Mobile phones these days come with a pretty decent camera. The new iPhone 4S is probably the best camera phone out there, at the time of writing…but new offerings in the Android market, particularly the range of 8MP shooters from Samsung, HTC, and Sony, as well as some of the new Nokia phones, mean that if you’re in the market for a new smartphone, you’re quite spoilt for choice when you look at things from a photography point of view. And that’s great
Having a good camera on your phone is a very useful thing. We all love to carry a camera around with us wherever we go, but as much as we try to do this, it doesn’t always happen, and a perfect photo moment always tends to pop up when we’re empty-handed. The mobile phone camera has largely fixed that problem. And that’s wonderful. It really is a wonderful tool. I hear some people (yes, photographers) complain about mobile phone photography and Instagram reducing the standard of images – reducing the quality of photographs being created today – and I just disagree. The camera phone is a fantastic tool. The technology is not to blame for the low standard of images being produced by random people…the people are! The same low standard of images can be produced using any other pont-and-shoot camera as well. So stop blaming the mobile phone camera for the endless stream of food and self-pictures that Facebook is full of…stop bothering what other people do with their phones…and try getting the best out of your own instead. That’s how I think about it, at least
Knowing to use the camera on your phone isn’t that hard. The host of apps, with their built-in effect presets, or filters, and all that, make it really easy to end up with a rather cool-looking shot. There’s quite a vast range of apps available for all platforms right now…from pretty ordinary to quite marvelous, really…so yes, you’re spoilt for choice in this department too. However, instead of downloading every single free app you can find, and not knowing which app does what, stick to a few good ones (I think I say that a lot)…it’ll help you get the right app for the right moment…and fast enough so you won’t miss the shot (I say that a lot too). Alright
Not being a fan of the iPhone (its operation as a phone, not the camera), I’m looking at this from an Android point of view (I use a Samsung Galaxy S2 for those of you wondering) – however, most of these apps have iOS versions…so that shouldn’t be an issue. If not, well…buy an Android, it’s better!
Ok, phoneography…camera phone photography…whatever you like to call it…let’s look at the apps:
Vignette – My favorite camera app on my phone. It’s not free, but it’s seriously worth the $3 price tag. It’s got a great range of effects/filters, sure. But what makes this app stand out for me is the operation as a camera. It’s not the fastest app in terms of performance…but then again, all mobile phones are slow in this sense…and you shouldn’t really be looking at snapping rapidly to begin with…but yeah, the camera features itself are fantastic. Its touch-focusing is the best I’ve used in any app…it gets it spot-on very often…and for close-up shots, it focuses better than any other app.
The filters…are fantastic. The actual vignette effect is one of the most natural I’ve seen on an app. The rest of the filters, well… I can’t go into all of them, but let me just say this app has got a wide variety of filters, and they’re all really, really good. Yeah, that’s how much I love this app
It also has some really cool extras like double exposures (haven’t seen this before on any digital camera), shooting in a film strip-like layout, time lapse…and a bunch of others. Oh, and it also shoots in full 8MP resolution (assuming the camera is that high res, of course) – not all third party apps support full resolution when applying effects. If you’re choosing just one, get Vignette
Pixlr-O-Matic – Alright, this isn’t a camera app – but it’s got a fantastic set of effects/filters…one of the best. They look extremely natural, and very well made…it can be a lot of fun to use…and the results look really cool. And so what if it can’t take the picture itself?! The built in Android camera is full of features to take the basic photo as it is (more on that later) – Pixlr-O-Matic keeps the layout clean and simple by not bothering with all that, and concentrates on applying top-class effects. And it’s free
Camera ZOOM FX – My second favorite camera app…like Vignette, this app provides a solid camera interface…not as feature-rich as Vignette, but easy to use. It has the benefit of being able to capture the image with the basic effect applied i.e. you can select the filter you want, and then compose your shot, while viewing the scene ‘filtered’. This means you get to preview the scene with the effect applied even before you take it. Very useful. You can then add further effects, borders, frames…stuff like that. Again, as with all the apps I’m writing about today, the quality of the effects are very good
Paper Camera – A rather quirky camera app, and very original, it shoots photos with effects that simulate paintings, pencil drawings comics…and such. A dead simple camera app, hardly any features except the effects, it does the job very well…and the effects look eerily accurate. Not free, but I highly recommend you spend the couple of dollars that this gem costs
Pano – I’m not sure if you’re interested in taking panoramas. Most people are, for some reason. And if you are, this is the app you want. Again, a basic camera interface…but it makes the process of stitching multiple images very easy…and its composition guidelines for taking the series of shots you want to stitch is very good. The result is very professional-looking. Again, not free…I guess the good apps all cost something…but yes, totally worth it
If you’re looking for something a bit more fancy, Photaf is a rather interesting app that creates panoramas too. The interface is not as useful as Pano, and the result not so high quality or professional…but it gives it in a cool 3D scrollable format that is fun to use. If you plan on showing off your shots on your phone, this can be nice to use. It can also upload the file as a normal panorama…but like I said, the quality isn’t up there with Pano. I think it (Photaf) has a free version
Retro Camera – I guess this is the equivalent of using a toy camera like a Holga or a Diana+ and going Lomo-style. No focusing or…well, no settings really. You choose one of 5 lo-fi cameras…look through the rather cool viewfinder, and press the shutter. That’s it. Dead simple. Just like Lomo cameras. The effects are very good, and I think it’s a pretty unique app, in the way it presents itself. The cameras included are: The Barbl, Little Orange Box, Xolaroid 2000, Pinhole Camera, FudgeCan (or Cam, I can’t really read it), and Hipsterohli (again, I think that’s what it says) – and yes, that’s 6, not 5. Most of them have a color or black and white option, and the results show in an awesome darkroom-styled gallery, where your ‘prints’ are hung up to dry. I just remembered how much I love this app, and that I should use it more often. It’s free (with ads…and ads don’t bother the interface at all…so it’s really free)
The Android Camera – When you really look at it, this is probably the most feature-filled camera app…purely as a camera. No filters, but few other cameras (none of what I’ve listed) have features like exposure compensation, ISO, white balance…’real camera’ stuff. The ones that do have these features don’t handle them nearly as well as this camera. If you just want to shoot plain old snaps without any effects, don’t waste money…the best ‘camera’ camera is free and comes already installed on your Android
Picsay Pro – Not a camera app, it’s more like Photoshop Lightroom for your phone. Photoshop Express exists, and it’s free…but I find this app to be superior. It’s got a range of filters too, but that’s not what you use this app for. This app has some serious editing potential…with tools to adjust contrast, saturation, temperature, tint…it can sharpen, smoothen, crop, straighten, resize, rotate, flip… yeah, this kind of stuff. It also includes a range of color adjustments, rather useless but popular distortion effects…it can do custom color highlights…it can cut out parts of another picture and add it to this picture…it also includes some decent (not the best) filters. So yeah, it can really do a lot for the money (yes, it’s not free either), from really crazy to really useful stuff. If you’re serious about your phone photography, and its editing, check this app out. It definitely is my Photoshop for Android
Instagram – I didn’t leave this for last because I don’t like it or anything. I love this app. And I’m very happy that it’s finally on Android. I just left it for last because I’m sure you already know about it. The app I used to use before was Lightbox – which did a similar service to Instagram…but new updates tried to add too much to it, overcomplicated the interface, and I haven’t used Lightbox in weeks. I don’t need to show you what Instagram is, or what it does, do I? Well, I’ll just go through the basics anyway…to make this post complete! You take a shot, you add a filter, you save it, and it uploads it to your Instagram account, where it is automatically shared with people who follow your Instagram account…and can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, if you want. You can also follow people on Instagram…and view all their newest photos in a stream. Great interface, great idea…and works beautifully…even on the initial version for Android
Alright, that’s all I have for you today. I hope this has been helpful. “Phoneography”, however you spell it, is definitely catching on, and that’s a really, really good thing. Anything that helps people take good pictures is always a good thing. If you’re using an iPhone, and can’t find the iOS version of one of these apps, just leave me a comment…and if a good iOS alternative exists, I’ll let you know
That’s it then…cheers
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By Heshan Jayakody All content in this post is my own