If you’re a photographer, or interested in photography in some way, the iPhone and the iOS app store have been an incredible boon. Not only has there been an explosion in creative new ways to take, edit and share photography, but there seems to be a myriad of different choices for each of the steps. In creating a high quality device that has the power of a computer, a great (well, decent enough anyway) camera on it, and a platform that application developers can easily use to design and create apps, Apple has created a truly disruptive force in the photography landscape.
There are, however, some downsides.
As you can see from the screenshot, I have a fairly serious iPhone camera app problem. I haven’t been checked out by a doctor, but the prognosis isn’t good. This is just the one screen of them, mostly ones I don’t use. The rest are organized in folders for taking pictures, taking video, editing images, sharing them, the business side of photography, and even a separate “Photo GPS” folder.
This isn’t the biggest issue though, the issue is that the 86 (yes, you read that right, 86) iOS apps that I have currently on my phone are some of the better ones in their respective categories. Yes, there are a few that were impulse downloads during a sale, but for the most part they were curated through trusted sources or my own research.
There’s a lot of stupid, photography apps out there. A LOT. Sometimes you really have to wonder how you can make it through them all.
FIrst there are the scam apps.
A quick search of the great iPhoneography.com for “scam” reveals a lot of stories. What is a scam app? Well, in general it’s someone taking someone else’s app, slapping a new logo and maybe a coat of paint on it and selling it for some low price point ($0.99) with either ads or prominent links to other apps that have had the same treatment. These are generally inferior, deceptive, and sometimes epically rage inducing.
Generally these apps also have a ton of (purchased I’m sure) five-star reviews to put them on the radar, and many times are duplicated many times over with different names and in different categories, but are all the same. Apple has done some work in this department, but there is still a lot of crap out there.
Next up are the truly silly “single use” apps.
Take for example 1×1 Camera, an app that appears to do nothing more than take images cropped to a square format. There are some more serious takes on this, with Michael Hardaker producing several (actually quite high quality) camera apps named 645 Pro, 6×7 and 6×6, with the main difference between the three of them the aspect ratio.
Now this is a case where the app itself is fairly decent, or at least, the author has put a fair amount of time and effort into producing something that’s good quality (the 645 Pro app and his new PureShot app (obit of which I own — I told you I have a problem) allow the fairly unique ability to save in a high resolution TIFF image, instead of the standard lossy JPG).
There are a lot of cases where the apps aren’t high quality, or for that matter any quality at all.
The number of apps on the app store that are either deceptively named (any query combination of camera pro, camera plus, or the like will end up with a lot of similar looking icons and feature sheets), or look like someone went through a iOS programming tutorial and then packaged up the result and is trying to make a couple of bucks off it by selling it for $0.99, is massive.
Nothing wrong with that, but as a consumer, you need to be aware of these things.
Let’s look at the “silly” apps in the store. Not just silly, like the Fatify app, which lets you take a picture and then make the person look fat, but bordering on the truly bizarre.
|Bazinga Camera (App Store Link – $0.99)
As far as I can tell, this is a “joke” that puts your victim in a loop of taking pictures and answering the phone. I think. The app description ends with: “This app is intended for entertainment purpose only and does not provide true “camera” and “phone call” functionality.”
|Ultimate Funny Camera Sound Effect App Free-Great, Addicting, Gun, Fart Shutter & Ringtones Sounds Box Gratis Apps Lite (App Store Link – free)
I think you can tell from the name of the app that it’s terrible. In fact it’s nothing to do with cameras, but more a soundboard of fart sounds. Not sure how this comes up in a search for photography apps.
|Old Fart Booth (App Store Link – free)
Lets you age a picture you take, but to get all the cool effects you’ll need to shell out $4.99 in in-app purchases.
|Abs Fun Booth (App Store Link – free)
Basically lets you put great abs on a picture. Honestly it seems that about 90% of the camera related apps are about putting things on a picture.
|Amazing X-Ray Funny Booth (App Store Link – $2.99)
View an X-Ray of your friends and totally fool them. Well, if using the accelerometer to let you tilt the iPhone to move over a pre-defined body part to show an X-Ray image is totally fooling them.
|Cool Finger Faces (App Store Link – free)
Lets you put faces on your fingers (seeing a trend here yet?) either from the $1.99 in-app purchase, or “draw it yourself.”
|Fat Booth (App Store Link – free)
Take a picture of your face and make it fat. I can see this being fun for a few minutes, or until you use it on the wrong person and get your butt kicked. Note this is completely different than the other ‘make a picture fat’ app I mentioned.
So how do you avoid the scams, the fakes, and the crap photography apps?
- Use trusted sources to find apps such as friends, peers and trusted sites
If you hear someone like Mostly Lisa on a podcast of good repute such as This Week In Photo you’ll know to go directly to the website for the app, such as Tap Tap Tap to find the “real” Camera+. Letting someone else curate the good apps is great. I keep an eye on various photo blogs and keep myself informed of what’s new and cool.
- Next is to look at the reviews in the app store itself
Take any reviews on an app with a grain of salt, but they will generally tell a story. Lots of reviews, distributed over the different star ratings is fairly normal. One or two or three glowing 5 star reviews and nothing else? Unless the app was just released today you might want to ask around. A few 1 star reviews are normal enough, if an app is good enough a few people will find an axe to grind with it, but a lot of one star reviews and those two glowing 5 star ones? Might be time to head for the hills.
- Use common sense
Ask yourself that even if the app you’re about to hit the buy button is awesome, will it do anything that your current set of apps don’t do? Is having an app that only shoots in 4:5 ratio for $0.99 worth it when you can open up one of the 18 other apps you have that will crop an image in 3 touches? Sip your $4.99 latte and let that sink in.
- Click the developer’s name and see what their other apps are
If they have a bunch of other similarly named apps, you might be looking at a shovelware producer, where you’re going to (in general) get lower quality apps. For example, this developer has five different apps for putting funny things on your face and three different ones for stretching your face, eyes, and mouth (each a separate app at $1.99, $0.99 and $0.99 respectively). This company has 8 different apps to “oldify”, “browify”, “baldify”, “beardify”…. you get the picture. While I haven’t tried any of these apps, my gut feeling is that they’re pretty much carbon copies with a few different images cranked out with the aim of quantity over quality.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, here are my recommendations for the five essential camera apps photographers should have on their iPhones:
- Camera+ (App Store Link)
A great app for taking pictures and editing. It’s “clarity” adjustment has to be seen to be believed and the speed of the app is amazing.
- Snapseed (App Store Link)
Image editing from the folks at Nik software. Again, best of breed for editing on the go.
- GeoTagr (App Store Link)
Shooting with a DSLR and want to record your GPS locations? This does that, and allows you to sync the data back to your computer or flickr, dropbox and Google+ images.
- Autostitch (App Store Link)
When the built in iOS 6 panorama app just doesn’t cut it, Autostitch is built off the respected autopano library on the desktop and will do amazing things with your panoramas, vertical, horizontal, or both.
- Top Model Release (App Store Link) or Model Release (App Store Link)
If you’re a photographer dealing with models you need model releases. Paper ones are best, but if you only have an iPhone or iPad with you, this app will get you there. Cloud sync and an iPad version are just the icing on the cake.
Alan Bailward is a programmer, sysadmin, and photographer living near Vancouver, BC. He can be found posting links to interesting things through the day at UFies.org or on his photography site at Bailward Photography.