Why iPhone photographers should get Camera Awesome right now
It's hard to believe SmugMug's Camera Awesome app for the iPhone is free. For the very generous price of zero cents, the app combines some of the best aspects of apps such as Camera+, Instagram, Photoshop Express, and even some standalone cameras. Many apps have bits and pieces of what makes Camera Awesome so useful, but this is a single, free app that puts all those features under the same roof.
While Camera Awesome's most-noted attribute is the ability to "Awesomize" photos (read: apply a filter) with a single tap of a button, its range of features is far more extensive than that.
In particular, there are four lesser-known ingredients that make Camera Awesome a stellar photo app beyond its fancy special effects, and they're all traits that would be welcome additions to the next iPhone's native camera. In fact, some Android phones already have some of these photography features built in, including the first item on this list.
1. Burst modes: Camera Awesome has two separate continuous shooting modes: one that snaps about 2 shots per second at full resolution, and another that snaps 6 shots per second at a reduced 640-by-480 resolution. You hold the app's shutter button down, and it fires as long as you hold it, accompanied by a rapid-fire shutter-button sound. As long as the subject you're recording remains about the same distance from the lens (the camera doesn't refocus between shots), it's a handy extra for recording fast-moving action, skittish pets, and temporarily smiling babies.
2. Electronic level: In the camera's Composition menu, which also includes grid overlays for lining up shots, there's an accelerometer-driven "Horizon" option that helps ensure that you're holding the camera steady.
3. Pre-recording video: Another useful option for capturing short videos of laughing babies and/or game-winning-hit scenarios at baseball games, Camera Awesome's video options include a "Precord Video" setting that automatically buffers and saves 5 seconds of video before you press the record button. This is great for a couple of reasons: It takes a lot of pressure off of people with slow trigger-fingers, and it prevents having to save (and subsequently delete) 50 clips of nothing happening in order to capture a perfect 10-second clip. In a clever touch, Camera Awesome's icon for the pre-record mode is a stylized version of the flux capacitor from Back to the Future.
4. Extensive editing tools: There's no shortage of tap-to-apply photo filters and presets in this app. There are 36 free image-effect presets spread across the app's "Awesomize" effects, Fx presets, filters, textures, and frames, as well as about 250 more that are available via in-app purchases. Extensive filter selections are common in mobile photo apps these days, but Camera Awesome goes a few steps further by offering sliders for adjusting image sharpness, color temperature, vibrance, and contrast. There are a lot of aspect-ratio and image-resizing options for image output, as well. Long story short, the app lets you fine-tune the look of your photos much more granularly than simply slapping on a filter.
Despite all those positives, there's one notable drawback to Camera Awesome. Namely, you can't import images from your photo library into Camera Awesome for editing; you need to take photos with the app itself in order to have all those tools at your disposal. That may be OK if you decide to use Camera Awesome as your default photo-taking app, but for those of us with a folder full of photos taken with the iPhone's native camera app before Camera Awesome was available, it's frustrating.
Update 4/27/2012: Thanks to commenter AndyM for pointing this out: You can import pictures from your iPhone's photo roll by clicking the "+" button in the lower right corner of Camera Awesome's photo library. It lets you import and edit photos taken from the iPhone's native camera app on a case-by-case basis, but for some reason, the Camera Awesome photo library remains separate from the iPhone's native photo library.