Updated January 1, 2016
I have a camera. Sometimes I use it to make phone calls.
Although I don’t share my photography here on the blog as often as I used to, I still shoot. My old iPhone 2G and a handful of photo apps used to be the standard for creating some great-looking digital lo-fi. Now, the camera that’s with me nearly all the time is my iPhone 6s Plus.
As the iPhone camera becomes less and less lo-fi, one of the features that still makes it unique in photography is the availability of thousands of photo apps. For less than the cost of a DVD, you can basically get a whole new camera experience. I don’t use one app exclusively to shoot with. I have several and try to match up the app to the image I want.
iPhone apps are constantly being created, updated and improved. Since I first wrote my original Camera Bag post (check out the original November 2009 post and the January 2010 update), some apps have fallen by the development wayside, failing to keep up with the hardware advances of the new iPhones. Other new apps have been released, and many apps have been improved to the point where they have leapfrogged ahead as far as functionality and performance.
I find myself shooting with many different apps than the first time I wrote about my iPhone’s camera bag, including on occasion many apps that aren’t listed here. Here’s my newly updated toolbox.
These are the go-to apps I’m currently using.
That’s right… Apple’s built-in Camera app. With each iOS update, the Camera app improves and it’s really hard not to use the app. Burst mode has been improved to capture up to 10 frames per second. It’s simple, easy and fast. It’s still one of the fastest camera apps available with shot-to-shot times that are faster than many point and shoot digital cameras. The 5x zoom works by magic. Although it is a digital zoom and not as good as an optical zoom, Camera uses a great algorithm that helps maintain sharpness even at high zoom factors, without many of the artifacts or fuzziness of other apps’ digital zooms. It’s one of the clearest zooms available on the iPhone. The HDR mode is real, bracketed, three exposure HDR. While it doesn’t create the saturated, enhanced colors associated with traditional HDR, it still adds subtle image enhancement that adds detail to the shadows in your image but not at the expense of your highlights. VolumeShot lets you use the Volume Up button as a hardware shutter release which is many times a lot easier than fumbling for the onscreen shutter button. There are plenty of other new features as well, but best of all, the Camera is now available from the iPhone’s lock screen. Your iPhone can go from off to shooting in about a second or two.
2. ProCamera 8
An excellent camera replacement app with a powerful toolset for taking photos. ProCamera 8 has had several awesome updates and is the camera replacement app to beat for serious iPhoneography. The pro features include image stabilization with three settings, full-resolution 5X digital zoom, and fast reload times. The optional HDR is powered by VividHDR which I feel is among the best available for iPhone. The new focus, exposure, and white balance tools are among the best in the app store for power combined with ease of use. When used with a gray card, I haven’t found a better photo app to help me get better color in-camera. ProCamera 8 is one of the best shooters currently available. Speed, features, tools — ProCamera is still my go-to camera replacement app. |
3. Manual – Custom exposure camera
The no-frills camera app Manual is excellent for times when you just need straight up, unobstructed manual control over the focus, exposure, ISOm and shutter speed of your shot. No filters. No sharing. No gimmicks. Where other camera apps may automatically adjust these settings in order to get you a good shot, manual lets you easily override any and all of these settings letting you create the shot. Whether you really want to slow down the shutter for effect, crank the ISO for a better low-light shot, or manually focus the camera to a point that Camera simply won’t grab, Manual restores to iPhoneographers control over their cameras that other photographers have used for years. |
This is a wonderful iPhone-only photo app that beautifully 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. It’s 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 any real camera, lens, and film combinations, I use Hipstamatic as a tool to create my photographic vision. The results are often unpredictable and gorgeous. I’ve been shooting a lot with Hipstamatic over the years. Although I use the app’s Favorites feature, it’s just fun to shake to randomize and see what I get. Its square format and built-in sharing tools make it a great alternative to Instagram’s own fairly plain filter set. |
5. Instaflash Pro
Photoshop power users know how fast and how well its Shadows/Highlights tool can be to enhance and bring out the details of dark areas of an image without effecting the properly exposed bits. Instaflash brings this tool as well as a ton of other fast and easy power user image fixes to iPhone. Despite the improved sensitivity of newer iPhone cameras, I use Instaflash often to quickly restore color, vibrance, and detail to shadows and 3/4 tones to an image, just like Photoshop. The Denoise tool in the app works by using luminance, a way to remove image noise while holding detail.
Built on the same technology that drives the much more costly ACDSee Photoshop plugin, Instaflash Pro definitely belongs in an iPhoneographer’s toolbox. |
6. Perfectly Clear
Fast, easy Dynamic Range Correction (DRC). I usually run my images through Perfectly Clear before doing anything else to them. One-button image scrubbing — improves the sharpness, exposure, saturation and contrast. It’s optional noise reduction feature is one of the best available for iPhone and is worth the in-app purchase.The recent update now also includes the best, fastest software fix for the “purple haze” and other color fringing sometimes found in iPhone 5 photos. It’s worth it for that alone.
Quite honestly, there are no other apps that prep photos overall as well as Perfectly Clear. Although the images from the iPhone 5 and 4S are much better than older iPhones, I still use Perfectly Clear often to help quickly improve images that may need a little help. There are other “fake flash” and DRC apps available, but very few work as well as Perfectly Clear. A highly recommended photo app. |
Filterstorm is a powerful image editing program with the essential tools for improving the look of a photograph and correcting color and other flaws. Calling it the “Photoshop for the iPhone” does it a disservice. Filterstorm’s recently updated interface sets the standard and redefines how image editing apps should work on the iOS platform. It has a complete set of powerful, essential image editing tools that rival desktop image editors, including layers and blending. It’s straightforward interface is designed for iOS devices and doesn’t get in the way of even large fingers like mine. It’s fast, it’s powerful, and it works great on the small screen of an iPhone. Check out my full review of the previous version Filterstorm 3. |
Filterstorm Neue App Store link |
8. Simply B&W | Simply Photography in B&W
The old Vint B&W app was a simple black & white camera app for your iPhone that created some of the nicest black & white images on the iPhone. While it still works on an iPhone 4 in the latest iOS, it hasn’t been updated in quite some time. Simply B&W is not only a simple camera app, but you can also import existing images from your camera roll — a feature that Vint B&W never had.
Simply B&W has a great grayscale conversion algorithm, several color filters for alternate conversion methods, and sliders bars to help fine tune the color-to-grayscale conversion with results that are on par with Vint B&W. With minimal fuss, Simply B&W quickly creates rich, great looking black and white photos. |
After Snapseed’s developer was acquired by Google, I’m happy to see any updates released for this app, even if they are just bug fixes and iOS maintenance updates. Snapseed is free and one of the more powerful photo editors for iPhone and iPad. Once you get used to its tools, you can quickly and easily make powerful image corrections and add striking effects to your image. Snapseed has one of the more precise cropping tools available for iPhone which doesn’t “jump” nearly as much as some other apps when you move your finger across the small iPhone screen. It also has a very nice Straighten tool that lets you make fine horizon adjustments up to +/- 10°. |
Your camera bag will probably look a lot different than mine and there are new apps being released all the time that push the envelope of what you can do creatively on the iPhone. Find what works best for you and have fun!
Does your iPhone Camera Bag look different than mine? Share some of your faves in the comments below.
Unless indicated, nearly every image I’ve shot on this site has been shot with my iPhone and processed on my iPhone with one or more of the above apps.