Best iPhone camera and photo editing apps
20th May 2014 | 17:02
Which iPhone camera and photo apps should you never live without?
The best camera is the one you have with you, that's what Chase Jarvis said. For many of us, the best camera is the iPhone, since that's what a number of us have in our pockets. That means the best iPhone camera apps are the ones that are always on our iPhone, right?
Even the most casual iPhone photographers, or iPhoneographers, are taking mobile photography a little more seriously. As smartphone cameras get better, and photo editing apps improve, taking iPhone photos becomes more fun.
So you've started exploring different light, angles and unusual photo compositions, and now you're diving into editing them to give them just a little more spark. With the thousands of camera and photo editing apps out there, which ones should you use?
We've always taken our iPhoneography very seriously here at TechRadar, and over the years we've come to love and hate some photo apps. We're going to share with you the best camera apps for iPhone that we've always relied on, and the new ones that have caught our eye.
Pro Camera or Pro Camera 7
With the original iPhone and iPhone 3G, we were forced to find really good light and solid composition before snapping a photo. Image quality wasn't the best, but more importantly, we couldn't control exposure.
That all changed when the iPhone 3GS was released. With tap-to-focus capabilities, we also had spot metering. That means the camera would meter or light the photo based on where you were touching it on the display.
That changed everything in smartphone photography as Android, and eventually Windows Phone, copied the general idea.
With added control over the camera, app developers like Pro Camera took it a step further.
The one huge advantage that "real" cameras had over smartphones was the ability to finely control exposure and focus. With apps like Pro Camera, and the newer Pro Camera 7, you can now control your focus and exposure.
Having the ability to adjust these controls is so critical to photography, and that's why we're recommending this app. You can set focus, slide the exposure icon around until you have the right exposure, then snap away.
Pro Camera and Pro Camera 7 also have some lightweight photo editing features and a number of other goodies, like choosing aspect ratios and seeing live exposure settings.
If you want to take your iPhoneography a little more seriously, ditch the native camera app in favor of ones that give you more control, like Pro Camera.
Unless you have the perfect eye for light, color and composition, 99% of the time your photos will look a little flat. Even with the right moment in the right situation, the iPhone's amazing camera can only offer so much in terms of color and light.
Snapseed will help give your flat photos a little more punch and bite, or it can mellow out a scene and give you some interesting tones and textures.
Like other photo editing apps, Snapseed allows you to control basic things like brightness, contrast, saturation and white balance. But it also gives you features like fine-tuned exposure and color control, selective area control, frames, textures, filters, colors and more.
Why do we recommend Snapseed over other photo editing apps that do the same? It does the job quickly and it does it well, and it never crashes on us. For basic, quick and dirty editing and toning, you probably can't do much better than Snapseed.
I love PicTapGo. It's incredibly easy to use, and perhaps the best part of it is that I can post to Instagram without cropping. That means if a photo is in a 4:3 or 3:2 ratio, it stays that way. Sure, other apps do the same, but they tend to kill your photo's resolution for some reason, and PicTapGo doesn't do that.
The way it works is all in the name: you select your photo or pic, tap on the adjustments and filters you want to use - each one has a slider that allows you to adjust intensity - and you go and post to your social networks, or save it in your iPhone's Photos app.
These days, I find myself using PicTapGo more than any other photo editing app, especially if I'm working with a non-iPhone photo and I want to retain its aspect ratio for posting on Instagram. Adjusting exposure, white balance, contrast and certain filters is incredibly easy.
If I had to use just one photo app on the iPhone every single day, it would be PicTapGo. Best of all, it's just $1.99 in the iTunes App Store and totally worth it.
For better or worse, the retro look is still in. And for that look, we can't think of a better app than VSCO Cam.
VSCO Cam offers a number of filters and effects that give your photos a classic, vintage film look, but with expanded control settings.
While other apps will slap a filter onto your photo and call it a day, VSCO Cam lets you take things a bit further by fine tuning exposure, contrast, saturation, white balance, hue, vignette and even simulated film grain.
If the included filters and features aren't enough, VSCO Cam sells a huge array of additional filter packs and effects. We do feel like the differences between some filters are negligible, or not great enough to warrant purchasing, but you can preview them yourself and decide whether you want to spend a few bucks on it.
Not to be confused with Camera Plus, Camera+ is another excellent camera replacement app that gives you a lot of shooting control and photo editing options.
Like Pro Camera and Pro Camera 7, Camera+ allows you to control focus and exposure while you're shooting. However, by default, all the photos you take are stored in the Camera+ lightbox.
Your photos will show up like a 35mm film strip, so it's like you're looking at a contact sheet or strips of film laid on top of a lightbox.
From there, you can delete photos or open them up for toning and color correction. There are a number of scene settings like Sunset, Night, Food and Clarity, which is a fake HDR effect that can be a little heavy-handed at times.
You'll also get a number of color effects and filters, along with varying degrees of blur effects for simulated shallow depth of field and tilt-shift. And if you want more goodies, there are some in-app purchases for more filters and effects.
Camera+ has a big advantage in that it allows you to control your focus and exposure, but we're recommending it along with Pro Camera and Pro Camera 7 because it gives you quick and dirty access to fast photo editing. We also like its Clarity feature when it doesn't overdo it.
What good is a photo if you can't share it these days, right? Instagram is kind of a no-brainer, but mostly just for its sharing capabilities.
While its filters can be really nice, and its effects halfway decent, Instagram's real power is in its speed and ability to share photos and short videos.
We really prefer to tone and edit our photos outside of the app, like in VSCO Cam or Snapseed, then export it into Instagram for sharing.
Having the filters are nice, and we sometimes find ourselves using them just to give our photos some added dimension. But for the most part, we like the control that other apps give us and we love Instagram's speed and sharing options.
It's also nice to see all the photos your friends are taking in one place. Other apps have tried to mimic Instagram, like Streamzoo, but Instagram has the best interface and the largest user base, so in a sense you're kinda stuck with it.
Despite being somewhat impractical, we're going to recommend Photoshop Touch. We took our time deliberating over this one, but decided to go ahead and add it to our list.
Why the tough decision? Well, it's a powerful tool, and it gives you so much creative control and the ability to work in layers, just like the desktop version of Photoshop. But for the majority of us, that's not what iPhoneography is all about.
We just want to shoot photos on the go, give the pics a little tweak and then save or share it. Heavy photo editing apps like Photoshop Touch kill that workflow and force you to sit and take your time with an image.
If that's your thing, and if you don't mind killing some time in a train or cafe by giving your iPhone photos some extra love, then Photoshop Touch is a killer photo editing app.
It has its own filters, and you can make all the same adjustments that you can with other photo apps, but the ability to quickly and easily work in layers is its real selling point. Having the ability to work on different layers for nondestructive editing is great.
Again, we prefer to spend more time shooting with our iPhones than squinting and editing photos, but the option for expanded features is nice to have and you can't do better than Photoshop Touch.
And of course, we can't forget Hipstamatic. It sort of helped start the whole iPhoneography movement since it spiced up our otherwise bland and flat photos long before Instagram hit the scene.
With its retro skin and vintage films and lenses, Hipstamatic helped give us a look and feel to photos that we grew to love when we were younger. The combination of film and lenses often makes unpredictable results, and that's half the fun of shooting with Hipstamatic.
Of course, figuring out which lens and filter combos can get exhausting, too, since there are so many to choose from. Luckily, you can set your favorite combos and just go from there.
Perhaps Hipstamatic allows you to get as pure as you can when it comes to iPhoneography. The square format keeps you from hiding your subject, or yourself, and you have to present it all in a way that makes sense. Moreover, since you can't control focus and exposure like with the apps mentioned above, you're really forced to make sure your lighting and composition are near perfect.
Then again, you can just shoot on the fly without giving much thought to what you're doing and see what you get. Surprise yourself. There's no right or wrong way to do this, and that's the great thing about Hipstamatic. You can constantly experiment with it and see what works for you. Maybe your look and style will evolve over time, too.
You can download it for free in the iTunes App Store, and you can buy additional lenses and films via in-app purchases.
The film look seems to be all the rage these days, and VSCO Cam does a pretty good job of mimicking your favorite color negative and slide film looks.
VSCO Cam is free, which is great, but if you want more options you can buy additional filter packs within the app, too.
Each filter is adjustable in strength, but you can also fine-tune them with the option to control brightness, contrast, grain, vignetting, hue/saturation and so much more. The loads of options makes it pretty great if you're willing to sit with it and put in the time to make your images look good.
Another great feature with VSCO Cam is profile pages and the social networking aspect of it. The latest big update from VSCO brought profile pages, so you can add your photos to them and others can discover your work. You also have a link that goes straight to your page if you want to share it online.
The social aspect of it isn't quite as fluid as Instagram, but over time I think it'll get there. For now, you can enjoy all the different looks you can get from VSCO Cam and share them to Twitter or Facebook straight from the app.
Download it from the iTunes App Store.
You'll probably notice that the list is short, but sweet. We're not trying to give you a "Top 20" list, mostly because you really don't need to have 20 photo editing apps to make a photo look good. And we're firm believers that the less work you do on a photo, the better. We can tell when a photo has been over processed, and it doesn't look pretty.
That's it! Go out and shoot! Remember, it's nice to have all these apps and features that help take your iPhoneography to a new level, but in the end, your eye and your vision is what's going to make a great photo - not a 1970s filter with some grain and heavy vignetting.
We see the iPhone as a tool that helps develop your eye and creativity as a photographer, which means it forces you to get more creative with light and composition since you don't have a wide selection of focal lengths and exposure controls.
Get creative, screw up, take lots of pics. The iPhone has plenty of memory and you can always delete your awful photos. Instead of snapping one photo and moving on from something that caught your eye, sit there for a moment and explore other angles and compositions. Take dozens of photos and pick the best ones later, then use the apps to give them a little more life and make them more interesting.