Photoshop Touch Impressions
By Kyle Sanders
Packing the camera bag for a family vacation is a cruel exercise in survival of the fittest, as gear that takes too long to set up or too much space simply will not make the cut. I was going out on a limb to bring a new toy like PS Touch along when you are with folks as social and restless as my group, but in the end I was quite satisfied.
My experience with Photoshop is from a graphic design background where we would do extensive editing beyond the realm of retouching. I prefer photography that appears natural by relying more on physical filters rather than post production ones, however I have come to accept that for some instances a bracketed image and gradient masks can be better than a neutral gradient filter. My other barrier is the time investment that is required: once you sit down at a computer it never takes “just five minutes”, I want to spend my hobby time behind a lens, not a keyboard. For this experiment I will be shooting to an Eye-Fi card, directly transferring to my Samsung Galaxy 10.1, editing and then publishing to various social media venues as I went.
To be clear, I am not a fan of “hipster filters” such as you would find in Instagram or Picasa – if I wanted my photos to say “RVP” on the top, I would shoot on Fuji Velvia. PS Touch would need to do much more! Minimum expectations where for the software to have 3+ layers with some sort of graduate a transparency, hue adjustments as well as levels or curves adjustments. Functional requirements aside, I also expect for the app to have a reasonable file management system as well as quick and intuitive user interface design. My plan is to preview and select the day’s top images, edit, and then publish them all while reasonably engaged in the social atmosphere of the trip.
Photoshop Touch has one particularly nasty limitation that was nearly a deal breaker for me: maximum image size of 1024×1024. I went back and forth between the capabilities of this and the maximum image size of Nik software’s Snapseed right up until the day before the trip. With no Android support in sight, and the acceptance that web publishing is never going to need 18mp, it was pretty much settled – then the good news that there was an update allowing a new maximum resolution of 2048 pixels per side.
The key to this entire exercise was that I could take pictures, edit them and then publish them without touching a computer, as even to having to simply download and transfer the pictures with a laptop would have made this moot. Gradient Fade really did act like a layer mask on the full fledged version of PS. This allowed me to use bracketing as an after-the-fact neutral graduated filter. Curves worked better than expected, both in ease of use and technical performance. This transformation could recover detail from blown out skies much better than I had anticipated. Layer duplication was an unexpected boon, as when combined with the above mentioned curves tool I could edit different regions of a photo to different effects, combining them with fades. Layers have a non-permanent transparency setting, allowing me to tweak a layer for effect, then dial it down in opacity to taste. The User Interface is a thing of beauty. Snappy responses combined with logical placement of tools and effects made editing quick and efficient.
2048×2048 maximum resolution is not easy to overlook. I understand that tablets simply do not have the RAM to handle 10 layers of D800e images, but it is a tough pill to swallow. Alignment of multiple images is nearly impossible – if you are overlapping images, use a tripod. Cropping an image at an angle to correct improper leveling is less than ideal, avoid this if at all possible. This mobile version of Photoshop will remedy your sloppy shooting far less than the full version!
Load times of images and some filters are long for a mobile app, but forgive able when you consider what it is doing. This is not an app that you can switch back and forth between at whim. If you are an iPad person, this may not even seem unusual, but with Android I have become accustom to changing music or reading messages as easily as you would on a desktop. If you do switch applications from and back to Photoshop Touch, it would often reload the app, meaning all work from the last save point was lost.
The User Interface does have a few quirks, such as saving on exit as opposed to at will. These are more idiosyncrasies rather than deal breakers.
Photoshop Touch is a compelling tool if you want to have a photographic workflow that is independent of a computer. It is capable and nimble enough in the effort required to use as well as its results. If the 2048 pixel size is a limitation to you, perhaps a mobile based workflow would not be precise enough anyways. I prefer dual 22″+ monitors for client work, so an iPad or Android table will be small even in the form factor. Editing a bit each evening allowed me to pace myself, as opposed to a multi-hour Photoshop session once I returned home at the end of the trip. Using a tablet as opposed to a laptop not only let me be more social by working wherever I wanted to (realistically, it is difficult to use a trackpad for photo editing on a laptop in your lap), but it also is less closed off to other family members. We all spend enough hours of our week sequestered in cubicles and behind keyboards to pay the bills, so I do not want to fill my personal time with the same activity.