Smartphone photography: The best camera apps for your smartphone

smartphone photography

For many people, the normal camera app is more than enough. In order not to overwhelm users, many standard camera apps lack settings that professional photographers know from SLR cameras. This is where third-party camera apps come into play. 

A camera app is only as good as its hardware

Smartphone cameras have made huge leaps in the last 10 years. Night shots were an impossibility even with the most expensive smartphones. Now, low-light shots are possible even with mid-range smartphones. A decade ago, only smartphones with one wide-angle lens existed, but now the trend is towards four, five or even more lenses. 

Nevertheless, a camera app is only as good as the built-in hardware. A mid-range smartphone like the Samsung A53 or the iPhone SE (2022) will not suddenly become an SLR camera, even with a professional app. If your phone doesn’t have an ultra-wide-angle lens, another camera app won’t be able to take ultra-wide-angle photos either. And if your smartphone camera only has a 2x optical zoom, a professional camera app will also only be able to use 2x optical zoom.

Advantages of professional camera apps

Is a professional camera app worth it?

Despite all the advantages, the question remains why you should buy a professional camera app, especially since many developers have switched to a subscription model and the standard camera apps have become better and better. To answer the question, you should ask yourself the following question:

How much time do you invest in your photos, both when you take them and later?

Are there differences between camera apps on iOS and Android?

Yes, there really are. Because of the vast number of different Android phones, the development of camera apps for this operating system is much more difficult than for iOS. In addition, iOS users are more willing to pay for the app. That is why there are more high-quality apps for iOS than for Android. 

What to look for when downloading a camera app

The best professional photography apps at a glance

App nameiOSAndroid
Halide Mark IIDownload for iOSNot available for Android
Open CameraNot available for iOSDownload for Android
ProCameraDownload for iOSNot available for Android
Manual Camera Pro: DSLR CamNot available for iOSDownload for Android
Photoshop Camera Portrait LensDownload for iOSDownload for Android
ReLensDownload for iOSDownload for Android

Halide Mark II (iOS)

Halide is the go-to app for iOS users for whom the standard camera app is not enough. The user interface is oriented towards professional SLR cameras, but brings with it the simplicity typical of iOS. Halide brings the portrait function of the large and powerful iPhones to the iPhone XR and SE. Other tools include Extended Dynamic Range (XDR), 14-bit RAW support (for better colour gradients), colour zebras (to avoid overexposed areas), focus peaking (for sharper photos) and magnifier, histograms and manual depth captures. RAW support is of course also included.

The award-winning app is available exclusively for iOS operating systems and costs either CHF 2.99 per month or CHF 12.49 per year. If you don’t feel like subscribing, you can purchase the app for a one-time fee of CHF 69.99.

 iOSAndroid
Halide Mark IIDownload for iOSNot available for Android

Open Camera (Android)

Exclusively available for Android users is the completely free and even ad-free Open Camera. Here, the functionality is superior to the standard app with features such as scene modes, colour effects, white balance, exposure correction and lock, front selfies with screen flash and more. Taking photos from a distance using sounds is also possible. Histogram, zebra stripes and focus peaking help you get more out of your pictures. With Open Camera, you can also take panoramas with the front camera. Plus, you have more control over the metadata that is saved with each shot. For photos, you can even save the compass direction in the metadata. And if you want to save less metadata, you can easily delete it.

App nameiOSAndroid
Open CameraNot available for iOSDownload for Android

ProCamera (iOS)

ProCamera for iOS is one of the oldest camera apps for iOS. It has all the features that professional photographers want: Exposure compensation, focus peaking, RAW and ProRAW shooting, real-time histogram, zebra stripes, front selfie with screen flash and up to 24x digital zoom. 

Unlike Halide, the app is also perfect for recording videos: Support for codecs such as H.265, ProRes 422 and ProRes HQ and Dolby Vision HDR video, audiometer and high-bitrate recording. In addition, the app supports external microphones.

ProCamera costs a one-time fee of CHF 14.99, but additional features can be purchased via in-app purchase.

App nameiOSAndroid
ProCameraDownload for iOSNot available for Android

Manual Camera Pro: DSLR Cam (Android)

The Manual Camera Pro app is ideal for Android users who want a more comprehensive camera app but do not want to give up the simplicity of the standard camera. The graphic interface is easy to understand and yet offers more functions. These include the adjustability of ISO and white balance values, focus, filters and colour effects and much more. You can also record videos with the app, for which various frame and bitrate settings are available.

The Pro version costs around CHF 4, but there is also an ad-supported, free version.

App nameiOSAndroid
Manual Camera Pro: DSLR CamNot available for iOSDownload for Android
Manual camera: DSLR CamNot available for iOSDownload for Android

Photoshop Camera Portrait Lens (iOS & Android)

If you don’t need professional tools and instead prefer an app with fun filters, you should take a look at the Adobe app Photoshop Camera Portrait Lens. Over 100 different effects and filters are available for your next Instagram picture. In no time, you can change the background or take professional-looking portrait photos. 

The app is free of charge. 

App nameiOSAndroid
Photoshop Camera Portrait LensDownload for iOSDownload for Android

ReLens (iOS & Android)

Bokehs (depth of field) are one of the few things in which SLR cameras are still far ahead of smartphones. This is where ReLens comes in. The photography app doesn’t turn your smartphone into a professional camera, but it does use artificial intelligence to raise the depth of field to professional level. There are more than 60 different bokeh effects to choose from, ranging from soft focus to optical distortions and geometric shapes. 

App nameiOSAndroid
ReLensDownload for iOSDownload for Android

Conclusion: There are few but very good photo apps

Both the standard camera apps and the apps from third-party providers have become better and better since the beginning of the App Stores. But it is also a fact that the camera app market has consolidated and there are only a few professional camera apps left, but they are constantly being developed. With the apps on this list, you are guaranteed to find your next favourite camera app.

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