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.

Score: 

Also worth a look: Camera+ ($1.99), Camera Genius ($0.99), QuickPix ($0.99), Best Camera ($2.99)QikCam – Free (Android)

Photo Editing: Iris Photo Suite ($1.99)

Iris Photo Suite has an uncluttered layout with the main image editing
tools clustered under the Adjustments tab, one of four arranged along
the top of the main window. Image previews during editing are
constrained in size due to the adjustment sliders but this remains a
powerful and well-specified app.

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.

Score: 

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.

Score: 

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’s Auto and Semi-Auto modes give the best results for
handheld use, limiting image registration issues. Due to the slightly
different operation, the Auto mode minimizes those alignment issues
but we found the Semi-Auto option, requiring a couple of extra steps,
gives the best HDR effect.

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.

Score: 

Others to consider: ProHDR ($1.99), iCameraHDR ($0.99), HDR Camera – Free (Android)

Panorama Apps: AutoStitch ($1.99)

Another app with a simple and easy to use interface, AutoStitch aligns,
blends and renders all the images without the user having to have any
additional input (other than the shooting). Over 20 separate frames
(totaling a maximum of 18MP) can be stitched to make one image.

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.

Score: 

Also worth a look:  Pano ($1.99), 360 Panorama ($0.99)

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.

Score: 

Also worth a look: PicPlz – Free (iOS, Android)

3D Apps: 3D Camera ($1.99)

3D Camera works best with simple uncomplicated scenes if only
because accuracy is required to displace the second of the two
composite shots. We also found it tricky to compensate for the
necessary displacement at different distances required to achieve the
desired 3D effect.

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.

Score: 

Tilt & Shift Apps: TiltShift ($1.99)

Although TiltShift can operate and produce the miniature effect all by
itself automatically, most images need some fine-tuning to make them
really standout. We found it easier to make adjustments at the time of
capture, especially when positioning the blur filter; it’s the only time
the visual guide can be seen clearly.

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. 

Score: 

Also worth a look: TiltShift Generator, available for $0.99.

Toy Camera Apps: Cameramatic ($1.99)

Although you can choose a filter effect at the time of capture, you can change your mind and apply another instead from Cameramatic’s Light Box. There are other enhancement (or Development) options available there too before sharing to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook or even Instagram.

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).

Score: 

Also worth a look: Retro Camera (Android), Vignette (Android), Hipstamatic ($1.99)

Conclusion

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.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 32
Dannyboy292
By Dannyboy292 (Nov 15, 2011)

Canon DSLR Controller for android trumps just about any photo app the iPhone has to offer, and its so nice to use on my 10 inch android tablet screen :-)

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Bo Groth
By Bo Groth (Jan 24, 2012)

Hi Dannyboy. Please help me, Can´t find the Canon DSLR controller on android marked...

0 upvotes
Tony Donaldson
By Tony Donaldson (Sep 9, 2011)

Great article. Now, how about one for Android?

6 upvotes
Dixon Hamby
By Dixon Hamby (Sep 6, 2011)

Huge omission. My favorite and the most powerful iPhone photo app - Filterstorm

0 upvotes
theappwhisperer
By theappwhisperer (Sep 3, 2011)

We categorized the apps into eight key subcategory areas, Camera Enhancement, Image Editing, Filters, Panoramas, TiltShift, HDR, 3D and Toy.

Camera Enhancement apps offer some much-needed extra functionality for both stills and video capture. Don’t expect DSLR or even compact camera level capability, at least just yet, though there are some promising features.

We’ve made the distinction between Image Editing and Filter apps as many of these overlap in terms of features but the former offer more-traditional image adjustment and enhancement options. We appreciate it’s a thin line between the two but it’s a crowded segment and user’s expectations differ; some want automation others want greater levels of control. You could also say our other categories (Panoramas, TiltShift HDR, Toy and 3D) fall under Effects, and it’s perhaps the reason why Apple has so far resisted the temptation to add sub-sets.

0 upvotes
Stig Nygaard
By Stig Nygaard (Sep 3, 2011)

Definitely missing Android app Magic Hour in this overview. And also Lightbox Photos and Snaptastic I would say...

Magic Hour: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.kiwiple.mhm

Lightbox Photos: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.lightbox.android.photos

Snaptastic: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.mcurrent.snaptastic

0 upvotes
Stig Nygaard
By Stig Nygaard (Sep 3, 2011)

While at it, other interesting Android apps for photographers could be:
Sun Surveyor, LightTrac, Sundroid
PhoforPHO, Photo Tools Pro
Gifinator

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Sep 2, 2011)

I have just updated the links to the Android apps

0 upvotes
jmmgarza
By jmmgarza (Sep 2, 2011)

I am teaching an iPhone and iPad photography course at the local university. This information will be useful.

0 upvotes
theappwhisperer
By theappwhisperer (Sep 2, 2011)

That's great, pleased to help. Keep checking back as we're sure you'll find lots more info very soon too.

0 upvotes
Abadonna
By Abadonna (Sep 2, 2011)

Aplle fappers 'article'.

0 upvotes
Nikonworks
By Nikonworks (Sep 2, 2011)

Android is limitied to 25MB for the processing of a single image. This includes multiple versions generated during processing,
this limits the output resolutuion to being useful for the web but not printing at 4x6.
Android will have to increase this 25MB limit to provide more effective and useful photography apps.
Right now I use Photo Enhance Pro for my journalism work, which overcomes this 25 MB limit effectively. How? Email the developer.

0 upvotes
Charles Hueter
By Charles Hueter (Sep 2, 2011)

Do you have a reference for the 25MB limit? It's the first time I've heard it.

I'm also curious what you mean by the system limiting output resolution to 4x6. My cell camera shoots up to 8 megapixels, generating 3264x1952 files, theoretically good enough for a 200 dpi 16x9" print.

0 upvotes
Nikonworks
By Nikonworks (Sep 2, 2011)

re-read my post, nothing to be curious about.

0 upvotes
Michael Barkowski
By Michael Barkowski (Sep 20, 2011)

There seems to be a way to get around it (largeHeap?) in Honeycomb:
http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/www.google.com/en//events/io/2011/static/presofiles/memory_management_for_android_apps.pdf

0 upvotes
ViTAR
By ViTAR (Sep 2, 2011)

Move mentioning and reviews of Android apps to separate article, rename this one to "Overview of imaging apps for iOS #1" - that would be politely.

3 upvotes
Tony Rundle
By Tony Rundle (Sep 2, 2011)

I hope you'll have time to look at iPad apps too at some point.

0 upvotes
theappwhisperer
By theappwhisperer (Sep 2, 2011)

Yes of course, don't worry, that's coming.

0 upvotes
BFrank9
By BFrank9 (Sep 2, 2011)

I haven't found a camera App that lets me manually control exposure. As mentioned, Camera Plus Pro (and at least a couple others) has something like a "spot meter," but it doesn't work well at a distance making it difficult to get proper exposures when shooting performances.

0 upvotes
mustang_fan
By mustang_fan (Sep 2, 2011)

I love some of those apps you posted however, I am able to find them on my HTC Adnroid EVO Sprint phone. Any idea why? Please help me....Thank you.

0 upvotes
keeponkeepingon
By keeponkeepingon (Sep 2, 2011)

Fantastic subject but....

I was literally floored that you had Camera plus front and center, and camera+ is shoved down into an "also worth a look"?

One of the two is consistently one of the top 50 apps in the app store (not just photo apps) and most days the best selling photo app.

The other app got #1 billing by dpreview.

I know the reason for the former, it's a great app, but am still scratching my head on the latter.

If you were convinced camera plus was a 5 out of 5 app, OK I'd lend you an ear

But when I scroll down and see you've given it 3 out of 5 stars, with so many great apps, you have number one front and center a knock off with a meh rating, I have to conclude this was "rushed to press". I'll come back and peruse the comments later fo but for now I'll let this one stew a bit.

Disclaimer: Very happy camera+ user.

0 upvotes
Falxon
By Falxon (Sep 1, 2011)

Guys, what's with ALL of the headline apps being iPhone apps? The article starts out mentioning Android, then goes on to pretty much be an Apple love-fest.

To make matters worse, the Android apps you do list below each category are not even linked to the Android Market, while all Apple apps are faithfully linked.

With Android outnumbering Apple users, I would hope for much better balanced coverage, or at least, call it an article for Apple users only.

3 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (Sep 2, 2011)

It's maybe because Android isn't really worth tool for a photographer? Take a look at comparison of apps number. Take a look at current state of this system...mess. You really expect a list of Android apps? It'd take half of article to describe under which conditions on which phone one app may work and another might not. It'd make more sense to list Windows Phone 7 apps than Android.
Google's system simply doesn't work to be any reasonable tool for anything else than kiddies / Linux-nerds / ppl who don't want to play with apps.

0 upvotes
spidermoon
By spidermoon (Sep 2, 2011)

Oh now, even here Apple fan boys strike hard ;) For android you have dozen of free applications. On my Desire, i'm happy with FxCamera, Retro Camera, LittlePhoto, HDR Camera and PhotoTools, this one it's not a photo appli but rather a collection of tools for photographers. I recently try dramapic and photomatic.
My favourite is still LittlePhoto.

1 upvote
Charles Hueter
By Charles Hueter (Sep 2, 2011)

Plastek, the biggest software compatibility problem within the Android system was the divide between phones using versions older or newer than 1.6...and as of at least July this year, the market share of phones using versions newer than 1.6 is over 97%. That canard can be laid to rest, as can the fallacy of comparing the raw number of apps between systems as a proxy to show the photographic utility of one over the other. It'd be just as senseless to say Porsche "isn't really worth tool for the racer" because they sell less than Mustangs.

1 upvote
twenty200
By twenty200 (Sep 2, 2011)

The real problem Android faces is cash for developers. The reason there are so many better apps for the iPhone instead of Android has nothing to do with fanboyism or even the quality of the hardware or mobile OS. It's all about cash. Developers make more money from iPhone apps because, unless an iPhone is jailbroken, the only way to get apps is from the app store. This means app piracy is minimal at best. I honestly don't know anybody who buys Android apps. People download and swap them as if they're mp3s.

If Google can find a way to lock down Android apps within the Android Market as the only way to get them, Android will see an explosion of better apps (and upset customers who were used to pirating most of their apps).

In the end, it's all about cash. Developers will always flock to where they can make the most money.

0 upvotes
twenty200
By twenty200 (Sep 2, 2011)

I'm pretty shocked to see Camera Plus Pro instead of the real Camera+ app listed here. That's nutty. It seems as if dpreview went out of their way to not feature the best apps. Cameramatic instead of Hipstamatic? That's nutty too. Cameramatic has potential, but it's one of the many 2nd tier apps. It's certainly not better than Hipstamatic, and its dramatically lower userbase is proof of that. And Iris Photo Suite as the best editor? Nutty!!! LoMob is fun, but there's no way that's the best in its class.

Seriously. Why did dpreview make an effort to avoid best in class apps? So odd.

0 upvotes
twenty200
By twenty200 (Sep 2, 2011)

I also agree that Android users deserve their own article, specifically highlighting the best of their apps.

0 upvotes
theappwhisperer
By theappwhisperer (Sep 3, 2011)

Camera app developers appear to fall into two camps regarding the Android Marketplace, those that believe it’s only a matter of time until more photography apps appear and those that think there isn’t enough incentive to develop apps for Android. To many developers, Apple has created a platform that is so much easier on which to create apps. The downside to this is due to the competition in the Apple App Store and this in turn makes it much harder to stand out, for example more Retro Camera apps have been sold in the Android marketplace than the Apple App Store.

0 upvotes
theappwhisperer
By theappwhisperer (Sep 3, 2011)

Part of the reason for slower growth on Android is due to the hardware and software fragmentation issues. Chris Kahlier developer of Retro Camera for Android and Apple iOS agrees, “It took many iterations to get Retro Camera for Android working as well as it does”.

0 upvotes
theappwhisperer
By theappwhisperer (Sep 3, 2011)

This article is not about 'the best' camera apps - it is about separating them out into an organized coherent order. We do not state that the apps that are highlighted are the best in their category, that's not what it is about. We didn't want this to read just as a top chart show.

0 upvotes
KT_at_SF
By KT_at_SF (Sep 4, 2011)

Yes, developers follow the money (i.e. potential customers/pocketbooks), and that's where Android is winning over iOS - the smartphone market share numbers show that Android is now clearly dominant over Apple smartphones, and the same trend is just starting to happen in the tablets space (where the constant introductions of new 4G tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 are making the old iPad2 look primitive); hence, Apple's recent lawsuits spree (which seems doomed follow the same fate as their failed lawsuit over the “look-and-feel” of Microsoft Windows 3.1, especially now that Google has acquired the massive Motorola patents warchest). Here in Silicon Valley, I can tell you that my apps developer friends are now focused on Android more than iOS (more so than a year ago), because that's where the market momentum seems headed.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 32