Intensify Brings Out Tiny Details in Images

I take a lot of pictures — not just professionally, but also for fun. That being said, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “perfect” image editor. I’ve tried everything over the years, some of which I’ve reviewed here on Mac.AppStorm, but I have yet to run into one tool that can singlehandedly replace all the others.

But when MacPhun, the folks behind Snapheal, reached out to me, I was intrigued. Their newest app, Intensify Pro, looked like it could be a real game-changer, and I was eager to put it through its paces. Read on to find out if Intensify really brings anything new to the table.

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What Intensify Is

Intensify is a powerful photo editor that’s aimed straight at professionals and serious hobbyists looking to get all the detail possible out of their photos. That’s a tricky proposition. After all, most apps that claim to do this merely make your photo noisier (unless it was taken under perfect light conditions with a $3,000 camera, which I doubt describes many of us). Needless to say, Intensify has its work cut out.

 

There's a ton of stuff in the Presets pane alone.

There’s a ton of stuff in the Presets pane alone.

 

It tries to do this by combining presets, which MacPhun says are created by professional photographers, and also allowing you to precisely control each element of the photo in a more fine-tuned Adjustments pane. I personally prefer the Adjustments pane, which I simply find easier to use (more on that later).

The Adjustments pane is where I prefer to spend most of my time.

The Adjustments pane is where I prefer to spend most of my time.

The goal with Intensify, of course, is similar to other image editors. It wants to reveal details in darkness, bring barely-visible colours to light without sacrificing image integrity, and accentuate the details you haven’t seen before. Like any editor, you can push it too far with many of your photos. That said, Intensify is uniquely vivid with its colour and detail enhancements. Used tastefully, you can get some great results. Used carelessly, you’ll damage photos more than you’ll help them. Intensify allows you to make your photos look as vivid as the screen on a store’s floor model TV, which isn’t good. But used carefully, you can really bring some depth to photos that would otherwise lack it.

Editing With Intensify

Now that I’m done with a brief overview, I wanted to use some examples from a couple recent shoots that I did. Almost all of my work is done in Aperture before I go anywhere else. I organize with Aperture and I do some subtle colour tweaking with the app as well. I’ve also got some film filters I find myself using 99% of the time in Aperture. That being said, the workflow isn’t perfect and I find Aperture can only do so much well.

My original photo. It needs some work.

My original photo. It needs some work.

I thought I’d try bringing Intensify into that workflow. Intensify has the ability to open any RAW file, which is great because that’s what I use. (Fair warning: Intensify does not export RAW. But importing RAW allows you to use it as a non-destructive image editor.) If you buy Intensify from MacPhun’s website, you can use it as an external image editor in Aperture or your favourite Adobe app. If you buy it straight from the Mac App Store, you can only use it as a standalone app. (The Mac App Store version is also called Intensify, while the MacPhun version is called Intensify Pro.)

In reality, it doesn’t make much of a difference. The Open function in the standalone app lets you open any file on your Mac without a problem, while the ability to use it as an external editor simply means it’s easier to open Intensify from another app. Personally, I’d still prefer to buy it directly from MacPhun, but updates are easier with the Mac App Store so I’d take your pick.

Using the Adjustments pane exclusively, this was my before and after shot.

Using the Adjustments pane exclusively, this was my before and after shot.

I had two recent photo shoots I wanted to try the app with. The first was a wedding I recently shot on a rainy and grey Saturday morning. The second was an outdoor photo shoot with a friend who was helping me test a new 50mm lens.

While testing out some wedding shots, I tried out using all the Presets, but I discovered very quickly that they didn’t offer me the flexibility I was looking for. After some experimentation, I stuck with the Adjustments pane, and in literally five minutes, I was getting some great results.

This was my original work with one shot.

This was my original work with one shot.

What most impressed me was how easy it was to use these fine-tuned features. The controls are focussed enough that it feels like there’s a slider for almost every image adjustment in every tone. It’s incredibly granular, and goes well beyond simple things like contrast control.

This was the finished result. It's not over saturated, but it's a touch more vivid. It looks a hint more detailed. It's just better.

This was the finished result. It’s not over saturated, but it’s a touch more vivid. It looks a hint more detailed. It’s just better.

The selling features of Intensify, when used appropriately, can make an image just a touch more vivid. I don’t mean “more saturated,” although that’s certainly a part of it. But I very much mean more vivid. Intensify’s nearly-magical power is that it can make an image appear more saturated without making it appear candy-like. That’s something I haven’t been able to replicate in any other app. It’s interesting, to me, that an app that at once allows you to destroy your images by over-editing can also produce what are undoubtedly very tasteful results.

The User Experience

I do have to devote some space to talking about the app’s user interface and design, though. Intensify has a high learning curve. Both myself and a photographer friend of mine have been testing it for over a week, and we both agree — you’ll need some serious time to learn how to use this thing. It took my friend about a day to figure everything out. I don’t mind admitting I’m still trying to understand Intensify’s nuances.

The problems, for me, all lie in the Presets pane. I can appreciate what Intensify is letting you work with here. In fact, there are some stupidly cool features. You can add effects as individual layers, and then change the opacity of any effect. It’s just like layering in Photoshop. Truthfully, it’s not a feature I use all the time, but that’s because I’m not used to it. I think it’s very handy.

The app's also got some super-cool features, like a gradient to slowly ease into your layered fixes.

The app’s also got some super-cool features, like a gradient to slowly ease into your layered fixes.

The problem is, though, that I can’t tell which Presets are applied. I can’t really tell what happens when I click on a preset. I can see the difference, but that’s not enough. I want to be able to see the controls for each preset and adjust the sliders on my own without having to click to gain access. Clicking on a preset sometimes turns it on, but clicking it again doesn’t turn them off. It’s very strange. If the Presets pane functioned more like the Adjustments pane, and Presets were stackable (I can’t tell if they are), this would be nearly perfect.

I want to mention a couple other things really quick. The first is that there are some great tutorials and manuals available for Intensify available online. I’d recommend watching them. The second is that the design is clearly modelled after some popular Adobe software in many respects. It seems a little more Mac-like to me and a little less cluttered, but it does look very heavy. I prefer Aperture’s interface, hands down. And finally, there’s no lens correction. I’m shaking my head at this. Every image editor should have built-in lens correction by now (yes, including Aperture, which is also a shame).

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I could probably spend another few thousand words writing about Intensify. That speaks volumes to its power and its usefulness. I will most certainly be keeping it on my Mac, and definitely be using it to touch up photos where just a little bit more of a human touch could make all the difference. I also love how it allows you to save your progress as you go. There’s a million little touches that make Intensify really great.

But I wish the app’s biggest selling feature — the Presets — were more fleshed-out. It’s hard to know which Preset is currently applied, or whether or not tapping on a Preset activates a preview or turns it on permanently. I wish that was made a little clearer without checking out instruction manuals. That doesn’t mean that Intensify isn’t worth getting, though — it just means there’s lots of room to grow. I look forward to seeing Intensify grow, and as it is, I can see it becoming an important arsenal in any photographer’s toolkit. I’m hard on it because I think it’s one of the best photo editing for professionals currently available, and I’d love to see it get even better.


Summary

Intensify Pro is a great photography app priced just right for serious professionals. It's got a steep learning curve, but used tastefully, it can bring great touches of clarity and image detail to photos that weren't there before.

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