Updated November 26, 2012
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 5.
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. A few of these apps need to be updated to take advantage of the 8 megapixel resolution of the iPhone 4S. For me, they are that good that I still use the apps.
These are the go-to apps I’m currently using.
That’s right… Apple’s built-in Camera app. With iOS 5, the Camera app has come of age and it’s really hard not to use the app. 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 feature introduced in iOS 4 is real, bracketed, three exposure HDR and while it doesn’t create the saturated, enhanced colors associated with traditional HDR, it adds subtle image enhancement that adds detail to the shadows in your image but not at the expense of your highlights. The new VolumeShot feature 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. The phone can go from off to shooting in about a second or two.
An excellent camera replacement app with a powerful toolset for taking photos. ProCamera has had several awesome updates recently 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. Separate focus and exposure locks, as well as the best white balance lock in the app store make ProCamera the best shooter currently available. Speed, features, tools — even with the recent introduction of a ton of new apps, ProCamera is still my go-to camera replacement app. |
This is a full-featured camera replacement that works great on any iPhone. The interface is simple and uncluttered, but the app is well-thought out and powerful. The app features a good digital zoom for all iPhones. The viewfinder features rule-of-thirds guide lines to help with composition. The is an anti-shake stabilizer which waits until your hands are steady before releasing the shutter, helping to minimize blur and create sharper images. The separate focus and exposure targets are easy to use and a great feature.
Camera+ is fast — among the quickest shot-to-shot times of any photo app. It’s got the most well thought out lightbox of any photo app. Once an image is synced to the iPhone’s camera roll, it’s deleted from the app’s lightbox, helping to reduce image clutter. |
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 vision. The results are often unpredictable and gorgeous. I’ve been shooting a lot with Hipstamatic lately. Although I use the app’s Favorites feature, it’s just fun to shake to randomize and see what I get. |
5. 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” sometimes found in iPhone 5 photos. It’s worth it for that alone.
Quite honestly, there are no other app that prep photos 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 none 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 new “Photoshop for the iPhone” does it a disservice. Filterstorm’s recently revamped 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. |
7. Simply 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 conversion, 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. |
8. Crop Suey
A crop, rotation and straighten tool. I love this app. It’s fast and easy cropping. Although many other photo apps have cropping and rotation tools, Crop Suey is one of very few photo apps that use resolution enhancement when straightening images. Instead of reducing the trim size of an image after a 1.2 degree straighten, Crop Suey resamples data. A 5MP image stays a 5MP image after straightening. |
To say that Cameramatic is “a simple toy-camera app” is an understatement. Cameramatic is a beast. There are more filters and effects than I’m likely to use in my lifetime (okay, not really, but there are a ton). The interface is clunky, but what you find beneath are probably the most exhaustive set of retro and analog camera, film, and frames available for iPhone — all excellently rendered. Cameramatic is one of the best, most versatile square-frame shooters available. It’s an excellent alternative if you’re looking for an app with great analog effects but with the control than Hipstamatic lacks. |
For creating digital lo-fi from iPhone photographs, Picture Show is one of my longstanding go-to apps. With dozens of built-in filter presets, over a dozen great frames, and the ability to add noise, texture and light leaks effects, the possibilities are almost endless with this easy to use photo app. The LomoGraphy and Vivid filters are currently among my faves and the convex blur applies a great, subtle black frame around an image. Effects applied by Picture Show don’t necessarily look like Picture Show, which is a good thing. While it does have some beat-you-over-the-head effects, many of the fx are well done analog renditions. Picture Show can enhance a photograph, not hide it. |
Many iPhoneographers have probably never heard of this app, or have already forgotten about it. Overlooked on its release — something for which I am partly responsible. I love dotfunc(camera) by dotfunc but could never figure out how to do it justice in a review. Its two “modules” really need to be discussed as separate items. At its core, dotfunc(camera) is a perspective correcting camera app. Simply tilt and rotate until the image is cropped within the floating frame in the viewer. dotfunc automatically corrects the perspective distortion, similar to how a tiltshift camera on a movable bellows would correct the perspective in camera. Basically, it’ll take a shot of building looking up and make it look like it was shot straight on from the the center of the frame. Really cool. There are one or two other apps that can do this in post. No other photo apps that I know of can do this in camera.
Its other module is a fairly full-featured image editor and analog film filter set. The built-in image editor has the essential toolset that we’re now seeing in many all-in-one apps. The filter set is a very nice collection of film recreations that reminds me a lot of the collection of films in RetroCamera.
Most likely a dead app. dotfunc(camera) hasn’t been updated in about a year. It only supports an maximum of 3 MP on an iPhone 4 or 4S (released for iPhone 4, it needed the headroom to make its perspective adjustements). That’s a size difference that wasn’t as bothersome on my 5 MP iPhone 4. For me, dotfunc is still worth it just for the automatic perspective correction alone. It would be very nice to see this app get an update and resolution bump for the 4S. |
12. TiltShift Generator
More than just an app to apply a TiltShift for a toy effect, it’s a great app to create shallow depth-of-field in an image or to apply a focus effect better than any other tiltshift apps. It also adds really nice saturation and contrast to an image. |
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.