Most of the best mobile phones of 2014 for travelers (and newer) have good camera sensors but there’s often a big difference in the resulting photos between models. What you may not realize is that lens quality is as important as the software interpreting the light coming through the aperture of any dot on the back or front of a phone.
Although it’s not feasible to change your smartphone’s photographic hardware, these apps can improve your pictures particularly in the conditions where phones tend to suck – low light and moving subjects.
Camera FV-5 ($3.95; Android Only)
The designers of Camera FV-5 have really done a good job of making your phone’s screen feel like a DSLR viewfinder, with the options to go along with it. Camera FV-5 has a light meter, let’s you adjust ISO, take long exposure shots and more. If you’re a camera control freak on Android, this is the app for you.
Camera+ ($2.99; iOS Only)
You don’t get quite as many manual controls with Camera+ as you do with say, Camera FV-5, but where the app really excels is in post editing. Once you’ve taken the shot you want, Camera+ lets you brighten, brush up, and enhance with filters that aren’t designed to be obvious (a la Instagram). Personally I like the image stabilization the app introduces to prevent blurry edges in night shots.
Night Camera Plus ($0.99; Android Only)
This app does its best to improve low light photos as they’re being taken – not enhance them into funky-exposed grainy messes after the fact. The developers have published a few technical details on how the app works [PDF] but for the trial price of free, you can easily see for yourself.
Preset scene modes that don’t look crappy but do a good job of highlighting your subject, with respect to color and lighting. Your photos won’t look quite as natural with many of Camera360’s modes but they’ll likely look a hell of a lot better; especially if you’re fond of taking selfies. Oh, and it makes GIFs!
Night Cap ($0.99; iOS Only)
There isn’t a lot that Night Cap does but it’s focus on low light photos and video in a simple interface really works, when it works well. A lot of the images it takes don’t turn out perfectly if you’re not resting the phone on a stable surface (i.e. not your hands) so remember to improvise something like a napkin holder as a tripod. One nice feature of Night Cap is automatic long exposure; meaning you don’t have to guess how many seconds you’ll need to get a nice starry night, the app figures it out for you.
Google Camera (Free; Android Only)
Lens. Blur. It’s an effect that gives pictures a nice “hey this was taken on an expensive camera” feeling. Combined with 360 degree panoramic shots and a super simply interface, it’s not as powerful as others in this list, but effective in good lighting situations.
ProCam 2 ($1.99; iOS Only)
ProCam 2 has a select set of shooting modes phone users need most often, like anti-shake, night mode, and for fun, time lapse. Beyond that if you want more manual control, ProCam 2 provides that as well, with spot metering, shutter speed control, plus others in a highly polished interface.
Pick And Choose Depending On How You Use
Some of us like photographic control whereas for others too much of it actually hinders our main objective – getting better travel photos from our phones. Pick the app or two that gives you the level of manual control you normally like and roll with it. You can learn to turn your mobile phone into a better digital camera with the right software but don’t forget brush up on photographic basics all travelers should know. Even the best app can’t tell you how to compose an aesthetically pleasing image (hint: kitten).