When I started to play around with editing photos on my mobile phone years ago, I went with a free, simple choice that works pretty great. Snapseed. Snapseed is a fantastic editing app, that has a lot of features all for free. I still have it on my phone even though I mainly use Polarr now. And we’ll get to that in a bit. The main thing I love about snapseed, and the reason I still have it, is the “healing” tool. Neither Polarr, or VSCO, has a feature that works like it. And for that reason I keep snapseed around to do any final edits if I need to.
Now, onto the main focus, Polarr vs VSCO. I had used VSCO for a while before even trying Polarr, because everything I read online said it was the best app for “photographers” and that Polarr was for basic users who didn’t need as much editing power. So with that, I purchased the VSCO X subscription, and was happily editing my photos for social media. I use Capture One Pro for editing my RAW files from my Sony A6000. But for mobile photos, VSCO was my go to. And for a while, I was happy with it.
The filters in VSCO are great, especially with a subscription that unlocks them all. There’s no denying that. What I didn’t like about VSCO was how it handled the basics. Things like exposure, highlights, and shadows. Using the highlights and shadows in VSCO leaves a lot to be desired. If you don’t need to edit a higher dynamic range photo, you would never notice the shortcomings of these two very important tools. But it’s this exact reason I looked elsewhere for a photo editing app. Enter Polarr.
When I first started using Polarr, I noticed how many extra editing tools it had compared to VSCO. There were a lot. It was overwhelming at first to someone who had gotten used to the simplicity of apps like VSCO and Snapseed. After following the little tutorial it gives you at startup, and choosing to use the Pro layout instead, things became much easier to navigate and use.
The first thing I did when trying new editing apps, was look at the things VSCO didn’t do as well as I wanted. Highlights, and shadows adjustments. Polarr surpassed my expectations in the adjustment tools by even offering Whites and Blacks adjustment tools. This gives even more control over the exposure of your photos, and I was very surprised by how much better these tools worked!
Let’s get onto the good stuff, and quit this chit chat, onto examples! Keep in mind these are not how I would edit this image, I am simply taking the highlights all the way down, and shadows all the way up, to greater show how each app handles the adjustments.
First let’s take a look at how things look in VSCO when adjusting highlights, and shadows.
as you can see, it looks…. washed out and very dull. Let’s see how Polarr handles the adjustments now.
You can see right away, that there is far more detail brought out when adjusting highlights in Polarr, vs VSCO.
Let’s do some comparisons.
Here you can see how adjusting highlights in Polarr actually takes down just the highlights, and retains details of the image
Here we can see the difference between the adjustments done in Polarr, and VSCO. You can see how VSCO simply lessens the brightness on bright areas, rather than actually pulling down the highlights, and retaining details like Polarr does.
I’m not going to bother showing Polarr vs VSCO in terms of the shadows, as you can see in the VSCO set of adjustments that it just completely fades the shadows into a grey tone, and retains no details at all. Not good.
This is the reason I ditched VSCO (even though I’m still paying for a subscription since they are yearly based) and have switched over to Polarr. The added Whites/Blacks adjustments in Polarr make it even better for adjusting, but I won’t get into examples of all that. Hopefully this information is useful to someone, I decided to write this out due to seeing so many articles and pieces written on how VSCO was for people who were serious about photography, where Polarr was for casual users. In my opinion it is quite the opposite, actually. Being able to retain details in the shadows and highlights of an image, especially images taken on a cell phone, is a huge deal.
All in all, use what works best for you! The best editing app, is the one that does the things you need it to do. Polarr works for me, so that’s what I choose to use. If you want more of the social aspect in your editing app, VSCO is definitely the way to go. Filter wise, Polarr has more, but VSCO has almost as many and they both have fantastic filters.
image used in tests taken from @danielroe at unsplash.