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Best New Apps: Darkroom

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Curves adjustments, DIY filters, and infinite editing history make this simple photo app shine

A number of us here at The Verge are big fans of VSCO cam, myself included. But I'm never completely satisfied with the mobile photo editing experience it offers, so I'm always on the lookout for something different. That just arrived in the form of Darkroom, a new photo editing app for iOS that is available in the App Store starting today.

Darkroom app
A glance at the app's curves adjustments feature.

Darkroom's most impressive feature is the ability to make curves adjustments, similar to Photoshop on the desktop. You can individually adjust the blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites of any image with a simple up or down slide of your finger. The app also allows you to adjust those characteristics across individual RGB channels; for example, you could increase the amount of blue in the shadows, or decrease the amount of green in the highlights. It's the app's first paid feature (with more to come later this year), and it's essential to the experience. The $2.99 price tag sounds steep, but it works great and is really fun to use.

Don't let the freemium model scare you

Darkroom also comes loaded with a handful of filters that aren't as subtle as the ones you find on VSCO, but that's alright with the creators Matt Brown and Majd Taby. "They're jumping off points, and people used them that way [in the beta]," Brown says.

The biggest advantage Darkroom will have with filters is the ability to create your own, which is a big part of desktop photo editing culture (just Google "Lightroom presets" to see what I mean). Darkroom brings that customization to your iPhone in a really simple way. Any time you make an adjustment — curves, color temperature, sharpness, etc. — a "create filter" option pops up in the filters tab. It grabs a screenshot of the photo you've just edited and lets you name it, and then drops it right into the tray next to the other filters. It will be even more powerful once the next premium feature launches, which will be a tool that lets users adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of individual colors in an image. Eventually, Taby and Brown hope to have a marketplace set up in the app where people can share and sell their own custom filters.

DIY filters could be a massive hit

Another way Darkroom separates itself from VSCO is that there's no social network or camera here, which is something I actually like. "It was an incredibly easy decision to make," Torby says. He and Brown wanted to keep the focus strictly on editing, which is probably why Darkroom is such a fast app — Taby says they had a feature-complete version five weeks into development but spent six months optimizing. There's no need to import photos from your camera roll because you're looking at your entire library from the moment you open the app. Getting in and out of editing individual photos is extremely quick, and you can even swipe left or right on the current photo to open up others for editing.

My biggest issue with Darkroom is previewing your edits. There's no way to manipulate the display size of the photo your editing — no landscape mode, no double-tap to enlarge, and no pinch-and-zoom. Taby says that last one is coming eventually, but until then the only solution is to export your image to your camera roll and use that to spot check the quality.

Not being able to zoom is a problem

That's a big problem because photos taken with phone cameras have obvious quality limitations. You're working with 8 MB JPEGs, not RAW files, so they don't have a ton of latitude. Pushing Darkroom's curves tool too far will really ruin the quality of your image, so it hurts not being able to zoom in and see what sort of damage you're doing to the file along the way. To be fair, this is a problem I also have with VSCO. While you can pinch-and-zoom in VSCO, you're working with a compressed preview of the full-resolution image, so the quality isn't accurately represented.

At a glance, Darkroom looks like any other photo editor. But its awesome curves tool and DIY filters might be enough to separate it from the crowd. At the very least, VSCO just gained some competition.

Darkroom is available now in the App Store.