iPhone Gems: Eight Good to Great New Photography Apps
Last October, we reviewed 13 different photography applications, and it was obvious that apps to improve iPhone’s camera functionality would be hugely popular. As the App Store has expanded, so has the photo tool category, and so we’re revisiting the genre with a look a eight good or great new apps, ranging from camera extenders and effects/filter apps to wireless photo printing software and a depth of field calculator. We normally start our Gems pieces by naming the best of the best, but as each of these apps earned at least our general recommendation, it’s worth reading through them all to see if there are any you’d like to add to your virtual camera bag.
Unlike some of the more advanced photo editors we’ve seen, ColorSplash ($2) from Hendrik Kueck is a photo manipulation application with one simple goal: it allows users to quickly and easily make trendy, selective saturation images from normal color photos. Users can begin a new editing session by loading a photo from the Camera Roll or Library, or by taking a new picture from within the application. Once a photo is loaded, all color is removed from the image, leaving the user with a blank slate. A small icon bar at the top gives users access to the menu for loading and saving sessions and photos, a brief tutorial, two different view modes—one which displays colored regions in their native hue, and one which displays them as bright red—and lets them select between one of four brushes, each with varying degrees of opacity and softness, and an undo button.
At the bottom are three tabs for switching between the three modes—pan and zoom, color, in which the user is adding color back to the image, and grey, which allows for the desaturation of areas the user might have colorized in error. Thanks to the app’s useful pan and zooming mode, which allows for pixel-level editing, selectively saturating an image in ColorSplash is fairly easy—users simply select the color mode and use their finger to draw over the areas they’d like colorized. Selectively re-saturating the test photo seen here took less than half-an-hour, and we actually found it to be an enjoyable experience. A menu option in the Settings app allows for the brush to be seen while drawing; other options include adjusting the brush size, toggling the automatic rotation feature on and off, and selecting whether or not to save the original photos taken from within the application.
It’s worth noting that the app isn’t much use for photos moved to the iPhone or iPod touch using iTunes—although the results aren’t necessarily any different, the resolution is capped at the reduced size of the iPhone version; in this case, 640x428. Edited photos taken on the iPhone are saved in 1024x768 resolution, and while lower than the 1600x1200 maximum, they’re still quite a bit larger than imported ones, and are likely capped due to memory constraints; photos taken within the app using the iPhone’s camera are saved at full resolution.
While ColorSplash doesn’t do anything beyond selective saturation, and we’re typically hesitant to give our high recommendation to apps with such limited functionality, it handles the process in a way that seems more logical and enjoyable than using a mouse or pen and tablet in a desktop application, and produces eye-popping results that would be impossible with other iPhone software. The files it creates aren’t gallery-worthy in resolution, but they’re acceptable for small prints and emailing or sharing online—many users will find the results well worth the money. Expanded functionality and higher output resolution would make this great little app even more attractive. iLounge Rating: A-.
Based loosely on the company’s Dfx software, Photo fx ($3) from The Tiffen Company is a collection of 26 filters for the iPhone and iPod touch. Upon launching the app, users are presented with three choices: take a photo, load a photo, and options, the latter of which allows for selection of the maximum output size—640 pixels wide, 1024, or Full (1600)—as well as toggling the save original photo feature on and off. Once a photo has been either taken or selected, the app presents users with a bottom-tabbed interface for selecting the filter they’d like to run, each previewed in a small thumbnail and split into groups such as “face,” “outer,” “fun,” “classic,” and “wild.”
As one would expect from a company with years of photo industry experience, a vast majority of the filters provided in Photo fx are nearly professional level in execution. Once a filter has been selected, a contextual set of sliders appears towards the bottom of the screen to allow for fine tuning of the effect, with a menu bar at the bottom for undo, canceling the filter, showing/hiding the sliders, and other tools based on what filter is selected. In our testing, both the face and outdoor filters produced great-looking results, successfully turning a somewhat harsh portrait into a softer, more “glamour” style shot, and adding a burst of color and visual interest to a rather mundane outdoor photo.
Photo fx notes on the options screen that editing full resolution files may cause stability problems, and we did have the app crash on us when trying to save a 1600x1200 photo taken with the iPhone—but as it suggests, a restart of the device fixed the issue. It’s worth noting that we’ve experienced similar issues with other photo editing apps on the iPhone, and it’s commendable that Tiffen is up front about the limitations. While we’d prefer not to have the stability issue at all, Photo fx is otherwise the best filter app we’ve yet seen for the iPhone, offering an impressive number of effects which are equally great in quality. If you’re looking for a filter/effects application, and don’t need saturation, brightness/contrast, or other Photoshop-like controls, Photo fx is presently at the top of the class. iLounge Rating: A-.
Aiming to help iPhone users take pictures in poor lighting, Night Camera ($1) from Sudobility offers a couple of different methods for overcoming shaky hands or otherwise unsuitable shooting conditions. While it offers a standard mode, in which the app functions pretty much like the iPhone’s built-in camera application, it also offers a “stable” mode, which uses the accelerometer to sense when the device is its most stable, and a timer mode that not only allows for more stable hands-off pictures, but also lets the user get him or herself into the photo. The app offers low, medium, and high settings for the stabilization feature, intervals of 5 to 60 seconds on the timer, a fullscreen shutter option that makes the entire screen function as a shutter button, an auto save feature, a timer beep feature that lets the user know when there’s 10 seconds and less in the countdown, and a “vibrate at review” option that issues a vibration when the photo is taken.
In our testing, we didn’t notice a huge difference in the shots taken with Night Camera’s stable mode and those taken with the built-in Camera app; it’s hard to say whether that can be attributed to steady hands, the wrong subject matter, or something else, but it’s also worth noting that the Night Camera pic didn’t look any worse than the standard one. It provides a simple on-screen meter to let you know when the iPhone is becoming stable enough to take a shot, and then snaps it, eliminating images that would otherwise turn out uselessly motion-blurred. The app’s timer mode worked as expected, and could really come in handy for extreme low-light shots or for group pictures in which the user wants to be in the picture, assuming you have a stand to position the iPhone on. It’s also worth noting that Night Camera does not ask for access to your location, and therefore does not include GPS geotagging data in photos taken with the app, nor does it correctly identify the camera as an Apple iPhone.
Although the benefits of its accelerometer-based stable mode are subject to a variety of conditions, Night Camera otherwise offers quite a bit of value for its $1 price tag. The inclusion of a timer mode, and the ability to adjust its length, is a really nice feature to have, and mostly makes up for any small issues we have with the app’s stabilization mode. It would be great to see an update for Night Camera that remedies its omissions and adds better on-screen displays like the ones in Camera Genius below, but as it stands, it’s still a good app for the price. iLounge Rating: B.
As contrasted with Night Camera, Camera Genius ($2) from CodeGoo isn’t specifically billed as an app just for low-light photography, but its functionality is extremely similar. In short, it enhances the iPhone’s built-in camera functionality by adding several features that are designed to help you take sharper and better composed pictures.
While you can use it identically to the iPhone’s camera by pressing a small, centralized manual shutter button, one of the screen’s bottom-mounted icons lets you activate a nearly full-screen large shutter button, for times when you can’t look at or precisely touch the screen while snapping a shot. A backwards arrow button lets you quickly review the last picture, as well, avoiding the need to dive back into the iPhone’s entire Photos library to see what you just took.
The more interesting features begin with an anti-shake feature, which measures the stability of the iPhone and waits until it’s stable to automatically take a photo. We found that this worked well at producing clean shots, and provided nicer on-screen feedback than Night Camera’s similar feature, but again, it doesn’t perform miracles: it merely makes a smart judgment as to when the camera has its best chance at a photo with little motion blurring. Another useful feature puts up three bar-style lines, a grid, a crosshair, or diagonal lines on the screen, giving users the ability to compose images using the rule of thirds or other measures.
There’s also a timer, which can be set for 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30 second countdowns, complete with beeps if the speaker’s turned on; Night Camera notably counts higher. But Camera Genius also includes as a Sound Activation feature, which automatically measures the current ambient noise level and then takes a picture whenever there’s a significant deviation in that level. While we liked the idea of this feature, it really needs a user-adjustable setting to determine what does and doesn’t constitute a trigger: up close, we found that we sometimes had to yell to trigger it, rather than just being able to say “go.” As with Night Camera, Camera Genius doesn’t include GPS geotagging data in the photos it takes, nor does it identify the camera as an Apple iPhone. Unlike Night Camera, we found that this app was subject to memory-related hangups, getting stuck at times on a black screen; restarting the iPhone resolved this issue.
Overall, while Camera Genius offers more functionality than Night Camera, one of its most potentially useful and distinguishing features—Sound Activation—is spotty, and the core concept of stabilizing the shaky photos is roughly the same between the two apps, only with fewer settings and a somewhat better on-screen stabilization indicator in Camera Genius. You gain the grid features, lose some of the timer settings, and pay at least $1 more; CodeGoo’s $2 price is claimed as a “sale” with “special introductory pricing.” For the time being, it offers just enough more than Night Camera to justify a slightly higher price, but should the cost go up without substantial feature additions, we’re not sure that it would still be worthy of our recommendation. For $2, though, it’s a good purchase. iLounge Rating: B.
QuadCamera ($2) from Takayuki Fukatsu is an interesting camera application for the iPhone. Somewhat similar to the cheap four-lens cameras sold by Lomography and others, QuadCamera uses the iPhone’s built-in cam to take four or more low-resolution shots in quick succession, stitching them together as one image. It offers 2x2, 4x1, 4x2, and 8x1 layouts, a “timer” setting that adjusts the interval between each shot, six color options, including vivid, high contrast, dull, grayscale, bright, or normal, and an option to skip the preview following a shot—all of which can be accessed via a single button on the main interface. The shutter button is found in the bottom center, just like the built-in camera application.
The description for QuadCamera lists resolution as 800x600, but in our testing with 4x1 and 4x2 pictures the resulting files were 1201x401 and 801x1201, respectively, suggesting that 800x600 may be the baseline for 2x2 photos, with actual output varying by a few pixels to account for the black borders placed between each shot. Quality varied depending on the subject, amount of camera movement, and settings used, but we were generally pleased with the output—this app is meant for taking fun, visually interesting photos, not gallery-worthy shots. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t take advantage of the iPhone’s location services to geotag photos, nor does it correctly note the camera make as an Apple iPhone.
Considering that most of the four-lens cameras we’ve seen are film-based, QuadCamera offers a unique proposition for experimentation in that it requires no film, and costs an iPhone owner nothing more than the price of the app. Overall, we found this to be worth recommending to any iPhone owner interested in unique takes on photography; it adds extra value thanks to its inclusion of effects and different layouts. While we’d appreciate even higher-resolution output, and correctly-added location and camera model data, QuadCamera is worthy of a strong rating recommendation as-is. iLounge Rating: B+.
Unlike HP’s similar but proprietary iPrint Photo, Air Photo ($2) from Sudobility is a wireless direct-from-iPhone printing app that claims to work with any printer connected to the user’s Wi-Fi network. It works by communicating with the printer via a free server app that is run on the user’s PC or Mac computer. Following launch, the app brings up a photo picker, and after an image has been selected, the user is brought to the main screen, with buttons for connecting to the server and printing the photo. Whereas HP’s iPrint has a set print size of 4x6, Air Photo lets the user handle all print settings from the Server software—this allows for prints as large as the user’s printer can handle.
In our testing, the app showed no problems in printing to either of our test printers, and interestingly, we were able to print an 8x10 from our wireless HP printer, even when HP’s own app is unable to so. It also correctly makes automatic adjustments for portrait and landscape shots. As we mentioned in the HP review, however, it’s not the greatest idea to print iPhone pics at sizes larger than 4x6 due to the low resolution—and one look at our test 8x10 shows this to be true. While it doesn’t look awful, the inherent flaws in the source image are much more apparent at this size than at the more common 4x6. Should future iPhones receive better camera hardware, higher-resolution printing will make more sense.
Aside from experimenting with the printing options, we found Air Photo to be a hassle-free wireless printing solution. As long as users don’t mind leaving the server software running on their computers, it offers a seamless way to connect to printers that aren’t supported by HP’s software, and we could see it being quite handy for users wanting to produce pictures on-the-fly in situations such as family gatherings or parties. It would be nice if the app provided more information about the print settings directly from the iPhone, but for the price, it’s hard to knock it. If you are an iPhone user without a wireless HP printer, or looking for a way to print at sizes larger than 4x6, Air Photo is a great solution. iLounge Rating: A-.
HP iPrint Photo (Free) from Hewlett Packard is yet another one-trick application, designed to let users wirelessly print photos directly from their iPhones to wireless-enabled HP printers. Using iPrint with such a printer is dead simple: select the photo you’d like to print from the standard photo-picking interface presented upon launch, and hit the Print button. That’s it. In our testing, the app found our HP Photosmart C4500 series printer without issue, and printed multiple photos, both vertical and horizontal, correctly.
The app is setup to print borderless 4x6 photos, a setting that cannot be changed—most likely because 1600x1200 photos don’t scale up to larger larger printing sizes gracefully. Additionally, as suggested above, users should also note that printing photos moved onto their device using iTunes will result in less-than-optimal output, due to their decreased resolution. While the idea of printing photos from the iPhone might not appeal to all users, and the app is limited to wireless-enabled HP printers, it does a satisfactory job of printing, and does so without hassle. For iPhone users with wireless HP printers, it’s well worth the download as a useful free app. iLounge Rating: B+.
Unlike all of the other applications spotlighted here, Bitwerkz’ f/8 DoF Calculator ($4) is designed to turn the iPhone or iPod touch into a useful tool for photographers with more serious cameras: it is an automatic calculator for “depth of field,” a feature that tends to distinguish semi-professional and professional cameras from the pocket ones most commonly used by consumers these days. In short, you tell f/8 what type of camera and lenses you own, and it tells you what portion of the picture you’re planning to take will be artistically blurred in front of and behind your subject, as well as how much of your subject will be in focus. This enables you to know in advance whether you’ll have a sharp view of only a person’s nose while blurring the rest of his or her face and body, as well as the background, or whether a four-foot area surrounding the person will all be sharp.
On a positive note, f/8’s interface is intentionally streamlined as a single-screen, no-scrolling-required tool: once you’ve entered in your camera and lens information, which can be viewed and toggled between from a “bag” on a separate screen, you pick a camera and a lens and then get a collection of customized numbers to help you plan your photos accordingly. Sliders let you adjust your distance from the subject, the current zoom level of your lens, and the aperture setting, all of which will impact what gets blurred and what becomes sharp in your image; the app gives you the total depth of field, plus the distances of foreground blur, center sharpness, and background blur, as well as a hyperfocal distance—how many feet beyond which your properly focused camera would render everything as sharp rather than blurred. If you’re using a prime, non-zoom lens, the zoom slider is removed to simplify your options; if you’re using a single-lens point-and-shoot, you’ll probably find it listed in the database, as well, with its appropriate lens characteristics pre-attached. The only hitch: a point-and-shoot’s aperture settings may not be user-adjustable or even obvious to the user, rendering the calculator of limited use.
The problems with f/8 are ones that won’t bother all users. While the application can provide its calculations in meters or feet, much of the information on the screen is provided without measurement markings; this should really be fixed. Similarly, switches between linear and logarithmic scaling and f-store changes are offered, but not explained in any way for users: Bitwerkz assumes a level of expertise for each of its features and displays that the user might not have. As you can see from the screenshots, the app’s layout is very computationally focused, and doesn’t have even the option of a clean, graphic designed result screen that might help novice users easily understand what the results mean. And finally, the $4 asking price is a little steep given the functionality. It’s our feeling that the developer has done a good job of pricing and designing this app for pro users, but a few small tweaks to the interface, more explanatory details, and modestly lower pricing could easily make this app a must-have tool for the millions of less advanced photographers out there, as well. iLounge Rating: B+.
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