What Exactly Does Cortex Camera Do?

cortex camera, digital blending, iphone, iPad

cortex camera for iphoneographyWe get questions. Often times, I just respond with a short email. However, every time I mention the camera app Cortex Camera, I usually get at least one query, “What exactly does Cortex Camera do?”

Cortex Camera is actually a pretty cool app to have in certain situations, including low-light situations and others where reduced noise is desirable. Keep reading for what Cortex Camera does, some comparison shots, and why I have it on my iPhone.

Cortex Camera is a simple, camera-only app that combines dozens of individual exposures to create a single high-quality and noise-free image. It creates the high quality still photo by combining 100 frames of video. It aligns the captures in real time so the image will be sharp even when no tripod is used. All of this happens automatically and in a matter of seconds. On an iPhone 5, the raw images that the app combines are pretty good sized — 1920×1080 pixels. They are combined into the full native res 8 MP files or larger 12.6 MP, 4096×3072 pixel files that are saved to the camera roll.

Cortex Camera and the excellent (but no longer available) ClearCam do the same thing, except that ClearCam shot 6 full-resolution source images and doubled the image resolution in-camera. ClearCam images also shared the reduced noise and improved exposure of Cortex Camera, without many of the low-light benefits 100 exposures provides.

The good? Your images will have much less visible noise. The app automatically applies digital blending algorithms. When the source images are combined, the noise (which is random) will cancel out and the detail (which is constant) will hold and in many cases enhance.

This is especially handy in low-light situations where a fast ISO single exposure would also add a lot of noise to the image. Using Cortex Camera, darker images have greater detail and clarity without the noise, even with the new low-light enhancement of the iPhone 5. You can read more about here on the Cortex Camera website.

One of the things that I noticed using Cortex Camera in normal light situations is better, more vibrant colors and a fuller, more balanced exposure.

The bad? Cortex Camera is not for every shooting situation. Cortex Camera is a slow shooter. In my tests, Cortex Camera took 7 seconds to go from shutter release to image save. Almost 4 seconds of that were the image captures. Overall, Cortex Camera does an excellent job of aligning its raw exposures, but it’s not for scenes where there is a lot of movement, such as scenes involving people or windy landscapes.

Cortex Camera can be used handheld, without a tripod with good results, however if you drink a lot of coffee (like me) your results may be iffy more often. When Cortex Camera does align all of its exposures properly, the results are very impressive. Image clarity is visibly sharper than a comparable image shot with an iPhone 5. If the exposures are off just a hair too much, parts of the image may show blur when blended.

Cortex Camera supports the full native resolution of the iPhone 5 and 4S. The image quality, sharpness, and reduced noise from the app make its photos a prime candidate for upsampling and enlarging using Big Photo on iOS or Photoshop on your Mac or PC.

I don’t use Cortex Camera often, but I keep it on my iPhone for times I need super clear, noise-free image images; static, low-light shots; or noise-free, vibrant landscapes.

Cortex Camera is $2.99 in the App Store. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.


Download Cortex Camera:

iphoneography, iphone photo, mobile photo, photo app,cortex camera

App Store link: Cortex Camera – Whimsical Productions

Here’s a gallery of test shots I did with both Cortex Camera and Apple’s Camera on an iPhone 5. In particular, notice the improved detail and lack of noise in the Cortex Camera samples. The first two sets of images were shot in fairly low light. All images are unprocessed. They’ve only been cropped.

There’s more information and photos on the Cortex Camera website.

Cortex Camera sample, detail. Click to enlarge.
Apple Camera sample, detail. Click to enlarge.
Cortex Camera sample, detail. Click to enlarge.
Apple Camera sample, detail. Click to enlarge.


UPDATE 01: Clarified the app’s resolutions a bit better. =M=

About Marty Yawnick 1808 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.
  • Stefan K

    if you press on the info button in the screen you can change from 16:9 to 4:3, since you can take 8MP pictures on an iPad mini 5MP cam, i am quite sure this setting is available on the iPhone 5 too (perhaps even higher resolution?) …

    • Azure

      In iPhone 5 you can choose 12Mpx Resolution and the results (with still life) is absolutely astonishing….Not too far from a Reflex…

  • MomentsForZen

    Thanks for the posting and the comparison pictures. I picked up the app, and I was incredibly impressed with the ability of the app to align video frames from handheld shots in low light conditions.

    Thanks for trying to clarify the output image size options, but I am still confused by the different output options – e.g., 8 and 12.5 MP for an iPhone 5 in the 4:3 configuration. Even the 8 MP resolution has me confused if it is using 2 MP frames? Are all of these options, and equivalents on an iPad, simply upsized / interpolated images from the fundamental 2 MP frames?

  • Azure

    I just discovered Cortex Camera and I couldn’t live without it anymore…It simply does what the SH states: improves ANY Pic you take with your iPhone…I have and i ‘ve tried dozens of “iPhoneography” apps and many of them are still On the Phone (Camera+, KitKam, 645Pro, Amazing Camera, Camera Awsome and many others), but the day I tried CortexCamera after downloading the pictures taken on my Mac I just said: “WOW”…These are Truly High quality SHOTS, nothing more, nothing less…It really look like they were taken with an High-End P&S or better an Entry Level DSLR… Really….Details indoor are truly astounding….And even in Day Light, panoramas, scenarios are amazing to look at…I used it during a short vacations on the Alps on the French side and I took amazingly good Pics….
    From now on I only use Cortex to shoot pics….Stop. The other apps are useful to apply Filters…But THE shot is taken with this incredibly good piece of software…


    • Marty Yawnick

      Yep. Thank you for sharing your experience with the app.

      For me, in many cases, the difference between Cortex Camera and other cameras is very noticeable.

      My only problem with the app is shaky caffeine hands — cortex Camera *sometimes* has problems with aligning those when the subject is close in. And taking pictures where the scene has a lot of moving objects.

      If I have time to set up the shot and it’s going to be static, it’s tough to beat the image quality of Cortex Camera on iPhone.


  • Nathan

    If only someone would combine the speed and features of Camera Awesome (especially the stabilization) with a mode for static scenes that worked like Cortex Camera and an HDR mode that worked liked HDR3, I’d switch to a single app for photography, and things would be simple. I don’t know if I can justify to my wife another $3 app for one shooting mode when I’ve already bought several other photography apps, in spite of the underlying complexity, and trust me, I know there’s a lot of advanced processing going on in the background, especially “optical flow” to line up the individual frames of video. I wrote a program for my desktop which does pretty much the same thing. It uses panotools to align the frames and then merges them into a high precision buffer (96 bits per pixel), performs automatic exposure/color correction, and saves the result as a standard true color bitmap. Of course, I’ve got to explicitly capture a short video, transfer it to the desktop, and wait an ungodly amount of time for it to process, but on the other hand, it saves precious seconds while actually shooting. My blending and autocorrection probably isn’t as good as theirs either, but it works. Ideally, it would save the image in ILM’s OpenEXR format, but that would take a little more time and effort than I want to invest into it. I’ll go through a lot of trouble to avoid spending money, but not that much.

  • Nathan

    And, the Cortex Camera team aught to think about writing another app (or an extension to the one they’ve got) that uses their aligning/merging technology to capture very high quality cubic panoramas in real time. That would definitely justify the cost.

    • Nathan

      Oops, I meant equirectangular, not “cubic”.

  • EmileStreet

    Thanks for this information, it was clear and concise for a Instagram newbie who is trying out new apps I’ve purchased. Your post wasn’t too long or too industry speak specific so I appreciated that a lot. Your comparison pics were especially helpful. I found your post through Google BTW.