It all started when I lost my camera. I needed a smartphone with a decent camera for just such occasions. So why on earth aren't there any good camera apps on Android?
In an earlier article, I've talked about losing two cameras in two weeks, as well as making the most of the smartphone camera you have if you end up needing to use it as a backup. Those incidents led me to buying the well-received (in 2016) LG G5 from eBay. It was a top end smartphone when it was released and was LG's first dual-camera phone. Unlike other manufacturers who used dual-cameras to creatively merge photos, LG decided to offer them in separate standard (60-degree FoV) and wide (130-degree FoV) formats. That means the phone has three lenses when you include the front-facing camera.
The other features I was keen on (besides the large LED screen, 64Gb of memory and fast processor) was the removable battery and microSD card slot, along with the ability to replace the shipped Android operating system with the pure open source LineageOS. After I had installed Lineage, I began setting up the phone. The original LG camera app is actually pretty good, but I wanted to find a replacement. After some experimentation, the following became my list of requirements: support for all three cameras, shooting in raw, full manual control and shutter priority. I'm not interested in stickers and other paraphernalia and whilst post-processing can be useful, Google's ubiquitous Snapseed is a difficult contender to beat.
It's worth noting that Google introduced the Camera2 API in Android Lollipop (aka Android 5) in 2015, however, manufacturers needed to enable the API on their devices for camera apps to be able to use it. A notable exception is Bacon Camera which bypasses the API, accessing the camera directly. Camera2 allows much greater access to the camera hardware enabling manual modes for exposure, focus and white balance, along with the creation of DNG raw files.
As a photographer, these are normal requirements and you don't have to pay much to find some pretty extraordinary cameras. For example, the Sony RX100 Mark 1 will do all this and a lot more, with a significantly better lens and sensor at a remarkably low price. At this point, I searched for Android camera app reviews and my shortlist came down to trying out the following apps (in no particular order): Footej, ProShot, ProCapture, Open Camera, Google Camera, Camera Zoom FX, DSLR Camera Pro, Manual Camera, Snap Camera HDR, Camera FV-5, and Cymera. Some are free, some freemium, and some purely commercial.
Much to my surprise, I couldn't find a single camera app that met my requirements. A large number of apps weren't able to access the wide-angle camera - when I contacted the developers of Footej, for example, they simply said it was a feature under development. Given the proliferation of multiple camera setups, this really surprised me. Many cameras don't support the Camera2 API although nearly all of the camera apps listed above do (the otherwise excellent ProCapture being an exception). However it was manual control, and specifically shutter priority, that left them all wanting. When an app says manual control - that's exactly what it means. Many have implemented exposure compensation, but when it comes to setting a shutter speed for your creative composition then you're on your own. It's back to full manual control which I find fiddly on a smartphone touchscreen.
So what app am I using at the moment? Actually, I'm currently switching between two. Probably my go to camera is the open source Open Camera written by Mark Harman. While the interface isn't as polished as some of the commercial apps, it is fast, easy to use and gives full manual control. In short, it delivers the goods. This is very closely followed by Snap Camera HDR which wraps a manual camera with a range of functions and processing options in a fine GUI. The other app that is worth a mention is Google's Camera HDR+ app - yes this only works on newer Google smartphones, however, because it is open source a number of enterprising users have ported it to other devices, with a version that works on the LG G5, supporting all three cameras. It's also a good camera app.
Of course, other than manual mode, there are other features which are useful to have incorporated into the camera app - bracketing, HDR, DRO, panorama, time-lapse and high-speed burst to name a few. However, I'm wanting to shoot in a manner similar to my DSLR which (given fixed aperture smartphone cameras) means having granular control of shutter speed. So a question for developers - why don't we see this feature or have I missed something?
If you're shooting on Android, what's your favorite app and why? And if you're on iOS, how do the Android offerings stack up? Smartphone photography has come of age, so let's push for tools that are at the edge of the current envelope.
Lead image courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.