Apple Camera vs The Others – Is A Third Party Camera App Better?

A long exposure shot taken with ReeXpose while using a neutral density filter.
I never could have taken this shot with the Apple Camera. This was taken with ReeXpose using the Telephoto Camera and I placed a Neutral Density filter over the camera. Had I tried a shot like this with the Apple Camera, it would have failed because the iPhone would want to use the Wide Camera.

The iPhone comes with an awesome camera app, but is it enough? Well, I guess that depends on your needs. I’ve always believed that Apple does things with the 90-90 rule. They tend to please 90% of the people 90% of the time, and I think the Apple Camera is no exception. 

For most people who take photos with an iPhone, the camera that comes with it will do everything they need it to do, and quite often that’s point and click. There are some advanced features in the Apple Camera that a lot of people aren’t aware of, too, like exposure compensation, the f-stop function in Portrait Mode, that sort of thing, but again, most folks get by without it. There are those of us who sometimes need more, and I’m one of them. I’m in the 10% of the people Apple can’t please all the time. You see, I like to have a little more control over my camera than the Apple Camera affords me, and that’s why I use a different camera app for upwards of 95% of the photos I take.

There are a lot of great camera apps in the App Store, some a little better than others, and of course that’s subjective, so if you’ve never tried a third party camera app before and want to, you have some homework to do. This article will not be a review of the many camera apps out there but I do have about 8 or so on my iPhone, which I feel I need to have on hand in case I need to check a new feature and talk about it on the podcast. Rather, this will be more about why you might want to use a third party app, so I’m going to try to keep from referencing any specific apps because they’re all good in their own right.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of why I might want to use a different camera app is, like I mentioned earlier, the ability to have more control over the camera’s functions. It’s one thing to control the brightness of an image when taking it, but it’s another thing to be able to choose the ISO and shutter speed to suit your needs based on your shooting situation. The iPhone will use its algorithms to give you the fastest shutter speed with the lowest ISO possible when using the Apple Camera. Basically, this is full Auto mode, and the same will work in all the other apps, but what if you want the lowest ISO that the camera is capable of and Auto mode won’t give it to you? Unless you can change it manually, you’re stuck with what you have. The iPhone has a fixed aperture so that’s a non issue. I thought I should throw that in here because I’ve recently heard some folks may question that.

The iPhone’s cameras are generally pretty good at capturing the right colour balance when you take a photo, but I can tell you, there have been times when they get it wrong. Having control over the white balance is invaluable when shooting in JPG because, although you can try to correct it in post, and unless you shoot RAW, you’re at the mercy of what your using editing app of choice will allow with a JPG, and sometimes it’s tough to get the colour the way you want or the way it was when you took the shot. When you can control the white balance, preferably with a colour temperature slider, you can match what is in the viewfinder with what you are actually seeing, and that will cut your editing time way down. 

Something I wrote about in the past (in my article called The Gap Is Getting Smaller) is how the iPhone cameras work when using Portrait Mode. Unless it’s a single camera iPhone like the SE or the XR, the iPhone uses two different cameras to produce a Portrait Mode image. It really relies on the Wide camera for a lot of what it does because that camera has the widest aperture and therefore, gives the best picture quality. The same is said for taking a Telephoto shot. Although the Telephoto is a camera on its own, you aren’t always using it to capture your image. The Tele camera has a smaller aperture, which is why, in less than optimal lighting conditions, the iPhone will zoom the Wide camera to make the shot. This bothers the heck out of me, especially when I want to use an add-on lens.

And this brings me to what I consider to be the best reason to use a third party camera app. I’ll use macro as an example here. When shooting macro with a lens attached to your phone, and you have a Pro iPhone with the Tele camera, you can not only get close, but when you put the lens over the Tele camera, you can make your subject appear even larger on the sensor. The thing about third party camera apps is they allow you to select the cameras individually, and when you do, it uses that camera only and doesn’t resort to the Wide camera if the light isn’t right. If you put a lens over the Tele camera when using the Apple Camera, the phone will try to use the Wide camera because the lens is constraining the light coming into the Tele camera. This just isn’t practical. 

If I were to cover what some of the features in the popular third party camera apps, I’d be writing a book, so I think I’ll leave it at these four points. The Apple Camera is good. It’s very good. But if you ever find yourself wanting more out of your iPhone when taking pictures, definitely read up on the various camera apps available because each one will have something special about it that sets it apart from the others. Dave Podnar, my co-host, and I have talked about some of the apps on The iPhoneography Podcast so you can look through the archives and hear what we have to say about them. Chances are, the app we talk about will be in the show titles. Oh, and if you’re wondering what my camera app of choice is, it’s Reeflex.

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