Get more professional photos with these advanced camera apps

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Your smartphone’s camera is a wonderful thing, with the latest models even giving high-end single-lens DSLR cameras a run for their money.

They’re also ridiculously easy to use, with the software and hardware handling a lot of the heavy lifting that makes a photo great. But in doing so, they also take away control. While you’re getting killer photos, you don’t have much to say about how it’s done.

Fortunately, you don’t need to use the camera app that came with your smartphone. IOS and Android devices will let you work with advanced third-party software that offers the kind of control you would get with a DSLR. In fact, if you search the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, you will find a lot of them.

Here are my favorites for each platform.

Halide Mark II by Lux Optique, halide.cam

iOS 13.0 or later

7-day free trial, $ 11.99 / year or $ 39.99 lifetime

Halide has long been a popular app among professional photographers who want to boost the capabilities of their iPhones. The software was recently redesigned and upgraded – hence the Mark II designation – and got an increase in functionality when the Pro models in the iPhone 12 line were released.

I don’t do a lot of New Years resolutions, but one of mine this year is to become a better photographer with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. I am semi-familiar with DSLR photography, but not enough to master the controls. The Halide interface makes it easy to switch from the type of automated shooting you get from most smartphone apps to more specific controls.

The original version made a name for itself as an app that lets you take photos in RAW format, preferred by many professional photographers because it captures more detailed information in each image. The look you get in a RAW photo isn’t as good at first, but because there is more detail in the image, you have more to work with editing software. It also means that RAW files are much larger than standard JPG or HEIC image files, so keep that in mind if you don’t have a lot of space on your phone.

With Halide Mark II, you can now take both RAW photos and Apple “computer photography” photos. This feature, called Coverage, takes a RAW image and then quickly takes a photo using Apple’s processing capabilities. On phones that support it, this includes Deep Fusion, which captures images with all the cameras on the device and merges them. You can then use either the processed image or RAW.

A recent update lets you work with Apple’s own ProRAW format, which uses some calculations but preserves RAW information, on iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max models.

As with most professional camera apps that mimic the controls of a DSLR, you can either work in automatic mode or switch to manual mode. In the latter, you can adjust ISO, shutter speed, exposure, focus and white balance. The interface hides the most complex commands until you switch to the next.

But even in automatic mode, there are some useful features that you won’t find on Apple’s own app. For example, there’s a built-in level, a box that tells you if you’re holding your iPhone upright.

Halide Mark II can be as simple or as complex as you want, depending on your needs. And if you’re worried about the learning curve, there’s a built-in 10 lesson tutorial to use it.

Open Camera is an open source camera app for Android devices. The exact features enabled on your smartphone depend on the device and the version of Android you are using.

Open the camera by Mark Harman, opencamera.org.uk

Android 4.0.3 or later

To free

This app has been around since 2013, updated regularly over the years, and is sleek, capable, and – surprisingly – completely free. While Mark Harman is the developer, he has had other contributors. It’s an open source project, and you can view the code and get details on sourceforge.net/projects/opencamera.

Like Halide, the default interface is simple and will be easy to use for those who are trying it for the first time. As you need more capacity, you can go deeper into the settings. As you would expect, you can control ISO, exposure, shutter speed, white balance and more. The ability to switch to manual focus mode depends on the smartphone, but there are different focus modes – such as locked or infinite – if manual mode isn’t available.

In fact, a lot of what you can do with Open Camera will depend on the hardware and version of Android you’re using. On a Samsung S20 Ultra 5G, for example, you can manually switch between two of the three rear cameras, but you cannot select the third ultra-wide camera.

Open Camera gives you the option to shoot in multiple formats, including RAW if the smartphone supports it, and you can shoot in HDR mode. There is also a noise reduction mode which takes a burst of photos and then merges them to reduce noise in the photo.

One of my favorite features – related to my sad inability to hold a smartphone upright when taking photos – is the auto-upgrade. If you enable this option, One Camera will automatically level the image when you take it. There is a cost, of course, as the application will be slightly slower. Don’t rely on using it for action shots.

Finally, there is a feature that uses faces for focusing. Turn it on and Open Camera searches for a face and adjusts focus, exposure, and white balance to that face.

The customization and controls available in Open Camera are impressive, and the settings menus scroll for days. If you like to tweak and play around with camera settings, you’ll have a field day with this.

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