It’s for good reason that the traditional digital camera market has taken a tumble over the last few years. Your smartphone, after all - which is always on you and easy to slip into your pocket or purse - features a pretty darn good camera. Ditto to your increasingly slimline iPad. But some savvy shutterbugs have created camera apps that turn that straightforward point and shoot camera on your iPhone or iPad into a near-pro quality camera. Want to channel your inner Annie Leibovitz? Here are five of the best camera apps out there - chosen for their price, ease of use, user reputation, and range of features.
VSCO Cam Editor's Pick
If you like sharing your images with fellow photography ‘artistes’ but aren’t so keen on the popularity aspects of an app like Instagram, VSCO Cam 3.0 is a great choice. It eliminates likes, comments and followers, but still incorporates a powerful community platform - making it a well-liked choice for iPhoneagraphy enthusiasts of all levels. The app taps into the powerful cameras on the iPhone, iPad, and even the iPod Touch (as well as many Android phones, it should be noted) by giving you control over the flash, white balance and a much larger button to snap your photo than the standard iOS photo app. Once you’ve taken the perfect photo, VSCO Cam has a pretty solid editing platform built right in, with over a dozen different tools to tweak your image to perfection. Some of them are common (like cropping or adjusting the saturation) while others are more specialized, like adjusting the shadows and highlights.
If you truly love the Instagram-esque filter effect, a small collection comes free with the app, and each one can be adjusted using a manual slider. If you want more, a package of two dozen additional filters is available through an in-app purchase. It’s worth noting however, that the filters are somewhat obliquely named – it’ll take some experimentation to figure out what each one does. When it comes to sharing, your photos can be broadcasted via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or you can upload them to VSCO Cam’s proprietary software, Grid, which showcases curated collections of stunning photographs taken around the world – a fun and unique feature that can easily suck you in for hours. Rest assured novices: if your photos don’t make the public Grid, you can always create a private collection and share it with your friends anyway. As an extra bonus, you can also purchase your printed photos right through the app.
How much notoriety can one tool give a photography app? Give Camera+’s ‘Clarity’ filter – designed to replicate an HD image – a whirl and you might be surprised at how stunning your images turn out. You’ll also quickly learn why this app has been billed as the photography app that truly turns your mobile device into a pro quality camera. What sets Camera+ apart is the fact many of its best features help you actually take a fantastic photo right off the hop, instead of relying on editing tricks after the fact (although it has those too). An image stabilizer, timer, digital zoom, front flash and horizon level are all useful to help cut down on editing time. One particularly cool feature is ‘Burst’, which allows you to fire off a rapid succession of shots, paparazzo style, to ensure you nab the perfect frame of an action shot.
Camera+ includes a number of one-touch effects that can be used on their own or in tandem, like a gritty grunge filter to a lightening, brightening HDR effect. The only slight downfall here is a lack of control over how each effect is applied, including the aforementioned ‘Clarity’, which can sometimes overcompensate. That being said, ‘Clarity’ really does do a much more impressive job at adjusting your image quality compared to ‘Auto’ features on other photography apps. Again, that’s where Camera+ shines – great photo taking assistance and easy photo editing options (including your standard abilities to rotate, straighten, white balance and adjust the tone, among others). Camera+ syncs up nicely with iCloud, so if you want to take snaps while out and about on your iPhone, you can always tap into your iPad later on for easier editing. And you can easily share your images via Facebook, Twitter and Flickr – giving them an extra bit of flair by adding in borders or captions.
Pro Camera 7
This longstanding camera app deserves a spot on this list for that exact reason - it’s been around awhile because it has quite a few fans and continually works to improve upon its original interface and keep up with Apple’s changing technology. A lot of the strengths and power of Pro Camera 7 happen before you the shutter clicks. This smart photo app allows you to adjust a lot of the settings and preview the look and feel of your image - including the focus, exposure and a solid anti-shake function - before actually snapping it. You can also use the handy ‘burst’ mode to whip off a bunch of photos at once, which Camera+ also includes.
The latest version of Pro Camera 7 is, naturally, designed to play nicely with iOS 7, in particular the iPhone 5. A new ‘night’ feature (alongside camera and video) allows you to take advantage of the iPhone 5’s abilities to better capture images in the dark. After you’ve taken your image, some basic photo editing tools are available, including adjustments to the brightness, contrast, cropping and so on. As with most photo apps, this one includes a hefty lineup of filters (with additional packs available via in-app purchase). The app also allows you to simply scroll through the filters to see them applied to the image in question, meaning no delays or pauses when debating which one to use. The sharing and storage capabilities are pretty impressive as well, covering AirDrop, Message, Mail, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (via a handy ‘square crop’ feature). And if you’re a real pro, you can also embed copyrights, geo-tagging and more to truly customize your image from the pixels to the bytes.
Any good photographer knows that before clicking the shutter, you’ll want to spend some time adjusting your camera’s exposure and white balance. With KitCamera (or KitCam, as it was originally known when released in 2012 by the same development team), you can do just that. The app is amongst the best for transforming your iPhone into a full-on camera that’s absolutely loaded with features at both the shooting and editing stages. In terms of snapping your photo, apart from the very handy white balance and exposure sliders, you’ve also got a range of shooting modes - including options for taking images at night, action shots, continuous shots, and timed photos, amongst a dozen choices. You can also manually set the focus and switch between over a dozen different lens types, allowing for images that bring much more depth and artistry than the standard Camera app that comes with your iPhone.
KitCamera is equally robust in the editing realm. The same customization options you have before clicking your camera - such as white balance, exposure, and lens type - can also be tweaked after you’ve taken your image, along with many other basic and more advanced edits, like cropping, colour balance, brightness, and so on. Unlike other camera apps, KitCamera also includes a full histogram, giving you robust control over the colour of your entire image. KitCamera comes standard with dozens of filters and frames, but also offers a ton of in-app purchases to extend your photo-editing capabilities and give your images a distinct style. It also includes some pretty impressive sharing features - the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, and Flickr are all accounted for, but so are Tumblr, Dropbox, Google Drive, WhatsApp and OneDrive, making it easy to share or save your image with little effort. As you can imagine, with this much power, there’s a pretty steep learning curve to fully take advantage of everything KitCamera has to offer. But for the serious iOS photography enthusiast, few apps come close to offering the same level of control at all stages of snapping your images.
645 PRO Mk II
If you’re already a hardcore photographer (or enthusiast) that’s familiar with DSLR controls, the good news is there are a few apps that replicate that level of customization you’re used to with your point-and-shoot. Both 645 PRO Mk II (herein 645 PRO) and sister app PureShot (essentially a streamlined, filterless version of 645 PRO from the same developer), are tailored to experienced photogs that are used to working with a pretty expansive set of manual controls. Unlike most camera apps, those controls are not buried in a menu, nor are they really ‘one-touch’. The app brings up everything you can possibly control on your iPhone / iPad camera right around the frame of the image you’re shooting. Experienced camera buffs will be able to navigate their way through features like adjusting the white balance, metering, exposure, and focus, but for the newbies, there’s a rather expansive built-in instruction manual with about 50 (yes, 50) pages.
Like most camera apps, 645 PRO does incorporate some editing tools. However again, this app is tailored to serious camera maestros, and as such pays homage to traditional photography in a number of ways. The film modes you have to choose from are all modeled after classic analog film stocks. The filters follow suit, named after their original glass or gelatin names (of course this being the digital era, the filters can be adjusted on a percentage scale, again, giving you pretty complete control over your image). But perhaps the most important feature of this sophisticated app is the fact you can choose to shoot in .TIFF format, instead of .JPG, the latter of which is tricky to edit (particularly off your phone) and maintain the image’s quality and integrity. In terms of where your images go when you’re done playing with them inside the app, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are all options - but you can even send them to other photo apps like Camera+ for further cosmetic editing. As the name implies, 645 PRO is definitely a great choice for professionals, but may be a bit too advanced for the casual phone photographer. Unless you’ve got time to wade through 50+ pages of instruction.
First off, it’s important to note that the best camera app really depends on what kind of photographer you are up front. If it’s your passion or career, more serious and robust apps like KitCamera and 645 PRO have serious chops that will help you finally see your phone as a worthy companion (if not replacement) to your DSLR.
On the flip side, it’s also worth mentioning that there are dozens upon dozens of niche camera apps out there that serve unique purposes, like CamMe, a straightforward, non-editing focused app that offers a handy way to take selfies - if you’re looking for a camera app to serve a specific purpose, keep in mind that the five feature here are really quite broad, all-encompassing choices.
In terms of overall usability, VSCO Cam 3.0 - one of the hottest camera apps out there - wins our vote. It has a solid set of features at both the shooting and editing stages, but doesn’t require a degree in photography or a massive instruction manual to get you going. Not only that, VSCO Cam’s sharing platform is a unique, distinguishing feature that taps into an element of digital photography that is unique to the mobile realm: community. The free, base version of VSCO Cam is completely usable on its own - which can’t be said of some of the other apps that really push for their in-app purchases.
Have a favourite camera app that didn’t make the list or enjoy one of the ones above? Let us know in the comments below!