Snapseed – The Awesome iOS Image Editor Comes to the Mac

A while ago I introduced Snapseed to the readers of iPhone.Appstorm and Apple honored the photo editing app with the App of Year 2011 award. For good reason: Snapseed took full leverage of the intuitive gestures on mobile devices and made editing a breeze.

Now Snapseed is available for the Mac and of course the question arises: does the app stay true to it’s clean interface and ease of use? I have taken Snapseed for a ride and will let you know after the break if the experience for Mac users is as awesome as it is on mobile devices.

Hello Familiar Interface

Those of you who have been enjoying Snapseed on their mobile devices will be happy to find that the Mac application looks just like it. Those of you who are new to the app will have a really easy start because everything is minimalistic and quite fast to understand.

Welcome to Snapseed for Mac

Welcome to Snapseed for Mac

Adding a photo is a matter of a single drag & drop. That’s the most convenient way, but of course you can always go through the File menu as well.

Snapseed plays nice with all standard image formats. I went a step further and threw RAW formats from DSLR’s at it (.nef and .cr2) and it handled those perfectly as well.

The main part of the app is dedicated to show your photo with all adjustment options neatly arranged in a left pane. Don’t be put off about “only 10” buttons to press; there are a lot more options once you’ve selected an adjustment. I think that’s one of the strengths of Snapseed: not throwing everything at you at once but showing you only what you need at a particular moment.

Speaking of seeing only what you need: by pressing the spacebar you can zoom into your image instantly. A navigator window appears and lets you find your way around quickly.

Zoom into any image and navigate through the extra navigator window

Zoom into any image and navigate through the extra navigator window

Working with Basic Adjustments

Before we dive into creative manipulation, let us take care of the most basic things that can already help improve your image. Selecting any of three options brings up a more detailed pane of settings. If applicable, Snapseed will provide you with a number of presets which can be applied with a single click. Or you can use the sliders to manipulate the effect to your liking.

Whenever you chose a preset or use the sliders, the effect will be applied to the entire image. But what if you want to have the effect only on a specific part of the image? That’s where Snapseed steps up: by adding a control point (or multiple points) in the Tune Image section, you can specify exactly where an effect gets applied.

Add control points for targeted adjustments

Add control points for targeted adjustments

A white circle will appear on your image and you can do all the things which the help screen above details: adjust brightness, contrast and saturation by simply clicking on the respective tiny button and sliding right and left. Furthermore, you can adjust the area that will be affected – and when you resize it, a red overlay will show you where the effect will be applied.

See the area the adjustment will affect

See the area the adjustment will affect

Get Creative

Once you’ve made all the basic adjustments it’s time to get creative. Snapseed offers seven settings:

  • Black and White: convert your image to b/w and apply color filters to achieve different effects
  • Center Focus: blur parts of the image to focus the eyes of the viewer on a certain spot
  • Drama: liven up any image
  • Frames: present your image the right way
  • Grunge: use textures to distort your image
  • Vintage: apply filters to age your image
  • Tilt-Shift: change the perspective by adding depth

Let’s take a closer look at some effects. Take the first, b/w. It will drain your image of all color. That in itself can already help to bring the message of your photo across. But when you use color filters, the corresponding colors of the image will be enhanced, even in b/w mode and you can achieve some amazing changes.

Apply b/w effects and adjust them with color overlays

Apply b/w effects and adjust them with color overlays

When you get to Center Focus, you might ask yourself: what is the difference between this effect and tilt-shift? After all, they both blur parts of the image. With Center Focus, you blur everything outside the defined space evenly. You can also add a vignette (darkening towards the photo edges) to strengthen the effect.

Focus in on something and apply vignettes

Focus in on something and apply vignettes

But as is quite obvious, you just blurred parts of the image to focus the attention on another part. With Tilt Shift, you try to change the perspective. If applied correctly (and my example image sucks here because it doesn’t have that much stuff to show it properly) things may appear further away or smaller/bigger than they really are. To properly set the effect, Snapseed offers amazingly detailed adjustment settings right on the image.

Fine tune the Tilt Shift effect

Fine tune the Tilt Shift effect

As for the other effects, they work pretty much as the others. You have presets to apply changes quickly or your can give the effect your own touch via the sliders.

Go crazy with the available creative effects

Go crazy with the available creative effects

Be aware that you always have to hit the Apply button on the lower left of the adjustment pane to actually have the effect stick to the image. You can also opt out of the changes by simply hitting the cancel button and return to the overview pane.

Once you’re done with everything, you can either save the image as a .jpg file, export it directly to iPhoto or share it via multiple options.

Let others enjoy your creations

Let others enjoy your creations

Usability – Good But Without Gestures

Being a huge fan of Snapseed, especially on the iPad, I enjoyed the same interface as on the mobile app. It makes it much easier to find stuff when you already know where it is (and it doesn’t get confusing when you switch between devices).

And while making adjustments is really easy and comfortable, I wish Snapseed for Mac would allow for gesture based input. For example, when utilizing the power of the control points in the Tune Image section or adjusting the size of an effect in many of the other options, I wish I could just pinch and zoom on my Wacom tablet (or on a track pad, for those who have one available). That, in my eyes, was the incredible strength of Snapseed – that I could manipulate the image with my fingers directly on the image instead of having to go through sliders and other controls outside of the image.

That doesn’t mean that the current mode of control isn’t good. By all means, it’s easy, fast and gets the work done perfectly. But it would really have rocked if the Mac app would have allowed for the same “touch” controls as the mobile app.


My criticism above should be seen just as that: a user’s wish for future improvements. And I think the only people that will come up with that wish are avid users of the mobile app. But no matter if you are new to Snapseed or an experienced user, it delivers. It’s clearly structured, effects are easily applied and cover a wide range. It’s certainly more than iPhoto, which is shipped with every Mac, offers you.

Snapseed is not going to compete with Pixelmator or Photoshop, but it’s not aimed at those users. Snapseed is for the casual user who wants to spruce up their photos without the hassle of any learning curve at all and who are on a budget. If you are in that category, give Snapseed a try.


Get creative with your images: Snapseed make basic adjustment a breeze and fuels your creativity with a wealth of filters and effects.



Add Yours
  • I have this software in my MBA is very nice I always like Nik Software, but missing some “features” like:

    1 – Saves the changes as “presets” like the flareapp.

    2 – Have option in “preferences” when export the picture to flickr send in for example 800×600 size, save me time a lot of time, exporting the RAW to JPEG and open in Snapseed.

  • Oh wow, you took the Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany as a sample image. That’s cool. I always spend ⅔ of my week in Dresden (as I do now as well), so this is great to see. ;-)

    • It’s my hometown and I never never get tired of visiting her. She’s a beauty :)

  • I have one issue with the iOS photo software beeing remade for OSX – speed. Snapseed works perfectly on my iPad, i haven’t tried it on my MB Pro (early 2010) but from my experience with the app Flare I am afraid that the smooth experience won’t be there on the Mac (I find Flare slugish). There is no aparent reason for this ( and don’t tell me it’s the hard disc, we lived for years without solid state drives and everything was fine).

    So I have one important question: how fast is it in comparisment with snapseed for iOS?

    • I have Snapseed for iPhone, iPad and now the Mac. I couldn’t find any significant delays with the app on the Mac compared to the mobile devices and I tested it with RAW images, which are much bigger than the average .jpg file which most people will use.

      Of course it takes about 2-3 seconds to apply a filter (when you actually want it applied for good, not just testing around), but that’s the same on the mobile devices.

      I’ve also tried both Analog and Flare and Flare performed without any problems for me. I had issues with Analog being sluggish, but that got fixed with the last update.

      It may depend on your configuration, though. Here’s mine: iMac 27″, 2.66 Ghz Intel Core i5, 4GB Memory, OS X 10.7.3.

  • Standard item in a review should be the price – it’s $19.99.

    • Oh no, man. Unless they added the price after you made the suggestion, it’s always listed in the ‘Summary’ section at the bottom of the article (where they put their rating). Just for future reference, in case you read another article and can’t find it….. Cheers

  • Good review. I’ve used the iPad add (along with PhotoForge) and I love how powerful the touch interface is for editing photos. I think this could be translated to the OS X version (I’ve to Adobe Lightroom and Flare so I won’t be using Snapseed on my Mac ) via the MagicPad. However, I think you are correct, only the Snapseed iPad users would see the need.

  • excellent post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I’m sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

  • You are my aspiration, I have few blogs and infrequently run out from post :). “Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner.” by W. Somerset Maugham.