UPDATE 12/30/09: In the new 1.31.3 update, images that are processed in-camera are saved in full resolution, 1600×1200 on my 2G.

Also, in the new update, the built-in hook to the image-enhancement website, 9Monkeys.net, now works seamlessly and quickly within the app.

Kudos to the app’s developer Carl Im at 9Monkeys, who has always been very responsive when I’ve brought up issues from the perspective of an end user.




Version 1.15.3

Bottom Line: A little pricey, but good exposure enhancement for your existing underexposed images

SmartCam from 9Monkeys Ltd. is a camera, exposure enhancement, and portal to an online image adjusting website. It’s an overlooked app that hasn’t really found its audience in the App Store yet. At $2.99 USD, it’s a little more expensive than most apps in this category which typically run about a buck. How does it fare and is it worth the premium? It depends on how you use the app.

SmartCam compared to iFlashReady and Perfectly Clear

SmartCam's results compared (Click to enlarge)

Where the SmartCam excels is in exposure enhancement. It uses a fairly unique method of adjusting the exposure of your images. Rather than crank the brightness overall or perform contrast normalization, SmartCam analyzes your image, breaks it up internally and applies contrast separately to groups of pixels. The developer explained to me that during testing of the app, he’s seen the app create as many as 7,000 of these groups on an image, although in real use, the number is much smaller. All of this, of course, happens under the hood. As a user, all you see is dark image goes in –> adjusted image comes out.

SmartCam is easy; there are no settings or adjustments. SmartCam does a very good job of adding detail to dark areas in an image without blowing out highlights. Except in extreme cases, I found noise levels to be good overall. SmartCam doesn’t add some of the artifacts that Perfectly Clear (another app in this class) does. It produces results that are different from other apps and does a good job of adding contrast and balance to images that are a little flat. Like all exposure enhancing apps, SmartCam doesn’t work great with every image you throw at it. In my tests, some images with correct exposure washed out a little after processing, but overall SmartCam can do some amazing things to help improve an image, especially one with good highlights and areas that are underexposed. While nothing beats a properly exposed image, during my tests, SmartCam got some pretty dark images to a viewable state — definitely usable to upload to Facebook, Flickr or to email family & friends. If you regularly have to deal with underexposed images on your iPhone, SmartCam is a good app for you to consider.

SmartCam has a few issues. The exposure enhancement is slow, but then again it’s doing some pretty heavy processing. I don’t like the app as a camera. Images taken with SmartCam’s built-in camera are processed and saved at super-low resolution, 322 x 430 pixels. I find this curious, because SmartCam has no problems opening, adjusting and saving full-size images from your camera roll. The built-in hook to the image adjusting website, 9monkeys.net took me out of the app and into Safari for iPhone, which didn’t work for me when I tried to upload an image. For me, these are really non-issues because the app functions very well without using either feature — there are other, superior camera replacement apps and I use Photogene or PhotoForge to perform overall image adjustments on my iPhone.

In future updates, I’d like to see the camera perform correctly and process images at the iPhone’s full resolution. I’d also like to see the developer tweak the algorithm to provide better color saturation for images that don’t need major surgery. I also don’t think the app needs the hook to 9monkeys.net — SmartCam should be completely self-contained.

It it worth it? It depends. Because of the price, SmartCam wouldn’t be my first choice as an exposure enhancement app, but I think it’s worth it as an app of second or last resort to help salvage an image that’s underexposed. It’s a good addition to my toolbox. It may be one of the pricier exposure enhancement apps in the App Store, but it delivers on its claims. SmartCam produces good results.

App Store Link: SmartCam