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There are two things limiting smartphone photography: The actual camera you have on your device, and the app you’re using to take photos. If your device just has a mediocre camera, there’s not much an app would be able to do about it (although we have done an extensive test Tested: Can The Right Camera App Make Your Phone's Camera Work Better? Tested: Can The Right Camera App Make Your Phone's Camera Work Better? Did you ever stop to think that the right camera app may improve your phone's innate abilities? Is that even possible? Read More that shows camera apps do make a difference even when your camera isn’t amazing). Then again, if you do have a very good camera on your device, the app you choose takes on a much bigger importance. Pick the right camera app, and you end up with what’s effectively a complete point-and-shoot camera replacement in your pocket. Camera FV-5 is one camera app that strives to offer complete control over your device’s camera, and mostly delivers. At $4, it’s not cheap – but when you factor in the cost of your device with its fancy camera, it feels like a bargain.

What You Can Do

Before we start looking at all the buttons and features, let’s get a feel for what can be created with Camera FV-5:

We’ve previously covered time-lapse photography with a Raspberry Pi How To Capture Time-Lapse Photography With Your Raspberry Pi and DSLR or USB Webcam How To Capture Time-Lapse Photography With Your Raspberry Pi and DSLR or USB Webcam Time-lapse photography can really give you a sense of how the world works on a macroscopic level, beyond anything conceivable to the normal human experience of time. Read More , and that post also shows you how you can stitch all of your images together into one movie. Camera FV-5 won’t do the stitching for you, but it will allow you to take long exposure, exposure-bracketed shots for creating real (not software-simulated) HDR images. In case you’re not sure what HDR is, the acronym stands for High Dynamic Range, and we have an entire HDR Photography Guide that can help you get into this exciting photography technique.

Note that exposure bracketing and time-lapse photography are just two things you can do with Camera FV-5. The app gives you control over every imaginable aspect of your smartphone camera. If you’re a dSLR photographer, it’ll make you feel right at home.

The Basics: Screen Overlay

If you’re used to minimalistic camera apps with just a single shutter button, you’re in for a shock:

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camera-fv5-2-numbered

No less than 16 (!) different interface elements in the screenshot above. I numbered them all so we could run through them quickly. If you’re comfortable with a dSLR, many of these will be familiar. On the other hand, if this is your first foray into “more advanced” photography, let me quickly show you around:

  1. The shutter button (you can also use your phone’s physical shutter button, if it has one).
  2.  The focus area. Yellow means it’s focused.
  3. Exposure compensation – we’re in the middle here, so the photo will come out “just right” (you can slide the pointer to the right for a lighter photo, or left for a darker one).
  4. ISO control – this is one of the few camera apps I’ve seen that let you set your own ISO level (light sensitivity). Lower ISO means less grainy photos.
  5. Light metering mode – we’ll get into that later.
  6. Focus mode – currently set to auto-focus, but you can also set it to macro, infinity, and a few other states.
  7. White balance – set to “auto white balance” but you can specify your lighting manually (incandescent, fluorescent, etc.) to affect color temperature in the resulting photo.
  8. Flash mode – also supports “red eye reduction,” but really, you should just keep the flash off.
  9. Well, surprise, it’s a menu! Lets you access bracketing, intervalometer, self timer, and burst mode.
  10. Lets you manually set long exposure times.
  11. Access to your device’s gallery, to view photos you’ve taken. Camera FV-5 doesn’t have its own gallery, and uses whatever you have (we recommend QuickPic QuickPic Could Reach The Finish Line As The Fastest Photo Browser [Android] QuickPic Could Reach The Finish Line As The Fastest Photo Browser [Android] Is QuickPic the best photo gallery app out there for the Android phone? Looking at the reader suggestions that came in on our previously published 3 Great Alternative Photo Gallery Apps it certainly seems so.... Read More ).
  12. Current f-stop (aperture opening). Phones actually have a set aperture, so this will always be the same number on your phone. If you have an Android-powered camera (such as the previously-reviewed Galaxy Camera Samsung Galaxy Camera Review and Giveaway Samsung Galaxy Camera Review and Giveaway If you love your smartphone's camera, and want to take things up a notch, the Galaxy Camera is perfect for you. Running Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean), the Galaxy Camera is the exact opposite of what... Read More ), you will see this number change.
  13. Exposure time. Longer exposures result in blurrier motion, but that’s really oversimplifying it (sometimes you do want a longer exposure).
  14. Currently selected ISO level. 50 is as low as my device would go.
  15. Current battery level – needed, because Camera FV-5 runs in full-screen mode, like every other camera.
  16. Access to the Settings menu, one of the app’s few annoyances.

Phew.

Exposure Compensation in Action

Here’s a highway:

camera-fv5-5

And here’s that same highway again:

camera-fv5-7

All conditions are the same, only I’ve pushed the EV slider to the +1 mark. Again, obvious for any dSLR shutterbug, but not something I’ve seen on many smartphone camera apps. You get to control how bright the resulting shot would be, and you can also see how that brightness is produced (in this case, ISO remains at 50, but the exposure time jumps from 1/800ths of a second to 1/200).

You can also tap the +/- button for an easier EV slider:

camera-fv5-14

Exposure Bracketing

With exposure bracketing enabled, every time you tap the shutter button, several images are captured in rapid succession, each at a different exposure level. You can then use external software to create an HDR composite image.

Camera FV-5 lets you set how many images you want captured on each burst (up to 7 – more than my Canon T3i) and the exposure spread. Here you can see a 3-image burst set at 1 EV-level increments:

camera-fv5-9

So we’ll have a shot at –1, one that’s set at 0, and another one at +1.

Light Metering

The last feature I’d like to show is another rarity on smartphone cameras, light metering control:

camera-fv5-12

You can tell Camera FV-5 based on which image area it should set the exposure level: The entire image, the central part of the image, or just the narrow focus area. Used right, this means you can take a portrait shot in front of a very bright background, and your subject would come out visible! Not a minor accomplishment when it comes to smartphone photography.

Not So Great: The Menu

Almost no app is uniformly praise-worthy, and when it comes to Camera FV-5, the menu is the sole part that could do with a bit of love from the developer:

camera-fv5-13

The worst thing about the menu is that it’s stuck in landscape orientation, even when you invoke it when your device is in portrait mode. This makes it necessary to scroll quite a bit. The menu structure is otherwise sensible, and thanks to the wealth of on-screen controls, you won’t find yourself delving into the menu too often. The only major feature lacking on-screen controls are the composition and crop guides – Camera FV-5 can overlay a grid on your image to help you better compose, and even show you what the image would look like when cropped to a different aspect ratio (say, 1:1, for Instagram). You can bind these features to a hardware button, so you can use your device’s volume button to switch screen overlays, but it would have been better if there was an on-screen button for that.

An Impressive Camera

If you’ve ever longed for stronger manual controls for your smartphone photos, you should really try Camera FV-5. You don’t have to spend $4 right away, because there is also a free, Lite version. Though really, if you pause to consider how much your phone cost, $4 isn’t all that much money to spend to get better use out of its expensive camera.

Do you know of a better or slicker camera app that gives you the same amount of manual control and power? If so, please let me know below.

  1. Mike Griffin
    January 10, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Does the fv5 app via the intervals meter hold the shutter open, like with the bulb facility on a dslr? Paid version does not work well on my note 4. However had lite free version on my old gs3 and I got good traffic trails. Whichever way I look at it, this app is complicated to use and you are better off buying a real camera.

  2. John 2
    January 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Camera Awesome is my point-and-shoot of choice. But for even more creative control, Camera FV5 is a really nice addition to the toolbox. It has a free/lite version; the only difference I've so far detected is lite resolution is limited to 640x480. There's a menu item that offers to take you to buy the Pro version to unlock all your cameras resolutions.

    One disappointment, though maybe it's hidden some where: FV5 doesn't appear to do panoramic. But Camera Awesome does. But I do a lot of HDR and I like that FV5 does more shots than even my Nikon.

    Everything comes with trades.

  3. Azamat E
    December 14, 2013 at 8:37 am

    While it seems to be an awesome camera app, I think it's just too complex for an average user. Phone's camera should be quick and simple so that you can shoot right away when needed and you don't have a DSLR camera by your side. But I'd give a free version a try if it existed though :)

  4. Richard B
    December 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Looking at this, it seems to be competition with Camera Awesome. But just reading through this, this seems more thorough than Camera Awesome, and with the same price tag (although that free version would be a great trial!). Sure this doesn't do filters, but those controls!

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