I’m obsessed with photo apps for my iPhone. I can’t help myself, if a new one comes out I’m buying it. I take photos all day every day, so I don’t feel too guilty about it, but since I’ve spent all this money and downloaded some real crap, I though I’d share my ~knowledge~ with you. (while I can only speak for the iphone versions, a lot of these have Android versions too. Just go to their site to check.)
So what makes a good photo app?
- - FAST. Slow laggy menus and exports are a deal breaker.
- - pleasingly designed in a way that makes sense (looking like an old camera does not generally make sense).
- - it should go without saying that it must be retina updated at this point!
- - intuitive interface, without pages of instructions or arrows everywhere.
- - 69p is a good price unless it’s going to change my life. In app purchases are ok if they’re AMAZING. I’ve only written about paid apps below, I figure any free apps you can just try for yourself.
So for me, it’s all about the editing. Regardless of the camera I like photos that are bright and vibrant, but on the iphone I have way more fun experimenting with filters and ridiculous effects. Yes, I’m probably going to look back at my fake light leaks and washed out “vintage” effects and be mortified. Yes, it covers up the flaws of otherwise imperfect images. When I’m shooting for work, I’m militant about exposure, colour balance, all that important stuff. With my phone I’m just having fun and playing around with stuff. It’s not about perfection, it’s just about recording the everyday. I’ve gone through a few phases - the Hipstagram phase, the Pictureshow Instant phase, but as the iphone camera and screen have got better and better with each generation (I’ve got the iPhone 4s and the camera is pretty fantastic now), I’m going less mental with the editing. Since SnapSeed came along I’m practically minimalist! With fake light leaks. And fake depth of field.
A note on Instagram: I don’t really use the Instagram filters (very occasionally I’ll use Rise on top of something else). I don’t like most of them and it takes a lot of the fun out for me! I do love Instagram on the photo sharing front. My username is krisatomic if you want to follow me.
Let’s start with how I edit a photo:
left: unedited original, the lighting was decent here so it’s not bad straight out of camera
right: tweaked in Snapseed (brightness, contrast, saturation and a tiny bit of vintage filter)
left: the dreaded fake depth of field (tilt-shift setting) in SnapSeed
right: add light leaky texture in Osmo 120
Depending on my mood and how whimsical I’m feeling, that’s what I do most of the time. On to the different apps I like:
Snapseed is THE BEST. If you only buy one app, buy Snapseed and call it a day. All the editing you might want to do, all the filters, cropping, vignetting, tilt-shift, it’s all there. It’s the fastest most responsive app by miles especially when importing/exporting photos. The user interface is genius and once you get used to it editing a photo takes no time at all. It doesn’t look like an old camera, which is my pet hate (see skeuomorphism, below).
Everything is adjustable rather than being a standard filter you slap on Instagram-style (see control freak, below). Talking of Instagram, their tilt-shift setting is an aberration and a travesty. For the love of god, get Snapseed and make the world a more aesthetically pleasing place. That’s the thing about Snapseed, it’s hard to make your images really awful. There are so many apps that have 10 million filters and most of them are horrendous. If you’re not sure what I mean about horrendous, just give me your opinions on HDR and selective colour photos and I’ll let you know if we’re on the same page.
The one thing I wish you could do is after editing a photo, to be able to import another and have the same settings applied to it. Also, please let us make presets. Other than that, it’s fantastic. A lot of apps claim to be the photo app for photographers, but this one is The One.
Black and white isn’t usually my thing, but Snapseed is really great for it. A few set filters, then adjustable brightness/contrast/grain.
I made some gifs comparing my photos before and after editing.
Possibly I made a bit too many gifs. They’re so satifying and I got a bit over excited. Anyway, you get the idea. Onwards!
Until Snapseed came along, this was my favourite. Unlike in Snapseed, you can definitely make something ugly with it. Just give the shuffle setting a go, here are some examples. I basically saved 3 presets that I liked and used those (bleach, blue gel, instant) the whole time. The main downer with PictureShow is that you can’t adjust the filters. You can tweak the brightness and colours but it’s very harsh and usually unpleasant. Exporting photos from the app is VERY slow too. Still, it’s not got some great filters and I did have some good times during my purple and red period.
This one is super simple – take or import a photo and it coverts it to a polaroid style image that you shake to develop. You can choose between a polaroid or a simple square border. Though it’s fully automated, it gives some nice muted results.
By the same people as ShakeItPhoto, but this time with a cross process twist. You can turn on just red/blue/green or get a randomly selected colour when you load the photo. Again, little control but quite nice results and fun to be surprised by the outcome. Both this and ShakeItPhoto have really simple and fast user interface, which is always a help.
examples of the blue, green and red settings
This is my flavour of the week and if you’re following me on Instagram, you can probably tell because I’ve been slapping it on every photo lately. Sorry I’m not sorry, I like how it looks!
Super simple app, you import an image and cycle through the variety of randomized light leaks. Most of them are aesthetically pleasing and not too over the top. I’ve also tried Lens Light which does the same thing, but that app is so ugly and cumbersome that I know I’ll never use it.
Examples of the different light leaks.
Depending on where the light falls, it can really alter the colour of the image.
Everyone has heard of Hipstamatic, but I thought it was worth the inclusion all the same. I used to LOVE Hipstamatic and I still like it, but I just… never use it anymore. It feels like there hasn’t been much development for a long time and while other apps jumped in with new and exciting stuff Hipstamatic is just floating along. I hate the fake camera interface with the stupid tiny viewfinder that you can’t even focus. I don’t like the borders. Sometimes I want to take a photo that isn’t square! The randomness of Hipstamatic and the different films/ lenses is fun, but a lot of them aren’t my thing so I just used the same few and after a while all my photos looked the same. All Hipstamatic users’ photos look the same, it gets a bit dull. Mostly though, I just don’t like the lack of control. I prefer to do my own editing rather than getting the app to do it for me. Plus, when you’re out and about shooting quickly in the street or in bright sunlight or whatever, I would just rather take a shot with the camera and edit it later, not faff about with a million different “lenses”, wait for it to develop and check to make sure it came out ok.
The Blue Period, 2011
The Green Period, 2010
Just the one example of this one, because I’m a bit rubbish at it, but it’s a cool novelty. 360 lets you take seamless (if you’re good) panoramas which it automatically stitches together. The trick is to stand in the exact same spot and move the camera very fluidly, because if you fuck it up it looks stripy. I shall persevere.
See also: Pano
This one was edited in SnapSeed for colour.
Another novelty app, which allows you to place text on top of your photo. The good news is that it’s beautifully designed, has a decent selection of fonts and flexibility for placing the text. You can multiply/overlay/screen/invert and change the opacity. The bad news is this app LOVES to crash. Hopefully they’ll keep working on it, because it’s got great potential if it would just be a little more stable. It is perfect for tumblrtastic text-over-photo whimsy though.
Next up, a couple of collage apps.
A variety of templates and options to make little collages, the rounded corners option is cute albeit a bit Livejournal circa 2003.
My collage maker of choice. I prefer the feel of this one over PicFrame and I like that you can cut in to the layouts to make irregular shapes.
Possibly the ultimate in silly novelty apps, after CatPaint. There is no point to this whatsoever, but you can decorate your photos with cute borders and little animals, cat ears and whatnot. Not going to lie, the interface is insane and bafflingly you can’t export full res or save to your photo roll so you have to email them to yourself. But I don’t even mind, it’s fun and cute and not pretending to be a serious photo app so I’ll let them off. Secretly, I’m imagining illustrating my own theme…
So those are the apps that I use most of the time. Here are a few more that I’ve also tried:
iPhoto – I can’t make up my mind about iPhoto. I like it and it’s certainly full of features, but I almost feel like it’s too complicated and they’ve tried to pack too much in. It feels more successful on the ipad, where you have more room for all the menus, whereas on the iphone it seems cluttered. I haven’t had it for too long, so I’ll give it a go for a while longer, but I’m not in love yet.
VSCO CAM – Nice looking minimal design, but finicky to use. Adjustments are done on a scale, where you choose the strength and then it reloads the photo with the change. On the plus side, you can’t really over-do it, the results are limited to tasteful. Overall it’s nice, but nothing I can’t do with Snapseed in a quarter of the time it takes to do anything here. I wish more apps looked like this, design-wise. Crashes like crazy though!
picfx – Loads of decent filters with a slider for intensity. Easy, fast. You’ll probably like it if you’re into the “vintage” look. Something about the interface bothers me and it’s stupid that they make you crop everything square.
Lumiè - Add bokeh light effects to photos. Cute app design and simple to use.
iDarkroom – Not bad on paper and with all the expected features (filters, borders, etc etc) but cluttered interface makes it cumbersome to use.
PhotoForge2 – Slow. Slow as balls. After you make any changes there’s a second before it becomes effective and then when you tick to submit them you have to wait again. Nope, life is too short for this nonesense. Most of the effects are fug.
Vintage Camera Pro –
Can’t import photos (edited as it’s been pointed out to me that you can import photos, it’s just hidden inside another menu), no control over filters, brings nothing new to the table.
Wood Camera – Nothing new here, unintuitive interface.
Lo-Mob – Lots of filters, but erring on the dark and moody side, which is not my thing. Possibly the last app to finally be updated for retina!
645 PRO – Seen lots of raving about this app and the “RAW” files it outputs, but the user interface is horrendous. The worst example of skeuomorphism I’ve ever seen. Cool, you’ve made it look like the back of a real camera, how novel. The “dials” are unusable and I have really small hands, if you’re a full grown man you haven’t got a chance. All that information (clutter) at the bottom is unnecessary. Maybe if I wanted to be a Professional iPhone Photographer I might like it, but if I wanted to work that hard at something I’d use an actual dslr. Also, £1.99 is way too expensive for this.
Biglens – there are a few similar apps for giving the look of depth of field. The ones like this where you painstakingly paint in areas you want to be in focus are always horrible unless you spend ages and make it perfect. If not, it looks way worse than when you started. Again, if I wanted to work that hard… Also, this app crashes all the time.
BeFunkyPro – I mean, it has the word funky in the name, what was I expecting? All the filters are terrible, the editing options unusable.
100Cameras – Good news: you tried to make an app that’s different to all the rest, props for originality! Bad news: it makes every photo look godawful.
FX PhotoStudio – Sooooooo sloooooooooow. The filters and effects are pants.
CameraBag – The first photo app I ever used! Sadly has not seen any significant development in the last 4-5 years so got completely left behind.
Phew, I think that’s it. So this is what I know about photography apps. I hope you found it useful and do let me know if you have any further suggestions for me to blow my money on!
Edited 20th Feb 2013
Thought I’d add a quick update on what I’ve been using since I posted this last year. Still very much favouring (the now Google owned and free) Snapseed for the majority of editing, with a bit of Osmo Leaker thrown in for fun, but I’ve recently also go into:
This is the app that was responsible for 70% of Instagram photos suddenly being circles/rectangles floating in white space rather than the customary square. Cheap and decently full featured, it allows you to do everything from colour correction and brightness adjustments to cropping, filters and fake light leaks. The filters are pretty good for that washed out faded blacks look that is super trendy right now and can be applied on a sliding scale of intensity. A few nice black and white filters too.
Pretty fast and responsive, though not as good as Snapseed for colour correction/tone adjustments. Worth it for the filters alone if your favourite Instagram filters are Amaro through to Valencia and you want to spice up your life a bit.
Quick and easy multiple exposures, allows you to lay images over each other and apply a number of blending modes (multiply, screen, overlay etc). Image Blender is more elegantly designed and flexible to use, with the correspondingly higher price tag.