AMITIAE - Friday 16 December 2011

Five Camera Apps for the iPhone: Medium Format, 6 x 6, 6 x 7; Finger Focus (Blur effects); My Sketch; and OSnap!

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I try very hard to resist new photo apps for the iPhone, but once in a while, something comes along that is intriguing enough for me to have a look. I recently downloaded an app with the basic, but descriptive name, 6 x 7. When looking at the specifications of 6 x 7 on the iTunes app store, I saw that the developer, Michael Hardaker, had other apps available, including 6 x 6. Also reviewed here are Finger Focus, My Sketch and OSnap!

All of these comments were previously on the AMITIAE site. With this no longer running, I am now making them available on eXtensions

Introduction: Medium Format Output Apps for the iPhone

Once I am on the iTunes page there are three things I look for: the description and specifications, the screen shots and the icon for the app. That last item points to the care that developers take with the design aspects: covering each and every part of the app with the same dedication.

Although I have used 35mm SLR cameras in the past and now work with similar format DSLR devices, I always craved the larger output that were the preserve of brands like Hasselblad, Mamiya and others. A photographer I know in the south of Thailand who uses DSLR cameras like me, tells me he has been experimenting with square output, something that can also be achieved by cropping (thus losing some of the original). Some iPhone apps, like Camerabag also output images like this.

The 120 or 220 film on which this format is based is 6cms (2.25"), but as Philip Greenspun writes, the height has been agreed on, but there are many widths such as 6 x 6, 6 x 7, 6 x 8, 6 x 9, 6 x 12 and 6 x 17 (Fuji G617). Cameras such as the Mamiya 7 or Pentax with this film format are often used on magazine portrait assignments or by some artistic nature photographers (Greenspun)

6 x 7

photo apps The appropriately named app, 6 x 7 from Michael Hardaker is not exactly just another photo app for the iPhone as the range of features makes the output from this $0.99 app rather usable.

I first tried taking a few colour shots. The viewfinder-like panel gives a user an exact image of the shot that is being taken. If it is on the screen, it is in the shot. A control at bottom left of the screen allows us to turn on grid lines with a 3 x 3 format or 5 x 6. Grid lines may be turned off with the same control.

Below this is an icon with a finger image that opens a panel with Settings and Documentation displayed in landscape mode. Here we may turn on the volume shutter release which I try to use these days rather than pressing an onscreen button. There may still be some movement of the iPhone with the volume button, so I resort to the headphone cable. The volume control will take a picture and there is no shake.

Other settings here are for dynamic colour and dynamic B&W, both of which I turned on; and two controls for sounds: control sounds and Flashgun sound, which makes a noise like an old-style flashgun.

Below these Settings are a number of items that show how the app works concerning how to set and use focus, and focus lock. Version number (1.0) and links to the developer are also shown here.

Other controls on the main panel are a large button center screen (at the bottom) to take a picture and two switches to the right: to turn on flash; and to switch between colour and monochrome.

While I took some colour images, I was far more impressed with the black and white output which had a lovely contrasty quality about it, both with landscape and portrait subjects. Indeed, I was so happy with the images I was taking that I will keep this permanently set on B&W.

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Output as viewed in Aperture, where the images appeared synced by Apple's Photostream, had some EXIF info and showed the camera not as the iPhone but as with the model as 6x7 for iPhone. Although the rubric in the iTunes app store page showed that full EXIF data was supported, there was no ISO information or other data I had been expecting. There was size recorded (2254 x 1936, 4.4MP -- 1.56MB) as well as GPS coordinates.

A portrait image exported from Aperture as an 8-bit TIFF file, appeared on the desktop as an image of about 27" x 31" (14.1MB). A landscape shot was the same size but 13.1MB. Both showed a little graininess at this resolution but this was no handicap to the overall effect.

6 x 6

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Among the other apps available from Michael Hardaker on the iTunes app store, I saw that including 6 x 6: how could I resist?

This app has a similar interface to 6 x 7 but the controls are re-sited with colour, B&W and flash at the top of the screen. Settings are accessed via an icon next to the main camera button at the bottom of the screen and are the same as 6 x 7 (volume/shutter, dynamic colour and B&W, and sounds.

In addition there is a 6x6-Flex (TLR) Mode setting that "replicates the effect of the standard waist-level viewfinder . . . with a mirrored preview". Some users may find this confusing with the way it reverses the view. After a quick look, I turned this off.

Other Documentation show that focussing uses the same controls, and that this app is at version 2.0.4. The Settings and Documentation page is displayed in portrait mode unlike the landscape display in 6 x 7. With later versions, perhaps some consolidation of controls may be useful. v Using similar subjects to those photographs I had taken using 6 x 7, I found the output as good, but liked the square output a little less. Images were 1936 x 1936 (3.7MP) in Aperture, with a portrait shown as 1.03MB, while a landscape image was 970KB. These were just under 27" x 27" when exported into 8-bit TIFF files as with 6 x 7.

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I have here two rather good apps that produce output in medium camera formats (albeit at a lower quality output) with little extra processing, cropping or other image adjustments needed. Output from both of these apps in B&W was especially pleasing and I look forward to whenever the iPhone 4S with its 8MP camera becomes available here.

The work of Michael Hardaker with these apps is most welcome and I look forward to using both of these apps (although particularly 6 x 7) as the output is so usable.

Blur Effects on Images: Finger Focus for the iPhone

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I find it stimulating that developers keep coming out with new ways to manipulate the basic output of the iPhone camera bringing the type of output closer to what users with more expensive DSLRs are able to produce. I also find that, as apps appear, even free ones are showing an evolution in the clean interfaces we are now offered.

An app I downloaded for adjusting camera output earlier in the year was Dash of Color which displays a monochrome version of an image (or video) and the user paints back the colour by finger-strokes on the screen.

Another effect that is popular is known as tilt shift: . This is best done with a lens for the purpose. However, with the app, TiltShift, a user can select specific shapes (such as an oval) and adjust the size to indicate an area that has focus. Areas of the image outside the selected area are blurred. When this effect is carefully applied, in a shot looking down from a height the the appearance can be that of a model. Focussing a specific area of a photograph directs the eyes to that section and the blurred background areas add a visual contrast.

An app just updated (to v. 1.1.0) this week and highlighted in the iTunes App Store is Finger Focus which produces specific areas in an image that are sharp and focussed like TiltShift, but with the ease of Dash of Color to apply the effect.

I downloaded this free app from Hiroyuki Fushida and found it easy to use, but with a good selection of features that might normally be found in a paid-for app.

Finger Focus, the App

When the app opens there is a blank screen with a selection of 5 tool icons at the bottom of the screen. The first of these is a camera icon with a + sign. Touching this brings up a sharp grey menu with a choice of Camera or Library (each with a suitable icon). This feature operates as in many other apps that import images this way. Once an image is selected for use, it appears blurred. Brushing removes this (like Dash of Color).

To the right of the image import is a cloud icon that reveals 3 sliders: Saturation, Brightness and Contrast. I found that the "Less is more" rule might be applied here and in many cases no adjustment was needed.

A water drop icon in the middle of the toolbar brings up three more sliders: brush size, border, and blur. This may be the most important tool as these will adjust how (and how much) the effects are applied. As brush size is selected, a useful panel drops down and a dark gray dot in the center indicates the size of the brush: growing or shrinking as the slider is moved.

To the right of each slider here is another icon: from top to bottom, ? for the Operation Guide; a border line revealing a colour selector so that it is easier to judge applying the effect (e.g. a sky scene could use a contrasting red border control for clear marking). A Trash icon returns the image to the ready state.

A floppy disk icon is used to indicate save options: Save Original (so that the process is non0destructive as in many other such apps), Twitter, Save the the Photo Library, and Mail. When the email function was first used I was offered Small, Medium or Large exports. I selected the largest at 500KB (the smallest was 44.5KB), but this was before changing the resolution in the Settings, accessed via the final tool icon.

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By default, the resolution was set to 800 pixels, but Settings allows changes in increments from 427 pixels -- an odd number I know -- up to 2048 pixels, which produced files 1530 x 2048 (467KB). I would have preferred larger, but an export from Aperture produced an 8-bit TIFF file with dimensions of 21.25" x 28.44". Perhaps respectable enough for an iPhone 4. Output to Twitter is also set up in the Export section. A user needs to enter account details.

A separate Support section in Settings provides another access to the Operation Guide and About, including contact details, website access and a list (plus links) of other iPhone apps by this developer.


Using this app is so easy a child could do it. If there is a little extra focus applied accidentally (removing the blur), the app adjusts. However at top of the screen are some editing tools, including erase and revert, so it is easy to fine up the finished image.

I am pleased with this app on several levels. It allows us to create images with an interesting focus effect quite quickly. It has a good design with a clear interface, including some useful onscreen icons for clarification, such as the brush slide dot and a check mark to confirm that an image has been saved. The font used is clear, sharp and easy to read. It is easy to use and there are no unnecessary frills that complicate some software. Highly recommended.

My Sketch for the iPhone: A Range of Image Output Styles

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I am a lover of the way that the wide range of photography apps available for iOS -- and I prefer the iPhone -- make the devices far more flexible. An interesting example was WaterMyPhoto which I reviewed a short while ago.

From the same developer, Miinu, MySketch produces images that have the appearance of pencil drawn pictures. We have seen this before both on the Mac with linesmART and on the iPhone with Paper Camera, PhotoSketch, SketchMee and others.

I must admit to being rather fond of this way to manipulate images and one of the ideals I think of is the charcoal drawings in the opening sequence to the HBO mini-series, The Pacific.

My Sketch

photo apps The setup at opening is similar to what I had found earlier with WaterMyPhoto. A screen with basic process guidance at the top and two selections for input in the center of the main panel: camera and library.

As before, I started with library input. However, with this app, once a photograph is selected, users are given a choice of landscape or portrait aspects. The yellow rectangle that is made available can be resized and moved. When done, the image opens in a panel with a series of sketch format options below. We can scroll to the left or right to select the preferred style.

When this is chosen, a text appears telling the user that the rendering is taking place: "Please wait while we sketch your beautiful photo." Among the mainly black and white selections here, were some which allowed colorisation. I found that these took slightly longer for the effects to be applied.

When rendering is complete, the image is displayed and below are two slider bars: brightness and contrast. These were useful in allowing just the right levels to be used.

If the result is not to our liking, we have a Back button which displays the original image again and allows selection of another effect. I found that some effects did not work on all images. Photographs with lots of shadows or contrast did not always provide the best output. There were 25 output options although I found that some of these had vignetting that was a little too severe for the images I had selected, so some of the edges of certain photographs were being lost.

photo apps

When the result is acceptable, we press the Save button at the top right of the panel. An export page appears with a number of options: Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter were available, as well as the option to export via email. I saved a couple of images. Unlike WaterMyPhoto, I was given several options for the resolution at which the rendered photographs could be saved (small, medium and large), with the output depending on the aspect chosen and the original size of the image. The biggest image that I used from the library was exported at 1440 x 1928 (2.8MP)

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Using the photograph option was as simple as with the library option. Once the photograph was taken and the user presses the Use button, the range of effects is displayed in the same way and once applied, exports are available. With the camera a photograph produced an image at maximum export size of 1528 x 2048 (3.1MP).


I found My Sketch far more flexible than the earlier water-effects app, particularly when I found I had several export size options. The iTunes page for this app tells us that usually it is $1.99 but is currently free for a limited time. Like its cousin, WaterMyPhoto, this is a simple app to use and gives a user a wide-range of effects to modify photographs. It is currently free (at the time of writing) but were it to be put back to its regular price of $1.99 it would still be a bargain.

A Useful Time Lapse App for the iPhone: OSnap!

photo apps

I picked up a few apps late September and, with the end of semester in full swing here, I am only now beginning to look at some. One which I am having positive thoughts on, is a time-lapse app with a slight difference: OSnap!. I have had one time lapse app in my collection of apps -- iTimeLapse -- since my iPhone 3G (not so good on that older version of the iPhone) and it does exactly what it claims. There were initial export problems that were fixed (belatedly) with an update and the app is now solid.

OSnap! has a number of tricks up its sleeve and we are able to expand the ways in which the iPhone cameras can be used. When the app opens there are two options to create a project: we may create a new project, or choose a preset project. There are four presets: Rapid shot, which (see below) takes more photographs than I thought the iPhone was capable of; Daily portrait; Group photo, and: Onion Skin.

The daily portrait allows a user to take a picture and sets a reminder for 24 hours later. Group Photo, puts the camera into landscape mode and starts a 30 second timer. At the end of this, 5 shots are taken. This could easily be used to set up other types of shot other than those containing people. The result can be played as a movie clip and exported (see below). With the Onion Skin, we can use the last photo to align the next image (in a similar way that I created a panoramic shot in Pano a while back - January 2010).

photo apps Of the options, I tried Rapid Shot first. This was impressive as the shutter takes a series of photographs as fast as my Nikon D7000, but for far longer. It took 55 shots in rapid burst mode before I stopped the process. When we access the file, the app then processes the shots which took a minute or so. Playing the file then gives us what is basically a movie. When we press the stop button, a slider appears and we can run the movie back and forth.

The export icon has three controls: Share this Photo; Create Video and Save all Photos to camera roll. Selecting the share option reveals another set of items (Facebook, Twitter, email and Camera Roll). I chose email and the image that the scrubber bar was on was mailed. Create a Video also brings up another menu with some technical data (480 x 640, 10fps; Loops 0; Estimated length 0.05) and two buttons: Begin Video Export in red and Adjust Current Export Settings.

I had three options for the adjustments: frame rate, Audio and Video Export Loops. I changed the frame rate to 8fps using a slider and added two loops using the four scroll wheels which went from 0000 to 9999. That number would have given me a video of 19:05:50. Two was enough.

The export took about a minute and when done, three control buttons were revealed, plus Cancel: Share video, Watch video, Delete video. After watching, I accessed Share and again the same options as before were available. This time I put the video into the camera roll.

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I also created a project without using any preset. When I had given it a name a screen was displayed with three options: Start Shooting, Adjust Settings and Stay Here. That last one just leaves the app at the library level. Pressing a project name opens a window with any images (there were none initially for the test project) and the commands Play and Shoot beneath. At bottom right is a small gear wheel icon that reveals the settings that can be altered and we may then start shooting.

A number of interesting features are available either in that settings panel or using tools that can be accessed at the bottom of the picture taking screen. The include a grid for alignment, and a sound setting that allows the app to take pictures when a loud sound is made.

On the main screen, where the projects are listed, there is an i for information at top right. Pressing this brings up a standard blue iOS information panel offering to take the user to Tutorials. This opens a browser page, so unless the iPhone is the only way to connect to the internet, it might be worthwhile taking time to run through the online information, reached via the Developer's pages.

All in all, this is a useful app that has a lot of features built into it for its fairly low price of $2.99. It will work on the iPad, but appears in the non-optimised x2 and x1 formats. The app is really intended for the iPhone however. There is also a free OSnap! Lite available. As with any app of this nature the output improves as the user practices, so my early attempts, although a little clumsy, show the potential. This is one that stays near the top of the pile.



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