New iPhone? Best iPhone Photo Starter Apps

iPhone 4S

So, you got new iPhone for Christmas…. You’ve already downloaded Angry Birds and have asked all of the “Siri-ous” questions (my personal favorite is “Open the pod bay doors, please, Siri.”)

Your new iPhone comes with a pretty serious camera and with the small investment of a few inexpensive photo apps, you can take and share some really cool photos.

But navigating the App Store can be intimidating without a little help. Here’s Life In LoFi’s guide to the best starter photo apps.

If you have a friend or family member who recently got a new iPhone, this is a great list to share with them. There’s a quick and easy email button at the end of this post. >>>

One of the great features of the iPhone camera is the availability of thousands of photo apps in the App Store. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee, you can buy an app that gives your photos an entirely new look than just the basic snap and share — in essence, buying a new “camera.”

Not all photo apps are created equal. Some highly rated photo apps are pretty powerful, but have steep learning curves. Others may have a lot of five star ratings because of what’s called App Store “shill reviews.”

Here’s our short list of the best starter apps. While there are many great photo apps available ready for you to discover, these apps will not only give you the most bang for your buck (or two), but are also super easy to learn and get up to speed quickly with.

1. Camera+

camera plus, camera+, tap tap tapThere are a lot of apps with “Camera+” in the name. The one you want is the one by tap tap tap. Fortunately, this one is always at or near the top of the App Store rankings and deservedly so. Camera+ is a powerful iPhone camera replacement app and built-in photo studio app. It’s easily the best all-in-one camera app available.

Camera+ has great additional tools to help you capture better pictures that the iPhone’s Camera app lacks, such as anti-shake camera stabilizing, self-timer countdown, and separate focus and exposure targets.

The app’s built-in photo studio has more tools to help you crop and adjust the brightness, contrast and color of your image. Camera+ also has dozens of built-in frames, effects and filters to stylize your photos with the look of everything from faded film to toy cameras to overall color changes. All of the filters are one-click easy and they all look great. Save or share from within the app.

There are other great camera replacement apps, but for starting out it’s tough to beat Camera+ for quickly and easily taking great photos.

Camera+ is normally $1.99 in the App Store. | Camera+   - tap tap tap

Hipstamatic 231

2. Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic for iPhone, iPhoneographyHipstamatic is the wonderful iPhone-only photo app that many people think of first when they think of arty iPhone photography. It recreates the look of stressed, vintage, analog film complete with noise, digital light leaks, smears and vignettes. It really does a great job recreating the imperfections of a toy camera. Hipstamatic’s effects are unique, gorgeous, and well-rendered. There are no other photo apps that create these great effects.

Hipstamatic is a fun camera to shoot with. It feels analog. It’s the experience of an old camera shooting within an iPhone and along the way, it creates some stunning photographs. Like an old real camera, Hipstamatic makes you play with lens, and film combinations to get your results. To dive right in, try the app’s great “shake to randomize” feature to discover surprising lens and film combinations.

Spend the buck or two for the original Hipstamatic app (and be ready to feed your new photo addiction with the several add on HipstaPak lens and film purchases). The new Hipstamatic Disposable may be free but it lacks most of the filters, functionality, charm, and fun of the original.

Hipstamatic is normally $1.99 in the App Store and comes with several standard “films” and “lenses”. | Hipstamatic - Synthetic Corp

3. FX Photo Studio

FX Photo Studio for iPhoneIn the latest version of FX Photo Studio, there are about 200 different effects that you can apply and combine. There is such a broad range of effects in this photo app, there is something for everyone’s taste, ranging from grungy film overlays all the way to a selection of “cute” photo frames.

Each effect is one-click easy, but there’s also a slider that allows you to adjust the intensity of each effect. There’s also a hideaway toolbar with even more control over each effect. Favorite presets can be saved for easy access and your favorite filter combinations can easily be added as presets.

It’s a powerful, extensive set of filters but it’s also super easy to use if you just want fast, one-click filters. And there are a ton of filters and looks.

FX Photo Studio easily shares your photos straight to Instagram. What is an Instagram, you may ask…?

(By the way, FX Photo Studio usually sells for $1.99 in the App Store. | FX Photo Studio - MacPhun LLC )

4. Instagram

Instagram for iPhoneInstagramInstagram is the insanely popular square format social photo sharing app. It makes it super easy to shoot and share photos not only on Instagram’s own photo sharing network, but one click also shares your images with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and others. While Instagram may not be the best social photo app in terms of how good the app itself is, it is the most popular. Over 15 million users currently connect and share their photos over Instagram’s network — and that’s even before the new Android version of the app comes out opening up the network to millions more users.

It doesn’t get much easier than Instagram. Shoot. Choose one of Instagram’s 17 one-click filters. Decide whether you want a border. Share. You can also add a tilt-shift effect to change the look of the focus. The price is right — Instagram is free and there are no in-app purchases.

Instagram is easy and fun. There are a very wide variety of photographers or “Instagrammers” sharing their pictures on the network.

Instagram is FREE in the App Store. | Instagram - Burbn, Inc.

5. Simply B&W

simply B&W for iPhoneConverting a photo to black and white changes the mood and feel of the image. Many photo apps can convert your photo to black & white, but few make a black and white photo convert well. Simply B&W is one of the apps that does a great job of converting color to black and white. It’s also super fast and easy to use.

Getting a good black & white photo is usually more involved than simply removing all the color from an image. Often, doing that (it’s called “desaturating” a photo) creates a gray photo that’s pretty lifeless and lacks punch. By using the digital equivalent of an old photographer’s trick, Simply B&W is an excellent tool to create great-looking black & white images with punch, richness and contrast.

Simply B&W has a clean interface and is easy to use. Even if you don’t know photographic color theory, Simply B&W makes it one-click easy to convert your images into some great-looking black & white photos.

Simply B&W is normally $0.99 in the App Store. | Simply B&W - Mr. B. Ware

6. PhotoToaster

phototoasterphototoaster for iPhonePhototoaster is an image editing app for users who need more than the built-in tools of an all-in-one camera app, but might not need all the tools of one of the big “Photoshop for the iPhone” photo editors. PhotoToaster is a good, lightweight image editing app for cropping and rotating, making fast and easy color and brightness tweaks as well as quickly applying effects from a selection of presets.

I like that PhotoToaster’s interface is easy to use, but keeps most of the tools out of the way until you need them. I like the selection of one-click adjustments that tweak lightness, color saturation, exposure and contrast all with the click of one preset. PhotoToaster gives you the flexibility of switching to a precision adjustment with one convenient push of a button.The app also has a bunch of filter and effect presets, as well as a selection of several frames and borders.

It’s a deceptively powerful but easy to use photo editor. It’s also got great sharing support, including built-in Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Instagram sharing as well as built in email and text messaging sharing.

The full version of PhotoToaster is $1.99 in the App Store. | PhotoToaster - East Coast Pixels, Inc.


7. 360 Panorama

360 Panorama pano app for iPhone360 Panorama lets you easily capture immersive panoramas in seconds and instantly share them. Simply pan the camera and watch as images are stitched seamlessly. The app uses the built-in gyro of your iPhone 4 or 4S to position and capture each panel of the pano in real time. The end result is an interactive image that’s just like clicking around streetview of Google Maps.

Easily share or email your creation online. 360 Panorama has built-in share support for Facebook, Twitter  and others.

I often recommend AutoStitch Panorama here on the blog. While AutoStitch gives you different options in creating panos, in doing so it adds a layer of complexity to creating panos. Nothing beats the speed, ease and stability of 360 Panorama for making quick and easy panos with your iPhone.

360 Panorama is currently $0.99 in the App Store. | 360 Panorama - Occipital

All of the above apps work great with the iPhone 4 and new iPhone 4S. These apps were chosen because of the quality of the effects and the ease of use. You’ll notice most of these apps are “one-click” easy. They are all great starter apps for a new iPhoneographer.

The iPhone is a great device that can do a lot of cool things. It’s a camera that’s almost always with you to record and share moments. All of the apps above cost less than $20 combined — a lot less if you can find them on sale (we often post app sales and freebies here and on Life In LoFi’s Facebook page). A small investment will get you a good start to your iPhone photography toolbox or to simply help you add a bit of style to your snapshots.



About Marty Yawnick 1826 Articles
Marty is a self-employed graphic designer in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex. He is an avid Rangers baseball, Chicago Cubs, Packers and Highbury Arsenal fan. In addition to capturing random moments with whatever camera is close by (usually his iPhone), his other interests include coffee, film, music, and traveling in seats 5E and 5F with his fiancé.
  • Since these are "starter" apps I guess I understand the choice of Camera+ for the number one position. Its funky filters are probably going to be very attractive to a casual shooter. I still think ProCamera is the better camera app. Since you have FX Photo Studio and PhotoToaster in the list this "starter" iPhone photographer is going to have plenty of options for filters anyway.

    The only app I keep on my phone for filter effects is PictureShow. I've tried a ton of effects apps and this is the only one I go back to.

    Has the quality of the output image from 360 Panorama gotten any better? I tried it when it first came out and again after its first update. The interface is really neat but the resulting image was so bad I wrote the whole thing off as bit of a novelty app.

    Gosh, I wish that I liked Instagram. I keep trying it and I keep deleting it. I don't see the fascination with it at all.

    • Yep. My starter list is different than what I recommend to a more experienced shooter. I tried to keep in mind a very casual user who's never touched Photoshop who just got a new iPhone for Christmas. I wouldn't want to tell them Filterstorm and have them be frustrated at the learning curve.

      You'd be surprised how many people I encounter who discover iPhone photography through gateway apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram who very quickly want to discover a lot more iPhone photo apps.

      Yes, 360 Panorama has gotten *much* better. The stitching algorithm has improved and the "keep my iPhone upright" algorithm that was broken and very frustrating to me was fixed several updates ago. I used to use Photosynth for interactive panos. I've gone back to 360 Panorama since the fixes.


  • Poli m

    For me best starter apps are: Instagram, Camera+, PhotoForge2, Leme Cam, Squara.

  • I always tell people to get Perfectly Clear. For people that just take snapshots it is good for improving contrast and exposure in one simple step.

  • Chris Poole

    No Snapseed? The horror.

    • Hi, Chris,

      Snapseed is a cool app. It has a lot of great, powerful, unique features, but for a novice it may have a steep learning curve to start with. It's definitely not a one-click app.


  • janine1968

    I personally love ScratchCam and it's criminally easy to understand. 🙂 I definitely agree with your Camera+ choice!

  • Fantastic list Marty, fully agree. The only apps I'd add are for those looking for a bit of fun: IncrediBooth, TinyWorld and AutoPainter. As I said, they're a bit of fun.

    With the panorama apps, I also love You Gotta See This! (even if it has the worst name in the App store). Very interesting effects can be achieved.

  • Miege

    Instead of telling people what to buy, it's better to teach them first about proper photography such how-to and resolution then provide lists of camera apps based on categories.

    Currently, my main camera apps are Top Camera (all-in-one photo and video app with multiple resolution options and a good photo editor) and Autostitch Panorama (mostly for panorama post-processing).

    Camera+ has cool analog filters, unlike Top Camera but has no video. Camera+'s also has Clarity which is useful to make reveal dark details in photos but can also make it grainy–too much grainy sometimes.

    No comment on Hipstamatic, Instagram and PhotoToaster. Never used them. In case of panorama apps, I prefer DerManDar than 360 Panorama because it is way easier to use.

    FX Photo Studio has finger masking feature which is simple to use. Simply B&W is simply for B&W freaks.

    • "Instead of telling people what to buy, it's better to teach them first about proper photography such how-to and resolution then provide lists of camera apps based on categories. "

      That's a great idea for a post. I think new users need a good starting set of tools first. To do both in this one post would have made it very long to read.


      • Miege

        Glad you like it! Telling people what to buy is more like a short-term thing, teaching them is for the long term 😉

      • DanT

        Even more fundamental is to teach people basic rules of composition. That's my problem – I can create perfectly exposed very boring images because I mastered the technical aspects before learning composition. For a beginner I would recommend: 1) Spend the first day mastering the built in camera app. Especially learn how to call up the Camera from the lock screen to grab those fleeting moments. 2) Learn a few basic composition tricks and practice them for a week just using the basic camera app. Where is the best website to learn composition? I don't know and would like to find out myself! 3) Spend the next week in Camera+ and learn it like the back of your hand. The worst feeling is trying to shoot under pressure and forgetting what the "square" does vs the "circle" vs the "wb" feature. 4) Save the fun apps (panoramas etc.) for last.

        • DanT

          I forgot to mention one more thing for beginners is to keep visiting Life In Lofi. Marty has the best reviews and I never feel he is promoting anything but rather has our best interests at heart.

  • Robyn | Gemini606

    As a heavy user of Instagram, i do not consider it a photo app. It should be under social, quite frankly. I think a lot of people who dont like it, think it's a photo editing app and it's not. That being said, I'd keep it on the list, but make sure it's clear that it's more like a "photo twitter" and a means to show your photos.

    Glyn, thanks for the list. Perfect for beginners, so as not to overwhelm them. I'll be sharing it with friends who recenty joined the legion on iPhone users and have interest in iPhoneography.

    • robyn | gemini606

      Glyn? I meant Marty.. I forgot where I was. Sorry about that. Hahaha!

      • No worries, Robyn. It's easy to tell us apart. I use fewer vowels….


  • iPhobePhil

    Just loaded Camera + a very cool App!

  • Catherine

    Great list of apps! I would add Iris Photo Suite to this lineup, one of my personal faves. And ScratchCam. 🙂

  • I have everything on your list but Photo Toaster and 360 Panorama. I can fully support your choice of the other five. They are all great apps that are easy to use. I guess I need to get two more apps.

  • This was really helpful Marty, thank you!

  • Best ones in my opinion are Camera Plus Pro, Snapseed, LemeLeme, Hipstamatic & Instagram and Phototoaster! All of these sooo much better than Camera+.

  • While having a fun app to edit your photos is fun, if you're a more experienced photographer looking to take and/or schedule those perfect pictures, check out GoldenPic (yes, I'm one of the developers of it too).

    GoldenPic grabs your GPS coordinates and automatically provides you with the location, weather and moon phase, in addition to the times for the Golden Hours, Blue Hours, Sunrise, Sunset, Moonrise and Moonset. If that's not enough, it also lets you change the date and find the times for any location in the world and even save your favorite locations. Everything is presented in a nice, clean, easy to read format, all in one app.

    To find out more info about GoldenPic, visit:

  • Den Lawrence

    Excellent post. I'm new to iphoneography and I'm searching for the best starter apps that I can use. I already have Instagram, Camera+, and Hipstamatic. These three are truly great applications. I also downloaded Snap-A-Note ( for free. I use it's built-in email system to send the photos I take right in my inbox for later editing. I definitely to get Photo Toaster and 360 Pano, I've been hearing a lot of good stuff about these apps. Thanks and keep on posting!