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App Review: Camera Awesome for iPad

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Camera Awesome for iOS (free in Apple App Store)

Compatible with iPad, iPod and iPhone running iOS 5.0 or later
Version reviewed: 1.1.1 using iPad 3rd Gen

 SmugMug’s Camera Awesome offers a number of improvements over iOS’s native camera app and can apply filter effects during photo capture or afterwards. 

The popular Camera Awesome app just got iPad support, giving tablet fans a more tailored solution for editing and, yes, even capturing images.

The app is more flexible than Apple’s native camera function, providing extra control over focus and exposure. Along with enhancements including a level to assist in composition, high speed drive modes and an anti-shake mode to help avoid blurry pictures, Camera Awesome offers in-app photo enhancement and filtering, and ties into a variety of photo sharing services.

Key Features:

  • In-app editing and filters
  • Extensive social media integration
  • Separate exposure and focus point selection
  • “Big Button” shutter full-screen release
  • “Pre-recording” video function

Operating Requirements:

  • Requires iOS 5.0 or later
  • Works on iPad, iPod or iPhone (tested on iPad)

Alternatives:

Tablet camera? really?

While the iPad 2 shot credible 720p video, nobody got excited about its sub-megapixel still image quality. But with the debut of the third generation iPad, Apple upped the tablet’s image capture game substantially with a 5-megapixel autofocus camera. (The fourth generation iPad offers the same specs in its primary camera, though the front-facing camera improves to 1.2MP capable of recording 720p HD video.)

Now, it’s easy to see the always-with-you connected appeal of a camera-equipped smartphone, but lofting a pound-and-a-half slab to take a picture? What’s the point? Counterintuitively, a tablet can be convenient, simply because it’s often already in your hands. This makes it particularly suited to catching domestic scenes that arise while doing something else with the tablet, for example.

Skeptics might also be swayed the first time they compose a shot: the size of an iPad’s display makes for a unique preview experience. In front of your face, a 10-inch screen is a lot bigger than even a high-magnification EVF. Out of direct light, the iPad’s Retina display is arguably better than the best EVFs available in dedicated consumer cameras. What you see has never been so close to what you get. That big, beautiful screen also enhances the immediate social component of digital photography: sharing what you just took with the people around you.

A tourist photographs the Louvre with an iPad.

All that being said, a tablet isn’t an ideal camera. It’s heavy, awkward and slippery. A good case can improve things, especially a photo- and video-centric design like Makayama’s MovieMount, which features tripod mounts and light shoes.

We put Camera Awesome through its paces to see how much the tablet capture experience can be improved from the software side. 

Composing awesome style

 The app jumps straight to capture mode on start up with an interface that looks particularly clean on the spacious screen of an iPad. We immediately activated the cockpit-style artificial horizon that helps compose a level picture. It’s an improvement over simple grid lines (also available) because the horizon glows green when the iPad is level, a useful aid when there aren’t strong vertical or horizontal elements in the frame to align with a grid.

Like Apple’s native camera app, tapping on the screen selects a specific point to set focus and exposure. But with Camera Awesome, tapping with two fingers brings up separate focus and exposure reticles, which can be handy since there’s no exposure compensation available on iOS devices.

Separate focus and metering points allow more flexibility than the native app’s single point. The two-finger-touch to activate this works well, though it’s easy to miss if you don’t know about it. Tapping the reticles locks their setting. One quibble we had is that while the “+/-“ symbol on the exposure reticle is immediately recognizable, the focus reticle’s symbol looks more like a “contrast” icon.

Splitting focus and exposure points also activates the white balance lock icon. This is useful if you have mixed lighting in a scene (incandescent and sunlight, for example). It would be nice if the white balance lock button stayed onscreen all the time instead of requiring the split focus/exposure mode to be engaged.

To aid in composition Camera Awesome offers an unusual range of grid line options, including Golden Spiral and Trisec.

Capture

By default, a photo is captured by tapping the button on the right side of the screen. Like the native camera, shot-to-shot time is brisk, but there’s also a “slow burst” option that keeps the shutter firing as fast as it can for as long as you hold down the button. If you have a real need for speed, the “fast burst” mode bangs away at an impressive rate but only captures at a meager 480 x 320 pixel resolution, making it more a gimmick than a usable drive mode.     

Lefties and anyone who doesn’t want to hunt for the shutter button can activate a full-screen shooting mode that takes a picture when you tap anywhere on the screen. The downside is that with this enabled there’s no way to move the metering or focus point from the center.

The app also features a stabilized shooting mode that helps avoid blurry shots in low light. It detects “camera shake” with your device’s accelerometers and waits for a relatively steady moment to trip the shutter. As such, the mode can produce longer than usual shutter delays.

Tapping the arrow over the shutter button spins out a nifty mode selector arc offering anti-shake, big button, fast and slow burst, timer and interval shooting modes.

While some camera apps ignore video altogether, Camera Awesome supports it with a bonus: a pre-record function that captures the few seconds before the record button was pressed, which helps catch the lead up to significant moments. There are no editing options, but the app can send video to SmugMug, Facebook, YouTube and Photobucket.

Editing Images

Camera Awesome includes a number of filters, textures and frames that can be applied individually to captured images or grouped into presets. For the Hipsatmatically-inclined, a preset can also be automatically applied at the moment of capture. 

The app displays a thumbnail of the most recent picture on the capture screen. Tapping it opens a well-designed gallery. It’s easy to scan through the square thumbnails to find a particular image, and flicking from one full-size photo to the next is fast and smooth.

Camera Awesome has a clean gallery view. Scrolling between full-sized images is smooth and snappy.
Tapping on an image brings up EXIF, histogram and location information. You can also import images from the Camera Roll for processing in the app.

Tapping the magic wand icon opens the titular Awesomize function, which tries to hybridize one-click image optimization with a slider to provide some control over the strength of the correction. It works fairly well, though the extra sliders intended to fine tune the output are capricious in their effects. Users hoping to do straight adjustments of basic parameters like exposure are out of luck. Each time you move a slider, you’ll also have to wait a few seconds to see what the change looks like as the app slowly rebuilds the image.

Before, left, and after, right, Awesomizing. Four sliders ostensibly let you fine-tune the Awesomize correction, but their behavior can be opaque. 
“Contrast” and “Temperature” aren’t straight-forward contrast and color temperature controls: rather, changing them alters the Awesomize algorithm’s behavior in unpredictable ways.

With exposure issues (hopefully) ameliorated via Awesomizing, the user can apply a variety of filters, textures and frames to automagically transform the image to taste. The app includes nine of each, as well as nine “presets” that apply some combination of them at a go.

You can preview all the available effects, but most are only available through in-app purchases. Ninety-nine cents gets you a group of nine, $3.99 buys all current and future items in a given category (filters, presets, etc.), and $9.99 nets the whole shebang.

Camera Awesome comes with a range of one-click special effects.
Many more are available as in-app purchases in bundles priced from $.99 to $9.99.

Social strength

Once your photo is ready to show the world, Camera Awesome makes it easy to share. The app can upload straight to Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket and of course SmugMug. It can hand off an image to the Instagram app for further processing and uploading to that service as well. The app can also open an email with the photo as an attachment or export images to the Camera Roll for saving elsewhere or further editing.

 Camera Awesome offers a host of well-implemented sharing options.  
Photos can be sent to specific Flickr sets with configurable privacy settings. A “1-Tap Share” button can be set up to bypass the options and send off a photo immediately.

Conclusion

Camera Awesome plays on a crowded field and competes most effectively on two fronts: price and social media integration.

The camera function is an improvement over Apple’s native app and is mostly on par with offerings from apps that cost more. The buried white-balance lock is our main complaint. Video pre-recording is a slick bonus.

Like its competition, Camera Awesome is also about manipulating and sharing photos. Users who want fine control over basic parameters like exposure, contrast and color balance will be better served by an app like Camera+ (the recently reviewed ProCamera allows similar fine tuning on the iPhone, but not in its iPad-optimized version, ProCamera HD). However, if you just want to punch up images a bit before getting into the filtering stage, Camera Awesome’s quick-and-dirty Awesomize button is capable and convenient.

Fresh and free from the App Store, Camera Awesome’s roster of special effects is reasonably extensive, and the separation of “filters” and “textures” increases the possible number of discrete effects. They’ll satisfy the dabbler, but it’s clear that SmugMug hopes you’ll pay up for the much broader selection it offers through in-app purchases.

Camera Awesome shines when it comes to sharing your final product. It integrates with a host of photo sharing services and offers a slick interface for getting your pictures out there.

Considering its unbeatable price of free, there’s no reason not to try Camera Awesome and see how it fits with your personal mobile photography style.

What we like: It’s better than the native camera, integrates particularly well with a range of social media sites, and is perfectly functional without making in-app purchases.

What we don’t like: Inflexible and balky photo optimization, a shy white balance lock button.

Rating: 


 


Peter M. Ferenczi is a freelance writer and avid photographer. He lives in Paris.

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