The iPhone 4S and iOS 5 are really taking Apple’s cameras up a notch, but existing Android phones often have fine sensors of their own. With a few software compliments, your Android device’s camera can get a new lease on life. Not all phones have the same features built in, but with these apps, you can bring your phone up to parity with even the most advanced cameras.
We’re going to go over ways to make your pictures better looking, faster, and more expansive.
Easier zoom and composition
Zooming when using a smartphone is a bit of a trade-off. You can get closer to the subject, but since there is no movable lens, this is all digital zoom. The more you zoom, the more pixels you have to cut out. Many OEM skins include moderate image zooming, but not all phones do it well.
Right now, the best app to give your phone better zoom capabilities is Camera Zoom FX. This app has gotten a major overhaul and now comes with a new UI and better stability. We like that the zoom controls are kept right on the viewfinder screen, but don’t get in the way.
Just drag the slider in the upper left corner up and down to change zoom levels. The first time you open the app, Camera Zoom FX will check out your camera to determine how to set the scale. If your device is at least 5MP, the full 6x zoom should be enabled. Keep in mind that the more pixels you have to start with, the better all your zoomed in shots will look.
Camera Zoom FX also has another feature that is replicated in the new iOS 5 software: composition lines. In the main settings menu are options for several patterns including the golden ratio, horizon, and C/hair. These grid lines also change from red to green to let you know that autofocus and auto white balance are good to go. Overall, Camera Zoom FX has become a really great app for extending your camera’s capabilities. Camera Zoom FX is going to run you $5, but it’s very versatile and getting better all the time.
Burst mode and speed
There are two ways to go about this, and one is going to sound familiar. The app we just talked about, Camera Zoom FX, has a good burst mode, but there are some drawbacks. It takes fairly high resolution pics, which is good, but the time between snapshots is based on how long it takes to write the image files. It works well enough and you do get regular images out of it, but for a new kind of burst mode experience, there is another option.
Action Snap is a much more stylized app that takes super fast, lower resolution images. This app doesn’t conform to any standard image size for the individual shots, but rather assembles several “shards” into one larger picture. In the upper right hand corner is the option to pick the layout of the images, and you can even just take single pics, but faster.
Action Snap is able to do this because the smaller files are written to the phone in almost no time. It’s not going to be serious archival quality, but these little collages are really cool to share. The full version has a number of nice filters and adds essentials like support for camera flash. This app will run you $4 in the Market.
Filters, Instagram style
With everyone clamoring to get their hands on Instagram, Android is now rife with alternatives. We’ve gone over this before, but if we were to compare all the available options to that fabled tool of hipster image capture, we’d have to say go with Pixlr-o-matic.
The overall quality of the app is high with its snappy UI and excellent filters. We also appreciate that it separates lighting, film, and border effects into separate steps. It's easy to make something more unique, and there are ways to be subtle about it. Every image doesn’t need to have a giant fake light leak in the middle.
Pixlr-o-matic is free and most users will dig it, but we should also remind everyone about Flickr which recently released an Android app. It has subtle filters and is backed by the great Flickr community.
Panoramas on demand
These days, we’re quite fond of Pano for panoramic images. This app is markedly superior to the apps we were using before. Pano gets right to business when you open it; just start at the left side of your intended image, and take a pic. Then move to the next shot, using the overlay provided by Pano as a guide.
You can go along in this way as long as you want, even making a 360 degree rotation. Press the check mark when done and Pano will stitch everything together. We have found the borders between shots to be almost imperceptible.
The only issue with Pano is the lack of any real settings; some image quality options would be nice. You can have Pano for just $2 in the Market. Some phones, like Motorola’s 2.3 devices have panoramas built in, but we have been consistently unimpressed with the functionality of these camera apps.
So with just a small investment, you can really expand the abilities of your camera. An app like Camera Zoom is handy to have around since it can fulfil a number of special functions, some better than others. We were surprised how fun Action Snap is to use, but it’s more or less single purpose. For an Instagram stand-in, you can’t go wrong with the free Pixlr-o-matic. And of course, you can’t spell panorama without Pano. What camera apps are you into?
Image credit: Ars Technica