There’s an old adage among photographers: The best camera is the one you have with you. When the moment pops up, any camera is better than no camera at all, so investing in a large DSLR doesn’t make sense if you end up leaving it at home. But most of us carry our phones with us everywhere, and that means we have a camera on us at all times.
The latest iPhones — the iPhone XR, iPhone Xs, and iPhone Xs Max — have excellent cameras in them that push the limits of what a phone can do, offering many features you can’t find on a dedicated point-and-shoot camera. But to really take your iPhone photos to the next level, you’ll need a strong camera app. Here are 20 of the best apps for shooting, editing, and sharing iPhone pictures, from heavy hitters like Instagram and Adobe Lightroom to more niche players like VSCO.
Camera+ 2 ($4)
Even with the latest iOS update, Apple’s native camera app is rather anemic when it comes to features. Thankfully, Camera+ 2 provides a wider range of exposure controls and advanced tools such as continuous flash, frontal flash, touch-focus adjustment, 6x digital zoom, a timer, and preset filters. The well-organized interface also makes it a breeze to utilize, whether snapping or sharing shots on social media. The app was recently re-designed from the ground up and now also includes depth tools for dual lens iPhones, RAW photography, new shooting modes, and faster performance.
The iPhone is more than just for stills — and ProCamera is an app that sports high-end tools for both photos and video. ProCamera packs a wealth of advanced features into a single app, including shooting tools like manual mode and editing options including access to the histogram and EXIF data and tools like perspective correction. Despite the focus on advanced options, the app still sports a minimalist interface, with a host sophisticated features for setting exposure time, tint, ISO sensitivity, and more. It even features a night camera and full-resolution previews in addition to robust exposure control and more than 70 unique filters and effects.
Obscura 2 ($5)
Developed by Ben McCarthy, Obscura 2 manages to condense all of the most intricate photo features iOS has to offer into a single, minimal package. It supports a specialized RAW capture mode, as well as HEIC, JPEG, Live Photo, and Depth capture modes. It also offers a grid overlay, flash control, and every manual control imaginable.
The name might be a bit misleading considering the lack of any analog aesthetics, but Darkroom takes a literal approach with a blacked-out interface designed to let your photos shine. The experience is similar to that of Lightroom, in that you can control everything from hue, saturation, and luminosity (HSL) sliders to curves, but also has a touch of other apps such as VSCO with its integrated filter collections. With a 4.8 rating out of 5 in the iOS App Store, it’s a no-brainer — especially considering it’s free.
Halide is the perfect camera app for beginners who want to start with automatic and slowly work their way up to manual mode. An automatic mode makes it easy to capture great photos on the fly, but tools like focus peaking, RAW capture, and more give ultimate creative control in an easy-to-navigate app. Halide even includes portrait effects that aren’t limited to people, blurring the background on shots of your cat or your lunch.
ProCam 6 ($6)
With unparalleled control and DSLR-like functionality, ProCam 6 lives up to its name. The app sports seven different shooting modes, including a time-lapse setting and one that slows the shutter speed, giving you the power to choose what’s best for your particular environment. Subject track focus also lets you capture crystal-clear photos of moving subjects, while the embedded audio meter ensures audio levels are kept to a minimum when shooting video. The app can also capture simultaneous photos from both lenses, or capture depth effects with non-human subjects if you’re using the XR. The laundry list of features, and the quality of said features, make ProCam 6 worth the small fee.
Adobe Photoshop Express (free)
When it comes to photo editing software, nobody does it better than Adobe. Though the mobile version of their renowned desktop software offers a smaller work space than most apps, it’s still one of the most capable after-effects programs you can buy. Popular Photoshop features such as layers, selection tools, and adjustments all make an appearance, as do options for adding text, applying effects, and blending images. Unfortunately, many features are locked behind in-app purchases, so be ready to spend some dough if Express is your photo editor of choice.
Adobe Lightroom CC (free)
Although many of Lightroom’s tools require a newer model of iPhone to run, it remains one of the most feature-rich apps on our list, particular for photographers who want to edit their workflow while on the move. The app automatically syncs images with its desktop counterpart — whether you’re using images shot on your smartphone or raw images from a DSLR — allowing you to quickly edit, enhance, and share your photos using a variety of familiar tools. Since iOS 10, Lightroom also supports RAW image capture and editing. While some features need a Creative Cloud subscription, many features are still part of the free download.
What would our photography app roundup be without any mention of the undisputed king of photo filters? There are dozens of apps out there that essentially allow you to do the same thing, but Instagram remains the best given the enormous user community. It still supplies a bevy of classic filters from which to choose, along with the ability to comment, like, share, and send photos directly to friends of your own choosing.
The web-based Pixlr has long been one of our favorite image editors, and, thankfully, so is the mobile incarnation of the software. The app lets you choose from four pre-defined dimensions when resizing photos, with additional options for cropping, rotating, stylizing, and sharing photos on standby. Lighting and overlay effects even let you adjust the mood, while one-click adjustments allow for quick and automatic control. Along with the edits, the app includes a good selection of tools for creating collages, as well as creative edits like double exposures.
Facetune 2 (free)
We’ve all tried to snap a selfie only to end up with it not looking as flattering as we’d like. With Facetune 2, you’re able to turn any “meh” selfie into a Tinder-worthy profile pic. The app allows you to perform specific touch-ups like teeth whitening, blemish removal, and color correction so that your mug looks perfect when you post the pics to your social media profiles. You can even change your eye color or color over grey hairs. The app is free, but some of the most advanced features require an in-app purchase.
Horizon Camera (free)
Vertical video isn’t as hated as it once was thanks to the likes of Instagram TV, but it’s still all too common that people shoot it by accident. When this happens, Horizon Camera offers a viable solution. Horizon simply forces your phone to record in landscape orientation, keeping the feed horizontal even while rotating the phone itself, so that the video plays back properly on your computer, television, or other horizontal device. The app includes slow-mo support at 60 and 120 fps, and supports various video resolutions.
Lifecake is the app that’s bringing Grandma’s scrapbooks into the 21st century. The photo journaling app, owned by Canon, is built to chronicle childhood, one picture at a time. The user can view ‘stages’ of their child’s life by selecting and comparing different dates, and then decided who else has access to view the albums, keeping it more private than sharing an album on Facebook or another social network. The app also allows you to annotate photos or albums and mark milestones in your child’s life.
With PixelWakker, creator Joseph Wrigley brings pointillism into the digital world. The app breaks photographs down into pixels, then turns those pixels into art. Even with just a handful of filters to choose from — like pixel image, dots, lines, and color rain — you can have a ton of fun. Moreover, the app is compatible with Instagram and allows you to directly post photos to your feed. It may not be an app you need every day, but for $1, it’s a pretty easy impulse buy.
This one isn’t about photos so much as it is about illustrations, but the fun starts with a photo. For anyone who loves to draw (or simply loves art), Sktchy is a unique app that allows users to post pictures of themselves for artists to draw or paint. Sktchy is great for following your favorite artists, getting feedback on your own art, and comparing different artistic depictions of the same subject. You can view the artist’s rendition of a photo as well as the original photo itself, getting a window into the individual creative visions and techniques of each artist.
Free of frivolous distractions and interface clutter, VSCO is a stills-only app specifically built with composition and editing in mind. The app allows you to set the focus and exposure independently, as well as make subtle adjustments to color temperature, contrast, brightness, saturation, and more using a variety of tools. VSCO also contains a collection of impressive presets and film looks — some which require paid membership — and you can adjust the strength of the presets to suit your needs. In additional to the standard feed, you can peruse curated galleries of work selected by the VSCO team to receive inspiration from top creators.
Turning an average photo into a piece of art usually isn’t an easy task, but thanks to some help from artificial intelligence and neural networks, Prisma makes it as simple as a few taps. Using the various styles of artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Levitan, and more, Prisma recreates your photos and videos as painteresque images. Prisma doesn’t just stop with still photos, either, as you can also apply its stylizing algorithms to videos for some truly otherworldly effects.
As the name implies, Filmborn was born out of its creator’s passion for film photography. The app features a powerful camera that’s capable of shooting RAW photos with compatible devices. Once an image is captured, Filmborn offers nine incredibly accurate film simulation presets, each of which is inspired by a film stock from Fujifilm, Ilford, or Kodak.
RNI Films (free)
Much like VSCO and Filmborn, RNI Films — short for Real Nice Images — is inspired by the analog aesthetic. Similar to VSCO, RNI Films gives you a few collections of film simulations to edit your image with. Each of the presets is named the same as the film stock it’s looking to replicate. The app’s interface is clean and easy to navigate, and the presets are some of the more impressive ones you’ll come across in any app. If you want more presets than those that come with RNI films, you can also purchase one of five themed collections as an in-app purchase for $4.
From beginning to end, Polarr is a photo-editing suite that’s capable of doing almost anything you can imagine to an image. From basic exposure and curves adjustments to photo filters and detailed face-editing tools, Polarr is a well-rounded app that gets the job done. The full version of the app will set you back $20 via in-app purchases, making it one of the more expensive options out there, but the free version still has a lot to offer and is well worth a look.
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