UPDATE 03.10.11: We’ve updated this list for 2011. Be sure to check out our new post “The Ten Best FREE iPhone Photo Apps” featuring both free camera replacements and some great free iPhone photo apps.
iPhone photography doesn’t have to bust your budget. I’ve scoured the Photography section and found four great, FREE camera apps to help you step up your iPhoneography.
This list is not complete, but these are some of the best camera replacement apps I’ve found. Granted, these apps are not as feature-rich as their paid-app siblings. Some of these apps are ad-supported, but none of them add a watermark to your images, all of them save at the iPhone’s full resolution and best of all, the price is free! For no investment other than bandwidth and download time, you can improve your iPhone’s camera and get some impressive looking photographs.
These are apps that are normally free. Apps whose price has been temporarily reduced to free are not included here.
Free Camera Replacement Apps
One of the most important elements of good photography is starting out with the best image in-camera. These camera replacement apps don’t sport identical feature sets, but they all have features that Apple’s built-in Camera doesn’t — and they are all free.
10X Camera Tools
With their first venture into the iPhone app marketplace, long-time digital imaging company Reallusion have hit a home run with their new camera replacement app, 10X Camera Tools. The app has a long list of features and impressive performance. This is a very well-thought out camera app that plays to the iPhone’s strengths as well as compensates for some of its weaknesses.
The app has hideaway controls that are well laid out and don’t interfere with the viewfinder when they are visible. When not needed, they’re easily hidden with one touch. The controls rotate 90 degrees to match landscape or portrait orientation of the camera — a very nice detail. There are numerous other features, including Big Button full-screen shutter release, support for 3GS resolution, rule-of-thirds onscreen composition grid, an adjustable self-timer with an audible beep, geo-tagging and more. There are five image adjusting filters — landscape, twilight and portrait apply different color and exposure moves to the image after it’s shot, a good black & white filter and a decent sepia filter. The landscape and portrait filters are good contrast normalizing filters, comparable to paid apps. The portrait filter also added warmer, more natural color to my test images with skin tones — nice!
10X Camera Tools is solid and fast. The app has a very usable full-resolution 2X digital zoom, not in-app cropping like many other camera apps. It has a fast frame rate for an iPhone camera app and on my 2G at full-resolution was taking about 1.5-2 seconds between shots. This is achieved by writing to the app’s own photo album, which can also be used as a lockable, secure image vault. Images are easily copied or moved to the iPhone’s camera roll. In my tests, it never crashed, even while processing multiple shots.
And this is just the free version…. A pro version is in the works with even more features.
The app only holds some of the settings after quit — I’d like to see the app hold all of the settings in a future update. The filters can only be applied to images that you shoot, not images in either camera roll. The built-in photo album seemed a little sluggish to me, but it’s mostly just a holding bin between camera and camera roll. These are really, really minor points.
Both iPhoneographers and casual photographers will find things to like about the feature set. 10X Camera Tools has plenty of tools for some serious iPhone photography. I’ve tried a lot of camera apps and 10X Camera Tools is one of the best free camera replacement apps for iPhone.
App Store link: 10X Camera Tools
Not as full featured as the other apps in this list, but this is a good, low-frills free camera replacement app. As with the other camera replacement apps listed here, this version is a loss-leader with the hopes that you’ll buy the Pro version with several additional features.
Camera Plus features include support for iPhone 3GS tap to focus, built-in exposure enhancement (simulated flash), black & white conversion and built-in crop. The exposure enhancement produces good results — not up to par with the better dedicated, paid apps, but one of the best “flash” among the free apps and certainly better than many of the paid apps in the store. You can access your iPhone’s camera roll to crop existing images and convert them to black & white.
The app has a 4X zoom, which is really just in-app cropping — your zoomed images will be pretty small and mostly unusable at higher magnifications, but using the zoom at 2x or less should get you images that will work for MMS, Facebook or Twitter. Images do not save in the background so saving your photos is somewhat slow — a few seconds with Auto-Save setting turned on.
The app’s good built-in exposure enhancement, black & white conversion, 3GS support and in-app cropping make it worth a look.
App Store Link: Camera Plus
Gorillacam is the free camera replacement app from Joby, creators of the Gorillapod flexible tripods for iPhone. Gorillacam has a few unique features that make it worth having a look at, even if you already have a favorite camera replacement app.
One of its cooler features is a press-and-hold shutter button, which takes rapid, continuous full resolution photos at up to an impressive 1.6 frames per second — even on a 2G. Images save in the background and a popup tells you not to quit when the app is still saving images. There’s a grid overlay, Big Button full-screen shutter, 3-shot burst mode, countdown timer, and time-lapse photography with up to 2 minute intervals. Gorillacam also has a bubble level which you can theoretically use to take level pictures of horizons and landscapes. It’s an uncommon feature and one that works well, I suppose, if your horizon or landscape isn’t on a natural incline. Otherwise, I prefer to align my images to a grid in the viewfinder. Almost all of Gorillacam’s features can be toggled off or on.
Gorillacam doesn’t support 3GS tap to focus. You need to manually keep your iPhone awake or change your sleep setting when doing time-lapse photography. Background saves are slow and you can’t quit out of the app without losing images until they are all saved to your camera roll.
When shooting, I found the app to be fast and responsive. I like the press-and-hold rapid fire shutter release. For shooting multiple images, Gorillacam is impressive and is the best on this list for speed.
App Store link: Gorillacam
Ultimate Camera Free
Ultimate Camera Free contains nearly all of the features of the Full version, with the exception of 3 filters and the inclusion of an unobtrusive banner ad which plugs (you guessed it) upgrading to the Full version.
Ultimate Camera Free has one of the most impressive feature set of the free camera apps, including several composition guides, anti-shake, big button full-screen shutter, countdown timer, and built-in exposure enhancement (simulated flash). UltCam Free saves at up to 3GS resolutions. It features a full-resolution digital zoom — a good feature not found in many paid apps. This means that images are resampled to your phone’s full resolution and not simply cropped. This is not a replacement for a true optical zoom lens, but it should give you good results, especially at magnifications under 2X. Without using zoom or filters, images are saved in the background, allowing you to take multiple shots in rapid succession.
Processing zoomed images takes a couple of seconds. Processing the flash simulator is pretty slow and the results aren’t as good as some of the free exposure enhancement apps, such as Flash For Free and Color Leap. The small banner ad at the top of the viewfinder doesn’t affect the size or crop of your image, but it covers up part of the viewfinder and may interfere with your composition.
Overall, it’s an excellent free camera replacement app.
App Store link: Ultimate Camera Free
Got a favorite free camera replacement that I’ve missed here? Tell us about it below in Comments!