Are you looking for the best camera app for iPhone? While the native iPhone camera app has some great features, sometimes you need a more powerful camera. But with so many camera apps available, it can be difficult to know which one to use. This comparison of the five best iPhone camera apps will help you choose the right app for you.
You may already be familiar with the VSCO app (pronounced “Visco”) as it’s well known for its photo editing features and beautiful film-like filters. But this free app also has a very powerful built-in camera with plenty of manual controls.
When taking photos in VSCO, you can have manual control of focus, exposure, white balance, and even ISO and shutter speed. Depending on how new your iPhone is, you might even be able to shoot in RAW mode.
To get to the camera in VSCO, simply open the app and swipe down with your finger. Once you enter the camera mode, you’ll see several icons along the bottom (or the side, if you’re holding your phone horizontally) which allow you to customize the camera settings.
But these are only some of the customizable options. If you swipe over the icons with your finger, you’ll see there are quite a few more “hiding” just off screen.
Some of the advanced camera features toggle between different options (flash, the grid, RAW, and the funny “face overlay” option), while others give you a slider for fine-tuning settings such as exposure, white balance, focus, ISO and shutter speed.
For example, if you tap on the sun icon, the exposure slider will appear at the bottom (or side) of the screen as shown below.
Drag the slider to adjust the exposure (brightness) of your image. If you want to return to the automatic exposure setting, just tap on the “A.”
The white balance (WB) setting is used for getting the perfect colors in your photos by either warming up or cooling down the colors. Simply use the slider to adjust the color temperature in your photo.
Below you can see two versions of the same image – one with a cooler white balance setting (more blue) and one with a warmer white balance setting (more orange). The color temperature can have a big impact on the overall mood of your image.
The ISO setting controls the camera’s sensitivity to light, and therefore has an effect on the exposure (brightness) of the image. The higher the ISO number, the brighter the exposure will be. However, keep in mind that high ISO settings can result in grainy images.
Shutter speed controls the exposure time for the image. Long exposures are great for night photography, blurring movement and capturing light trails.
When you’re working with these kind of manual controls in VSCO, you’re essentially using your iPhone like you would use a manual DSLR camera.
VSCO is a great app to use if you’re just starting out with using third-party camera apps. It’s free to download from the App Store, and has a good selection of manual controls that can add a level of sophistication and creativity to your images.
If manual camera controls are what you’re after, the aptly named Manual app ($3.99) might be the perfect replacement camera app for your iPhone photography. With ease, you can adjust shutter speed, ISO and exposure values to achieve the creative effect you want.
Like VSCO, you have the option to manually control many of the camera’s settings, including focus, white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and brightness (which they call EV).
The user interface is quite intuitive. When you launch the app, all of the settings are in automatic mode. To switch to manual control, tap and hold the ISO or shutter speed, and then you can dial in your settings. To return to automatic mode, tap the “A.”
You can also decide if you want to capture images in RAW format, JPEG format, or both. RAW capture allow you to save images without compression, resulting in a higher quality photo that gives you more options in editing. However, keep in mind that RAW images take up a lot more storage space on your phone.
One setting that can be fun to play with is the slow shutter speed. In the screenshot below, you can see that I set the shutter speed (S) to a very slow speed of 1/15 of a second.
I then held the camera in front of me and spun around, making the background blurry and giving a feeling of motion. Below is the resulting image – notice how the lights appear as streaks because of the slow shutter speed combined with the movement of the camera.
Another great feature of the Manual app is that you can manually focus on your subject. Slide your finger left or right on the focus bar at the bottom of the screen until your subject appears in perfect focus. To return to auto-focus mode, tap the AF button.
This app also has a special focusing tool, which makes it easier to manually focus. Once you start sliding the focus bar, a center square magnifies the subject so you can check your critical focus. This manual focusing feature is particularly useful when shooting close up or macro subjects.
Being able to control these advanced manual settings gives you more options as an iPhone photographer, allowing you to create the best image possible, even in tricky shooting situations.
Camera+ ($2.99) is a great camera and image editing app combined. This is the first advanced camera app I ever used for the iPhone, and when I first discovered it I loved that you could set the focus and exposure separately, and that the timer for the camera could be set for 30 full seconds.
Over the years, the makers of Camera+ have continued to improve the app, and it’s now more powerful than ever. All the old features are just as they were, but you can now use Camera+ much like you would use the Manual app. You can also shoot in RAW mode for even further control of your final image.
In Camera+ it’s really easy to change the focus, exposure and white balance to creatively affect the mood of your photos. In the photo below, which was shot at sunset, the first thing I did was to make sure that the window was in focus, and that the sky wouldn’t look too over exposed.
To set the focus and exposure separately, simply tap on the screen with two fingers at the same time. You’ll now see a separate exposure point (orange circle) and focus point (purple square). Drag the focus point and exposure point to different parts of the image until it looks the way you want it to.
If you want to adjust the shutter speed and ISO settings, tap the circle icon above the shutter release button. A panel will slide up, allowing you to manually change those settings.
The shutter speed setting appears on the left and the ISO setting on the right. Swipe across each setting to change them. To get out of the manual settings and back to auto everything, you can either tap the Auto button or double tap the screen.
Normally you don’t need to worry about white balance because the iPhone does an amazing job of making all the colors appear true. However, you can manually override the white balance setting to give your photos a different feel.
When shooting my sunset photo, I wanted to emphasize the warm colors. By tapping on the WB (white balance) button, you can change the overall color temperature of your image by making it warmer or cooler.
In the examples above you can see that I tapped on different white balance settings to make the image warmer or cooler. I ended up liking the way the “Shade” white balance setting made the scene feel warm and inviting.
You can use the shutter speed and ISO settings in Camera+ to achieve special effects like long exposures. In the example below, I wanted to shoot a photo of a swimming pool that had a neat tree sculpture.
The first photo (above) was shot using the iPhone’s native camera app. It looked pretty good, but I thought the reflections and ripples in the water were a little distracting.
So I then used Camera+ to shoot a long exposure of the scene (shown below). Notice how the slow shutter speed has made the water appear silky smooth. This makes the water less distracting, and instead your eye is drawn to the tree.
Below you can see how I created this effect in Camera+. Note that if you have an iPhone 7 Plus, Camera+ will work with either of the phone’s lenses. For this shot I switched to the telephoto lens (circle icon near top left) because I couldn’t get closer to the tree without getting wet!
I then tapped the Auto button to reveal the manual controls. I set the shutter speed to a very long 8 seconds (I had my iPhone mounted on a tripod) and turned the ISO down as low as possible (which on Camera+ is .01) to ensure the image didn’t become over-exposed (too bright).
Finally, I tapped the round shutter button and watched as the photo was exposed over 8 seconds.
As with most of these camera apps, Camera+ is very powerful and can be a little overwhelming at first. So it might be best if you try out one feature at a time and master it before moving on to the next.
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4. ProCamera 10
The ProCamera app ($4.99) has gone through many different versions, with version 10 being the latest. ProCamera 10 gives you an amazing amount of control over your settings while shooting.
In addition to the usual manual controls like shutter speed, ISO and white balance, the app also includes advanced features like RAW capture, a live histogram, an anti-shake feature, and the ability to access either camera lens in the iPhone 7 Plus.
If you’re shooting in low light (or with the telephoto lens, when camera shake is more of a danger) and you don’t have a tripod, try shooting using the anti-shake mode.
This mode uses your iPhone’s built-in intervalometer to gauge how much the phone is moving. It then waits until you’re holding the camera absolutely steady before it takes a picture. This is a pretty neat feature!
When you want to adjust shutter speed and ISO, you have two options. One option is to use full manual mode where you control both the ISO and shutter speed.
The problem with manual mode is that you have to balance the shutter speed and ISO settings to ensure you get the exposure correct (not too dark and not too bright). If you’re new to using these settings, you may find this tricky to get right.
So the second option is to shoot using SI mode which lets you control either the shutter speed or the ISO, and then the app adjusts the other setting to calculate the correct exposure. This mode is great if you’re new to using manual exposure settings.
ProCamera also has the ability to customize the self-timer for any amount of time up to 30 seconds. I find this very helpful as I often like to include myself in my photos.
For this photo, I mounted my iPhone on a tripod, then set the timer delay to 20 seconds to give me enough time to walk into the shot so that I could appear in the photo.
Another nice feature of the self-timer is that the flash blinks every second until it takes the photo. This means you don’t have to wonder how much time has passed and whether the photo has been taken. Once the blinking stops, you know you can go back to the iPhone to look at your shot.
Lastly, there are a number of in-app purchases you can make if you want to try out their HDR or Low-Light Cameras. You can actually try them out for free to see what they do, but you’ll get a watermark on your photo unless you purchase these optional modes which cost $2.99 each.
5. Cortex Cam
Last, but certainly not least, is the Cortex Cam app ($0.99). Cortex Cam is one of those apps that makes you scratch your head in amazement the first time you use it!
The magic of Cortex Cam is that it allows you to shoot in low light situations and take long exposures without the use of tripod. Think about that for a second… you can take a photo where the exposure lasts for several seconds without having to use a tripod. It’s incredible!
The way Cortex Cam works is that when you tap the shutter button, the app takes dozens of photos and then lines them up to remove any camera movement from your shaky hands. Finally, it merges them into a single photo.
The resulting image is sharp, even though it was shot hand-held. Low light photos often tend to have a lot of digital noise (grain) which can ruin the quality of the image, but Cortex Cam creates very low-noise photos. I use this app whenever I’m shooting at night.
You can also use Cortex Cam in the daytime for long exposure shots of water, etc. In the example below I used the app to smooth the water in the pool, to give the photo a different feeling.
The end result is shown below. I could have created this effect using a slow shutter speed setting in another camera app, but I would have had to use a tripod. Cortex Cam allowed me to create a long exposure water photo while hand-holding my iPhone.
Best Camera App For iPhone: Which One Should You Choose?
Third-party iPhone camera apps can be somewhat overwhelming. There are a lot of features to think about and a lot of apps to choose from.
The five iPhone camera apps that we’ve explored in this article are the best out there. If you want ultimate control of camera settings and creativity, you should definitely start with one of these.
While these apps have a lot of similar features, they all work in slightly different ways and have different user interfaces. Choosing the best iPhone camera app for you is a matter of finding which features and interface you prefer.
I recommend starting with the free VSCO app, just to get used to the idea of controlling some of the more advanced camera features. Then if you find that you want even more control, try out one or two of the other apps – Manual, Camera+ or ProCamera – that offer exposure, white balance, ISO and shutter speed settings.
If you want to shoot hand-held at night, or you need to capture long exposure photos without using a tripod, you really can’t beat Cortex Cam.
Remember, there’s no need to own all of these apps as many of them are quite similar. I would advise checking out the list of features for each one on the App Store, and then choose just one or two that offer the settings that will work for you. Happy shooting!
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