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Prisma review: Intelligent photo effects app taps into deep learning for an edgy art connection

Jackie Dove | Aug. 16, 2016
Intermittent performance issues plague stunning AI-based photo app.

Sometimes an app is so just right for its moment in history that it hits everyone between the eyes and lingers in the limelight. That’s what is happening with Prisma (free, iTunes Store link), a free photo/art app for iPhone that touts special effects image “filters” that render the painterly styles of famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Lichtenstein, Mondrian, Kandinsky, and others. The buzz around Prisma and the fascination it has generated persists because the app is super simple to use and yields an endless variety of genuinely unique results. It’s all on account of Prisma’s secret sauce: cloud-based neural network and deep learning algorithms that reinterpret your pedestrian little snapshot through a signature artist’s eye. Each style is applied differently in response to the unique patterns in the picture.

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Use of neural networks for art, which involves interpreting images in layers, is not brand a new concept. Google open sourced its code from last year’s DeepDream neural network experiment, and others have tried their hand at adapting similar technologies for artistic purposes. Prisma has achieved commercially viable depth, variety, and speed, augmented by persistent updates and enhancements.

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Prisma is not an Instagram clone. It is not a filter at all. It doesn’t merely sit atop your image to alter its look. When you choose a Prisma style, the app delivers a new image to you based on the neural network operation that responds to your picture’s unique arrangement of pixels.

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Illegal Beauty, Mononoke, Mosaic, Heisenberg.

I love that after you choose an image style, the pictures don’t always turn out as you would expect because each image integrates with the algorithm differently. Some styles inevitably work better than others on different types of scenes. You can start with the hints the app offers: I picked examples featuring people as a guide to filtering portraits, while example images of landscapes were my first choice for nature shots. But hey, with abstract paintings, anything goes. The image downloads with 100 percent intensity, but by sliding your finger onscreen, you can adjust the effect. A split view gives you a direct before-after comparison. Prisma adds an unsightly watermark to the lower right hand corner of each image by default, however it is easily removed in the settings.

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So what’s not to like? Well, a few things could stand some improvement. Right now, as entrancing as they are, the resulting images are low-resolution at 1080x1080 pixels, much lower than the image input of your phone. Prisma has already gone on record that it intends to improve output resolution. In addition, no matter what aspect ratio your images are going in, they all come out square. And while that’s great for the Instagram crowd, some people want a choice.

 

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