Camera Apps for Android - Deliver Images Worth Capturing

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In the history of cameras (at least my history), with constantly changing equipment and technology, a perenial question is faced by any aspiring "photographer:"

Question: What's the best camara? 

Answer: The camera you have with you.

[original author: unknown, but I first read this about 25 years ago, give or take]

It's an accurate answer.  Unless! - the camera that I had with me was my Samsung S4, with the factory equipped camera.  I never got a single satisfactory image from the camera on S4 (until now), except for capturing documents for storage as PDF files.  Relegating the S4 camera to capturing pdf files or other information bits, I concluded that, while Samsung made pretty smart smart-phones, they were not up to speed on the technology for cameras.  Perhaps in the next upgrade ... ?

BUT I WAS WRONG!  Samsung did a fine job with the camera in the S4.  It can take pictures that are sharp and properly exposed - darn good quality actually, in my humble opinion - my compliments to Samsung!  Samsung software, however, is seriously lacking, at least as to the S4 camera (maybe in other areas also, but that's another topic).  Fortunately, the software is easily upgraded!  And great software is out there! I recently added two "camera apps" to my S4 - and it has taken on a whole new life - the life of  functional camera, worth taking pictures with.  It is now "The best camera" - if it's the (only) one I have with me.

I expect that these apps would make a good addition to any android phone (or tablet) with a camera (which includes most, if not all, android phones and tablets, I believe).  So here they are:

Open Camera

Open Camera claims to be a fully featured Camera app for phones and tablets that is both completely free and ad-free!, It is also opensource, so if you care to make improvements or modifications to the software (or if you just want to see how the software was written), the source code is available for download.  (I also believe that the opensource software development process can and does, under the right conditions, produce a better software product.)

Open Camera lived up to it claims in all ways.  There is simply no comparison to be made with the camera app that shipped with my S4 - Open Camera simply outperforms in every way, whatever the setting may be.  But Open Camera does provide a wealth of flexibility for camera settings - just like a real camera.  Some of my favorite features:

  • takes excellent close up photos, with ease, using "macro focus" mode.
  • a variety of focus modes, allow for flexibility in acquiring images: macro, manual, continuous, auto, infinity.
    • I found macro and manual focus to be quite useful.  Macro focus allows for outstanding images from several inches to many feet (I'm still experimenting on the best range, but so far macro focus mode simply works well at almost any ranges).  Manual focus is nice, allowing for focus on a specific point in the picture frame (tap the point you want in focus) and then take a picture without further change in focus.
  • ISO sensitivity can be selected (range 100 - 1600, plus auto and ISO_HJR).
  • Set white balance manually (or choose auto).
  • Timer for taking delayed photos (allows you to get in the shot, or to stabalize the camera after pushing the "shutter" button).
  • A variety of scene modes, with settings optimized accordingly (including: action, landscape, portrait, night, theatre, beach, snow, sunset, and more).
    • I have not yet experimented with the scene modes, but I always found them to be useful in the pocket digital point-and-shoot cameras.  I expect they may be useful here also.
  • manually adjust exposure level (+/- 3 stops - I did attempt some limited experiments with this feature, but could not see much impact in the images.  If it can be made to work as expected, this would be great feature - useful on any camera for difficult lighting situations, such as backlight, or snow/sand.)

Overall - whatever settings I was adjusting or experimenting with, Open Camera records nice, clear, well exposed images.  For example:

{not the picture I want here}

stuffed_toys_img_20140903_204709.jpg

[photo of Astin Martin, driver: by James Bond, recent ejection: Odd-Job]

And in macro mode, it was easy to take clear, close-up photos - with significant magnification - which I find to be very useful simply as a magnifying glass for reading super-fine print, such as the specs of diode or resistor components on a circuit board, like this:

[Side note: as part of my ongoing experiment with information management, it seems that image storage and presentation is one element that requires some fine tuning.  When I get that done, I'll add some more photos to this post, and make the ones that are here already work properly.]

circuit board imgage - using Open Camera with Samsung S4

For ordinary magnification (for those of us with challenged eye-sight), Open Camera works great, and is now my go-to app for that purpose.

But if I really want the maximum magnification, something more like a microscope, a specialty app exists that's worth a try.

Cozy Magnifier & Microscope

For high magnification, Cozy M&M provides some useful features, compared to Open Camera (I think you can probably take the same images with either app, but the features in Cozy M&M are designed specificaly for enhancing image quality of close-up, highest magnification images).

Some points worth noting:

  • To take the best image with Cozy M&M, the camera (i.e. phone) and the subject should both be stationary.
  • Adjusting the contrast (using the obvious and easily accessible slider) can be very helpful in improving image quality - it seemed to help the camera focus, and it improved general image quality greating depending in subject and ambient light.

All in all, Cozy M&M allows for what can reasonable be identified as "macro photography" using your android phone.  (As explained in the Wikipedia article, macro photography can be and is defined in a variety of way - at least one of which include images recorded using Cozy M&M. Purists in the field of macro photograph )

Open Camera and Cozy M&M - The Two Camera Apps of Choice

Taking images with Cozy M&M is a bit more difficult than using Open Camera, but that is due mostly to the type of image being captured (big image of tiny area, taken at very close range, using high magnification). For capturing images of maximum magnification, my app of choice is Cozy M&M.  For simple magnification (to assist with reading or just to capture an interesting image), or for any other photography with my android phone, Open Camera is now my app of choice.

With the addition of these two apps, my S4 is now a camera to be used, with pleasure.