12 of Our Favorite Mobile Apps for Photographers
November 26, 2015
From photo editing and sharing to unshackling your phone camera’s manual controls, these are the apps we can’t live without.
In late July, VSCO updated its popular Cam app (iOS and Android) with a new feature dubbed Collections, a curation tool that lets you save and share other VSCO images you discover on the service. Whenever an image is shared in a collection, the original creator is notified. The Android version of Cam now supports split focus and exposure when taking a photo, plus a modify, undo or view all option in its new editing history feature. If you have a favorite set of edits, you can copy and paste them across multiple photos. VSCO Cam’s photographic features are complemented with a social networking component dubbed Grid, where curated images are displayed for all to admire. Unlike rival services, you won’t see likes, follower counts, comments or any other hierarchical baggage in Grid on the premise that, as VSCO puts it, beautiful imagery trumps social clout.”
It’s not exactly fair to pigeonhole Morpholio’s new Journal iOS app as a mere photo app (not that there’s anything wrong with those). Instead, it’s a multi-purpose menagerie housing your hand-drawn sketches, photos, drawings, notes and more. In the app, you can draw directly on images imported from your camera roll with eight pens, brushes and pencil styles to choose from using 16 color palettes. You can also append short notes to images. The app arranges your content in a book-style interface with page turning that can transition from leisurely flip to rapid-fire scroll under the guidance of your finger. These virtual journals can be hundreds of pages in length, so you’ll appreciate the blazing fast page turning as the page count grows. You can also build collages that combine photos, drawings, sketches and notes.
Filmic Pro has the unique distinction of powering one of the most ambitious iPhone feature films to date: Sean Baker’s Tangerine (profiled in “Frames per Second,” in the July 2015 issue). As Baker told us, it would have been impossible to shoot Tangerine on an iPhone without the app. Think of Filmic Pro as Manual for video. The app enables iPhones to record up to 2K video on an iPhone 5 or higher with full manual control over focus, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, tint and color temperature. You’ll enjoy a range of audio monitoring tools, audio gain control and framing guides that support common cinema aspect ratios such as Super35mm, Super16mm and cinemascope. Settings can be saved as presets for easier retrieval. If you’re filming with an iPhone 6, the app supports frame rates up to 240fps. You’ll have several encoding options to choose from, including an extreme setting that captures 1080p video at 50Mbps. Filmic Pro was recently refreshed for iOS 9 to make it faster and more reliable.
Manual for iPhone
Locked inside your iPhone is a decent camera just waiting to get out. Manual liberates it by unlocking the exposure settings advanced users prefer to adjust on their own, including full independent control over shutter, ISO, white balance, focus and exposure compensation. When you’re shooting in Manual, you’ll be able to view your exposure values, a live histogram, grid overlays and EXIF data. You can activate the iPhone’s LED to serve as a fill flash or delay the shutter for a longer exposure. The only parameter you can’t tweak is aperture, since the iPhone’s aperture is fixed.
Video editing isn’t typically something people relish doing on mobile devices, but Replay’s simplified approach makes the task far less onerous for iPhone and iPad owners. It’s not sophisticated by the standards of desktop editors, but it does a nice job delivering meaningful features in a mobile-friendly format. Using Replay, you can merge up to 200 photos or videos from your camera roll, iCloud, Facebook or Instagram account, choose from one of 24 styles, add text and select your music (your own or a selection of tracks provided by the app). Armed with your selection, Replay renders out a video that is in sync with the music. You can take a bit more of hands-on approach to customize a few settings. You can choose between a square or 16:9 aspect ratio, trim videos, set focus points, pacing, mute the audio and more.
The Google-owned Snapseed packs a wealth of editing tools to quickly enhance your images. You can sharpen, crop, transform and perform spot repairs to remove dust and dirt. It uses Nik Software’s U Point technology to make adjustments to select areas of an image without marring the surrounding pixels. Like any mobile editor worth its salt, it has filters galore but that’s not Snapseed’s core strength. Instead, it’s the layers-style approach, dubbed Stacks, that adds value. Stacks provides a list of the filters you’ve applied to one image. Using Stacks, you can remove any filter you’ve applied, no matter when you applied it. Stacks also allows you to re-edit or copy any filter and apply it to another image in your collection. Despite fears that it would wither on Google’s vine, Snapseed enjoyed an update as late as July of this year that delivered finer-tipped brushes and deeper zooms. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices.
We have a love/hate relationship with our mouse: We love to hate it. But after seeing CTRL+Console, we may have found a more intuitive replacement, at least for video editing and photo management. The CTRL+Console app runs on iPads and offers a series of customized controls for Adobe Premiere. It syncs with your computer over Wi-Fi and offers touch-based controls that replace mouse-hunting around menus and many of your favorite keyboard shortcuts. The app itself is free but you’ll pay up to $30 for in-app purchases to unlock editing functionality, depending on the version of Premiere you’re using and the types of controls you need. The company is also working on a Lightroom Sorter that turns your iPad into a remote control for Lightroom organizing. You can quickly scroll through your catalogue with a swipe of your finger, rate images, delete them and save them. Goodbye mouse.
Photo Mate R2
Long before Android supported DNG files, Photo Mate R2 was one of the go-to apps for Android photographers looking for RAW file viewing and decoding. It’s a powerful mobile editor, capable of decoding not just RAW files from a range of cameras, but PSD and TIFF files, too. The app provides a full suite of editing tools, including sharpening, clarity, curves, layers, lens corrections and much more. Edits are applied non-destructively and while you can dial in to make very precise edits, there are dozens of presets on hand to speed things along. Beyond editing, the program can also organize, rate, label and tag images with Lightroom-friendly XMP sidecar files. Images can be filtered based on ratings or metadata and you can view histograms and EXIF data as you scroll through your collection. Photo Mate offers folder-based views of your images and you can create Smart Folders that combine images from several disparate folders into a Smart Folder without changing their locations on your drive.
Adobe Lightroom Mobile
For many photographers, Adobe’s Lightroom takes center stage in their workflow. With Lightroom Mobile, many of the beneficial organizing, ranking and culling tasks that Lightroom performs on the desktop can be done on mobile phones. The most recent iOS update (v. 1.5.1) brings videos into the mix, giving you the ability to add, view and share videos in your collections. For still photos, there are new color tools, a new tone curve tool and adjustable vignettes. Lightroom on Android tends to lag the iOS version in feature deployment, but it is ahead of the Apple version in one important respect: RAW support. Now that Android Lollipop supports RAW files in the DNG format, Lightroom for Android can do full-blown RAW editing on a smartphone (provided said phone runs Lollipop and supports RAW capture). The Android version’s most recent update (v. 1.2) also supports copying and pasting image adjustments from one photo to another. There’s an updated cropping interface, a new auto-straighten tool and a new “Segmented view” in the Android build to organize images by time and location metadata.
Packed with an impressive array of editing tools, Pixelmator is an iOS app that lets you adjust image colors using customizable presets. You can create non-destructive edits using layers, blend different images together, add text, remove backgrounds and cut-and-paste objects into photos. But it’s more than a mere editing tool. You can paint on images using textured brushes and, thanks to the app’s algorithmic smarts, effects like wetness (for water colors) and brush strokes are faithfully recreated. When you’re done tweaking your files on your phone, Pixelmator can save the finished product as a Photoshop-friendly PSD file if you need to make further enhancements on the desktop. The app can also import and edit PSDs, if you want the workflow to work in reverse. Pixelmator’s tools aren’t confined to the app itself; some of them are available in the iPhone’s Photo app if you add them as an extension.
pCam + Digital Pro
Unique among many of its peers, pCam has a pedigree that dates back to the (wait for it) Palm Pilot. Developed by a seasoned assistant camera operator, pCam is a go-to tool for DPs and still photographers as well, with tools that let them make critical exposure calculations on the fly. Using pCam you can measure depth of field, hyperfocal and image circle for cinema cameras. Simply select your camera model from the app’s extensive list, choose an aperture and focal length and enter in the distance to your subject and it can calculate your depth of field. A “preview” button will actually show you what the scene will look like in your camera. With 24 different tools to choose from, pCam can do a lot.
EyeEm has multiple personalities, all of them good. It’s one part image editor, one part image marketplace and one part creative community/social network. Using the editor, you can apply one of 24 filters to tweak the contrast, exposure, saturation, white balance and a few other parameters of your smartphone camera images. You can view and follow photographers on the app as well as participate in photo contests (dubbed “missions”) to win prizes and the esteem of your virtual peers. The newest feature is Market, a stock platform helping photographers monetize their work, whether the photos in question were captured with a smartphone or (gasp) a traditional DSLR. Any EyeEm user can select images in their profile to post to the Market. EyeEm splits the revenue 50/50 and images licensed through the Market are offered on a non-exclusive basis. EyeEm charges image buyers $20 per photo for a standard license and $250 for an extended commercial license. Market photos aren’t falling into a giant abyss though; they’re being judged by EyeEm’s algorithms for their “aesthetic qualities” to serve up what the company views as the best images to potential buyers. EyeEm is available for both iOS and Android devices.