GOOD ENOUGH IS CLOSE ENOUGH?
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE APPEAL OF PHOTOGRAPHIC PHONE APPS lies not in their efficacy or even the overall quality of their output, but in their sheer, I-just-thought-I’d-try-this convenience, the ability to immediately scratch whatever creative itch has just come over you. Given the amazing speed of even formalized editing suites from Photoshop on down, apps are thus shortcuts within shortcuts, immediate gratification for the most extremely ADD among us. And certainly there is no harm in this kind of Veruga Salt I-want-it-now impulse processing, unless, of course, you mind the substantial reduction in pictorial quality that accompanies many of them.
In the case of the symmetry design app called Flipper, seen in use here, so much compression occurs between the resolution in the iPhone master shot and the final processed shot that the picture is no longer dense enough for use as a printed image at any useful level of enlargement. Its lowered rez restricts its use to life on social media or other on-screen sharing. Shared back from the app to a site like Flickr, for example, it barely passes muster in terms of quality. Worse, importing it into Photos or similar traditional libraries causes even more compression. It’s a shame, because the very ability of apps to give the shooter editing options galore, anywhere, anytime is a potentially great benefit, but one which can create pictures that are at once creatively liberated and technically hobbled.
This makes total sense in terms of marketing, of course. The photo app industry operates at the pleasure of the phone format. It has no interest, frankly, in solving many editing or creative problems for people who intend to re-work phone images for use in other formats or media. The cel and the app are perfect partners, each amping up usage and adoption by the other, and so all apps have to do is find out how to make people take and share more phone images. The rest of the photographic universe, for them, is basically moot.
And so there is no real incentive to expansively improve the image integrity of app-derived photos, because they look good enough on what they were designed for and for the users to whom they are marketed. And that’s not likely to change in the near future, if ever, which makes apps of limited value for a substantial portion of the photographic user base. Certainly we use apps to mostly “see what happens when I do this”, but ideally, we also want pictures that rise to a certain standard of quality, regardless of how they’re eventually to be used, and we’re a long way out from that particular harbor.