September 30, 2014

Three great camera apps for serious shutterbugs

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While many of us prefer the plain vanilla Android experience of a Nexus device, a Google Experience device, or an AOSP ROM, there is at least one area where it lags behind phone manufacturers’ enhancements: the camera app. On Friday, we learned that the CyanogenMod team is working on an enhanced camera app called Focal. But what about those of us not using CM? What are the best 3rd party camera apps to replace the stock camera? This post looks at 3 great options, focusing on those that expose lots of manual controls and let you capture exactly the photos you have in mind.

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1. Shot Control

Shot Control by StarvingMind gets an A for function, but maybe a C+ on form. An arc on the right side of the viewfinder makes it easy to set exposure compensation, and controls for focus mode, ISO and other settings. Users can tap on the viewfinder to set focus and exposure points, and a level, gridlines and histogram can be displayed. Additionally, you can assign your phone’s volume and search buttons to act as a shutter release, zoom control or other functions. Additionally, Shot Control includes a full resolution burst mode. Though it does not crank out photos as fast as other apps’ burst modes that captures smaller images, it’s incredibly handy for getting high quality action shots of kids, dogs, and other subjects that are always on the move.

On the down side, to make room for all these controls, and for a fairly large thumbnail of the most recent photo, Shot Control’s viewfinder is quite small. This makes it difficult to precisely set focus and exposure points, and, in conditions like bright sunlight, more difficult to frame your photo.

Shot Control is available as a free demo, unlockable via a $2.99 in-app purchase.

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2. Perfectly Clear

Until recently, Perfectly Clear by Athentech was strictly a post-processing app, doing one thing really well: auto-enhancing photos you took with another app. But its most recent update added a full-featured camera, and immediately became one of my go-to camera apps.

Perfectly Clear’s camera offers easy to use manual focus and exposure points, a multi-directional on-screen level and a variety of gridlines, an anti-shake mode that waits for you to steady the camera before taking a shot, and facial recognition that will wait for open eyes and/or a smile before taking a shot. It also features HDR, panorama and burst modes. The burst mode is extremely fast, cranking out several shots per second at a reduced resolution of 960×720, plenty big for creating animated gifs but not a size you’d want to print. HDR works well, though it’s not as good at dealing with moving subjects as a dedicated app like HDR Camera+ by Almalence.

Of course, the app still includes its auto-enhancement features, and though it takes several seconds to tweak a full resolution photo, the results are top notch, salvaging otherwise unusable photos and generally doing a better job, to my eye, than Google+’s auto-enhancement-in-the-cloud.

What’s missing from Perfectly Clear are manual controls for exposure and ISO, though the lack of exposure compensation is somewhat mitigated by being able to set a manual exposure point.

Perfectly Clear is available for $2.99

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3. Camera FV-5

Camera FV-5 by FlavioNet has everything. Manual controls for exposure, ISO, focus and exposure point and even shutter speed. Exposure compensation that’s easily tweakable via a slider that’s always visible. A variety of focus modes, metering modes and flash modes. Exposure times up to 30 seconds, if your hardware allows it. A decent burst mode. It will save photos as lossless .png’s rather than .jpg’s if you want. Histogram and grid overlays. Exposure bracketing. You can assign functions to your volume buttons. Everything. And it’s all laid out in a way that will remind you of a DSLR’s viewfinder.

But it has one big flaw: it crashes. Not often, and it probably does better on some phones than others, but for me it’s enough that I don’t feel like I can rely on it as my primary camera app right now.

Camera FV-5 is available for $3.95. A resolution-limited free trial version is also available.

Are there other good camera apps out there? Sure. For example, nearly every round-up of Android camera apps includes Camera Zoom FX, an easy-to-use app that lots of people love. But Shot Control, Perfectly Clear and Camera FV-5 are the ones that give you a lot of control over your camera, and with that control, the ability to take really great pictures.

 

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