Earlier this week, designer Majd Taby was running me through the new version of his photo editing app, Darkroom. He had just submitted it to Apple for App Store approval — a sometimes arduous process. During the demo, Taby got two notifications. The first was that the app was officially being reviewed. The next one came 20 minutes later: Darkroom 2 was approved. "Holy shit," Taby laughed. "That was a weird thing to happen during a meeting."
The first version of Darkroom became a sort of cult sensation when it was released earlier this year, thanks in part to a lot of initial support from Apple in the App Store. It took the simple style of photo editing apps like VSCO Cam and peppered in power features like curves adjustments, infinite history, and DIY filters — all without cluttering up the user experience. Darkroom 2 — which is out today — builds on this, making the new version one of the best photo editors available for iOS.
"Darkroom 2 is basically the dream of what I wanted to build when I started working on Darkroom last year," Taby says. The new release comes with at least 14 new features, which Taby detailed in a blog post about the release. New to Darkroom 2 are features like a tone tool, a color tool (for tinting the shadows and highlights of your photos), a revamped library system, and the ability to adjust filter strength.
Darkroom 2 reaches ludicrous speed
One thing that's not detailed in that post is Darkroom 2's blistering speed. You can open the app, pick a photo, apply a filter, square crop it for Instagram, and save the photo in the span of five seconds. It makes other photo editing apps feel like you're running a Retina app on an iPhone 4. (You won't necessarily want to do things that quickly, but you can.)
"My goal is for people to replace the native Photos app with Darkroom," Taby says. "It needs to be able to zoom in bigger than the Photos app, it needs to load high-resolution previews as fast as the Photos app."
There's also no need to import the photos that you want to edit, a tiresome process that many other photo editing apps still make you step through. When you open up Darkroom, you're looking right at your full camera roll. That can be a little overwhelming if you tend to overshoot, so Darkroom 2 has a section of the library for "favorites," which is essentially the same tap-to-heart system found in — you guessed it — the iOS Photos app.
When I originally wrote about Darkroom back in February, Taby and co-creator Matt Brown talked about how their broader ambitions for the app included a community built around filter creation. They wanted to let users share the filters they created, and embed a store in the app where Darkroom-approved filters could be bought.
These features have started to come into focus with Darkroom 2. When you tap on a filter you've created, you're presented with the option to share it. The app sticks a QR code on a photo of your choosing, and you're able to post it to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. To install the filter, users take a screenshot of the photo and QR code, and your filter will be automatically installed the next time they open Darkroom. The process is wonky, but it works.
The silver lining is that Darkroom can also link your filters to your Instagram account. This way, every time someone uses a filter that you've created, they are presented with the option of viewing your Instagram profile.
The app's brand new store section is where you will find premium filter packs and weekly staff picks, as well as the weekly "How To" series about using Darkroom (and photography in general) that Taby has been posting during beta testing of Darkroom 2. Eventually, Darkroom could let all filter sharing take place without forcing you to leave the app.
If you want to do some powerful photo editing on your iPhone, these days there is a glut of options. VSCO Cam's filters are still the most subtle and stylish. Lightly is a minimalist's dream. Enlight tries to arm you with every option and feature imaginable. Darkroom 2 is a powerful editor as well, and is remarkably fast. But the new version is also democratizing the idea of filters.
Darkroom 2 is available on the App Store for free, but most features require a $3.99 in-app purchase.