Quick Look: Polarr for iPhone

I’m a full-time Lightroom user on iOS and the Mac, but if someone were to ask me today which iOS photo editor I recommended, I’d be torn between Darkroom and Polarr. I’ll be up front and say that I like Darkroom’s speed and UI a lot more, but it really bugs me that exporting with Darkroom maxes out at 12 Megapixels. That isn’t a big deal if you’re an iPhone-only shooter, but all of my cameras shoot at 24 Megapixel, and it’s important to me to preserve that extra detail.

Polarr isn’t quite as attractive or simple as Darkroom, but it outputs shots at full resolution, and has a number of really cool time-saving features up its sleeve.

Minimal Fuss

Polarr is one of few photo editors where the photo picker is tied directly to your camera roll. This isn’t a very new concept on iOS, but it makes the editing experience a lot simpler and more enjoyable for me. Polarr doesn’t force you to import any photos before you can edit them: you just view what’s on your camera roll, and then tap on a picture to start making changes.

You’re able to do this quickly for 12 Megapixel and even 24 Megapixel JPEGs, but not RAW files. This feature alone is enough to give Polarr a shot. Once you start editing this way, importing a photo before editing will feel archaic.

Markup Features

I haven’t wanted to add a frame to a picture since the very early days of Instagram, but it’s handy to have the option in app like Polarr. The frame options aren’t garish, and they could be useful for preparing a shot for Instagram (if you like that white border trend). The text markup feature can also save me a trip into another more powerful editor, like Pixelmator, if all I need is a bit of text to mark up a shot.

Customized Presets

Just like Darkroom, Polarr allows you to create your own presets. This is one of the best features of Polarr, and I love how comprehensive the presets are. They encompass global adjustments like exposure, contrast, saturation, and curve edits, but they can also capture local adjustments and added text. Once you’ve created a preset, it’s easy to add it to your list of “Favorites”, and even share it with other Polarr users.

Polarr seems to be using Instagram as the primary method of sharing filters with others. Sharing a filter will create an image for you to share, complete with a QR code. The idea is that you’ll share your filter on Instagram, where other people can screenshot your QR code, and then import your filter into their own Polarr libraries. It’s an interesting concept, but most of the filters I’ve seen on IG have been a little too heavy for my tastes.

Time Saving Features

Polarr has a lot of controls on screen at a time, and I think it can even look a little overwhelming at times. However, what I do like are the presence of a few batch or gesture-based power features.

One example of this is the quick-slide gesture for controls like Exposure and Contrast. Like in most other apps, you can tap on the Exposure icon, and then use the resulting slider to add or remove light levels from a picture. However, if you want to speed that step up a little bit, you can tap and hold on the Exposure icon, and then swipe left or right.

Another standout feature in Polarr is its batch export feature. If you know you want to convert a set pictures with your favourite black and white filter, you can tap and hold to activate batch selection. You can then choose a filter to apply, and then export all of the selected photos to the camera roll. You won’t get to preview the effects of the filter until after the exports are finished though, so you’ll only want to do this when you have a good handle of how your filters affect colour and exposure.


I use Lightroom as my daily editor and photo manager, but I enjoy keeping an eye on Polarr’s development, because I think it has one of the most powerful touch UIs for photo editing. Darkroom is still a bit friendlier to newer users, but if you’re after maximum resolution and really quick editing, Polarr is the photo editor to beat. It’s free to download and play with, although I’d recommend buying the $14 CAD in-app purchase that unlocks all of the Pro features (tone curves, masks, etc.).

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