iPhone + iPad Photo Gems: Camera+, Camera Sutra, CinemaFX for Video + ShutterSnitch
Welcome to a special camera-focused edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today’s roundup looks at four recently released or substantially updated applications that help iOS users take more interesting photos and videos, edit their creations, and/or share them more effectively. We focus most of our attention here on the most recent version of Camera+, a cross-device application that has most considerable appeal to iPhone users, but also check out several niche apps that will help photographers and videographers made more of their iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches.
Though Inventive/Tap Tap Tap’s Camera+ …the ultimate photo app ($5/$2) has been around for some time, improvements in both the application and the camera hardware in the iPhone 4 made us interested in seeing what the just-released version 1.2 could offer users. Camera+ turns out to be a sophisticated expansion of Apple’s included Camera application for iPhones, capable of taking still pictures when used with iPhone hardware, and serving as a “lightbox” or photo processing application for any iOS device. From the first moment it’s loaded, Camera+ makes a great UI impression, using a faux DSLR body complete with an optical viewfinder, LCD display, and buttons to provide initial choices as to what to do. Touching the viewfinder or the Take Photos button switches into camera mode—a fingerprint’s left on the viewfinder if you touch there—while a Lightbox button opens Camera+‘s photo processing section, and Menu provides access to settings.
The Take Photos portion of Camera+ builds upon Apple’s most recent version of Camera, using optional settings to add a grid, integrate Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr sharing, and cap saved photos’ sizes (1200 pixels maximum on either side) if you want to use them. These features are convenient in and of themselves—super-useful for frequent photo-sharers—but Camera+ adds some bigger tricks to the photography process, too. Most notable is “touch exposure,” which lets you use two fingers to separately set the focus and exposure balance regions of the screen, a huge benefit for composition; Apple’s Camera application chooses both focus and exposure based on the same tapped area of an image. Other features include fast, dynamic focus adjustment that lets you fine-tune a focus region faster than with the standard Camera, a stabilizer, and a LED flashlight that lets you keep the flash on during composition for continuous fill purposes. These are added to Apple’s standard Camera features such as 5x digital zoom, iPhone 4 front/rear camera flipping, and auto-orientation adjustment, the latter marred only by a small UI rendering bug. Apart from that issue, Camera+ is roughly as fast and reliable as using an iPhone’s built-in camera, but substantially better.
Except for one thing: Camera+‘s post-processing Lightbox adds an intermediate step—holding photos in its own special save area before exporting them to the Photos library of the device, or sharing them—that advanced users will appreciate but casual users may find disruptive. Lightbox works on iPod touches and iPads (at low-resolution) as well as iPhones, using access to the Photos library to fix or edit any picture on the device regardless of the camera used to take it. Eleven “Scene” effects are designed to change the image’s exposure levels automatically for different lighting or subject conditions the camera mightn’t have caught the first time around—a special benefit for pre-iPhone 4 cameras—plus 27 FX effects, 9 crops, and 8 different borders can transform good or bad images before you share them. It suffices to say that these tools are generally one-click affairs, ranging from polarized colors to dodges, fades, and antique effects, plus standard crop ratios to make images cinematic, suitable for 4x6 printing, or square; they do what they’re supposed to do, removing the need for users to download separate standalone filter applications. Missing are the more sophisticated histogram, redeye correction, straightening and other features found in applications such as Apple’s Mac iPhoto, any of which would be suitable additions to future versions of this app.
For now, Camera+ offers more serious photographers a nice set of tools that can improve the shooting and sharing processes, presently at a $2 asking price that should appeal to many users—at this price, we’d give it a high recommendation without question. At the regular $5 price, however, it might cause you to pause and consider whether it adds enough value to be worth your while: iPhone users should still give it serious consideration, with iPod touch and iPad users holding off for price drops or the addition of either new camera hardware or enhanced Lightbox functionality. iLounge Ratings (iPhone users): A- / (iPad/iPod touch users): B.
Though Apple hasn’t exactly played it up in recent years, the fun and free Mac application Photo Booth became a real draw for kids in its retail stores, giving users the ability to snap deliberately distorted images of themselves with graphics filters applied to live feeds from iSight cameras. Camera Sutra ($2, version 1.0) from Belly Cubed brings some of Photo Booth’s functionality to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, applying distortion filters to snapshots, though it’s really only useful for Photo Booth-style photography on the latter device due to its front-facing camera. On the iPhone 3GS, it uses the back camera instead, letting one person take distorted images of someone or something else, and at present, doesn’t allow iPhone 4 users to flip between the cameras at all.
Camera Sutra’s single biggest limitation is its small collection of filters. Sepia, Infrared, Thermal, X-Ray, Zombie, Trippy, Noir, and Vintage all make color shifts, while Twirl, Stretch, Bump, Dent, and Mirror apply twists, bulges, and other carnival mirror-style distortions to the image. Even the fifth-generation iPod nano has a wider collection of built-in effects, and though some of them are video-specific, Apple’s Photo Booth wasn’t nearly as limited, either. Output from Camera Sutra is capped at 640x480 resolution and saved automatically to the Photos library, with no tap-to-focus or other controls—you just click on the shutter button and move on. What’s here right now strikes us as a nice enough start in terms of features to appeal to users who just want to play with their iPhone cameras, but additional features, iPhone 4 camera-switching, higher-resolution output and video recording would have the potential to make this app more than just a novelty. iLounge Rating: C+.
What began as genuine enthusiasm for Nexvio’s new CinemaFX for Video ($2, version 1.0) dimmed somewhat after we actually tested it. On a positive note, the app lets iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 users record or edit existing video clips to apply color or special effects filters, effectively transforming these devices’ neutral video cameras into the more colorful, fun equivalents of the fifth-generation iPod nano’s. iPhone 3GS users are capped at 640x480 output resolution, but iPhone 4 users have 360p, 540p, and 720p output options, the latter conceivably pairing with Apple’s iMovie for iPhone to make direct-from-iPhone videos even more compelling. Nexvio includes 20 “cinematic” effects and 9 “essential” effects for the asking price, and lets you stack up to three effects together; three of the “essential” effects provide sliders to make brightness/contrast, vibrance/saturation, or exposure tweaks as desired.
Unfortunately, the included effects are largely just color tweaks, and they take a long time—10 or 20 times the original clip’s length—to apply, during which the app is in a “rendering…” mode with a spinning wheel and progress bar, but no on-screen clock. Battery life is eaten fairly quickly as rendering takes place, too. If you’re looking for more interesting effects, they’re locked as additional $1 in-app purchases: the ToyCam collection of effects add greater color and blurring distortion to images, while the Vintage collection includes everything from film grain to blurring and old-fashioned 8mm washed-out effects. One effect, 1920, impressively adds animated speckles and lines to the video while transforming it into a blurry black and white image, akin to classic film reels. To Nexvio’s credit, there’s a “try before you buy” feature that lets you sample the additional effects with mandatory watermarking (shown above) until you make a purchase, but the idea of locking up the app’s best features behind a paywall is crummy. Consider CinemaFX for Video if you want to tweak your recordings before sending them out directly from the iPhone, can afford to wait a while for the rendering to complete, and don’t mind shelling out twice the initial asking price to get access to all of the effects. iLounge Rating: B-.
There’s no getting around the fact that 2ndNature’s ShutterSnitch ($8, version 1.1.6) is expensive by App Store standards, and that it has somewhat niche appeal: this iPad-optimized but also iPhone- and iPod touch-compatible application is effectively a streamlined, nicely packaged wireless FTP server for iOS devices, enabling them to wirelessly receive photographs from a computer or another wireless device. In its most basic implementation, ShutterSnitch gives you an FTP address that can be used to receive and display whatever images you send from your computer’s FTP program, but with a little tweaking of the settings—following 2ndNature’s integrated instructions—the app can also automatically receive photos sent from a wireless Eye-Fi card. And that’s sort of a big deal.
For those who aren’t already familiar with Eye-Fi’s cards, they’re Wi-Fi-equipped SD memory cards that plug into many major cameras, syncing photos wirelessly to a computer as they’re being taken. After a pairing process, ShutterSnitch turns your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch into the receiving device, providing color-separated histogram information, instant e-mail sharing options, and both collection management and rating tools for received images. The pitch is that photographers can use this app to instantly preview their shots on bigger or higher-resolution screens than the ones in their cameras, and in practice, we found that ShutterSnitch worked well for this purpose, limited more by the slow transfer speeds and battery drain of the Eye-Fi cards than anything else—smaller images sent via computer transferred almost instantly. But there’s also a limitation, which although repeatedly disclaimed and explained within the app is still somewhat confusing: ShutterSnitch will only seek and receive images from your computer or Eye-Fi card when you’re within a specific photo collection, which is akin to iPhoto or another photo management program only recognizing that there are photos to import after you’ve created and opened an album for them. With a little additional UI polish to eliminate this issue and turn automatic wireless image discovery on by default, ShutterSnitch could be a must-have application for Eye-Fi users in particular—at least until a less expensive or official alternative comes along. iLounge Rating: B.
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