iPhone Camera App Roundup: I’m Ready for My Closeup

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A good camera app these days should not only take pictures, but allow the photographer to immediately edit and share them. Trying seven camera apps for the iPhone, I found all but one capable of taking decent pictures. That’s not too surprising, since all of them use the same hardware, but software still makes the difference. Most apps had more photo-capturing functionality than Apple’s Camera app, but not all had video. All apps but Camera had editing tools, and most had more sharing options than Apple’s own offering, but the best camera app is built around capturing, editing, and sharing as a unified process.

Apple Camera (Free)

Capture: HDR
Edit: None
Share: Email, MobileMe, MMS

Camera from Apple compares poorly to other photo apps in terms of features, with the big exception of HDR. High dynamic range photography automatically combines exposure levels from three captured images. In the above photo, Camera bested other apps in overcoming high contrast from outside the window, and consistently produced decent photos without the need for editing. That’s good, because Camera has no editing options, and almost no sharing options, only MobileMe’s Gallery. That makes Camera best only for the editing-adverse who share only through MobileMe.

Adobe Photoshop Express (Free)

Capture: No video
Edit: Editing tools, filters, effects, and borders
Share: Facebook, TwitPic, Photoshop.com, but no email

Adobe Photoshop Express is the most popular camera app in the App Store, possibly because of the associated name, probably because it’s free. Image capturing is similar to Camera, minus video capturing. Editing is minimalistic, but capable, with four menu icons providing well-chosen, basic options, as well as multiple undo. There are also filters, effects, and borders, though fewer than in other apps. Sharing follows editing, but the options are less impressive. There’s no email, and clearly Adobe is pushing their own photo-sharing service. Besides the price, the simple, easy-to-use photo editing is what’s best about Adobe Photoshop Express.

Best Camera ($2.99)

Capture: No video
Edit: Filters, cropping, but no manual editing
Share: Email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, thebestcamera.com

Best Camera redefined the photo app concept in 2009, and still best represents the new photography workflow. Each picture taken is immediately previewed, and if not discarded and retaken, moved on to editing. Editing and effect icons are selected from a sliding dock, and any change can be undone. Having said that, what can be done is constrained, including a predetermined cropping size and only a single border. Sharing is accessed from editing, and can be done with multiple services simultaneously, including thebestcamera.com, which is a kind of MobileMe Gallery for Best Camera users. While the guided workflow is great, Best Camera badly needs updating with either more filters and effects, or some manual control over editing.

Camera Genius ($0.99)

Capture: Big button, anti-shake, burst mode, timer
Edit: Many adjustment options, effects, filters, borders, crop presets
Share: Email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, MobileMe (Pictures folder), Tumblr

With its many editing and sharing features, Camera Genius should be the best camera app, but it’s not, at least not for me. I found image quality poorer than in the other apps, with focus and exposure being the main issues. Moving through the workflow requires a lot of bouncing back and forth between capturing, editing, and sharing. I did like the selection of filters and effects. Camera Genius also supports batch uploads and has the most sharing options for photos, and $0.99 makes it the least-expensive paid app.

Camera Plus Pro ($1.99)

Capture: Big button, anti-shake, burst mode, timer, video filters, time lapse
Edit: Lots of adjustment options, filters, and effects, video trim
Share: Wi-Fi, FTP, email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, YouTube

Even more than Camera Genius, Camera Plus Pro offers a multitude of tweaking options, and in my opinion, it also takes better pictures. It’s also the only camera app that includes capture, editing, and sharing options for video. Again, like Camera Genius, the workflow could be better. It feels like separate programs, though within those “programs,” editing tools are well-organized. Batch uploading to photo sites is nice, as is sharing over Wi-Fi via a web browser. Unfortunately, the workflow suffers again as Camera Plus Pro keeps its own photo library, requiring manual syncing with Apple’s own Photo Library on the iPhone.

Camera+ ($1.99)

Capture: Focus and exposure control, anti-shake, burst mode, timer, continuous flash, no video
Edit: Many adjustment options, filters, effects and borders, no multiple undos
Share: Email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter

Camera+ uses a two-finger tap for accessing focus and exposure controls separately during image capture, but personally I found the feature more trouble than the it was worth. Like Camera Plus Pro, Camera+ requires manually saving photos to the iPhone library, and it’s not particularly quick about it. Camera+ does offer many adjustment options and filters, including ones available as in-app purchases, but not multiple undos during editing. Having said all that, the workflow is geared toward moving from photo taking to editing to sharing, yet the interface still felt very awkward to me.

ProCamera ($2.99)

Capture: Focus and exposure control, anti-shake, timer
Edit: Many filters and effects, partial multiple undos
Share: Email

I especially liked the way the all elements of the capture interface adjusted to the iPhone’s orientation, and the general interface of the app is a great example of good, thoughtful use of icons and sliding bars as tools. ProCamera also allows for separate focus and exposure control, but again, I found it slowed me down. Editing also slowed me down, divided into three sections, required, a lot of back and forth, and multiple undos only apply to filters. However, the biggest problem is sharing, as there isn’t any beyond basic email.

The Best Camera App

Chase Jarvis is probably best know among mobile phone photographers for his trademarked observation that “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” With camera apps, that means you can have them all, and that’s what I recommend. Try each app that meets your minimum requirements, and keep the one that works best for you. However, in terms of capturing, editing, and sharing as a total package, Best Camera remains the best camera app, even if it’s the one that’s also most in need of updating.

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