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How the World's Coolest Smartphone Takes Photography to a New Dimension
There's an old cliche in photography: The best camera is the one you have with you. The $1,400 digital SLR sitting in your camera bag may have taken a superior photo, but it does you no good when the kids do something adorable at the supermarket.
Apple's iPhone is populating a lot of pockets these days and while its 3-megapixel camera may not stack up well against even an inexpensive digicam in the specs department, it's actually a pretty powerful photographic tool. First, it's always with you (indeed, I've seen some iPhone relationships that are borderline unhealthy). Second, it's connects you with everybody, beaming photos over 3G to friends and social networking sites.
But most importantly, the iPhone is home to a growing number of applications (apps, for short) that inject a whole new level of functionality into the iPhone's tiny camera. There are apps for sharing your images to multiple social networking sites; apps for performing light editing or adding fun creative flares to your photos. There are even tools that professional photographers would enjoy.
iPhone Photo Apps: Sharing Apps
Obsessive social networkers have a fairly long list of apps to choose from to get their iPhone photos in front of their many friends. One of them, AroundShare, is a free app that publishes iPhone pics to a variety of sites, such as Flickr, Twitter, and Google Maps. The app also lets you download full resolution images via RSS from various AroundShare feeds.
Phanfare's Photon app is another freebie, but users will have to sign up for a Phanfare online photo backup account (1GB of storage is free or pay $54.95 a year for unlimited storage). The nice thing about Photon is that it wirelessly syncs with your Phanfare account - so your iPhone pics are automatically backed up, without you having to lift a lazy finger.
iPhone Photo Apps: Image Enhancement
If you want to tweak your iPhone images, Picoli (left) is a photo editor that lets you sharpen your images, adjust the contrast or apply filters such as sunburn, night vision or dithering. It will set you back $2.99.
Another, more focused app, is Tiltshift (right), after the photographic technique of the same name. The $1.99 program lets you focus on a specific area of the image and blur the rest, emulating the effect of a tilt-shift lens or a Lensbaby. It's useful for giving images, particularly of wide scenes, some dramatic impact.
Perhaps the biggest liability of the iPhone (and, in fact, any) camera is low-light performance. Naturally, there are a couple of apps designed to overcome this, including iFlashReady from Imaging Luminary. The $0.99 app lets you lighten a scene with the touch of a button.
Night Camera ($0.99) takes a slightly different approach. It uses the iPhone's accelerometer to determine when the camera is held steady enough for a longer exposure (which allows more light to enter the lens at lower light settings). When you've got a sure grip, the camera will fire, getting you closer to the perfect low light shot.
iPhone Photo Apps: Creative Fun
If you're looking to quickly transform a photo into something more eye-catching, CameraBag ($2.99, right) is a good app to consider. It simply adds filters to your photos (fisheye, black and white, etc.). If you want to get a little more hands-on, consider Artist's Touch. Load this $4.99 program onto your iPhone and you can use your finger as a pencil, paintbrush or a number of other artistic tools for coloring directly onto your photo. Fortunately, you can choose the fineness of your brushes, so those of us (like me) with larger fingers aren't wiping out their entire pic with a single finger stroke.
Comic Touch, from Plasq, is a $2.99 app that transforms your iPhone pics into mini-cartoons. You can add thought and talk bubbles, as well as effects like smudging and bending and warping. After you've cartoonified your photos, you can upload your creations to Flickr or other photo sharing sites.
iPhone Photo Apps: Photo Tools
If you're less interested in using the iPhone's camera, there are also several apps that turn the iPhone into a photographic tool for consumers and pros with, ahem, real cameras.
PhotoCalc ($2.99, right) will help you calculate the right exposure and flash settings for a scene (such as aperture and shutter settings) as well as flash and depth of field. It will use GPS to tell you when to expect the sunrise and sunset.
Another app from BitWerkz's - the f/8 DoF Calculator - is just that, a depth of field calculator. You can create a "camera bag" of camera bodies and lenses from which to choose and make aperture and distance adjustments through on-screen sliders.
Appetite for Apps
Whatever your photographic skill level, you shouldn't have any trouble finding an app to boost your creativity or improve the look of your iPhone snapshots. It may not convince you to lay down your Nikon 3Ds, but at least you'll have fun.