Ever since I reviewed MacPhun’s FX Photo Studio for iOS, its insane amount of superior effects, the eye-catching interface taking full advantage of iPad’s canvas and the overall polish have been a revelation. Suffice to say that I walked away wanting that photo editing experience on my Mac. The opportunity is clearly there: Excluding big-name suites and a few established programs from indies, quality yet affordable photo editing programs are few and far between on the Mac. That being said, I set out to review FX Photo Studio on an aging 2.4GHz unibody Mac mini with 2GB RAM running Snow Leopard.

My initial reaction was ‘wow’. The software performed above my expectations on such a sub-par machine. It packs in notable perks that turn heads. And above all, it’s arguably the best example of an iOS port done right. The program’s Mac-ified interface takes feature parity across platforms to a whole new level and a lot richer editing tools build upon that. It trumps Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Picasa in some aspects while being a compelling alternative to similar offerings. For rookies, FX Photo Studio is fun and easy to use. Pros will appreciate its high-quality filters and the features which allow for advanced touch ups.

The Mac version of FX Photo Studio comes with perks like a brand new interface and deeper color correction capabilities

Rather than just redo the iOS interface, the Mac port rethinks your workflow by letting you accomplish most touch ups with just a click or two. I’d like to see this iOS philosophy carried over into more Mac apps. Everything is inside a single window, no palettes floating around. The sleek, slightly subdued interface looks business. The controls slide in and out smoothly. The panels fade in when invoked. Elegant animations lend to the sense of liveliness without slowing you down or obscuring your view.

Top and bottom toolbars augment the main area dedicated to your content. Gorgeous effect thumbnails with live previews reside lined up inside the panel below the workspace. You can hide the effects panel with a single click in order to fully focus on the image at hand. A handy drop-down menu lists your filters by category (Cross Process, Sketches and Textures, Vintage and Grunge, TiltShift and Blur, Hollywood FX and Color Strokes plus more).

The panel with live previews lets you scrub through all 159 effects or filter the list by category

You can quickly find a particular filter by typing its name into the search field. I absolutely love the Compare button which lets me study the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images side-by-side. This is gold in combination with another button that takes me fullscreen. I’m most productive fullscreen and I love how this mode bears resemblance to full-screen Lion apps Apple’s been showcasing.

Full-screen view with optional side-by-side arrangement is a time-saver when you wanna mess with the filters to achieve that perfect look

Pro filters and tools ‘for the rest of us’

The software comes jam-packed with 159 filters (187 effects in iOS apps). We’re talking high-quality stuff, not the crippled filters you often find in many other photo editing applications. The ability to save multiple effect combos as presets is a winner. This allows for some nice cross-platform exchange. For example, I can do a mashup on my iPhone and import the resulting preset code into FX Photo Studio for Mac to continue using the same filter combo on my desktop.

Effect mashups can be shared cross-platform and with friends via handy codes.

What you won’t find in iOS apps, however, are advanced color correction and editing tools. There are fifteen of those in the Pro version, ranging from exposure, brightness, saturation, hue, color balance and sharpening tools to shadows, highlights, levels and individual channel controls. Major image formats are supported as well, including OpenEXR, RAW and Photoshop files. Plus, the application supports up to 32-megapixel photos. My rusty old Mac mini mostly zips through ten-megapixel snaps, with most effects taking a second or two to render. That’s a telling sign of under-the-hood optimizations in my book.

Social features, seen in the above screenshot, include built-in Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr sharing and direct iPhoto export. On the downside, disk exporting options (image size, quality settings) could use a little work. I also wanted in-app emailing akin to iPhoto because I don’t like being yanked out of my app when sharing images via email. More detailed application preferences would have been a plus as well.

Conclusion: Should be part of your photography arsenal

With its iPhoto-like ease of use, attractive user interface and top-notch photo effects, FX Photo Studio is an avid photographer’s must-have. For just about everyone else dealing with digital photographs it’s a recommended download. The demanding types looking to get the most out of their snaps are better off with Apple’s Aperture or one of the Adobe applications, though. For the mainstream consumer, the only viable contender to FX Photo Studio is Pixelmator, a general-purpose image editing program that lacks FX Photo Studio’s strong photography focus.

The selling point? A bunch of gorgeous effects that breathe life into drab, dull shots. Check out this ‘before’ (left) and ‘after’ (right) example that took just a click.

There’s no learning curve associated with FX Photo Studio. As a result, even novice types can enhance their digital photographs in a snap (no pun intended). Wrapping up – and I cannot stress this enough – FX Photo Studio is engaging, fun and delightful – even more so than the iPhone or iPad versions. Granted, at forty bucks FX Photo Studio Pro isn’t for everyone – especially in the 99 cent economy. Fortunately, MacPhun is offering a regular version that supports fewer image formats, has only basic editing tools and lets you work with up to 16-megapixel resolution images for half the price of the Pro version.

Is it worth the asking price? Absolutely, in my personal opinion. Most comparable programs in this category are priced north of $40. MacPhun is currently holding a promo sale of FX Photo Studio for iPhone and iPad throughout the weekend so now may be a good time to check out why all the fuss before taking the plunge on your Mac. FX Photo Studio for iPhone sells for 99 cents a pop (a 50 percent discount). The iPad version is discounted to two bucks (a 30 percent saving).

Wondering about that review of FX Photo Studio for iPhone and iPad? Check here.