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.
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.
Lastly, 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.
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.
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