Video-Editing Software

Photo-editing and video-editing software have become easier to use than they were 5 years ago because of faster computers and the ease of touch screens. Meanwhile, hundreds of mobile applications for adding effects and filters to the images that you take by using your smartphone are available on all operating-system platforms.

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Digital-camera lenses no longer are found only on digital cameras. They’re included now on cellphones and tablet computers. So, most of us have more images and videos than ever before.

Just as our concept of a “camera” has expanded, the range of editing software also has widened in the past 5 years. You no longer have the bare-bones choice between complex, expensive software that’s aimed at professionals and basic programs that can’t do much.

Today’s photo- and video-editing software options cover a wide spectrum of editing needs—from programs that allow you to crop and adjust an image on the device itself to software that you load onto your computer that’s capable of erasing any trace of a stray person or other object in a photo with a click. And a whole new category of reasonably priced (and sometimes even free) mobile applications allows you to edit your images right on your smartphone.

EDITING TO GO. Photo-editing apps quickly are increasing to rival their desktop cousins. Adobe even makes a free version of its flagship—and professionally priced—Photoshop, which is called Photoshop Express, that’s designed for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems. Photoshop Express is the only cross-platform, free photo-editing app that we found, which means that you can use the same program on your smartphone or tablet and on your desktop computer or notebook computer. And, unlike the majority of apps, Photoshop Express is easy and intuitive to use for anyone who has used Photoshop or other desktop photo-editing software.

But make no mistake: You still won’t make professional-quality images and videos on your smartphone alone. Apple’s iPhone 4S, which was introduced last October, was the first smartphone (in the United States) that was able to shoot high-definition 1080 video. However, the size of the HD lens still is restricted to the tiny size of the smartphone, so you can’t control the aperture or the width of your shot. You essentially are stuck with whatever you point at and shoot.

Plus, smartphones and tablets regardless of the operating system lack the random access memory (RAM) that’s necessary to run full-fledged photo- and video-editing software. Software needs RAM to hold an image open and add or adjust layers of effects.

Consequently, because of the limi-tations of devices, you should look for an app that has a noise-reduction filter. Noise, which is the grain and speckling that’s always a problem that digital images present, is even more of a concern in smartphone cameras because of the small size of the camera’s light-capturing sensors. A quality app will provide a way to smooth out those flaws and give your images more polish.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell how well a filter will work before you buy an app. We found that most screen shots that we saw in app stores are too small to depict a filter’s effectiveness accurately.

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The problem is that noise-reduction filters are one of the most difficult features for photo-editing developers to perfect.

That’s why you’ll find hundreds of gimmicky filter apps (many of them free) in the Android, Blackberry, iOS and Windows Phone 7 app stores. With a few swipes of your finger, you can transform an image that you took this afternoon into something that looks like it just climbed out of a shoebox that you haven’t opened since 1974.The app-developers with whom we spoke tell us that it’s much easier to develop features that add noise, such as haze, special color tones and border effects, and hide the shortcomings of smartphone cameras than it is to develop features that remove noise.

But in the long run, it would be better for consumers if more developers focused on creating better noise-reduction filters and more traditional editing tools for smartphones.

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