The best camera is the one you have with you, and for most of us that means our go-to gadget for taking pictures is our smartphone.
Choosing a phone with a great camera is only part of the equation, though. The apps you use with it — and after the fact, by enhancing your photos — are equally important.
Here, as part of our series onAndroid photography, we present some of our top picks for taking great photos on your Android phone, making them even better, and sharing them with the world.
1. GOOGLE CAMERA
Google’s own camera app, pre-loaded on Nexus phones and tablets, is fairly basic. It does have a fews things going for it, though, that you might not find in your phone’s built-in camera app.
Photo Sphere, Panorama and Lens Blur: Three big reasons to try Google Camera.
Photo Sphere lets you create 360-degree images that you can explore, just like Street View in Google Maps, and you can view these through the Google Photos app, Google+ or share them with the world through Google Maps on the web.
Google’s nifty Panorama shooting mode uses similar technology to stitch together a continuous stream of images into one extra-wide panoramic shot. And it actually does a better job at this than some manufacturers’ built-in camera offerings.
Finally there’s Lens Blur mode, which lets you artistically defocus the background when taking shots of close-up objects, giving a DSLR-like effect to your shots — not perfect for every image, but striking in the right situation.
2. GOOGLE PHOTOS
You might think of Google+ as a social network, first and foremost, however the Photos app bundled with it has a host of useful features to help you get the most out of your pictures. You can automatically backup your photos and videos to Google’s cloud, making them available on every Android device you own, and view highlights of each day, so you don’t need to scroll through all your photos to find the best ones.
One of Google Photos’ best features is Auto Awesome, which you might have also seen in Google+ on the web. Take a bunch of photos and it’ll periodically “gift” you enhanced versions of them to sit alongside the originals in your collections — think animated GIFs if you’ve taken a burst shot, Instagram-style filters and contrast-boosted versions of washed-out shots. Take a series of images from different perspectives and you might even end up with an auto-generated Panorama based on these pics.
The ‘Photos’ app bundled with Google+ has more features than you might think…
The Auto Awesome feature also lets you create HTC Zoe-style video highlights reels based on a series of images and videos. And if you’re going on vacation, Photos can sort your images and videos into a chronological story book of your trip, ideal for sharing on Google+.
Photos even includes some of Snapseed’s photo editing and filtering capabilities through its “edit” button, which is useful if you just want to tweak your shots or add filters without downloading a separate app.
Instagram is the original filtered photo-sharing app, now owned by Facebook and pretty much synonymous with smartphone photography. The Android version of the app has come a long way in recent months, making it easier to improve the way your photo looks beyond just slapping a filter on top and calling it a day.
Instagram is pretty much synonymous with mobile photography.
New filters are being added all the time, and for the most part they do a good job of giving photos character without stomping all over them. In addition to controlling lux and the level of filtering, you can tweak photos’ color temperatures, adjust highlight and shadow brightness, add a vignette, sharpen and even introduce tilt-shift effects.
And from there, share to your timeline, or directly to specific people. Naturally, there’s integration with Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, Flickr and Foursquare, too. And with the Photo Map feature, you can keep track of your top photo spots.
4. VSCO CAM
Popular on iOS before making its way to Android last year, VSCO Cam aims to be your one-stop shop for photography and image editing on your Android phone. VSCO let’s you capture images, tweak and tune them to your liking, sync them across devices and share them with the world. You can even discover the best original photography from other VSCO users through the Grid feature.
Like the rest of VSCO, the built-in camera app is relatively simple, offering basic controls including grid lines and flash toggles. When it comes time to enhance your photo, the app brings an assortment of filters to the table, along with the option to buy even more through in-app purchases. That’s on top of the usual combination of dials to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and other properties.
A recent update to the app also adds copy/paste batch photo editing.
With a strong focus on design, VSCO’s minimalist UI is a joy to use, fitting somewhere between Instagram and standalone image enhancement apps. The curated Grid feature also means you’ll never have to go far to find pretty pictures to look at.
5. CAMERA 2
Among the best dedicated camera apps on Google Play is Camera 2, by JFDP Labs. The app differs from many built-in offerings in that it gives you live previews of filters and effects applied to your shots in real-time. Some are artistic, others nerdy, and all of them bring something unique to the table. ASCII art? Check. Taking your own “Hope” poster style shots? That’s built-in too, alongside countless others.
At the same time, you can tweak brightness, contrast and saturation levels and see these reflected in the live preview too. And if you’ve already taken photos using a different app, you can also load these into the app and play around with its various filters and settings.
6. CAMERA ZOOM FX
Camera Zoom FX is all about fine control over the photos you take on your phone. There’s a ton of settings and options to work with — including software stabilization, a voice-activated shooting mode, HDR and collage mode, which can artfully arrange a series of shots for you.
The app also offers a bunch of overlays to help you take stable, well-composed shots, including a horizon indicator, which uses your phone’s built-in sensors. That’s in addition to resolution and aspect ratio settings, an assortment of focus modes, white balance options and a dedicated white balance mode.
If the camera app that came with your phone is a little light on features, Camera Zoom FX should be able to deliver the additional control you crave, helping you take great photos in the process. There’s a limited free version available in addition to the $2.99 “premium” version of the app.
Google’s Snapseed is one of the most accessible photo editing apps for Android, with a wide range of features for experienced users and newcomers alike. At its most basic level, Snapseed let’s you scroll vertically through image enhancement options, then drag horizontally to control the intensity of the effect.
The range of features is pretty diverse: everything from basic automatic color and contrast enhancement to cropping and sharpening, to selectively adjusting color properties within a particular radius. And of course it wouldn’t be a photo editing app without the obligatory filters and frames, which are controlled by swiping, just like Snapseed’s image tuning features.
If you’re after a photo editing app that’s powerful yet simple to learn, Snapseed strikes a great balance between the two.
Pixlr, by Autodesk, is another powerful photo-editing app for Android, which expands upon what’s offered in the Google Photos editor in a few ways. In addition to a full and very capable suite of image tubing and tweaking options — including some neat features like color splash, history brush and double exposure — Pixlr let’s you add a range of artistic effects, borders, text and even stickers to your shots.
Like Snapseed and other apps, you can use Pixlr to make a good shot even better. But it’s also possible to get really creative if you explore some of the more advanced capabilities.