Polarr, A Powerful Photo Editing App I've Been Waiting For / by Adrian Galli

While I was initially going to post another Tips and Ticks for Photos, this tops that by far. If you were looking for a tool to bring Photos to nearly the level of Aperture's editing, this is it. Polarr is an app I was only recently introduced to. I found its simple interface enticing so I gave it a try. The first impression encouraged me to dive deep into the features.

There are a whole lot of editing tools out there for OS X, iOS, Windows, etc. Many of them are only available on one platform or the other… maybe two if you’re lucky. Polarr, to my knowledge, is the only editing app that is available for iOS, OS X, Windows, Android, and for the Web. When discussing these cross platform features, they aren't “watered down” feature sets between desktop and mobile, mobile and web version; nearly full functionality is available across the platforms.

The adjustment toolset is the first and most impressive attribute. Here is a list to start:


  • Temperature 
  • Tint
  • Vibrance
  • Saturation
  • Exposure
  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Whites
  • Blacks
  • Diffuse
  • Dehaze
  • Clarity
  • Sharpen
  • Denoise
  • Vignette
  • Grain
  • Distortion 
  • Fringing
  • HSL
  • Curves
  • Tones

This list is extensive and evolved beyond the basics. The HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) adjustments allow changes to specific color ranges. One can select a specific spectrum to adjust, green, for example. This is one of the main features I sadly missed from Aperture.

Polarr includes a distortion control; a very powerful feature in the age of digital photography. Most applications that work with RAW files include lens specific distortion correction, however, having a manual control is very welcome to the professional.

Curves, a standard for most any pro-end photo editing application, is included and permits adjustments to channels (RGB and master). Additionally, Tones, a not-so-common tool, allow one to adjust highlights, shadows, hue, and saturation independently.

Polarr with filters (left) and adjustments (right)

Polarr with filters (left) and adjustments (right)

One feature that piqued my interested was the denoise tool. Many applications have a noise reduction feature but few independently allow control of luminance and chrominance noise. They two are in the same family but have two different natures and, as such, having these two separate deniers is a win.

With its forty core adjustment functions, it begins to look very appealing to an editor. To take this a step further, in the age of Instagram, so many tools can overwhelm. Included in Polarr are over 100 filters to suit one’s many needs. A few of my favorites I’ve had the pleasure to playing with: Clear, Fujicolor, Vista, TM2, and IF5 (an Infrared filter!). Even with all these filters, creative types want their own, custom features. Polarr give one the opportunity to create and save custom filters and use them at one’s leisure.

These filters and adjustments work together but sometimes it is needed for an area of a photo to be adjusted while other areas are left alone. Simple gradient tools can give the virtue of a mask to one’s adjustments and fine-tune portions of the photo rather than the general global changes.

As one works on a photo, the beauty of a digital workflow, experimentation leads to great discoveries and can lead to not so great discoveries. Polarr, with its many features, not only gives unlimited undos but an history palette; a timeline of all the adjustments one has made; jump back one step or one hundred steps and all the way to the original if needed.

But the reason I put another post on hold in favor of this review, the feature that sold me beyond the afore mentioned, Polarr, as of today, released an update to their OS X version with full support for Photo Extensions. And this isn’t a half-hearted attempt by many other applications. When a photo is processed into Polarr using the extension, the entire Polarr editing suite is available; every adjustment, every filter, unlimited undo history, all of it. There is no need to organize in one application and edit in another. No need to export a RAW or JPEG from Photos, save to desktop, open another application and import it for editing only to do the same process in reverse to return the newly edited photo to Photos and using additional storage space: organize in Photos, edit in Photos, edit in Polarr.

With a simple, clean interface Polarr caught my attention. Having nearly all the same tools available to me on my iPhone and iPad impressed me more. Being able to use even other platforms as Windows and Android, online through a web browser, gave the impression the developers were serious. Having a rich toolset and access to them via extensions in Photos, really sold the whole package.

Polarr for OS X runs $19.99 and can be complimented with an iOS version for free (though, all the features is an in app purchase of $9.99). I highly recommend it. Having use many photo applications from Photoshop to Aperture, Affinity Photo (another favorite) to Pixelmator, iPhoto to Tonality, this is a simple yet sophisticated imagine editing application that I’ll be utilizing a lot.