Snapseed on the Mac is a great tool for hobbyist photographers

Snapseed, Apple’s iPad (s aapl) app of the year for 2011, is available on the Mac as of Thursday via the Mac App Store. At $19.99, it’s more expensive than the $4.99 iOS version, but it adds the ability to work full-screen in much higher resolution than is possible with the iPad, and you can also work with TIFF and RAW files. Here’s how it stacks up against other desktop photo editing solutions.

What learning curve?

As opposed to Photoshop, and even simpler solutions like Photoshop Express (s adbe) or Pixelmator, Snapseed has little to no learning curve. It keeps editing options grouped intelligently and doesn’t overwhelm a user with toolbars and menus. Instead, you have three types of Basic Adjustments, and seven varieties of Creative Adjustments to work with. Within each of these, you get more fine-grained control, but even then, Snapseed makes sure to walk you through the basics, and all changes you make are instantly previewed on your full, working image in real-time.

For family albums and the average user, I’d be willing to bet that quick use of the Basic Adjustments alone would be enough to satisfy most needs. You can likely accomplish the same changes in Photoshop Express and Pixelmator, too, but Snapseed will save you a step or two and that can add up if you’re churning through a backlog of accumulated photos.

Easy effects without the cookie-cutter look

For people who want to share their photos on social networks or use them on personal and professional websites, the Creative Adjustments can really help simplify getting unique and interesting effects. Because each is infinitely tweakable, and because effects can be stacked, you also should be able to create images that don’t look like they came off a filter effect assembly line — something I find can happen far too often with apps like Instagram.

Just be careful when you’re stacking filters; I had one isolated incident where a photo developed some kind of digital noise as a result of combining effects. Luckily, Snapseed uses non-destructive editing techniques, so my original was preserved, but picky users might want to wait for a bug-busting update that addresses this small issue.

Lots of control, but not as fine-grained as the big boys

The lack of dedicated toolbars and brushes in Snapseed means it can’t achieve the level of specific manipulation possible with Photoshop and Pixelmator. You won’t find a blemish brush here, for instance, and while you can add control points that provide impressive control over specific parts of images, there’s no lasso to let you painstakingly stake out an exact, finite area to apply your effects.

This is, I think, both a blessing and a curse. For the average hobbyist user, the lack of fine controls merely means Snapseed’s interface is less cluttered and confusing. It also makes working with Snapseed feel less like work and more like fun, in my opinion. If there’s a blemish or a speck of dust you’d just love to zap away, however, it’ll be frustrating to have to do without.

A tool for photographers, not a profession all its own

The bottom line is that Snapseed, like its iOS predecessor, is a fun, useful tool that should help those who take photos for fun get even more enjoyment out of them. Unlike more full-featured editing suites, it won’t require you to dedicate time and effort to becoming not only a good photographer, but an expert on editing software as well.