There are more camera apps for the iPhone than you could shake an tri-pod at — not that you’d want to, what would it achieve?
Anyway — the two most popular are Camera+ and Hipstamatic. And in the spirit of competition I’ve decided to compare the two. To battle them out. The pitch them against each other in a bitter battle to the absolute destruction of one and the absolute victory of the other.
Well that’s what I had in mind anyway. However as my tests progressed it appeared, sadly, that things were a tad greyer than all that. An absolute victor there would not be. There would however be, an objective and helpful comparison which should help you decide which app best fits the criteria of the one you’re looking for.
Both UIs are much better than Apple’s tactically under-powered camera app (if their app is crap they can get more money via camera app sales, clever no? Just a theory mind).
They take a far more tactile approach. Hipstamatic’s UI is essentially a generic lomo camera which you can change the lenses, (and thus the photo effects) film and flashes with the swipe of a finger.
The framing and live action screen looks like the back of lomo camera providing you a tiny view finder and flash option. This is a post-effect flash and does not work with the iPhone 4’s LED flash.
Camera+’s UI employs a DSLR effect however the framing and shooting screen is much the same as the standard iPhone camera.except with a framing grid and image stabilising option.
The grid works, well, like a grid. If you’re the kind of person who equates the rule of thirds with the third rule of thermodynamics, you’ll love it. The image stabiliser isn’t quite that. It’s closer to a shake-sensor. So unlike a software version of those image stablising mechanisms found in DSLR’s this system works by using the iPhone motion detectors to decide when you’re holding the phone steady enough to take a sharp snap.
Sounds a tad underwhelming, I grant you, but actually it works surprisingly well in practise.
The zoom and flash functions are there and work just as you’d expect. Once you take a snap that photo goes onto an imaginary film roll in your lightroom wherein you may manipulate it in a variety of cunning ways.
Both apps take the tactile approach to UI design — taking visual cues from the analogue past to make their products more appealing and more pleasant to use.
At first it might seem like there is something sinister in incorporating analogue design in this way. There is the definite sensation that it is a trick. It’s tricking you into liking it by alluding to things that have existed if far more palpable analogue kind of way. And essentially you’re right, that’s exactly what’s happening. But actually it’s doubtful there are nefarious motives behind it.
We tested both cameras in their highest resolution, best quality settings and put them through a variety of controlled tests.
One thing was clear — Camera+’s base, untouched shots were of better quality. The ability to use the full width of the shot, the fact that the LED flash functioned and the zoom were useable meant it was far more flexible in the challenges we set it.
It was also able to utilise the iPhone 4 and 3GS’s touch-screen focus — which will have fans of bokeh purring.
Whether out of committment to the lomo aesthetic and ethos, the Hipstamatic’s shots are fixed focus and while still tremendously appealling, there isn’t the same breadth of shooting options to make it the right choice in every situation.
The way these effects are achieved is very different. With the Hipstamtic once you’ve picked the lense and the film you’ve got no control over how the snap comes out, what the GRB balance will be like, the contrast, the brightness — they’re all handed over to the Hipstamatic gods.
Luckily the gods usually shine on us and the pictures come out awesome.
If you’re a bit more of a control freak though Camera+ has a variety of options that you can apply in your “lightroom”. First brightness and contrast settings specific to the type of shot you’ve taken, from landscape to portrait, night, concert, and, bizarrely, food.
Some of these are good. Some of them aren’t. But once you’ve added one, you can then add more one of 24 pre-set filters, ranging from black and white, sepia, lomographic, to an inconsistent HDR filter and tilt-shift effect called miniturise (you can give these two a miss).
There are also some rudimentary cropping options.
What Camera+ certainly isn’t though, is a camera app with Photogene attached. Photogene’s suite is a far more powerful and accomplished set of photo editing tools than those offered by Photogene.
Both camera apps offer in-app sharing options for posting your snaps to Twitter and Facebook and both apps work perfectly.
The problem with the iPhone 3G and 3GS’s standard snaps was that they looked good on the phone but once transfered to the computer, or worse still, printed, they looked frankly bobbins.
The Hipstamtic remedied that slightly and coupled once coupled with the new iPhone 4 camera that picture quality is further improved.
Camera+’s snaps, once printed, are too, rather good and look far more like low-end compact camera snaps as opposed to phone pictures.
Hipstamatic’s photos do look slightly better printed than Camera+’s because the lens flare, blur and colour inconsistence that are inescapable with mobile-phone cameras add to the lomo aesthetic.
Camera+ is a very usable app and is best for conveying something very specific, say you want to tweet a picture of an Iranian protest or something where detail is more important this is the app you’ll go for.
It’s much better than the standard bundled camera app, the filters are good and the UI is eminently useable.
However, if you want to capture the magic of a music festival with friends, a summer BBQ, or are just feeling a bit arty you can’t beat the Hipstamatic.
Here is our evidence test gallery.