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Hands on with Camera Awesome for the iPad

SmugMug has launched an iPad version of its Camera Awesome mobile photo and video app, expanding on the photographic artistry of its original iPhone app, released eight months ago. Both versions are free.

Incorporating many of the same features, but with a redesigned interface, Camera Awesome for the iPad capitalizes on the device's larger screen size to make it easier to shoot and edit both still images and video.

This image has been cropped and a frame has been applied.

“The major difference is that we completely re-thought the camera interface,” Don MacAskill, CEO of SmugMug, told TechHive. “Simply blowing up the interface from the iPhone version made the app feel awkward and hard to use. You hold your iPad in two hands, not one, so tapping with your finger just didn’t work.”

Camera Awesome, in both portrait and landscape iPad orientation, offers a set of controls that sit on both sides of the screen, within thumb distance. “The important controls are all right under your thumbs within easy reach, no shifting your grip or anything. And when you don’t need them (the controls), they get out of the way, giving you a big, beautiful window to shoot photos through,” MacAskill said.

On the iPad, the first thing your left thumb finds is a straighten tool. Like the iPhone version of the app, this tool is designed to help you shoot straight by focusing on an object and showing you a level. On both devices, the level glows yellow when everything is aligned properly.

A set of photographic controls lives on both sides of the iPad screen.

The middle icon holds the composition guides that show you the classic Rule of Thirds, Golden Ratio, Trisec, and Square.

The third icon, containing the program’s built-in (free) special effects such as Roman Holiday, More Cowbell, and Goddess, lets you apply different looks to your photos. While you can choose effects (including filter, textures, and frames) before you shoot, you can’t see them on the image itself until after they’ve been applied. Many other special effects presents (such as Portrait, B&W Portrait, Vintage, Destroyed, Paper, and more are available for purchase within the app, and can be previewed via thumbnails, but not applied.

There are many free presets to choose from, but you can also use the in-app purchase feature in Camera Awesome to buy additional ones.

As you launch the program, the right side of the screen has a nifty animated wheel that expands and contracts as you tap it, offering a series of controls such as image stabilization, a Big Button that lets you shoot by tapping anywhere on the screen, fast and slow burst buttons, a timer, and an interval timer.

A tap on the screen exposes the focus and exposure controls, which you can adjust and lock separately after a two-finger tap.

Making your image look awesome.

Video shooting has fewer controls, but notably a "precord" feature lets the camera record the scene even before you hit the red button.

Sharing options include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, and of course SmugMug. You can also email and export images to the camera roll.

This set of controls is animated, so that if you tap the top camera icon it will show; otherwise it is hidden.


Under the gear icon in the gallery view, additional options are available: Use location, Pinch to Zoom, Sounds, and other backup controls, including a Cloud Archive that lets you post your images on SmugMug—which requires an account and log in.

The Awsomize button, as on the iPhone version, is the gateway to other editing controls. You can do an auto fix with a slider, transform and crop the image, and add special effects presets, filters, textures, and frames.

While Camera Awesome was fairly easy to use and configure, having labels on all the icons, or some kind of help screen, would have been elegant. Without it, some experimentation is necessary, with the resulting trial and error.

Happily, there is a page of how-to videos available for first-time users to familiarize themselves with some major procedures.

Despite this shallow learning curve, using Camera Awesome makes it fun to shoot with the iPad, and it won't take long to get up to speed. Said MacAskill, "Unlike the phone, you really fall in love with the huge screen quickly and want to see every pixel, edge-to-edge."

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