If you look at the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, image editing apps are a dime a dozen. New ones that hit the marketplace always claim to be better than the others, with features that often cause you to yawn out loud. But right now, we are going through a stage where artificial intelligence is running the show. Whether it’s writing your essays, souping up your smartphone camera, or controlling Terminator robots through Skynet, AI seems to be the flavor of the year. The newest one is called Lensa AI, which is already causing some controversy. Let’s cut through the marketing speak and see if Lensa is worth using and paying for.
What is Lensa AI?
Lensa AI is an app for Android and iPhone which claims to improve your images in a variety of ways. This includes things like removing objects from the picture, touching up blemishes, blurring the background, and running your image through a variety of filters. So far, they’re just offering pretty much what other image editing apps offer, except they obviously claim to do things a lot better.
One interesting feature, though, is something called Beat Sync. After uploading a video and choosing a song from their database, Lensa AI will use its algorithm to sync the music to your video. So if you’re moving fast, twisting and turning, etc, the music beats will sync with your movements. It’s not known, though, if the music is royalty-free, so it may be risky to upload these videos to places like YouTube, where you may get hit by a copyright violation strike. Privately sharing with friends and family would be fine, though, and quite fun.
Why is Lensa AI gaining in popularity?
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
Lensa AI has soared in popularity due to its Magic Avatars feature, which is being used by celebrities all over social media. Everywhere you look, you see another Magic Avatar. Everybody loves a celebrity endorsement, so it’s then mostly a case of everybody jumping on the bandwagon. Whoopi Goldberg, on The View, claims that users are making glamorous avatar pictures of themselves in Magic Avatars and then going to their plastic surgeon asking to be made just like the picture.
To give credit where credit is due, Lensa AI does do a lot of things really well. Their Magic Avatars feature may need a lot of work done to it to improve its depiction of women, but other image editing features are done quite well. Some people may be put off by the recurring subscription price, though. A one-off fee would be a lot nicer.
What are Magic Avatars, and how are they generated?
Magic Avatars is a feature that the company is heavily promoting, but it is also the feature that is getting them the most negative press and the biggest blowback from users. The feature takes an ordinary photo and turns it into what the company calls “a mind-blowing avatar.” Which is one way of describing it, I guess.
I did have to laugh, though, when they said under ‘Bad photo examples’ that one example of a bad photo was ‘monotonous pics.” Who gets to decide what’s monotonous and what’s not? One person’s monotony is another person’s excitement. Am I right?
After selecting your gender and your styles (and paying for the avatars), you will have to wait around 10 minutes for them to be generated. However, you can ask to be notified when they’re done, so you don’t have to wait and stare at the screen. That’s a nice touch, as you can play around with other parts of the app while your avatars are being made in the background.
The results, though, were shocking in my case. I don’t consider myself a supermodel by any stretch of the imagination. But then again, I don’t think I am bad looking, either. So seeing some of these images made me wonder if the AI had seen my picture and blown a fuse. It’s got me looking either like a cult leader, a James Bond villain, Salvador Dali, or Ben Affleck. At the very least, it credits me with more hair than I actually have.
Is the Lensa AI app free?
The Lensa AI app is free to download, and you can get a 7-day free trial to test things out. But after that, the party ends, and you have to pay to continue. By far, the cheapest option is to pay annually. $31.99 annually compared to $7.99 monthly. Very cheekily, though, Lensa AI adds an extra $2 onto the annual price if you choose to accept the 7-day free trial. Without the trial, you would be charged $29.99 annually instead.
As well as the subscription price, you also get charged for Magic Avatars. It starts at $3.49 and goes up to $6.99 — even during the free trial when everything is supposed to be free. As you can see, though, from my subpar Magic Avatars earlier in the article, it’s debatable whether or not you would get your money’s worth.
Is Lensa AI safe for kids?
To be honest, it’s not really suitable for kids, and when you upload images for Magic Avatars, you are asked to verify you are at least 18 years old. Many women are outraged at their images being hypersexualized with enlarged breasts, pouting lips, and a generally inappropriate pose. These images can easily make their way online onto social media and be taken entirely out of context by family, friends, and (potential) employers.
One prominent example is actress Megan Fox, who complained on her Instagram account. The above image was cropped by us, but if you click through to the original post, you’ll see the full image (NSFW). It’s easy to see what she’s angry about.
Olivia Snow, over at Wired Magazine, also did an excellent article on how she uploaded some of her childhood photos, and Lensa AI turned them into little more than child pornography.
I tried recreating this problem with pictures of a female friend (with her consent), and nothing untoward happened. I also tried uploading pictures of myself and tapping the Female option when asked for my gender. Again, nothing negative happened. So it must only be happening to a certain segment of users, depending on the types of images they’re uploading. Still, it’s rather disturbing, and the company should address it.
How to use the Lensa app
There are two ways to use the Lensa AI app — upload a photo or upload a video. Photos are their bread and butter, with the most editing features available. But we will take a look at both.
Once you upload your photo, you are presented with a multitude of editing options. Basically, what I call the “Cosmo effect” (after the magazine.) You can eliminate any unsightly blemishes, warts, third eye, double chin, eye bags, the whole lot. You can even give yourself bigger eyes, smaller nose, smaller cheeks, and plumper lips. Lensa’s AI will also suggest filters to you.
Obviously, anything you change can be immediately reversed with the undo button or the reset option.
Maybe it was just the photo I chose, but Lensa didn’t seem to change all that much about my face. Maybe you just can’t change perfection.
As well as editing the person in the picture, you can also change other things in the picture. For example, you can remove objects by moving your finger over them. You can blur the background or remove it completely. There are lots of Instagram-type filters which are not that much different than the ones that Instagram offers. Finally, you can add colored borders, which would be good for images you intend to add to social media.
Beat Sync Videos
Then there is the video side of things, and this is the part I actually found the most enjoyable.
After uploading your video, you can add various filters and effects to change the video color and style. I turned my Christmas village video into a shaky 1930s-style black-and-white movie. You can then choose which music you want to add to the video. Be aware, though, that the original audio will not be removed. The music will merely be laid on top of the original audio.
Plus, to reiterate, the music may not be royalty-free, so be cautious about posting your creations online. You don’t want any copyright violation complaints.
But this is definitely the best part of Lensa AI. I made some really great videos using this.
Lensa AI is an app with a lot of promise and does its job really well. But it charges a lot of money for features that other cheaper apps also do. Then there are the Magic Avatars issues that we have gone into above.
Our suggestion would be to try it out with the free trial and see what you think. But most likely, a lot of users are going to hesitate to open their wallets for things that other apps can do more cheaply or for free.
Lensa AI is the product. The American company that makes and owns it is called Prisma AI. It has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. They also won both Google and Apple’s App of the Year awards in 2016. You can draw your own conclusions from that, but it all looks pretty good.
Lensa AI makes money by charging annual and monthly subscriptions.
They have attracted controversy due to their Magic Avatar feature, which has drawn claims of “hypersexualizing” female photos by enlarging breasts and giving the subject a “sultry look.” They are also generated into nude photos, despite the original photo depicting the subject wearing clothes. Non-Caucasian women have also complained that their skin was ‘whitened’ by Magic Avatar.