Tested: Can The Right Camera App Make Your Phone’s Camera Work Better?

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Do you use the camera app that came with your phone, or do you use a third-party app? Your answer may vary according to what you want to achieve, what effects you like, and what photo-editing you want to accomplish. But did you ever stop to think that the right camera app may improve your phone’s innate abilities? Is that even possible?

To test this, I decided to take three very prominent camera apps: Camera 360, Camera ZOOM FX and Vignette, and pitch them against the default Android camera app that came with my Nexus 4. I didn’t use any filters, I didn’t edit or crop, and I tried my best not to use any features at all other than focus and shoot (some apps actually make this hard).

Can a camera app actually help you take better photos, regardless of filters and editing? The results are in front of you.

Note: Android being as open as it is, you may find different default apps on different phones. When I say “default app” in this post, I mean the native Android camera app that comes with the Nexus 4.

The Participating Apps

As mentioned above, the apps participating in this experiment are Camera 360 (Android 2.2+, Free, 4.5 average rating, 324,748 total ratings), Camera ZOOM FX (Android 1.6+, Free, 4.4 average rating, 52,100 total ratings), and Vignette (Android 1.5+, Free/$1.99, 4.5 average rating, 324,748 total ratings).

All these apps come highly recommended, and each and every one offers a handful of useful features you’re probably going to love. But when trying to shoot without filters or editing, some apps make it easier than others.

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Shooting a clean, filter-less shot is easiest with the default app, which offers no editing features by itself. Camera 360 comes with a very intuitive interface which lets you easily decide if you want to shoot a regular picture or instantly apply effects. All you have to do is slide the shutter button up or down to activate different features, or leave it where it is for regular shooting. With he Nexus 4, the power button acted as the shutter button too when using this app.

camera-360

Camera ZOOM FX makes it pretty easy to shoot effect-less as well. After taking a picture, the app will ask you if you want to add “awesome FX” to your photo. If you do, you need to tap the pencil icon. If you don’t, just tap the V to save the photo as is, or the X to try again.

camera-zoom-fx

The app that gave me the hardest time was Vignette. Perhaps this is due to using the Demo version, but when I first launched it and took a picture, I found the the default setting is to automatically apply a random filter to the photo. I had to go in and create a “no filter” setting and apply that in order to take filter-less photos.

The four apps also produce different photo sizes in their default settings. The default camera app on the Nexus 4 produces 3264×2448 photos, Camera 360 produces 2049×1536 photos, Camera ZOOM FX produces 3264×2448 photos, and Vignette Demo produces the smallest photos: 1024×768. These are, of course, only the defaults, and can be changed in the settings. For this post, I used default setting all the way.

On to the pictures!

Shooting A Landscape

I tested all apps outside on a sunny and bright day. I took these pictures one after the other without moving, so all lighting conditions are exactly the same. As you can see, even the clouds are exactly the same in all the photos.

Default camera app (view full image):

 

landscape-default

Camera 360 (view full image):

lanscape-360

Camera ZOOM FX (view full image):

lanscape-zoom

Vignette (view full image):

lanscape-vignette

To my averagely sharp eye, there’s no real different between the first three photos. Each of them has nice colors, good focus and exposure, and a good white balance for the available light. The Vignette photo stands out here, coming out weirdly bright and a bit over-exposed.

Rather than being a problem with the app itself, I believe the difference is due to Vignette’s interface. While the other three all have a shutter button and auto-focus the photo when you use it, Vignette doesn’t have one. You focus the picture by tapping the screen where you want to focus, and then tap it again to shoot. This is a great way to focus on what you want, but in this case, it looks like my centered tap made it focus on the wrong thing, making the whole thing too bright.

Shooting A Room

Just as with the outdoors photos, I shot this set of four pictures one after the other, moving as little as possible. Unlike the outdoor photos, there are some differences to be seen in this set.

Default camera app (view full image):

room-default

Camera 360 (view full image):

room-360

Camera ZOOM FX (view full image):

zoom-room

Vignette (view full image):

room-vignette

Can you spot the differences? While they definitely are minute, there are clear white-balance differences between the above photos. All four pictures were lit only by natural sunlight — no artificial light was used — but since they were taken in the afternoon, and indoors, the light was not very strong.

Camera ZOOM FX stands out from the four, yielding a photo that has a clear reddish hue to it, which to my eyes makes the photo look a bit better. Vignette also gave the photo a slightly more yellowish tinge, but it’s so faint it’s really only noticeable when making a close comparison. Camera 360 seems to have airbrushed the floor a little bit, but I only noticed this on close inspection.

All in all, the quality of all the photos is about the same, and I can’t easily point at any one that’s better than all the rest.

Shooting Macro

This is the test I was really waiting for. Smartphone cameras have come a long way in the past couple of years, and the average smartphone can now shoot pretty decent macro. Macro photos can greatly benefit from the right settings, though, and an app that can detect its shooting in macro has the potential to produce slightly better photos. Does it really work this way?

Default camera app (view full image):

default-macro

Camera 360 (view full image):

macro-360

Camera ZOOM FX (view full image):

zoom-macro

Vignette (view full image):

macro-vignette

Looking at the scaled down images, you may not notice much of a difference. There are, however, some differences to be seen when looking at the full-res images.

In terms of color, Camera 360 did the best job in bringing out the reddish brown of the almonds. Focus wise, its image is very sharp, but parts of the almonds seem almost airbrushed, as if there were faults the app was trying to hide. Camera ZOOM FX yielded a super sharp photo — you can almost see the tiny almond dust flecks — and in that regard, beat even the default app.

Vignette produced the brighter image of all, and while its default quality setting was the lowest, managed to produce a surprisingly good image — as long as you don’t try to zoom in too much.

All in all, I was very happy with all the photos, but I would choose Vignette for another spin if I had to take a macro shot that as important to me.

Camera Apps — Do They Make A Difference?

Before starting this experiment, I was skeptical about the effect apps could have on my smartphone’s camera. Interface and features make a huge difference, of course, but will apps make a real difference without them?

After thoroughly testing these apps, my final answer is that apps can make a difference, but it’s not big enough to be very significant. Camera 360’s automatic airbrushing could be useful when shooting people, but I haven’t tried it. In any case, if you love your default camera app, switching to a different app will probably not result in significantly different photos.

Want to have more fun with your phone than just regular photos? Try these 5 original ways you can enjoy your Android camera.

Do you have an app that produces better photos on your phone? Which app would you recommend for best results?

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8 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Badrul L

I use windows phone and yes there are some Lumia exclusive apps from Nokia such as smart camera and pro camera which does makes a difference. Some of the apps which you mentioned above, I use them only for filters or effects not really for clicking pictures.

Yaara L

Interesting, thanks for sharing that. The Lumia has a fantastic camera.

Reply

milla

Get a Nokia Windows Phone! Best smartphone cameras today.

Yaara L

I’ve tried the Lumia 920, and I agree, it’s brilliant. :)

Reply

Camera apps

Here’s what I found on my Android camera apps.
http://stickystatic.com/myipaddressdns/best-camera-apps-android-phones/

Reply

Tony Bze

The 1st image is Ok to the regular person viewing it, but a closer look to all 4 pics you can see the difference at the distance building on the right, and the wall at the left, it gradually gets better until you get to the 4th one which you clearly over exposed on the building at the right.
The Blue of the sky is over exposed too, making the last shot no good, I for one use the regular camera of my Sony Xperia Go and get good results, but if I’d have to vote it is either Camera 360 or Camera Zoom FX. My choice anyways. Just that I deal with photoshop and pics to know better.

Yaara L

Thanks Tony! I did notice some minute differences, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t imagining them. :)

Reply

liron

nice, Tel-Aviv?

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