Just like the quality of the camera itself, the iPhone’s camera app has improved dramatically over the years. Combining advanced features with ease of use, it’s a solid mobile photography tool for most people.
Some situations demand features beyond what the native app can deliver, however. From SLR-level manual control to shooting long exposures or in low light, there are plenty of situations where a dedicated app is a better option.
Throw in apps aimed at creating and enhancing a wide range of different types of photo, and there’s no shortage of choices when it comes to iPhone camera apps to download. The real question is: which ones are best?
That’s what we’re here to answer.
Best Professional Quality Camera App: PRO CAM 8
PRO CAM 8 is one of the best iPhone camera apps for those looking for a high level of control over their shots. It provides many of the same manual settings and advanced adjustments as those found on a DSLR camera.
Chief among these are exposure controls like shutter speed and ISO. These help you shoot in low light conditions or introduce slow shutter speed effects like speed and light trails.
The app also offers manual focus controls for incrementally moving the focus/bokeh of the photo between the background and foreground. This is useful in situations when the iPhone camera app’s tap-to-focus approach won’t suffice, like locking focus on a close-up, moving object.
We also like the overexposure warning feature, which displays zebra stripes in areas of your shot that are overexposed.
The professional features extend to the file formats supported by PRO CAM 8, which includes high-quality RAW and lossless TIFF. It also has non-destructive editing, letting you freely alter your photos after you’ve taken them without affecting the original. You can get creative while editing with 60 filters, 17 lenses, and 19 adjustment tools.
These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of PRO CAM 8’s features. The bottom line is that if you’re an iPhone photographer looking for the same level of creative control you’ll find on a DSLR camera, this is about as close as you’ll get. The only drawback is that the interface and settings can be overwhelming for a casual user.
Best Free Manual Camera App: Yamera
If the price of PRO CAM 8 (above) is a deal-breaker, take a look at Yamera instead. While it doesn’t have the same breadth of features as PRO CAM 8, it gets all the basic DSLR functionalities right.
You have full manual control if you want it, with options for adjusting shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and focus. You can also set some options to auto mode while adjusting others for fine-tuning, and save your best settings as presets to reuse later.
Other useful features include a grid display, timestamps, and a no-touch toggle, so you don’t accidentally change settings while shooting. Yamera can also export to high-quality formats like RAW and 4K video, although you need to upgrade to the paid version ($1.99) to unlock this feature.
The main disadvantage of this app is that there are only two aspect ratios available, 4:3 and 1:1, which can limit your framing options. You also won’t find advanced features like histograms and meters.
For the level of control it gives, however, Yamera is an excellent free alternative to the iPhone camera app for casual to intermediate users. Just note that it hasn’t been updated in a couple of years, which can mean the developer has abandoned it and it might stop working in the future.
Best for Selfies: SODA
Like to take selfies for social media? Check out the SODA app. Dubbed a “natural beauty camera,” whatever that means, SODA adds makeup effects, filters, and facial enhancements to help create your ideal portrait.
What makes SODA stand out from the rest is its “beauty” adjustments. Using similar facial tracking technology to popular apps like Snapchat, it can detect the shape of your face and perform alterations in real-time.
There’s no shortage of options, either. You can slim your jawline, round out your face, remove blemishes and bags under your eyes, whiten your teeth, narrow your nose, and more. You can even apply makeup effects to your lips, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
Because you can do enhancements in real-time, SODA helps you get the perfect picture much faster, with minimal back-and-forth between shooting and editing. If you’re really pressed for time, you can always pick one of the presets instead.
Overall, SODA is an excellent alternative for taking enhanced selfies on the iPhone. There are also no annoying pop-up ads, surprising for a free app.
Best for Vintage/Retro Photos: Dazz Cam
Dazz Cam is the best solution if you’re trying to quickly achieve a retro or vintage look in your photos. Typically, you’d need to take a regular photo then apply filters in an editor. With this app, you can apply these effects in real-time with little to no effort required.
The app is straightforward to use. You only need to pick a camera model and, in some cases, a filter or lens. The app then recreates the appropriate look and feel while you’re shooting. The results are surprisingly accurate. The DCR option, for example, faithfully adds in the timestamps that are reminiscent of a camcorder.
There are plenty of old-school models to choose from, including both analog and digital formats. Some are included for free, while others can be unlocked individually or by purchasing the Pro version ($12.99).
While the ease of use is appreciated, the ability to adjust at least some aspects of the camera effects would’ve been handy. It also lacks some of the standard features of the native iPhone camera app, making it less useful beyond creative shots.
For recreating vintage camera looks, however, the Dazz Cam does it best without much effort on your part.
Best for Long Exposure Shots: Slow Shutter Cam
Effects like motion blur and light trails were traditionally possible only with an SLR camera that provided manual control of your shutter speed. Fortunately, apps like Slow Shutter Cam now let you do the same thing on your iPhone.
Rather than just give you shutter speed and ISO controls, however, the app also has other tools that make it easier than ever to achieve long exposure shots.
Trail Mode, for example, lets you light paint easily without having to adjust settings yourself. This camera trick involves opening up the shutter long enough to record the movement of a bright object, thereby creating light “trails” in the final photo.
The app also lets you strengthen or lessen the long exposure effects with the Blur Strength and Freeze adjustments.
The only drawback of this app is its low light performance. Some users report that darker photos come out blurry or with slightly altered colors. Night mode in the native camera app does a better job on the latest iPhone models, thanks to their improved camera systems. You don’t get the extra features and configuration options, though.
Even so, if you want to explore slow exposure effects, this app is the best, most cost-effective option, especially on older iPhones.
Best for Low Light Shooting: Night Camera HD
Needing to shoot in low-light conditions is pretty common for many of us, which is why the Night Camera app deserves a space on your iPhone’s home screen.
This app’s main feature is the ability to manually adjust both shutter speed and aperture, thus giving you a fine level of control for low-light photography. In addition, a “low light enhancement” toggle lets you further brighten the photo for better exposure.
One of the most useful features of this app is the live histogram. This shows you the color and luminance information of the subject you’re shooting, telling you if it’s under or over-exposed.
Night Camera HD is a highly specialized app, however, that’s useful only for its intended purpose. If that makes you question the price tag, there’s also a free version available, but be prepared to deal with annoying pop-up ads.
Best Camera App for Creative Shots: Spectre Camera
Spectre Camera can lay claim to being the most advanced camera app on this list. After all, it’s the only one fitted with artificial intelligence and machine learning to help you take better photos!
The AI capabilities of Spectre Camera help it achieve long exposure effects not possible by other means. You can use it to make crowds disappear, create light trails, and produce other impressive results.
Because it uses AI, there are few controls to mess around with. You also don’t need a steady hand or a tripod to achieve great results. The app takes care of most of the work for you, making adjustments on the fly.
That said, it would’ve been nice to extend the AI functionality into other features and make the app more well-rounded. It’s another highly specialized app, so again the price tag ($4.99) might be a bit steep for some users. There is a free version, though, and the creativity you can achieve with Spectre Camera makes it well worth the upgrade price.
Wrapping It Up
To sum it up, there’s no one “best” iPhone camera app on this list, as every entry covers a specific purpose. You may well find yourself using more than one of them different times.
For serious photography with robust controls, you’d do best with PRO CAM 8, making do with Yamera if you’re on a budget. For selfies, it’s hard to top the SODA app, while for fun and creative shots, go with Dazz Cam, Spectre Camera, or Slow Shutter Cam. Finally, Night Camera HD is excellent for low-light and night shots.
Main image via ymgerman/Shutterstock.com, other images via respective developers