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The best photo apps for the iPhone

The best according to me, I hasten to add, as this is a very subjective list of my favourite iPhone photo applications. I know there are hundreds of apps for photographers, but I’ve been using these for months and can pretty much say these are the best in terms of creativity, fun and functionality. The order is random, although as you will see, I use some of these more often than others.

Hipstamatic (£1.19)

One of those applications which capture the imagination of both photographers and casual users. The Hipstamatic for iPhone is, according to its creators,

an application that brings back the look, feel, unpredictable beauty, and fun of plastic toy cameras from the past.

And indeed, it’s both fun and unpredictable. The basic version of the app comes with three interchangeable lenses, three different types of film and two flashes. Each of the components produces different results and when combined they offer some amazing ‘analogue’ images.

They come out slightly darkish, blotchy and discoloured. And this old-fashioned, sentimental quality of Hipstamatic prints is exactly what appeals to so many users.

I like:

  1. the interface is lovely and easy to use

  2. you can choose to develop high quality prints

  3. the choice of extras – lenses, films, flashes – gives users a lot of flexibility

  4. you can also enter your photos to various Hipstamatic competitions

I don’t like:

  1. the classic viewfinder can be annoying due to its size; you can switch to ‘precision framing’, but it’s equally small

  2. you need to pay for every extra lens, film or flash, but you can’t really blame the creators for wanting to make some extra money on what is a very successful application

ShakeItPhoto (£0.59)

Also known as fauxlaroid. Like with Hipstamatic, it’s all about sentimentality and recreating the analogue past on your iPhone. In this case, it’s about getting Polaroid prints on your screen.

Having tested several photo apps, I’ve recently realised that what I really value about the best ones is their simplicity. And ShakeIt couldn’t be simpler. You take a photo, decide whether to use it or not, then wait a few seconds (you can shake the phone to develop it faster – this is an unnecessary gimmick, IMHO) and you get a nice Polaroid-like print. Slightly saturated, with a bit of vignetting and the characteristic white frame.

Currently ShakeIt has replaces Hipstamatic as my top photo app. Mainly thanks to the fact that it doesn’t require any additional settings and is simple to use. Which is important bearing in mind we’re talking about mobile photos here.

I like:

  1. virtually no options, which is actually an advantage, makes it very easy to use and enjoy

  2. prints come out quite big

I don’t like:

  1. the ‘shake it’ function only justifies the app’s name and makes use of iPhone functionality, but doesn’t contribute anything and is theferore a useless gimmick (it doesn’t really recreate the Polaroid experience, IMHO)

Best Camera (£1.79)

For a long long time, Chase Jarvis’s ‘simplified Photoshop’ app was my favourite photo app. Not only does it allow users to modify images in a simple way, but also adds a social element to the whole experience.

Each photo can automatically be published no only to individually configurable social networking sites, but also to the Best Camera ongoing contest page. Each user also gets a mini-portfolio, where all Best Cam uploads are collected.

I’ve seen some really good professional photographers having fun with The Best Cam pictures. Its very simple interface allows users to apply one of several available effects (Vignette, Warm, Candy, etc.), crop and frame an existing image. (Unlike the previous two apps, The Best Cam doesn’t allow users to take new photos, it only works with existing images.)

It’s actually pretty amazing to see what this little app can do to seemingly mundane pictures – I took the pic above during my lunch break – the original looked like this:

The Best Cam version of the pic got 21 thumbs up and over 240 views during the time it was displayed on the Best Camera home page. Not bad for a random lunchtime shot, eh?

I like:

  1. its simplicity

  2. its social aspect

  3. it allows you to stumble upon and discover new photographers via their mini-portfolios

I don’t like:

  1. it would be nice to have more options sometimes – I wouldn’t even mind paying for some more advanced extras

  2. the tile mosaic which displays recently uploaded pictures sometimes crashes or displays the same pictures over and over again

SwankoLab (£1.19)

Another application which helps develop rather than take pictures. SwankoLab, from the makers of Hisptamatic, is another “let’s go back to analogue” app, which attempts to recreate the analogue darkroom experience on the tiny Apple screen.

And swanky it is indeed. This is the app for which the iPhone was invented. As its makes say, SwankoLab is

a darkroom kit […]; a loving recreation of the pre-digital era classic. Choose chemicals, process photos, and experiment!

And that’s exactly what you do. You choose the picture you want to ‘develop’, then reach for the chemicals you want to use (they come with useful descriptions which use modern, Photoshop-compatible terminology), mix them together and see what happens.

If you’re not particularly adventurous, you can always use some ready-made formulas. The app comes with its own sound effects and also offers the ability to annotate prints, email them or save to your photo library.

You can extend the app by purchasing additional ‘chemicals’ from Uncle Stu’s darkroom catalog.

I like:

  1. the virtually endless possibilities – mix’n’match till you find your perfect formula

  2. slick interface, likely to appeal to sentimental photographers trying to re-live pre-digital darkroom experiences and to those who care less about photography but simply like their apps funky

I don’t like:

  1. this is my personal preference, but the simplicity of apps like ShakeIt makes SwankoLab seem a bit gimmicky

  2. missing the ability to share on Facebook or Twitter straight from the app

  3. no Flickr integration

  4. despite all these formulas, the prints don’t have a distinctive feel and look and look a bit bland Mobile (£ free)

Need I say more? Probably the most widely-used photography software in the world, yet the iPhone/mobile version doesn’t seem to have that many fans.

I rarely use it, if I have to be honest. If and when I do, I reach for it when I need functionality which is not available elsewhere, like a flexible crop tool.

It is a decent application which offers most of the very basic tools that are available to Photoshop users and more. Apart from cropping you can also straighten images (very useful and very easy to apply), you can flip and rotate them too.

Adjusting exposure is very simple – just move your finger across the screen to change the values and see the final outcome. Adjusting everything else – from saturation to contrast – is equally simple.

The iPhone/mobile version of Photoshop also comes with a few effects and a choice of borders, but its best asset is definitely its choice of the classic Photoshop tools. You can’t beat that.

I like:

  1. Facebook integration, you can also use your Adobe ID if you’ve got one

  2. no need to use sliders to make adjustments

  3. instant preview

I don’t like:

  1. it integrates with Twitpic, but why only TwitPic?

  2. it doesn’t remember the last image, always starts from zero, which I find annoying

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