Videographer and photographer Daan van de Westelaken was on a quest to find the perfect camera app for his iPhone. It's one thing to have all the features you want, but it's another thing to also not have the features you don't. Frustrated, he created his own, and after using it for almost a week, I'm hooked. It's certainly a tour de Force Touch.
There is no shortage of camera apps for phones. There's a reason for that. First is that there are a ton of cell phones. iPhones hold the top four places in most-used cameras on Flickr. Secondly most of them have pretty lackluster built-in apps that offer limited controls and options. I myself have probably gone through no less than 25 different apps in the past few years trying to find that app that fits my desires and needs just right. It's been a never-ending Goldie Locks experience with apps always being too small in scope, or just plain too big.
Custom Cam is just right, and it does more than just reinvent the wheel. Here are the highlights:
- Full manual control of the iPhone's camera
- Easily make any control automatic on the fly
- 3D Touch shutter that emulates a traditional half-press shutter
- Manual, auto, and face detect focus modes
- Swipe-based system for adjusting shutter, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, and even manual focus
- One or two assignable buttons
- JPEG or uncompressed TIFF (raw)
The swipe system is intuitive and refreshing. The screen divides into areas (rows in landscape, columns in portrait) and you just slide your finger along the edge of the screen to adjust either ISO or shutter. There's a really handy help guide that overlays the instructions for while you're first getting used to the app. This shows you the rows/columns and what they do.
Tapping is the name of the game on the other side of the screen as well. To switch between focus modes, just tap the letter to cycle between S (single), C (continuous), M (manual), and F (face). Single and continuous are pretty self explanatory. Manual is true manual, like a real camera. This is something you will very rarely or never see in a camera app. Sliding your finger along the screen will adjust focus no differently than spinning the focus ring on your camera lens. It even supports focus assist zoom and you can set your zoom ratio in the settings. I really want to like it, but I had some difficulty getting focus to be smooth and consistent. Granted the depth of field is extremely deep on such a small sensor, but at close distances you can definitely be a little off if you're not careful. This is certainly something that could be tweaked with future updates. Face detect is also an option and is designed to focus on the largest face in the picture, which unless the person is uncommonly large, will probably be the one closest to the camera. This mode works remarkably well. It locks on very quickly and tracks instantly. It also seems to work in very dark conditions where I could barely even see the face of my subject myself.
White balance can be toggled between auto and manual. In manual, just swipe across the screen with two fingers to adjust it. Flash has two modes: on and off. Enough said.
The play button brings up a camera roll sort of display of your photos. I guess it's nice because you don't have to leave the app, but there's pretty much nothing than can be done with it aside from basic review. You can pinch zoom, swipe between photos, and select a grid view. That is absolutely it. Since the photos go straight to the camera roll without having to do an export, there's really no reason to use it as currently implemented.
The gear brings up the settings, and this is the real joy of Custom Cam: It has all the settings you care about, and none you don't.
You can select one or two "shutter buttons", and they can both be one of any number of combinations of shutter, exposure lock, and focus lock. You could actually set a button to be AE-L, and another to be AF-L. Both physical volume buttons on the camera work as shutter releases, but you obviously give up 3D Touch. If you choose to utilize 3D Touch for the shutter (which I recommend at least trying), you can select exactly what a half-press does between AF-L only, AE-L only, or both. The fact sensitivities are also adjustable just shows how much thought and care was put into this app. I actually raised the ISO/shutter swipe sensitivity a bit because I didn't like the default low setting. ISO and shutter swipe directions can also be flipped. This is great for the kind of people who have a strong opinion towards Apple's "natural motion" default on their trackpads. There's no wrong answer, just personal preference.
I love how most options fit on the screen at once. The only options not shown are regarding default cropping of images (square and 16:9 are the only choices) and whether the crop is shown by black bars or framelines. That's it. Custom cam has every option I have ever wanted in a daily-use camera app with none of the fluff I don't care about (I'm looking at you, Camera+). Custom Cam doesn't do everything, and that's okay. There are still useful specialty camera apps like Slow Shutter Cam, Cortex Camera, and NightCap Pro, but Custom Cam is the new king of the roost for daily-use general purpose camera apps as far as I'm concerned.
- Incredibly focused feature set with tons of manual control with fast and easy automatic override on individual features.
- 3D Touch implementation for shutter is flawless and quite useful.
- Easily customizable from the two primary buttons down to touch and swipe sensitivity and flipping of swipe direction.
- Slick and minimal interface with a great implementation of exposure compensation.
- Face detection works remarkably well
What's not so good:
- The manual focus and white balance swipes are inconsistent. Manual focus was jumpy, and I could actually only get manual white balance to work at all the first day.
- Once you learn the camera's controls, you really don't need the help button anymore, but there's no way to remove it from the shooting screen.
- The small shooting mode buttons are just a hair too small. Sometimes it takes a few presses to switch focus modes.
- The bright white buttons and text in shooting mode can be distracting. Would like to see them more a shade of gray.
- The name. While you can customize things, that's not really the selling point of the app to me, so the name doesn't seem to fit just right.
Custom Cam is available in the App Store right now for just $1.99. If you like it as much as I did, tell us below and consider leaving a review for the developer in the App Store. I have to admire that this was done as a pet project by a small-time app developer and it was done so incredibly well. If you have any suggestions or feedback for future versions of the app, in addition to a review, you can also email Daan or visit his website.