Phone cameras are incredibly impressive nowadays, but there’s always more that could be done to expand their utility—especially on the software side of things. And while the stock camera app on your phone is fine, there are many third-party options out there that can offer much more in the way of tools and features.
Why Use a Third-Party Camera App?
Here are just a few features third-party camera apps can offer that make them worth using:
- Manual Controls: Most stock camera apps will take care of the ISO, exposure, and focus settings for you. And while they’re pretty great at it usually, sometimes you want full control of these settings when taking photos.
- In-Depth Settings: Some stock camera apps can be fairly limited when it comes to settings, but third-party apps can offer much more extensive options. Whether you want to change the file location and format of your images, image quality, or even adjust parts of the UI, a powerful camera app will allow you to tweak all of these to your liking.
- Live Filters: Applying filters to photos is nothing new, but what if you could see how the photo would turn out with a certain filter before actually taking it? That’s where live filters can come in handy, as they allow you to make sure that everything looks just right before you take the photo.
Photo-editing apps are also worth a quick mention, as there are a few that offer basic camera modes (such as Adobe Lightroom). We’re focusing on apps that offer more robust camera features in this list, but regardless, a good photo-editing app is an important tool for any mobile photographer to have.
One more note specifically for Pixel users: Only certain third-party apps make use of your phone’s “Visual Core”—the chip inside the Pixel line of phones that makes pictures look so good. That’s not to say photos will look bad without this functionality, but rather that they won’t look nearly as fantastic as you’re used to.
In-Depth Options: Open Camera
If you’re looking for a camera app that you can fine-tune to your liking, then Open Camera is the app for you. Not only does it feature full manual controls for exposure and focus, but a wealth of settings ripe for the tweaking. You can toggle certain UI elements (like face tracking); remap the volume buttons to take photos, adjust zoom, and more when the app is open; and easily adjust the file location and format of your photos.
And on top of all of that, Open Camera is open-source, which means it’s completely free and anyone with the technical knowledge can adjust the source code to add more features. HedgeCam 2 is probably the most popular alteration of Open Camera, and it features a slightly different UI and a few new features such as ISO control.
Full Control: ProCam X
ProCam X prides itself on allowing users to manually adjust every aspect of their photos. Focus, ISO, and exposure settings are all easily accessible on the main camera screen, so you don’t need to dig through menus when taking pictures. You can also easily adjust the file format and image quality settings of photos with the dropdown menus.
ProCam X costs a one-time payment of $4.99. There is also a “Lite” version of the app which is completely free, but it limits your photo resolution to 8 MP, video resolution to 1080p, and video duration to five minutes.
Black and White: Hypocam
Black and white photography is much deeper than it appears, and Hypocam aims to give you all the tools you’ll need to take some fantastic monochromatic images. You can adjust shadows, highlights, and use multiple filters to achieve a specific look, or use a preset to simplify the process. There are a few presets included with the app for free, but if you want more you’ll have to buy the various filter packs available in the app’s store. There are also texture packs available for purchase which can give your photos a unique look.
You can even view photos from other black and white photographers within the app if you’re looking for some inspiration (or just want to look at some cool pictures).
Hypocam is completely free to use, though the filter and texture packs range in price from $0.99 to $2.49.
Vintage Photos: 1998 Cam
If you love the look of vintage photos, then you’ll have a blast experimenting with 1998 Cam. This is a pretty simple app, but it allows you to choose from a wide variety of live filters when taking photos. There are over 100 filters to mess around with here, covering a wide range of vintage styles.
But a lot of those filters will be locked when you download the app, along with the video recording functionality. If you want to unlock everything, you’ll need 1998 Cam Pro in the app for a one-time payment of $2.99.
Live Effects: Pixtica
On the surface, Pixtica seems like a pretty standard camera app. You can adjust the resolution and file format of photos, record videos, and even create GIFs. However, where Pixtica becomes more unique is with its live filters. You can make images and videos look hand-drawn or painted, along with other complete visual overhauls. There are over 70 filters to check out, so you have a lot of options to work with here.
Pixtica is free to use, but you’ll only have a few filters to choose from. If you want all the filters, you’ll need Pixtica Premium, which costs $2.99 a year or a one-time payment of $7.99.
Fun Lenses: Cymera
Cymera offers plenty of live filters that you can use while taking photos, however, the more unique feature it offers is the various “lenses” you can use. These allow you to take multiple pictures in succession to be auto-formatted into a collage, use effects like a fisheye lens, or something more elaborate like the “Sprocket” lens, which adds a vintage film effect to your photos. Cymera also features a “Beauty Cam” that can soften out blemishes and a photo editor with some color-grading and cropping tools.
Cymera is completely free to use.
Editing Plus Camera: VSCO
To round off this list, we want to bring up VSCO which, despite having a pretty basic camera mode, is great for those looking to deeply edit their photos. In VSCO’s editor, you can manually adjust colors, highlights, contrast, and much more, or just download a “Recipe” made by another user as a preset. You can also use one of the prepackaged filters that cover a wide range of styles and effects.
VSCO is free to download, but if you want access to even more tools (like video editing) and over 200 filters, you’ll want VSCO’s membership, which costs $19.99 a year.