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NightCap Pro enables ultra long exposures on the iPhone

33
These are the NightCap Pro results on an iPhone 5S: left is the standard iPhone camera app, in the middle the NightCap standard app, and on the right is NightCap Pro. 

While the latest generation of smartphones can in many ways rival traditional compact cameras, the lack of true long exposure functionality on most phones is a limitation and means taking images in very low light or capturing light and star trails is simply not possible.

However, now there's an app for that. NightCap was one of the first apps to enable long exposure capture on the iPhone and now its maker Interealtime has launched NightCap Pro, an enhanced version that adds iPad support, low-light video recording, a "light booster" and two ultra-long exposure modes to the standard app's feature set.

The Light Trail mode helps you capture star movement with unlimited exposure time. This mode also has a variety of settings that let you capture brighter images of night scenes while keeping image noise at bay and preserving detail. In Night mode, shutter speed can be set between 1/3 and 1 sec, depending on your device. The standard iPhone camera from Apple only offers 1/15 sec as the slowest shutter speed. In Video mode, brighter footage is achieved through reducing the frame rate. 

Full-resolution images can be saved in JPEG or TIFF format. NightCap Pro requires iOS 7 and is compatible with iPhone 4S or iPad 2 and later models. The app can be downloaded for $1.99 from the Apple App Store. The standard version is one dollar less.


  

Comments

Total comments: 33
tomfhowe
By tomfhowe (3 months ago)

This basically crashes so frequently on my iPod touch that it's totally unuseable.

0 upvotes
Chris from Interealtime
By Chris from Interealtime (3 months ago)

Which iPod Touch model are you using?

This is very likely the same memory issue that affects the 4S - we'll have an update to improve this ready in the next few days (it'll take Apple about a week to review/approve it after we submit). Please be patient until then.

In the meantime, if you fully restart your iPod it should help, and I recommend using the Photos app to view photos instead of the in-app photo viewer.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
JKP
By JKP (3 months ago)

How hard would it be to allow the software to control aperture, exposure time, ISO and other basic camera features directly? I don't get it why Google, Apple and MS limit the "allowed controls" to nearly minimum.

Often, new android camera update actually REMOVES useful features found in the older version. Quite annoying.

0 upvotes
JKP
By JKP (3 months ago)

With 'basic camera features' I meant a bit more advanced camera features. Not everybody likes 'auto-all'.

0 upvotes
Chris from Interealtime
By Chris from Interealtime (3 months ago)

Aperture: extremely hard (it's a fixed aperture camera ;)

Exposure: fairly hard. NightCap Pro does support semi-manual exposure (you can set a manual exposure time between 1/15 and 1 second, but if the camera detects that the scene is too bright it sometimes takes back control of exposure).

ISO: There's no way to control it on iOS at least. It's possible to lock ISO when you're at the right level, but it locks exposure too which makes it somewhat pointless.

1 upvote
wansai
By wansai (3 months ago)

look at the target market for these cameras. they need to be designed so its easy and foolproof to use. many advanced features are intentionally left to 3rd party to cater to the much more niche use/requirements.

some of it is also technical but by in large, these controls are limited to allow quick shot taking from anyone.

nokia likely has the most comprehensive controls, but most ppl dont need it tbh. i have 3 nokia phones and i only occassionally use the manual settings since i always carry my bigger camera with me.

0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (3 months ago)

"look at the target market for these cameras. they need to be designed so its easy and foolproof to use. many advanced features are intentionally left to 3rd party to cater to the much more niche use/requirements."

If, by "3rd party ", you meant third-party apps under iOS, I have some very bad news for you: almost no manual settings are possible in them either, unlike Nokia's WP models, where - via the Imaging Library - you have access to everything (focus / ISO / shutter speed / proper exposure compensation etc.). On iOS, almost nothing is available for third-party programmers via the camera API.

Apple is certainly behind Nokia in this respect (too).

0 upvotes
Cartagena Photo
By Cartagena Photo (3 months ago)

On my Sony Xperia Z2 with 20.7 MP it's possible to control the wb, iso, and the exposure compensation. And the of course the resolution and crop format 16:9 or 4:3.

0 upvotes
keeponkeepingon
By keeponkeepingon (3 months ago)

Lars or Chris from interrealtime:

It would be really great to know how this differs from or compares to the alternatives.

For example cortex camera has been out for some time now and gets better reviews on the app store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cortex-camera/id517488939?mt=8

Thanks!

0 upvotes
noegd
By noegd (3 months ago)

Cortex Camera seems to capture 100 video frames, then align and combine them to provide higher resolution (from the FULL HD capture) and lower noise. It seems to be mostly useful for low-light, static subjects. It does well what it does but, for daylight photography, I would expect the regular app to deliver much more detailed images.
NightCap Pro seems to be much more versatile (and cheaper).

2 upvotes
Chris from Interealtime
By Chris from Interealtime (3 months ago)

There's a huge difference - NightCap / NightCap Pro put the camera hardware into long exposure mode, which lets the camera take in a lot more light. That means it's a LOT more sensitive in low light, and will work in much darker conditions.

What cortex camera does is combine lots of shorter exposures into a single image. That smooths out the noise you often see in low light shots (caused by high ISO) - NightCap Pro actually does this too if you turn on long exposure mode, so you get both longer exposures and very low noise.

That said both apps are good in different ways. NightCap Pro is focused more on long exposure / low light and will work best for that, cortex camera is focused on getting good quality hand-held shots and higher resolution. So both are good, depending on what you need.

1 upvote
Chris from Interealtime
By Chris from Interealtime (3 months ago)

By the way, on the reviews: NightCap Pro is currently getting some bad reviews because there's an issue with the 4S (no other models are affected) - the app sometimes runs out of memory.

I've already issued an update (5.0.1) that helps, but the next update should improve it a lot more. It should be finished in the next few days, then Apple will take around a week to review/approve it.

(In the meantime, if anyone here is using the app on a 4S and has issues restarting your phone will help a lot, and it'll also help if you use the Photos app instead of the in-app photo viewer.)

1 upvote
keeponkeepingon
By keeponkeepingon (3 months ago)

Chris from interealtime

Thanks for the detailed response. I may have to try both apps.

Lars, it would be great if you put some comparison shots in, it would be nice to see how these compare.

1 upvote
artistguy
By artistguy (3 months ago)

Does anyone using an iphone actually have an attention span long enough to do long exposure photography?;)

7 upvotes
Bruce Edwards
By Bruce Edwards (3 months ago)

Possibly the stupidest comment I have seen on the internet all week. Congrats!

6 upvotes
DaveE1
By DaveE1 (3 months ago)

Artistguy, there is irony in your comment that you will never understand.

3 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (3 months ago)

It does seem counter-intuitive that someone would go to the trouble of setting up a long exposure shot and use a phone but I'm sure someone will want this.

2 upvotes
jimjim2111
By jimjim2111 (3 months ago)

It's hardly a trouble, really, and not every night shot is pre-planned.

3 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (3 months ago)

"It does seem counter-intuitive that someone would go to the trouble of setting up a long exposure shot and use a phone but I'm sure someone will want this."

It's actually very easy, assuming you have something you can lean the iPhone against.

I've shot tons of night shots with my iPhone5. I'll upload some of them to my flickr account soon.

2 upvotes
luben solev
By luben solev (3 months ago)

Star trail mode on a phone? I can't wait to see the noise a 2 hour phone exposure will generate. And will the battery actually last that long?

1 upvote
Chris from Interealtime
By Chris from Interealtime (3 months ago)

Hi, Chris (the developer of NightCap Pro) here.

The 'light trails' mode (that's used for star trails) actually combines lots of photos in realtime to produce the very long exposures needed. Actual exposure time is the maximum supported by the device (1 second for iPhone 4s/5, 1/2s for 5s). Noise is visible in the shot, but it's not particularly bad.

In that mode it preserves the brightest parts of each image, so the stars literally 'paint' lines across the photo.

Battery life is surprisingly good. This shot: http://www.nightcapcamera.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/star-circle-big.jpg is roughly 1 hour exposure on a 5s, battery probably dropped 20-25%. I turn airplane mode on, which helps battery a bit but more importantly stops calls / emails etc. interrupting the shot.

3 upvotes
chris_j_l
By chris_j_l (3 months ago)

@luben - the burns unit is over there ---->

1 upvote
luben solev
By luben solev (3 months ago)

Sorry very late in picking up the reply. Multiple exposure stacking makes sense. That is how I did star trails back in the day with my Sony 717.

But I wonder if the max shutter speed will provide enough light to expose a wilderness scene.

And no, I don't need the burns unit, as like all human beings I reserve the right to be wrong...and use that right frequently ;-)

0 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (3 months ago)

Or you can just get an Android phone and download Camera FV-5. ;)

0 upvotes
Peter Smithson
By Peter Smithson (3 months ago)

Not really - Android doesn't support long exposures. I have tried looking before as I have only had Android phones. The FV-5 thing does its best though - http://www.camerafv5.com/faq.php#long-exposure-resolution

3 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (3 months ago)

Neither does iOS... if you read the article it says: "In Night mode, shutter speed can be set between 1/3 and 1 sec, depending on your device". That's their definition of "long" exposure...
Android supports up to 1/2 second (at full resolution), which is not so different.

0 upvotes
DaveE1
By DaveE1 (3 months ago)

Stop, tompabes2, before you tie yourself into a knot with all the squirming.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (3 months ago)

Tie myself in a knot? I might be wrong, of course. But either you don't believe what I said or, if you do, you have to explain how exactly NightCap's long exposure is superior or different than Android's long exposure.
In case you don't believe me, since an image is worth a thousand words here's a "long" (half second) exposure taken at native sensor resolution with camera fv-5 and an xperia V:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/5q4clgkievbx70o/DSC_0044.JPG

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
tomfhowe
By tomfhowe (3 months ago)

assuming it's compatible with your android phone

0 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (3 months ago)

LOL... iFans... always looking for excuses.

0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (3 months ago)

An excerpt from the description: "Video mode runs in special, lower resolution modes in Night Mode on newer devices. This dramatically increases brightness in low light. "

Note that the app may use the standard VGA recording mode, which offers way better low-light performance even when shot at 30 fps. You can even use the stock Camera app for VGA recording if you either purchase the absolutely stellar "CameraTweak 2" ($1; review: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1708305 ) or, if you don't need framerate reduction, my free and open-source (yes, you can see what kind of a JB tweak you're installing on your phone) Camera Resolution Setter (more info: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?p=18811094 )

2 upvotes
Chris from Interealtime
By Chris from Interealtime (3 months ago)

It uses lower resolution only if you turn Night Mode on (with night mode off it uses the maximum the device supports), and actually uses 720p resolution in night mode, not VGA.

It also enables dynamic framerate, meaning framerate can drop automatically in low light (to 15fps in normal mode, 10fps in night mode). That lets the camera use longer exposures per frame, so you get 2-3 times more light - the trade-off being video isn't as smooth in low light (in good light it'll return to 30fps of course).

There's also realtime noise reduction if you need it :)

2 upvotes
vlad0
By vlad0 (3 months ago)

so now you can do stuff like this

http://www.esato.com/phonephotos/cam/nokia/808_pureview/201405020659X4L2v0.jpg

1 upvote
Total comments: 33
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