MANUAL CONTROLS, PHOTO AND VIDEO EDITORS, FILTERS AND GREAT SINGLE-PURPOSE PHOTO APPS
The iPhone has consistently ranked as the camera users took the most pictures with
, and part of its appeal is the simple and easy to use stock camera app. In fact, it's so fast and reliable that it easily ranks as one of our favorite camera apps on a phone. At the same time, though, it lacks manual controls, it lacks a histogram, it lacks vertical level indicators, it lacks advanced HDR settings, it lacks fancy effects, and if you want something a bit more sophisticated to get more artistic control over your images, we have selected the absolutely finest camera apps you can get on the Apple App Store right now.
Camera replacement: ProCamera ($4.99)
ProCamera is a surprisingly simple camera app at the surface, that also hides many advanced features in a way that is unobtrusive yet easy to access. Before we jump into them, though, it’s worth pointing out how stable and crash-free this app is, something very important given that even the most popular iPhone camera apps often crash.
In terms of shooting options, ProCamera has gotten the absolute fullest pack of manual controls available with an extremely intuitive and easy to use interface. We are blown away by the level of fine control and the ease of use of this app (and we don't get impressed easily): you can set ISO, shutter speed (and lock them!), white balance (down to the Kelvin, with a guide that shows you which settings is appropriate for which conditions), exposure compensation, you also have independent focus and exposure controls as an alternative control and that gives you a much deeper hold over the looks of your photograph (you can naturally lock focus and exposure).
It can display a histogram, which is a thing of beauty and usefulness: you get a live histogram that shows you when you start blowing up highlights or going too deep in the shadows. Other neat options include a tilt meter, anti-shake option, and a self-timer, as well as the option to select the right aspect ratio. If you're aiming for maximum-quality, ProCamera delivers with support for the lossless TIFF format, and if you dive deeper in the settings of the app you'll find a treasure trove of adjustments such as fine control of the level of stabilization, JPEG compression levels, and many more.
Unlike other camera replacement apps, ProCamera can also be used to record video and it has the neat built-in option to scan QR codes. Its outstanding photographic capabilities, however, make ProCamera our favorite camera replacement to the stock iPhone app.
Runner-up: Camera+ ($2.99)
Camera+ is a close runner-up to ProCamera 8. It's a simpler app that supports some of the same features: you get manual ISO and shutter speed control, white balance, and exposure compensation, or you can go with a separated exposure and focus controls.
Camera+ brings a tilt meter (horizon level), rapid shots, and a few other options. It comes with the benefit of allowing you to separately lock exposure, focus, or white balance, plus it also has rich image editing options, but we found it crashing more than once when we tried saving images at the highest quality setting, and it cannot record video. All of this makes it a good camera replacement alternative for still images, but it lacks the intuitiveness of controls to be a true favorite.
Best all-around photo editor: Snapseed (Free)
Snapseed was acquired by Google a couple of years ago for a good reason: it features an interface that allows you to edit images on your phone very easily using an intuitive swipe-based interface. You have the powerful option of selective adjustments, so that you can tap on a particular point and edit just a certain part of an image rather than the whole thing. Snapseed is ad-free, works smoothly, and is probably the best way to edit photos on the iPhone.
Things you can do with Snapseed include adding an outstanding bokeh, blurred background effect (useful for portraits), and you can make fine adjustments to a select part of the image (most other editors only allow you to edit the looks of the whole picture). You have the inevitable filters, artistic effects, borders and so on, all combined in an app that has a non-destructive flow and that allows you to go back in edits one step at a time in case you need it.
Runner-up: Enlight (Price: $3.99)
Enlight has quickly won the hearts of iPhone users with its thought out interface that works extremely well in the small space of a phone. From basic image adjustments like crops, repositioning and resizing, to more advanced touch-ups including a dedicated curves control, masks, double exposure overlays, exquisite black and white conversions, analog and duo filters, as well as tilt shift and other extras, Enlight is a great alternative to the outstanding Snapseed image editor.
Another great option: Polarr Photo Editor (Price: free / $4.99 for Pro)
Polarr is a pretty cool editor that gives the user a wide variety of ways to edit their pictures. Employing a unique UI, the app looks a bit cluttered and confusing at first, but we can easily forgive this once we get acquainted with the wide variety of options that it manages to pack right under our thumbs. It's free, but there is a $5 unlock for users who want to create custom filters and selective area editing.
Filters and effects: VSCO (Free, with in-app purchases)
VSCO is an by the Visual Supply Company, a firm known for developing some of the best film-emulation filters for Adobe Lightroom, and it's no surprise that this expertise has resulted in a collection of some amazing filters that you can get in VSCO. The beauty of VSCO’s filters (or presets rather) is in the subtle measure of the artistic effects that will help you get a sense of the right amount of touch-ups needed for a photo, and also help you avoid overediting your images. The full preset pack costs $5.99, and while you have some free presets, the app starts to truly shine when you unlock the potential of all the presets. VSCO also allows you to edit the strength of each filter, as well as edit all aspects of an image non-destructively. Apart from its filters and effects, VSCO also comes with a ‘journal’ with ideas for shooting, and the apps gets the job done as a camera replacement with separated exposure and focus controls, as well as tilt level.
Runner-up: Faded ($0.99, with in-app purchases)
We've had a very rough time selecting our favorite filters and effect app this time around because of Faded. This new app is such a tough competitor to VSCO Cam, offering an amazing level of control and a smooth suave interface filled with neat options, but we tend to prefer VSCO Cam’s filter just a bit better. Just like VSCO, Faded shines truly after an in-app purchase that enables all its filters, but the app steps it up further with the option to create actions - steps of image adjustments that you can apply via a single action to a bunch of photographs, to achieve the same look on multiple pictures.
Layout from Instagram is a fresh new collage app that does not offer anything ground-breaking in terms of functionality, but it is the scope and variety of collages that you can make via just one app, the lack of annoying ads and its reliability that really make Layout stand out. With clever mirroring and flipping tools, you can get truly creative with your images.
Best video recording app: FiLMiC Pro ($10)
FiLMiC Pro is the number one app for video recording on the iPhone, if you want a full manual control over what you record. Completely reworked with Swift, FiLMiC Pro allows you to change the bit-rate, add stabilization and zoom smoothly, and it also supports the new Telephoto camera on the iPhone 7 Plus. Of course, you can separately set your focus and exposure points, as well as lock the focus, you can adjust audio levels, view a histogram, tweak your exposure and so on. FiLMiC Pro also makes it easy to record in a different aspect ratio than the standard 16:9. If you want that more cinematic look, you can use it to record in the Cinemascope standard (2.59 : 1), Super 35 or Letterbox. The latest version of the application also allows you to start and stop a recording with your Apple Watch.
MoviePro is another regularly updated pro-level application with support for the latest version of iOS and iPhones (naturally, including support for 4K video recording). It brings an all-manual video ride that will allow enthusiast smartphone videographers to squeeze the maximum out of the camera with high bit-rates. It packs essential for videographers options: locking the exposure, focus, and white balance, and fully customizable zoom levels for slow, smooth zooming.
It is also useful on older devices like say the iPhone 6 where it brings the possibility to record 3K (3072x1728) video at 30fps, with a similar option also available on the iPhone 5s.
Runner-up: Kinomatic ($3.99)
Kinomatic combines the most advanced manual video recording features along with a powerful built-in editor, all in a surprisingly simple, streamlined user interface. We’re smitten with the speed of edits and the ease with which you can re-arrange trim and mix clips into a finished video project. The powerful manual controls include separate buttons for focus, exposure, and white balance lock, plus you get to see audio levels live. All in all, Kinomatic is a new-comer to video editing apps, but it has become an instant favorite for iPhone videographers.
Best video-editing app (supports 4K): iMovie (Free/$4.99)
iMovie comes free with new iPhones (you will need to shell out $4.99 for it if you use an iPhone 5 or earlier), and it's an absolutely stellar app. It is a full-on video editor with support for 4K videos and it edits them with ease on the latest iPhones. This alone is a capability that many desktop apps don't support.
What can you do with iMovie? From simply cropping a video, to arranging multiple videos, adding text, transitions and music, you can do it all with iMovie.
This one is for the more advanced users (as much as those would work on an iPhone that is): it gives full manual control over your video composition process with all the basics (trim, crop, pan, scale, slow the motion, reverse video, add and edit text) and more with separate tracks, overlays for images and - even better - no need to shell out tens of dollars on in-app purchases.
Notable single-purpose photography apps
Text & artwork for images: Over ($1.99)
True hipsters require beautiful custom fonts, hand-drawn elements, and inspiring text to images, and if you’re one of them, Over is the app that delivers best to your needs.Alien worlds: Matter ($1.99)
The creative minds from Pixite have created a few of our favorite iPhone apps, and their latest creation, Matter, brings 3D structures simple and complex, reflective and translucent, that add a queer, alien element to your images and even video.Waterpainting: Waterlogue ($2.99)
The heart-warming art of waterpainting has been reserved for painters for decades, but the clever algorithms of recent apps make it possible to turn your photographs easily in waterpaintings. Waterlogue is one of our favorites in this regard, with a distinct humane touch with 12 pre-sets that you can fine tune and adjust.Straighten all lines: SKRWT ($1.99)
The camera of the iPhone has a wide-angle lens that looks great for capturing all sorts of images (and is particularly great for landscapes), but often times it would slightly distort lines and otherwise straight buildings would appear to be leaning in like the tower of Pisa in Italy. SKRWT is an app that will straighten such irregularities without ruining your image, a task that is otherwise quite hard to achieve in even more advanced photo editors.Blurred lines: Slow Shutter Cam ($0.99)
All of us have seen those images of trailing lights at night, conveying a sense of motion in the darkness. This type of photographs require you to manually slow down the shutter speed of your camera so that passing light objects like cars appear ‘flowing’ rather than ‘frozen’ in the frame. Slow Shutter Cam is quite unique in giving you such fine control that other apps lack.Black & White: Camera Noir ($1.99)
The dramatism and style of black and white photographs can be a topic of a lengthy photographic discussion, but one thing most people would agree is that to take stylish B&W images, you need to think in black and white. Camera Noir comes with the single purpose to make you think about the world in those two colors, and adds a few fine adjustments allowing you to select the level of contrast.Double exposure art: Union ($1.99)
Super-imposing images and achieving the trendy double exposure effect of images is something that requires a creative thought and some technique, and while Union cannot solve the creativity part, it does bring all you need to create stunning double exposure art.Portraits: Facetune ($1.99)
If you’re shooting portraits as a hobby, you probably know that it often takes hours of Photoshop edits until you get a blemish-free face that looks fashionable and just good. Facetune aims to automate and bring down the editing effort to a bare minimum, and while it won’t create professional portraits, it’s doing a marvelous job at improving the faces of people in your iPhone photographs.Shapes and shades: Fragment ($1.99)
Sometimes casual shots of landscapes or people just get boring with time, and you want to add a little mystery to them. Fragments is one way to do this - the app adds stunning prismatic elements, as if you were looking at a scene from a kaleidoscope, or through the eyes of a strange alien craeture.Textures galore: Mextures ($1.99)
A non-destructive way to add film grain, textures, light leaks and beautiful gradients to images in seconds, Mextures will help you experiment with adding style to your photographs.Colorful waterpaintings: Popsicolor ($2.99)
Popsicolor is a fun little app dedicated to adding color in a pop-art-inspired way to your pictures, simplifying them and cheering you up with the results.Strange lines: Lory Stripes ($1.99)
Lory Stripes adds colorful stripes going in all directions that will add a special vibe and character to shots.Slo-mo: Slow Fast Slow ($1.99)
An app by the makers of Glif, the most popular iPhone stand/tripod mount, Slow Fast Slow allows you to get a slow-motion effect at twice slower speeds (1/8x) than the stock camera app, plus you can select how the video fades in and out of that effect.
The opposite is also possible - you can speed up your video for time lapses.