Mobile imaging apps - an overview
The mobile photography app market has come a long way since Apple introduced app purchases into its iTunes software in 2008. In the past three years, taking photos or videos and instantly sharing them has become part of everyday life to many people. Apple announced at a recent WWDC that the Apple iPhone has become the most popular device for uploading photos to popular photo-sharing website Flickr.
Today, Apple's App Store has more than 425,000 apps, but with almost 10,000 targeting photography, choosing the right app can be a difficult task. In comparison, the Google Android market has 200,000 apps with only around 1,000 photography apps currently, though this is expected to expand rapidly.
With app prices at an all-time low it would seem like a good time to indulge your hobby but that doesn’t make it any easier to find exactly what you’re looking for. That’s where we can help. In this roundup we have categorized the apps into eight key areas, Camera Enhancement, Image Editing, Filters, Panoramas, TiltShift, HDR, 3D and Toy, and focussed on one app per category.
Camera Enhancement: Camera Plus Pro ($1.99)
|Camera Plus Pro has a similar clutter free layout as Apple’s Camera app |
but it has a very large on-screen menu. Fortunately, this can be
minimized quickly, by either touching the background to select the AF
point or when releasing the shutter.
Camera Plus Pro (CP Pro) lifts the iPhone’s fairly basic camera and video features up a level, or two. Stills settings are limited to Anti-shake, Timer, Burst mode, Big Button, Geo Tags and Grid Lines, while video capture offers some additional options including a digital zoom, time-lapse and a range of filter effects. The Anti-Shake option doesn't correct for shake as such, but rather is based on an onscreen traffic light system that warns when shake is likely.
One feature you won’t want to miss though is the touch exposure option and it’s available in both stills and video modes. Touch exposure works much like a spot meter; you simply touch the screen for the correct exposure at that point. But, even if you don’t know quite what you’re doing with it you can swipe back-and-forth until the exposure looks good.
There’s much more to the app including a vast array of non-destructive photo-finishing features, filters, effects, a slideshow option and a raft of sharing options, much more than we can cover here. CP Pro isn’t perfect but we like it as it’s quick, intuitive, convenient and highly versatile.
Photo Editing: Iris Photo Suite ($1.99)
Iris Photo Suite boasts eight pages of filters numbering 72 in total and each one can be adjusted by strength and, if you want more control, even applied as a mask. This option extends to most other adjustments as well, offering localized editing in the palm of your hand.
As well as the expected adjustment options including levels, color temp, shadow/highlights and sharpening; some other features we valued include noise reduction, layers (albeit somewhat limited to blur, mosaic, blend and base) plus it has a handy watermarking option. We also liked the multiple undo/redo feature but the app doesn’t support fast switching (though you can restore the last session if you’re interrupted).
Overall, we found Iris Photo Suite's UI easy to navigate and the adjustment sliders provide reasonable accuracy but the preview image feels cramped as a result. Fast, powerful and with a good balance of features, Iris is versatile and a good example of the current capabilities available to iPhoneographers.
Also worth a look: Photoshop Express - Free (Dual), PhotoForge ($0.99), Touch Retouch ($0.99), Perfect Photo ($0.99) Camera 360 - $3.99 (Android), PicSay - $4.00 (Android), PhotoFX ($2.99), ProCamera ($2.99)
Filter effects Apps: Lo-Mob ($1.99)
|Lo-Mob’s image previews are quite small and difficult to see when |
selecting the effect to apply but don’t let that dissuade you from an
otherwise excellent looking, and performing, filter app.
Like the majority of filter apps, the symbiotic nature of Lo-Mob makes it really simple to use. You can either capture an image within the app or select one from your photo album. We like the clear and uncluttered, almost Apple-esque, layout and it has nearly 40 great, but mainly retro, looking filters.
It may seem a trifle understated and the effects somewhat low-key but there are some undeniably attractive and convincing choices and, after you’ve selected your image, each effect is previewed along with a description of the effect. Unfortunately, the filters are presented as a list making the preview uncomfortably small, but each one is distinguished by film and camera type to help guide you through them all.
There are several of these categories but we constantly found being drawn to Through the Viewfinder (TTF) experimentation, Medium Format Simulation, and Instant emulsions but that’s a personal thing. After that you can make further adjustments to the color and blur, add a frame, vignette, zoom and crop (though not all of these options are available to all the filters) then share it over Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Flickr or by email.
Also worth a look: Film Lab ($0.99), iDarkroom ($0.99), Image Blender ($1.99), Infinicam ($1.99), Iris Photo Suite ($1.99), Mill Colour (Free) Little Photo – Free (Android), My Tubo – Free (Android), DipTic ($1.99), Film Lab ($0.99), Frametastic ($1.99), iDarkroom ($0.99), Image Blender ($1.99), Infinicam ($1.99), PicFrame ($0.99), Plastic Bullet ($1.99), Slow Shutter ($1.99), SwankoLab ($1.99), Timelapse ($1.99)
HDR Apps: TrueHDR ($1.99)
TrueHDR app has a simple interface with just three capture modes; Auto for quick snaps, Semi Auto with a bit more control and Manual for purists. Although the aim is the same (to capture as wide a luminance range as possible in a scene) each mode has a slightly different operation.
For handheld use, though, we would recommend you stick with Auto Capture (or even the Semi-Auto mode) as the images are taken in quick succession. Indeed, we got the best, most reliable results from the Semi-Auto mode but you need to select the two exposure points with some care (although that inevitably means the lightest and darkest areas in the scene).
TrueHDR works faster than many of its rivals but if there’s a shortcoming, it lacks any image editing options where some rival apps, such as iCameraHDR, can even add special effects. That said, considering it is essentially a 'one shot' effect, we found the results from TrueHDR impressive.
Panorama Apps: AutoStitch ($1.99)
The option to capture Panoramas with digital cameras is well established so it’s not surprising to see apps with similar capabilities being offered for smartphones. With AutoStitch, though, there’s no fancy sweep panorama feature, in fact you have to go back to basics and take separate images using a (third-party or Apple’s own) camera app and then import them from your camera roll. It’s not a deal-breaker in this instance though.
After that (which is the difficult part), all that’s required is to select your photos from within the app and let AutoStitch do the heavy lifting. Impressively, the app will blend in excess of 20-images (up to an 18-megaixel limit). Exposure is adjusted automatically but it’s a good idea to get as consistent exposure as possible during capture.
We found it straightforward to use and the app will even automatically crop the resultant image to the optimum dimensions, but the quality of the results depends on whether you’ve been careful with the alignment during the capture stage. There are the usual sharing options and all that’s really missing is geo-tagging but even without it, if panoramas are your thing, AutoStitch is well worth a look.
Photo Sharing Apps: Instagram (Free)
|Commonly known as the Twitter of photo sharing apps, Instagram gets |
more popular everyday with thousands of iPhoneographers desperate
to be a part of it. It has a great looking, easy to use interface too.
As well as being a photo sharing app perhaps the main attraction and popularity of Instagram is due to its proactive (and, thankfully, largely positive) community. Instagram claims over 6 million people have shared more than 100 million photos with one another using the app, and many iPhoneographers believe their photography has been influenced by the comments they received.
Although you can take images from within the app easily enough many photographers prefer to use third party apps (such as Camera+, Hispstamatic or Filter Mania) before uploading them to the Instagram server. There’s even a comprehensive set of inbuilt filters and more than passable tilt & shift mode for last-minute adjustment before sending them to the community for a critique. Instagram recently received a $7 million investment, and plans to use this creating a much-requested Android version while launching an API for third-party developers, so the future looks bright.
3D Apps: 3D Camera ($1.99)
Juicy Bits Software was one of the first to market a 3D app for the iPhone with 3D Camera and it has proved to be very popular. Simplicity is the key here. You take two photographs of the same subject, displace them slightly and the app combines them to create a single, 3D image which you can view using inexpensive anaglyph 3D glasses.
If you don’t have a pair of anaglyph 3D glasses you can order a free pair from Juicy Bits. There's also a 'stereogram mode' for glasses-free viewing of 3D images, although be warned - it might make you dizzy.
There’s another viewing mode too which makes the composite image oscillate, but we wouldn’t advise operating heavy machinery or driving for at least 15-minutes afterwards. This is a fun app, and the results when using the glasses aren’t bad at all but we found it difficult to use in landscape mode and it’s a little tricky to compensate for the displacement of objects at varying distances.
Tilt & Shift Apps: TiltShift ($1.99)
Of all the photo effects currently doing the rounds of photo sharing and social networking sites, the tilt & shift, or faux miniature effect, must rate as one of the most popular. For all their ubiquity, decent tilt & shift effect images have an enduring popularity but the success of individual photos is largely down to good technique (high vantage point, and suitable subject matter; cars, trains people, etc). Despite that, this app has a wide range of tools for mimicking the effect as well as a number of sample shots for you to practice with prior to creating your own.
There are four masking guides, including the crucial parallel option, a choice of blur type (gauss / lens) and aperture shape (including some bizarre dollar sign, Apple icon and love heart choices), plus adjustment sliders for several image parameters. Adjustments to the blur filter can be tricky, trickier than rival app TiltShift Generator, especially if you have taken the image in horizontal format and are using the effect from a picture stored on the camera roll. We found it best to apply the effect manually at the time of taking (or swap with second sentence in the caption).
Even without a large range of effects or any kind of in-app sharing options, TiltShift is at the forefront of the current wave of miniature effects filters and is highly recommended.
Also worth a look: TiltShift Generator, available for $0.99.
Toy Camera Apps: Cameramatic ($1.99)
We don’t like crystal ball gazing but we wouldn't be surprised if Cameramatic became a classic app to rival the hugely popular Hipstamatic. If you’re not into the Lomography/toy camera ‘square-shooter’ scene then this app might not be for you but we would recommend taking a look at this addictive and fun app.
As well as over 50 great effects filters and 32 individual high-quality frames, including a great grunge look, Cameramatic also boasts some fun and quirky analogue effects such as light leak and film grain (for B&W images). Geo tagging and EXIF support are welcome features and it has the usual sharing to Twitter, Flickr and Facebook but perhaps best of all it supports direct uploading to Instagram (see above).
The photography app market is growing, competition is high, the quality is increasing and the features ever-expanding. Apple still rules supreme for now, but the competition is hotting up, and more choice is always better for the consumer in the long-term. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, Apple or Android, one thing’s for sure, the photography app market is going to go from strength to strength.
Joanne Carter is the Founder and Editorial Director of TheAppWhisperer.com, a Professional Photographer and Associate of the British Industry of Professional Photographers, BIPP, as well as a Professional Journalist, specializing in Technology.