Having explored the features of Anthropic’s Smart Photo Editor in the last few posts I’ve briefly covered the functionality of this product exploring the history and workflow, general retouching behaviour and the effects engine. It’s a product that has far more depth to it than might first be apparent. Now though I want to take an opportunity to try and sum up my personal opinions of this product.
It’s obvious that Smart Photo Editor has had a lot of time invested into it in the past year and the product as evolved quite dramatically from its first incarnation. The user experience has improved and overall the product is becoming increasingly robust. Many users are likely to use it as a tool for simply dropping an effect onto an image then moving on. There is however substantial functionality available and some powerful features for those prepared to invest the time to find them.
Smart Photo Editor has a slightly amateurish feel to it. Firstly there's the documentation or lack thereof, which I missed especially for some of the more complex features. While it might be said that users don't read manuals (and help text) I think in this instance Anthropics may have taken this principle a little far. Looking for alternatives the tutorial facility takes you to an interactive tutorial for which it needs to load an image which isn’t a lot of good when trying to solve a problem mid edit. Help on the other hand launches the product forums which is a little lazy although increasingly common. After hunting around a little I was able to solve some of my problems, while what I really missed was some reference information about the behaviour of the effects nodes. It’s possible to get an overview of what each does but to build effects efficiently it would really help to be able to reference the inputs, outputs and settings of each effect node.
The UI still feels like it has some way to go also to make it more usable and logical. While it starts with an unconventional right to left workflow there are a host of niggly little details that could be quickly rectified. Simple things, like an “Erase” button that reveals a “Remove Objects” panel or more significant points like an Exposure adjustment that has a range of -1 to +4 with -1 taking the image to black while +4 takes the image to very bright – but not white. If this application is targeted at photographers then it needs to behave and use language that will be familiar to them. Photographers would expect a certain behaviour associated to exposure values and adjusting the exposure by -1 shouldn’t take an image to black. Also, the product is full of settings that have two or three decimal points. I doubt such a granularity will be of much use to anyone. How often do you think I need to tweak that setting by a hundredth or two to get it right?
Another barrier being presented by Smart Photo Editor is its slightly fragile behaviour. Many sliders provide me with enough rope to hang myself and completely mess up an image quite quickly. It’s also still prone to a few crashes and bugs, especially when working with larger images. My Wacom mouse doesn’t behave properly inside Smart Editor (though the pen is fine), buttons inside the erase panel don’t toggle properly and I was getting an occasionally undecipherable error message.
While this doesn’t immediately sound very positive I have to admit that once a learning curve has been overcome Smart Photo Editor becomes quite addictive to use. It’s full of Powerful and innovative tools that have great potential even if they don’t quite manage to deliver in some places. The available tools demonstrate that the brains behind the product have been quite forward thinking and have implemented features which are pretty unique.
With Smart Editor’s community based sharing of effects and constant encouragement to engage with the community there’s a feeling of open source about it; however it’s not, it’s a product you have to pay for. The sharing of effects that you’ve invested time and effort into sounds good in the spirit of community: in the spirit of capitalism it’s probably not so good. There seem to be just a few names currently providing a lot of the effects and I wonder if this is because few people understand how to create them, or if they have created them they don’t want to share, or perhaps the community still isn’t very big yet? There is also a risk that the library of effects will become populated with poor effects that will ultimately drag down this product. It will be important that users of Smart Photo Editor are incentivised to create effects and also grade and rate the effects of others. On a more positive note, currently when posting into the forums the posts are being responded to by people who have worked on the product and feedback is going back into the product.
To conclude, it may not be a refined product, you may need to think a bit more like a programmer than a photographer to get the most from it and the success of the product relies on developing an on going relationship with its users but I have become a little hooked in and I want spend more time with it. It’s easy to lose yourself exploring this product and some of the effects contributed so far are great fun. Although it's not a product that I could recommend without some hesitation and it won't be replacing other editing tools just yet, it's a great tool for unlocking a creative block. The other thing to remember is that the product is currently only £19.95. That’s not a lot of money for what this product has to offer. Even better, if you’re not sure, there’s a trial that allows you to do everything that the full product can except save the images. Even if the full functionality is a little daunting, just get the app, load an image and play with the existing effects. That alone is worth the money in my opinion.
Visit the Smart Photo Editor website to find out more and download this tool.
If you have found this review useful please share it using the links below. You're comments and questions are also welcome. If you'd like to see video tutorials about the use of Smart Photo Editor then please let me know and if there's a demand for it I may put some together.