I'm a photography enthusiast, which means I like it a lot even if I'm not that good at it. For a long time I carried a Canon ELPH in my pocket wherever I went, but for the past three years I've used the iPhone as my point-and-shoot and I've been increasingly amazed at the quality of the shots I've been able to get with it.
I've also gotten good shots with a number of Android phones, but I generally prefer the iPhone as a camera for two reasons: 1.) The quality of the sensor usually makes for sharper photos and typically handles low light situations better, and 2.) The software is smoother, less buggy, and processes photos better in most cases. (All that said, I can't wait to try the panorama mode in Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich.")
Even as solid as the built-in iPhone camera app is, I've experimented with using lots of different third party camera apps in place of the default app. My favorite has been Camera+, which has become one of the most popular apps on the iPhone for a reason -- it improves the quality and performance of the camera and has the best photo editing tools.
Camera+ was involved in a mini controversy in 2010 when Apple pulled it from the iOS App Store over its "VolumeSnap" feature -- a highly useful option that allows you to use the volume up button to take photos instead of the on-screen shutter button. Apple called this a violation of its developer agreement since it never intended this functionality. However, Apple eventually saw the wisdom in it, integrated it into its own camera app in iOS 5, and reinstated Camera+. (Another cool tip is use the volume up button on your headphones to take an even steadier photo.)
In October, when Apple also introduced photo editing into the native camera app in iOS 5, I briefly returned to using the iPhone's built-in app for a while in order to try it out and be able to talk intelligently about it with iPhone users. But, I recently gravitated back to Camera+ and I figured that it was time to write about why, so that others who use the iPhone as their primary point-and-shoot camera might benefit from the tip. So here are my four reasons to use Camera+ as the primary iPhone camera app.
1. Shutter speed
One of the most frustrating things about most camera phones -- especially smartphones -- is the lag time between when you click or tap to take the photo and the few seconds it sometimes takes the phone to actually respond. You can lose good shots during the worst lags. Camera+ is simply more responsive than the native camera app (and much faster than most comparable Android camera apps). If you use Camera+ for no other reason, the shutter speed improvement is justification enough.
2. Separates focus and lighting
This is a subtle thing, but it can make a big difference. You can tap to choose the thing to focus on (just like the native camera app and most Android phones) but then you can tap the "+" sign in the upper right hand corner of the focus box and a circle appears that you can move to a separate spot in the frame to set the exposure. This allows you to control the lighting separate from the focus in the shot, which can be highly useful for getting the right lighting in your picture.
3. Mutiple shooting modes
Camera+ includes additional shooting modes that can also be helpful for getting the right shot. It has a "Stabilizer" mode that does image stabilization (it won't take the picture until the camera is still), a "Timer" mode that is especially useful when paired with a smartphone tripod, a "Burst" mode that is great for sports and action shots, and a continuous fill light mode (in the flash) that is especially useful for taking pictures of products, for example.
4. Easy edit tools and good effects
Camera+ is essentially two apps in one. It's a camera app for taking pictures and a photo editing app for processing and perfecting them. All of the stuff I've talked about so far applies to the camera, but the photo editor in Camera+ is also top notch. Because of my enthusiasm for the iPhone as a camera, I've bought and tried virtually all of the top photo editing apps for the iPhone including Photogene, PictureShow, Best Camera, Photoshop Express, and many more. There are editing apps that have more options than Camera+, but it gets props for simplifying the editing process and providing quality editing tools. Here, you can really see the influence of professional photographer Lisa Bettany, who helped create the app. Camera+ also shines with a great set of effects for adding a little artistic flair to your photos. Just don't overdue it. No matter how good the effects are, you don't need to use effects on every single photo.
If I've convinced you to download Camera+ and put it on your iPhone homescreen in place of Apple's built-in camera app, let me quickly mention three caveats.
First, Camera+ does not record video, so if you record a lot of video then you'll need to either keep the default camera app around on your second page of apps or opt for an alternative like Camera Plus Pro, which sounds similar to Camera+ but is unrelated. Camera Plus Pro has many of the benefit of the Camera+ but also does video.
Second, the new camera button on the iPhone lock screen that allows you to quickly take a picture without unlocking your phone will only use Apple's built-in camera app. There's no setting in iOS to select a third party app as the default camera app.
Finally, one other thing to know about Camera+ is that by default it saves all of the photos that you take into its editor rather than than the Camera Roll. The idea is that you can take a bunch of photos, go into the editor, select the best one or two, edit them, and then save to the Camera Roll. While that can potentially save your Camera Roll from being littered with lots of extra photos, not everyone is ready to edit right away after taking photos. Saving to the Camera Roll is what allows you to access the photos from other sharing apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, and Instagram. The good news is that you can change this in the Camera+ settings. Simply tap Menu, go to AutoSave and change from "Lightbox" (Camera+'s editor) to "Camera Roll."