making the iPhone camera better


it’s been said that the best camera you own is the one that is in your pocket. this makes the camera in an iPhone the best thing for millions of people. but we find the camera amazingly craptacular.

one of the things that makes the iPhone camera so accessible is that it’s very easy to use. click the Camera icon then click the shutter button. shoot simple. and that is just fine for most of the situations where you use the camera. it works and that’s most important. but we find that there is so much more that this camera can do with just a little extra software.

we talk about a lot of apps on the show. some of them are free but most of them cost a few dollars. you don’t have to buy everything but if you did it would set you back about what dinner and a movie costs. in other words not much.

one thing that we didn’t talk about on the show is that you should try to learn all these camera apps at the same time. just get one at a time spending a few hours learning how to make it work. that way when it’s time to enhance, crops, pano or scale you’ll have an idea of what you can do instead of head scratching about what to do.

My workflow comes down to nine apps at this point and I could probably trim it a little further. Here’s a quick overview:

TrueHDR: A surprisingly good iPhone tone-mapping app. Grab a bright exposure, grab a dark one, let it do it’s magic. It won’t push the colors into fairy-tale painterly glowing halo land, but it will help you make the most of the limited iPhone exposure tools. It does a great job of aligning both photos too since you’re shooting handheld.

AutoStitch and Pano: both are similar with slightly different work flow. Frankly, if there was a full OS X or Windows app that could do panoramic stitching as easily and seamlessly as these apps on a <$25 budget I think it would be quite successful. I'm sure the low resolution helps, but these are also a great way to increase your maximum shooting resolution if you can move further in and take multiple photos. Liquid Scale: One of the coolest apps on my phone, I wish I had more use for it actually. Basically it takes the smart rescaling technology that debuted a few years ago in research circles and was introduced commercially in Photoshop CS4.

ColorSplash: Mostly superflous but it does something none of my other apps doe. selective desaturating. I’ve used it once or twice but keep it around just in case.

Now for the four I use the most.

TiltShift & TiltShiftGen: Let’s you get some fake tilt-shift lens effects. TiltShift has better tools for controlling what to blur but TiltShiftGen adds really nice blown out exposure to it’s blurring. Both can be used for really subtle effects for focussing your eye on a key area without getting really stylized.

Mill Colour: I do almost all of my color correction with Mill Colour. Having an iPhone app based on the Mill’s color grading suite is both cool and really refined. It isn’t the easiest app to use, the changes you make are very gradual but that’s what I love about it. Mill Colour has primarily replaced all the canned effects apps.

Naked touch: Odd name, “I’m using naked touch on my phone right now,” but it’s the most powerful traditional photo-editing app I’ve seen. Features include sharpness, noise reductions, shadow and highlight contrast controls, levels, curves, contrast and brightness, white balance, color balance, intensity and saturation. All parallel the features you’re used to on a desktop app though with some simplifications. I also do all my cropping with it.

That’s my cheapish iPhone photography setup. I’ve listed them in my order of workflow too, it’s a surprisingly functional system for an iPhone, it’s not instant like the effects apps but it gives me a lot more control that I really enjoy.

–Chris White

And one more…

Camera for iPad is actually a universal app by purpose, despite the name. It’s a tethering app, lets you use your iPhone as a camera for the iPad, displaying a viewfinder on the iPad’s display, and even using the iPad’s display as a flash when snapping.

–Dave Chartier

so this camera tool call GorillaCam (that has the low cost of free) needs 3.1 iPhone OS to run. I’m all about some of the things that are offered in the app as long as using it doesn’t take longer then the camera app that Apple provides. Grid is essential to learning to shoot better pictures. the self timer, continuous, three frame and one touch features bring that thing in line with my Canon.

thinking out loud about Grid for a second. it’s nice that the basic rule of thirds is here. but, and maybe this is an opportunity, I’d like to see other grids. because not everything is so simple as 3rds forcompositon. it sure would be nice to have different grids. like center, center with a ring. 15%, 20%, 30% square, 30 degree parallel lines on the horizontal, 16 squares, and 10% & 20% from the edge lines are all useful depending on the situation. all these would greatly aid shooting portraits, group shots, buildings, etc.

my only complaint is the startup page graphics are fuggly. but aside from that the software runs just fine. and it’s nice to not have to wait to take the next shot. just click, click, click and then it takes time to catch up.

–John Foster

links to the app Dave uses:
Camera Plus Pro
QuadCamera – Multishoot

links to the apps Chris uses:
Mill Colour
Naked touch
AutoStitch Panorama
Liquid Scale

Note that some of those are overlapping, TiltShiftGen is fast, TiltShift is more powerful. Naked touch and PhotoForge are both trying to be Photoshop for the iPhone. AutoStitch and Pano do the same thing but you use Pano to take photos while AutoStitch stitches photos you’ve already taken.

We’re playing with ProHDR right now as an alternative as it has better ratings. we saw it when looking up the TrueHDR link.

camera apps for Kids:
LEGO Photo
Funny Face Symmetry

other interesting photography apps:

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