Adding image effects on iOS

This week's iOS app collection is all about adding effects to your images. If you like to give your photos a stylized look, this set of apps will get you started.

Now that people have had some time with their iPhone 4S, I'm sure many have had plenty of time to take pictures using the upgraded 8-megapixel camera. On it's own, the iPhone 4S takes great shots, but what if you want something more?

This week's iOS app collection is all about adding effects to your images. The first lets you flip through numerous effects and stack them for amazing results. The second offers tons of premade effects, but also gives you the option to adjust everything to your liking. The third app lets you play with the focused area of your image to produce visually unique images.

Picfx ($1.99) lets you play around with 47 different effects and 13 different styles to tweak your images and adds some extras not found in other apps of this type. Like most image manipulation apps, you can snap a fresh photo with your iPhone camera or import a picture from your photo library. Across the bottom of the screen are icons of leather-bound books, each of which has a bunch of effects. The categories are broken up into Grunge, Classics, Textures, Light, Space, and Frames. Once you've selected or taken a photo, the interface layout makes it easy to pick an effect from each category.

To add more options to the mix, you can also add a style at any time in the process. To add a premade style, touch the Stylize button to bring up a dial that lets you choose options like Black & White, Sepia, or Warm styles. Stacking both effects and styles gives you virtually unlimited combinations to experiment with.

What sets Picfx apart from the other apps in this collection are the ultrarealistic textures you can apply to your photos. One called peeled paint looks very realistic. In the Space category, there are interesting effects like Nebula that add a ghostly space scene. Though they may sound kind of superficial, when I started combining them with other effects, Picfx produced great results.

Overall, Picfx is a great app for adding effects to your images that you can share on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr. or through e-mail. Though you don't have precise controls to adjust the amount of each effect, the ability to stack effects and styles gives you a large number of possibilities.

PhotoToaster ($1.99) is an image editor with tons of preset effects and custom options to give your photos a stylized look. To "toast" a photo you can either take a new picture with your iPhone camera or choose an image from your photo library. Buttons across the bottom of the interface let you experiment with each of the different effects.

With PhotoToaster, you can use one of several global effects for a photo or use them as a starting point--this app lets you customize each effect to your liking using onscreen sliders. Global effects include retro looks, black and white effects, and several others. Once you've found your starting point, you can go to each button across the bottom to tweak lighting, common effects, the texture of the image, and borders. Each of the sections lets you switch to sliders if you want to precisely tune your image in real time, but you also have presets if you don't want to get too involved in the process. Also, any changes you make are non-destructable so you can always go back to the original picture.

Once you're finished, you can share your creations with Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, or via SMS. You also have the ability to send a toasted image to another app for more tweaks (only apps on your iPhone that are set up to receive images will be listed).

Overall, PhotoToaster offers a nice set of tools for adding some pizazz to your photos and lets you fiddle with controls to make your images just the way you like them. Anyone who likes to add effects to their images and post them to social sites should check out this app.

Big Lens (99 cents) is a new app at the iTunes App Store that offers a unique interface for adding effects and manipulating focus in your images. You start by snapping a picture or importing one from your photo library, then use touch-screen controls to set the aperture, change periphery blur levels, and adjust background light to create a Bokeh effect. What's interesting about the app is that you have the ability to draw where you want focus or blur effects.

While testing the app, I got our very own Sharon Vaknin to pose for a shot, then we went to work experimenting with the apps controls. You start by drawing over the part of the image you want in focus, then hitting the arrow in the upper right to apply the effect. If your focused area is too large, you also can draw with the blur tool to fine tune your image so only the subject is in focus. From there you can choose from several different filters like Red Sepia, Black & White, Flare effects to give the overall image a different feel. As you add changes, you can always hit the Compare button in the lower right to instantly show the original image.

Another neat feature is the capability to change lens types that effect points of light in the image. You can choose a snowflake like lens to show background light as snowflakes, or the heart lens to replace flare points with hearts. These extras can add to the overall theme of your image and produce a nice effect not found in other apps in this category.

When you're finished, the app offers options to save the image to your camera roll, send it via e-mail, or share it via Facebook, Picasa, or DropBox.

Big Lens doesn't have the number of effects found in the other apps of this collection, but it's unique set of touch-screen tools and interesting aperture and lens effects make it a great choice for those that like to play with their pictures.

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.