Since every camera-equipped Android phone comes with a camera app, most people will never look further. But some OEMs do a better job than others at creating great apps for photography, and there are also lots of interesting and possibly important features that can only be found by using a third-party camera app. Whether you’re actively looking for one, or are simply curious about what you might be missing, here’s our guide to some of your best options.
We’ll start with some things to keep in mind when selecting a camera app (or apps). First, Android comes in myriad versions, and each OEM implements them differently, on unique hardware. So, an app that works great on one device might be buggy, have poor performance, or not work at all, on another. So you’ll need to test out any apps you’re considering for yourself. Second, while many are free, some cost a few dollars. If that bugs you, look for their Lite or Trial versions to get a feel before you spring for the full version. Finally, photography on smartphones is a moving target. OEMs release firmware to upgrade their camera’s performance that can in turn affect add-on camera apps. Android also continues to evolve. For example, Google has now made it possible for add-on apps to use its HDR+ capability on some phones, but each camera app has to be updated to take advantage of it.
Below are some of my go-to options for camera applications on Android. I’ve placed their user rating from the Google Play store in parenthesis after each, where it is available.
Stock Camera Apps
For the adventurous, Google’s Camera app (stock on its Pixel phones) has been ported to a variety of other high-end and even some midrange phones. Typically, though, only some functionality works, and the ports are of varying quality. They’re easiest to find in the forum for your device on xda-developers.com. I’ve used several incarnations of it on my OnePlus 5, and it’s been a mixed bag. I got to use some previously Pixel-specific features, but they didn’t always work right, so I sometimes had to switch to another camera app. Not always fun if you’re trying to quickly capture a special moment.
Camera FV-5 (3.8)
Open Camera (4.3)
If you want to feel involved with your camera app, Open Camera is unique as a full-featured, open source camera app for Android. Like many open source projects, it includes a variety of funky features like being able to use your voice to capture images — think “Cheese!” Because the app is a small donationware effort, it doesn’t get tested on every smartphone, so you’ll have to see if it works on yours.
Lightroom CC Mobile (4.3)
If you’re an Adobe Cloud or Lightroom user, the Lightroom app’s Camera is a great choice. First, it offers the aforementioned RAW HDR capability, which provides remarkable dynamic range in the form of a high-bit-depth (actually floating point) RAW file automatically created from as many individual frames as are needed to capture the highlights and shadows in a scene. Right now only Adobe’s own tools seem to be able to edit these files, so you’ll probably need to use either Lightroom or Photoshop with them. They also take a little longer to capture than Google’s HDR+ photos, so they’re more sensitive to motion in the scene or of the camera.
Images you shoot with the camera in Lightroom are also automatically synced to your desktop version of Lightroom, and to your other mobile devices that use Lightroom. I had good success pairing a Pixel 2 with a Pixelbook as a complete mobile workflow, for example. Note that in the Play Store the app is called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC.
A Better Camera (3.8)
This app’s name is a pretty good description of its capabilities. It comes with tons of features, and rafts of settings screens to customize its various modes. For a while it was my go-to camera app, but it seems to have fallen behind. For example, I couldn’t get it to record RAW (.DNG) captures with either a OnePlus 5 or a Pixel 2, even though both those phones clearly support that capability.
More importantly, VSCO really wants you to be part of its photo storage and sharing community ($20 per year). If you’re already hooked on Google Photos, or Lightroom’s cloud, then the last thing you need is another app tied to its own back end. But if you’re looking for a sharing solution, and don’t like your other options, VSCO may be worth exploring.
Camera Zoom FX Premium (4.3)
Many camera apps focus on either lots of shooting options, or a bunch of stylized post-processing filters. Camera Zoom FX Premium does both. It has a highly customizable user interface and all the controls you’ll need. If you miss the tiled interface of Windows Mobile, you’ll see it echoed in the settings controls. One very slick feature it includes is a “Stable Shot” mode, where you press the shutter and the camera waits until a period when the phone is steady, and then captures the image. It also has a “Best Shot” mode, which captures a burst of images and selects one for you.
Special Mention: Huawei Camera
Summary: Horses for Courses
If you’re serious about using your smartphone for more than just taking a few snapshots, you’re likely to wind up with more than one Camera app. There are literally dozens to choose from, and each one has different strengths and weaknesses. Their relative merit can also change quickly, depending on whether they keep up with the latest Android features, or take advantage of the unique capabilities of your particular phone. The good news is that most of them have a free version you can try, and almost all of them cost less than $5, even for their premium version. So it isn’t hard to experiment with a few and see which one or ones best meet your needs.
[Image credit: David Cardinal]
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