Perfectly Clear App for iPhone and iPad

Has Automated Image Editing Come of Age?

By Dan Burkholder Back to

perfectly clear app, dan burkholder (Figure 1) Before and After with Perfectly Clear

In this continuing series of iPhone Artistry articles, we’ve discussed valuable−and sometimes wonky− issues surrounding using your iPhone and iPad for honest-to-goodness image capture and editing. In this particular article, we’re taking a detour (well, on the wonkiness, anyway) to examine an app that promises to lead us into the mythological land of decision-free photography.

Many of us fancying ourselves “serious” photographers and image editors display an open contempt for software claiming to be automatic and foolproof. We eschew the idea behind automated things, like the “green rectangle” on our camera’s mode dial, even calling that auto-everything mode the “PHD” Mode −as in “push here, dummy.” After all, doesn’t some of our photographic thrill stem from having control over the hardware, software and materials of our medium? Well, the app developers behind Perfectly Clear (www.athentech.com) are out to change our collective mind about iPhone/iPad photo correction that’s fast, easy and, yes, automatic.

Perfectly Clear can indeed be used in a fully automatic fashion, but the app developer leaves plenty of room for parameter tweaking and decision making, all in an interface that doesn’t overpower your actual image. The Kaaterskill Creek photo in Figure 1 shows Perfectly Clear’s default settings and both the before (1) and after (2) versions of the image.

perfectly clear app, dan burkholder
(Figure 2) iPhone (left) and iPad versions of Perfectly Clear

Two Apps for Two iOS Devices
Sporting separate versions for iPhone and iPad, Perfectly Clear has features that are common to both iOS versions. Besides setting exposure, Perfectly Clear also varies contrast, tint removal, color vibrancy and sharpness. Noise Removal (seen in the left panel of Figure 2), is available via an in-app purchase ($1.99) in the iPhone version of Perfectly Clear.

Figure 2 shows the iPhone (left) and iPad versions of Perfectly Clear. Besides the additional controls provided for the iPad, note the built-in Presets (Land- scape, Portrait, etc.), as well as the custom presets I’ve added (Clouds, Aliens with Green Skin).

Noise reduction would be easier to judge on the iPhone if zooming-in were possible. The iPad version is a smidge better in this regard; even without image zooming, the iPad’s larger screen makes detail judg- ment calls (noise and sharpness) much easier. Athentech might have favored a streamlined inter- face at the expense of features. Still, in an update it would be nice to have some way to examine an en- larged view of the image, especially on the iPhone’s limited screen real estate.

As a sidebar for Mac and PC users, Athentech also sells Photoshop and Lightroom Plug-ins that will bring automatic image adjustment to your desktop or laptop.

Spending a Bit More Money…
The iPad version of Perfectly Clear (“HD” as they call it) includes skin smoothing and color correction, something you’ll appreciate for your family portraits and candid shots. The iPad’s HD version also has Noise Removal to help banish noise from low light images (high ISO) or noise acerbated by image processing in other apps. Happily, Noise Removal is included in the iPad version so you can keep your $1.99 to spend on another app or two.

perfectly clear app, dan burkholder
(Figure 3) Perfectly Clear fixes a stylized image

Not Just for Family and Friends
Though Perfectly Clear excels as a remedy for off- kilter everyday snaps, it works its automatic magic equally well on images you’ve stylized with other iPhone/iPad apps, too. Often, as we apply filters and even layer our iPhone captures, they get darker or acquire a color cast. Figure 3 shows a photo of Smudgie Bear enjoying the morning light here in the Catskills. (Actually, Perfectly Clear was used twice in this workflow, processing the original capture and then once again after using a painterly effect, AutoPainter, to make Smudgie’s portrait take on a hand-painted look.) After the painting and border effect were applied, the image was overly dark and muddy. I could have used a full-bodied imaging app to fix this with levels or curves, but why go to that trouble when Perfectly Clear can take care of the problem, fixing multiple problems in one step?

Let’s take a look at the #1 panel in Figure 3 where the image is much too dark. When you first open an image in Perfectly Clear, the app quickly shows you with/without versions (panel #2); you can slide the screen left or right to reveal more of either the before or after versions. Tapping on the image will give a full image preview, toggling between the before and after versions. When tapped, the Barber Pole handle (at the right of panel 2) opens the adjustment drawer where you can modify the default settings to your liking. The latest update to Perfectly Clear opens and closes the adjustments drawer with a simple shake (left to open, right to close) of the iPhone.

The default settings did a great job of bringing life back into the portrait of Smudgie Bear, saving me lots of time compared to making the corrections in other image editing apps.

Saving your Personal Default
With the iPhone version of Perfectly Clear, if you routinely modify Perfectly Clear’s settings, you can save the changes as “MyDefault.” Don’t worry, you can easily return the app to its out-of-the-box settings via the handy “Restore Default Presets” in the Settings area. Alas, you can only save this one mod- ified default rather than several presets, customized to different image types or shooting situations. No doubt the developers ruled in favor of simplicity over complexity here, too; after all, the whole intent of Perfectly Clear is to make image enhancement quick and effortless.

The HD version (for iPad) adds to the list of features with better white point control, handy skin tone fea- tures and the ability to save multiple personal presets. As you might have noticed, the iPad version (though more expensive initially: $5.99 vs. $3.99) gives you more features with no need to make additional in- app purchases for things like noise reduction.

perfectly clear app, dan burkholder
(Figure 4) Memory problems might interrupt your workflow

Room for Improvement
As good as it is, Perfectly Clear could be improved (dare I say “enhanced”) with a bit of tweaking from the developers at Athentech. More than once I’ve encountered the unwelcome memory-low message shown in Figure 4. The fix for this out-of-memory condition is simple enough: force quit some of the apps that are running concurrently via Apple’s less- than-perfect multitasking (double tap the Home button to bring up the Process Viewer on your iPhone or iPad, hold down on one of the running app icons for a couple seconds until you get the jiggling apps, then tap the “minus” button on the corner of each app you want to force quit). In all fairness, this annoyance only appeared when more than 15 other apps were running in the background, but it still feels like something that can be fixed (and very well may have been by the time you read this) via a software update. Perfectly Clear also crashed a couple times during my testing, leaving me with a less than happy face.

Conclusions
With dual-iOS versions and a slick interface, it’s hard not to embrace Perfectly Clear as one of your go-to apps for routine photography. There’s room for im- provement (a better white balance provision for one), but let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good− this app will save you time over and over. If there’s one thing we learn as digital photographers, it’s that the rules are constantly in flux. ISOs that guaranteed confetti noise just a few years ago are now commonplace; resolutions on consumer grade cameras are greater than those from our first “pro” DSLRs. I’d be showing my age were I not open to the concept of auto adjustment on our iPhones and iPads. But in the case of Perfectly Clear, ignoring the time saving and image improvement features of this highly capable software package would be more than old fashioned. It would be stupid.


About the Author

Dan Burkholder
DBurkholder
Dan Burkholder has been teaching digital imaging workshops for 15 years at venues including The School of the Art Institute, Chicago; The Royal Photographic Society, Madrid, Spain; The International Center of Photography, New York; Mesilla Digital Imaging Workshops, Mesilla, NM and many others. Dan’s latest book, The Color of Loss (University of Texas Press, 2008), documents the flooded interiors of post-Katrina New Orleans and is the first coffee table book done entirely using HDR methods. His award-winning book, Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing, has become a standard resource in the fineart photography community. Dan’s iPhone images can be seen at: www.iPhoneArtistry.com/.