I just wanted to share my favorite iOS photography apps and their features at the moment along with some new resources I recently discovered. Let’s start with some new iOS photography resources I encountered that really peal back the layers of shooting photos on the iPhone.
These resources are offered by some crazy smart guys, the 2 men that bring us the Halide camera app on iOS. The resources range from just some great iPhonography to some detailed articles about what’s going on technically in the hardware and software development that produces photos on the iPhone.
Sebastiaan is the co-founder and designer for the Halide camera app, and his Instagram account showcases some of his photos, his amazing photos! Dude gets around; apparently he enjoys traveling on his motorcycle. Check out his photos for some great inspiration.
This is his Twitter account. He frequently posts links to articles written on the Halide blog. The Halide blog is a goldmine of useful information about the iPhone’s camera hardware and Apple’s new computational approach to photography. More on that resource later. Sebastiaan also shares articles from smart people writing smart things, generally about photography and technology. He doesn’t limit himself to Apple only.
Ben is the code brain behind the Halide iPhone camera app. His twitter account is both funny, serious, and interesting all at once.
This is the mother load! The detailed, amply illustrated articles by Ben and Sebastiaan explain the magic behind the technical science in ways I can understand. I can see what they are talking about as they use a lot of shots to illustrate. I can make sense of what is going on under the hood in ways I would never have been able to had I not read their material. This is vastly more informed than personal opinion.
Recently I watched several “reviews” of the newest iPhones (the Xs and the Max) on YouTube. They were uninformed personal rants about “Beautygate,” or just wholesale “buy-it-because-it’s-new” endorsements from diehard Apple fans, or “Apple-isn’t-innovating-anymore-just-focusing-on-profits” diatribes. Then I stumbled into the Halide blog. Whoa!
As I said earlier, these guys peel back the layers. They do their homework. They obviously know a lot about the art and the science behind the smartphone photographic process. They talk about the trade-offs Apple is making with the choices they have made in adopting computational photography. Just about everything has a trade off, right? They talk about how they design their app to compensate for some of those less desirable outcomes.
I highly recommend the blog. I will spend a good bit of time here learning and absorbing. And I think understanding their contributions will make me a better photographer.
iOS Camera Apps
I’ve tried to select just one camera app, my favorite camera app, but I simply can’t choose just one. And the more I’ve learned about iOS hardware and the iPhone’s camera software, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s really complicated.
Once upon a time I thought that a camera app was just software that calls on the phone’s camera hardware to produce an image and that all of the images from the phone’s hardware were going to be the same unless the software applied special filters. Nope. I thought the contribution the software made was just basically UI related or the filter packs they offered. Maybe this was true many years ago, but it certainly isn’t true now.
These are the software features I love. They are not all found in every app. Some are executed better in some apps than in other apps. But this is at least a partial list:
- I love focus highlighting: when an app identifies the edges that are most sharply defined by coloring those edges. The favorite edge highlight color seems to be lime green. Some apps use red. (I personally prefer the green as I find it easier to see.) The more green edges you see in the tiny smartphone “viewfinder” the more those areas of the image are in focus. This is astoundingly helpful to me.
- I love a focus loupe: where an app offers a zoomed in area of the image the photographer can use for better determining focus.
- I love false color to indicate areas of the image that are over, under, and correctly exposed. Seeing the image well in a very bright outdoor setting or with the sun on the viewfinder of the phone makes framing a shot, not to mention seeing correct exposure and focus, extremely difficult. Typically entire areas that are over exposed are red to yellow. Under exposure is bathed in purple to blue. Correct exposure is generally green.
- Manual camera controls: being able to adjust ISO, shutter speed, and to a lesser extent white balance is very helpful. Being able to shoot in camera raw is also essential. (The Halide blog has some excellent articles on camera raw, its benefits and sometimes confusing limitations on the Apple platform, including the Mac OS Photos app.)
- UI: Using the face of the viewfinder to control camera settings can also be astonishingly helpful. Typically this involves sliding a finger right or left, sliding a finger up or down, or tapping the face of the viewfinder as a control surface to adjust EV, focus, or fire the shutter. I personally like under exposing my images. I just enjoy that look.
- UI: Easy access to flash control is very helpful. I personally prefer the single touch flyout menu. Also, easy access to image stabilization is nice, but I suspect I’m getting a “stabilized” image from every shot I shoot because of Apple’s choice of computational photography. Maybe selecting “stabilization” increases its priority?
- UI: I also like Halide’s Siri integration. I can say, “Hey Siri, fire the shutter.” to take a photo handsfree and avoid any camera shake at all from touching the phone.
- UI: I personally find a histogram helpful. I also like to be able to delay a shot. And, naturally, being able to select the lens (wide or tele) is important to me.
- One final preference concerning UI: I strongly dislike having any UI indicator or selector over the image I’m shooting even when this requires my viewfinder to be smaller. Depending on the image, the user may not even be able to see the indicator/icon. The exceptions to this preference are the level/tilt indicator and optional grid overlays.
- Settings: I enjoy the option to save my images directly into Photos and/or Creative Cloud. Apps that require you revisit the app to send photos here or there annoy me a bit.
- Settings: I like having the ability to select the file formats of the image(s) saved to the device: RAW, JPG, and even TIFF. If I can’t save my RAW file (or a DNG), I won’t use an app.
- I’m not that big a fan of shooting in an HDR mode. That’s just me. I generally find I can get the look that I want when post-processing in Lightroom CC.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Enough already,” you exclaim. What specific apps do you use that offer these features?
I’m listing them in alphabetical order because my preference changes continuously. For still photography I currently rotate between:
- Lightroom CC
- I particularly love editing my photos in Lightroom CC!
- Oh, I wish they offered lens profile correction when you select one of their lens in the lens selector. Currently, except for their anamorphic lens, this selector only adds a tag to the photo to advertise their products.
For videography I am currently using:
- FiLMiC Pro
- Packed with exceptional features (love remote control and that you can pull focus and automate that along with exposure) but has an issue or two
- This is my latest love affair! I like that I can lock the shutter angle to double frame rate! I wish FiLMiC Pro offered this. This app has a few less features but has been rock solid and has some nice pro level color and exposure monitoring tools not found in FiLMiC Pro.
For specialty motion shots I use the following software/hardware combinations:
- for use with their super convenient and very effective handheld Cinema Camera Robot that produces silky smooth motion and specialty shots
- RŌV Motion
- for use with their phone and DSLR camera sliders
One Last Thing
I can’t write about shooting on a smartphone without mentioning some specialty lenses. I love the Moment Wide (18mm) lens v2. It produces amazing results. They also now have an anamorphic lens, but mine has not arrived yet. And, speaking of using an anamorphic lens on an iPhone, I love my Moondog anamorphic lens!
Happy shooting on your phone!