Ever since I got an iPhone 3GS last year (thanks Sue!) I’ve quit using my digital camera. My digital camera is nice, but I was always forgetting to pack it. And since I only used it occasionally, the battery was usually dead. The iPhone is just much more convenient. It’s always in my pocket and it’s always charged. Many of the photos in this blog are shot using it.

However, I’ve been really disappointed in the quality of my pictures. The iPhone has a decent 3 megapixel CMS sensor, but the camera has almost no controls (typical Apple minimalism). Those who know me will know that I’m a pretty picky photographer (I worked in advertising for several years). Sure, there are a lot of photo retouching programs available on the iTunes App Store. But I’m too cheap to buy them all and even if they were free, I’m too lazy to try them all and figure out which ones are the best.

Luckily, Ben Long in CreativePro Dec 2009 has a great review of low-cost apps that you can use on your iPhone to fix those snapshots right up before emailing or posting them.

The most useful of the bunch is CodeGoo’s Camera Genius ($1.99, the article states incorrectly that it is $.99). It is a replacement for the built-in camera app in the iPhone. (You did know that the camera was mostly software, not just a piece of hardware, right?) It works well, as described in the article. I now use it exclusively when taking pictures. I have the zoom, antishake, big button, and guides feature turned on. The antishake feature takes a little getting used to, but it definitely eliminates the blur caused by unsteady hands. My only gripe is that the Camera Manual feature doesn’t actually contain instructions for using Camera Genius, it’s mostly just a bunch of pretty photos along with general tips on taking good pictures.

Perfect Photo from MacPhun ($.99) works as described in the article, but it’s definitely for experts only. It has high-end filters like denoise, sharpen, HLS, exposure, and color temperature. However, the iPhone is a really underpowered computer and applying changes takes a long time. Also, it would be nice to have some automation assistance in setting the white point for color temperature. And while Camera Genius at least has some help, Perfect Photo has none. Again, it’s geared toward photography buffs.

I also have a couple UI complaints. The screen shows your picture with a cropping bounding box in front. However, it’s hard to reliably select either the picture or the cropping box to resize or move either. Another limitation is that although you use your fingers to rotate the cropping bounding box, it won’t work on the picture. To rotate the picture, you have to dig through the controls to find it (it is under Alignment, not Rotate/Flip), and use a slider bar rather than the more familiar gesture. (My guess is they hid picture rotation to reduce computer processing requirements and extend battery life, but it’s still clumsy.) My suggestions for improvement is a button that lets you pin the picture or bounding box to the screen (allowing you to manipulate the other one without worrying that you’ll accidentally move the first). Then make the picture rotatable and the cropping box nonrotatable, and reduce the number of hidden controls.

PS Mobile from Adobe Systems (free) is a mess. All the controls are modal, meaning you have to select the rotate tool before you can actually use your fingers to rotate the picture. There is no need for this extra step. The app also includes a wide variety of filters and special effects that are interesting, but not really my taste. I expected more from Adobe, the makers of Photoshop. But maybe they decided they didn’t want to compete in the sub $10 app space.

Finally, my favorite photo app is Autostitch (Cloudburst Research $1.99). It creates 2D panorama shots (which means it adjusts for the distortion in both the horizontal and vertical directions), The coolest part is that you don’t need to take pictures in any particular order. Just stand still and shoot as many pictures as you want in any direction, left, right, up, down. The app figures out how to match up the images to create the mosaic. The technology is based on research from the University of British Columbia. An example of a panorama, made from 27 shots taken in my backyard, is shown below. (Yep, just a typical sunny day in Seattle.)



Photo by George Taniwaki

The process is surprisingly fast and seeing the end result is a lot of fun. Also notice how well it adjusts the brightness and contrast of the various shots. I only have one usability complaint. The method for picking photos to include in the panorama can lead to errors. You select pictures individually from an upper preview window and drag-copy them to a lower window. If the number of photos to include is large, you can accidentally miss some pictures or select some multiple times. It would be better to have a single window with a check box (or highlight ring) selection method.