Review: Pixelmator Photo for iPad. A Lightroom alternative

Though I have my set of iPhone photo apps that I use regularly, I keep looking at new app releases. Such an release is Pixelmator Photo; simply because I use the original Pixelmator app quite frequently.

So how do the original Pixelmator App (iPhone and iPad) and Pixelmator Photo App (iPad only) relate to each other? Well, in my opinion, it’s basically the same relationship as with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. So Pixelmator Photo is not an app that replaces Pixelmator; rather it supplements it.

  • The original Pixelmator app is an editing and retouching app that‘s more like Adobe Photoshop (that‘s not yet available for iOS). It supports layers, brushes, retouching, and several adjustments. However, it doesn’t have the fine granular photo adjustments that Pixelmator Photo now offers.
  • Pixelmator Photo, on the other hand, is more like Adobe Lightroom and allows you to apply very fine granular photo adjustments. It provides only basic retouching.

So, in simple words: Pixelmator is for retouching, and Pixelmator Photo is for “digitally developing” photos.

That said, here‘s my first look at Pixelmator photo and the features it has.

Pixelmator Photo User Interface

The user interface is pretty straight forward:

  • Access all tools and adjustments from the top toolbar
  • Adjustment settings are displayed on the right side
  • Presets & Tool settings are on the bottom toolbar

%% Screenshot user interface

And of course you can use the pinch gesture to zoom in and out of your photos.

Pixelmator Photo Feature overview

First and most important to know is that all edits and adjustments you apply to a photo in Pixelmator Photo are non-destructive; meaning you can go back and undo each adjustment even after you saved your masterpiece using the native Pixelmator Photo file format.

When it comes to importing photos, Pixelmator Photo imports, and exports several different photo formats. I‘ve successfully tested importing some old RAWs from my Nikon, DNG files shot with ProCamera, as well as JPGs and photos taken in iOS HEIF format.

You can export photos at any time in any of the popular photo formats like JPEG, PNG, HEIF and TIFF to either any cloud storage or save it to the camera roll. If you chose to save it to the camera roll, you can either save it as a modification (and go to the original photo anytime) or as a copy.

By default, Pixelmator Photos opens the iOS file picker to import your photos. To import your photos from the camera roll, you have to press the „+“ symbol in the upper left corner which in turn opens the iOS photo picker. Pixelmator Photo then saves your edited photo in iCloud.

Importing Photos into Pixelmator Photo. To import a photo to the camera roll, press the “+” sign in the upper right corner

Importing Photos into Pixelmator Photo. To import a photo to the camera roll, press the “+” sign in the upper right corner

As for adjustments and editing, Pixelmator Photo has the following features:

  • Cropping
  • Healing Brush
  • Fixing perspective distortion including straightening your photo, flipping and mirroring
  • 16 different adjustment groups to fine tune your photos.

One of the most significant selling points of Pixelmator Photo is that supports automatic adjustments for almost everything. Those automatic adjustments are based on machine learning and thus are labeled „ML“ throughout the App.

Just tap on any of the „ML“ icons and see Pixelmator Photo apply suggested settings automagically; which, of course, you can fine-tune any time.

Healing Brush in Pixelmator Photo

A healing brush is a tool to remove particular objects from a photo. To use the healing brush, you just paint over the object you‘d like to remove, and Pixelmator Photo does the rest.

I‘m quite (positively) spoilt from Touch Retouch, the app I currently used for healing and cloning.

After I used the healing brush of Pixelmator Photo on a few photos, I was quite positively surprised. It works pretty well.

Cropping and perspective distortion in Pixelmator Photo

Cropping is on par with other iPhone photo editing tools. You get 8 cropping presets and can define your own.

Hitting the ML-crop button in the lower left corner will suggest a crop based on machine learning. My results with that one were quite mixed so far. During my tests, the ML cropping works best if Pixelmator Photo detects a significant subject in the photo.

Also hidden in the cropping section are straightening and perspective distortion.

Straightening pretty much does what you‘d expect.

I was quite eager to try the perspective distortion tool. My main concern and “problem” with perspective correction is that many other apps reduce the resolution of the final image. SKRWT is definitely the benchmark here. A few tests showed that Pixelmator Photo keeps the original resolution of the photo. Well done Pixelmator Team!

Fixing perspective distortion is easy in Pixelmator Photo and retains the full photo resolution.

Fixing perspective distortion is easy in Pixelmator Photo and retains the full photo resolution.

However, there’s also a limitation: Currently, perspective distortion is only available for two axes, horizontally and vertically. I’d like to see a free form perspective correction tool and a tool to fix lens distortions.

Adjustments in Pixelmator Photo.

Now for the big thing in Pixelmator photo and here, the app really shines. You get 16 different adjustment groups:

  • White Balance
  • Color and Saturation
  • Brightness
  • Color Balance
  • Selective Coloring
  • Tonal Values
  • Curves
  • Color Replacement
  • Black and White
  • Monochrome
  • Chanel Mixer
  • Negative
  • Sharpening
  • Noise

All of those adjustments basically work alike. You have to enable the adjustment by flipping a switch, and the panel opens. In the panel itself, you get, depending on the adjustment, sliders, color pickers and color wheels.

Pixelmator Photo adjustments and presets

Pixelmator Photo adjustments and presets

Presets

At the bottom of the screen are several presets that you can apply as a starting point. Once you’ve found your style, Pixelmator Photo allows you to save them as your own Presets.

Conclusion

Pixelmator Photo is a great app for developing and applying adjustments for photos. I believe that the real power of Pixelmator Photo comes in combination with original Pixelmator app:

  • Pixelmator for retouching and editing
  • Pixelmator Photo for applying adjustments.

If you don’t yet have all the other apps like Touch Retouch, SKRWT or don’t use Adobe Lightroom, then I'd recommend to have a look at Pixelmator Photo (in combination with Pixelmator)

For me, as an Adobe Lightroom user, there are a few things I‘m missing in Pixelmator Photo, and I sincerely hope that the Pixelmator team will add those, e.g.:

  • Denoise
  • Freeform perspective distortion and fixing for fisheye photos
  • Selective Adjustments that can be applied to only a part of the image using, e.g. brushes
  • Make some of the adjustments available as a photo extension, allowing me to apply those right from the camera roll.
  • iPhone App

Pixelmator Photo is great for a version 1 release. I truly hope that the Pixelmator team keeps improving Pixelmator Photo and also the original Pixelmator app. They are a great team if you want to be able to handle many iPhone photo editing tasks with just two apps. Both, Pixelmator for iOS and Pixelmator Photo are available from the App Store.