Quick recommendation: If you only want one large print photo app and want a bit of everything, Vignette is a good bet. “A Better Camera” is an app with a few more ‘standard’ camera controls and excellent photo improvement features such as DRO and HDR but without the real time ‘effects’ options.The longer answer:
I enjoy photography, so I thought I’d do a little series over the next few weeks looking at various aspects of photography for both low vision and blind Android users. I’ve taken a lot (35 – it’s a lot when you’re the one installing and testing each of them!) of the top paid and free apps (though as always, I’ve declined apps which only have a “free with ads” version), and put them through their paces.
This week I’ve specifically looked at how these apps feel for me as a low vision user. As with many things, there are some I quite like, but probably no single app which will ideally suit everyone.
So, the main things I was looking for were large buttons & controls and features useful for vision impaired users:Large buttons, firstly a large shutter button of course. Of the apps I tried, only DSLR Camera, Camera Fun and Cameringo had shutter buttons which were smaller than 1cm, though DSLR and Cameringo (and 13 of the other apps) could both assign the volume keys as shutter buttons. The majority of options had shutter buttons that were at least larger than the other buttons, though not all were as easy to see. Camera FV-5 for instance has a large (1.5cm) shutter which is yellow where the other controls are white, though its controls are directly overlaid on the preview of what you are about to photograph so may not be as visible if looking at a yellow object. Camu had a nice red button on black and set on a black background so ensures it’s easy to see. Cymera’s shutter button is also 1.5cm but aqua on black. 15 apps had the option of “tap anywhere to shoot” which will be a preferred option for some users, and Camera Zoom FX and Selfish both had the option of voice activation (saying “Shoot” or similar to take a photo).
The size of the other controls was where a couple of apps really shone for me as a low vision user. Selfish and Zoom Camera both had large buttons, but the best two for me were definitely A Better Camera and Vignette (Night camera was good as well, though that, and HDR Camera from the list have both been superseded by “A Better Camera” from the same developer).I also had a look at other factors which might be useful. Particularly as it’s often hard to finely review images at the time to ensure they are adequate, the option to ensure everything is steady and unmoving before a photo is taken is useful (perhaps particularly so if using the volume keys to shoot as that almost guarantees moving the device). Only five apps offered such a feature, Vignette, Smart Selfie, A Better Camera, Camera HDR Studio and Camera Zoom FX. After you pressed the shutter, all waited until they detected no movement to take their photo. Camera FV-5 has an image stabilisation option which aims to minimise blurring from movement.
Which app is best for you is going to come down to what you want out of a camera app. I have come up with three broad categories below:
DSLR:Device which come from the factory with Android 5 have a new “Camera2” api which lets apps have more control over hardware settings (Camera2 should work on official manufacturer ROMs which get updated to Android 5, though not on custom ROMs like Cyanogenmod installed on older hardware unless the manufacturer has also released an updated camera module). As more compatible devices are released AND more apps which take advantage of it, expect to see DSLR apps with better features than ever. For now, and for large print users, the best general camera app for my money is A Better Camera. This app has large, easy to see buttons, a simple interface, image stability and DRO mode which as advertised, improves most photos at the expense of taking slightly longer to capture each. It also has a HDR mode which is as good as any of the HDR camera apps I found and a night mode for shooting after dark. Overall it’s very easy to take good photos with this app, and it has a number of “DSLR” type features for those who want a bit more control. The only downsides I found are that the zoom is tucked away on the edge of screen which I don’t like quite as much, and the composition grid and horizon lines are quite faint. If you’re really after more DSLR type control, Either Camera FV-5, DSLR Camera or Manual Camera (I don’t have a compatible device, but Manual Camera is one of the first Camera2 DSLR apps) all offer the most features – all three aren’t quite as low vision friendly though would work well using magnifier to setup options then all three have mostly unobstructed viewfinders to take the shot). The controls in Camera FV-5 and DSLR Camera at least both scale up if you are rooted and increase your DPI though with some overlapping of buttons.
Effects:If you like to add effects to your photos, while you can also do that in post processing with A Better Camera (or any number of other seperate post processing apps I might look at another time), my favourite here is definitely Vignette, it has numerous effects, which can be set specifically or randomly, and after each shot it displays the image with the ability to randomly change effects or frame, or save as is (if you set it to “multi shot”, it will just save the original, a copy with a random effect and not display a preview leaving you ready to take another shot and be surprised later). If using custom DPI, I did find that the app crashed in settings when I was at 640 DPI but worked fine otherwise. At my phone’s standard 320 DPI it worked fine. It has quite a few features for general composition (a rule of thirds grid option, control over white balance, exposure, iso and so on) so is right up there with “A better camera” for general photography as well. Special mention in this category also to cameringo+ which while most of it’s controls are quite small, it can also be set to tap anywhere to shoot and to add specified or random effects to photos, again with or without a review. When using effects, while it displays the effect in the viewfinder preview, it does have the option of a 1/9th screen viewfinder without effect. Camera Zoom FX also works similarly, and was the only one I noticed with a voice activation function.
While most of the cameras can be set to automatically select most options for you, a couple which can be setup to be extra simple are:Instacamera: I like having this one on my lock screen or having a shortcut in my notification panel (see apps such as Custom Notification for this), so if I really need to snap a shot in a hurry, I just launch the app and it automatically takes one (or more) images. You can set it to stay in camera mode so you can use it like other camera apps after that – in which case it has no buttons, you simply tap the screen to take additional images. Smart Selfie: Great for taking images of people (either yourself or others), it looks for faces and advises audibly whether you need to move the camera to get everyone in, and then automatically takes the picture when lined up. Google Camera: comes setup with two buttons visible on screen – the whole bottom quarter of the screen is the shutter (with small white camera image in the middle of a black box) – press anywhere in that black box to shoot. There is a small elipses (…) you can use to open extra options and while these are quite small, ignoring those it is one of the cleanest displays out of the box (some of the others can be setup quite simply if you look through the options).
Vignette: setup to not use effects (actually the default setup), Vignette displays an empty screen with little arrows top and bottom indicating you can drag down to show more options, but otherwise just tap the screen to take a photo.
A few other large shutter apps: Camera Awesome, Camera 51 (This attempts to guide you to take the perfect photo every time and I can’t for the life of me figure it out – it puts a little icon on screen you should move towards where it recommends), simple camera has a fairly clean layout, Open Camera has a bit more info on screen but a nice large shutter button, Fast burst camera is easy to use (and taking bursts of images can be useful in capturing the right moment)
Lastly, I should probably mention Binoculars and Zoom Camera. I’m not sure what the difference is between these two as they look identical to me (I did write to the dev but haven’t got a response yet, I’ll update if I do) – certainly the 30x zoom promised in the paid version sounds attractive, although I’ve tried a few apps which use software zoom and while it can be useful, it does degrade very quickly. Stay tuned to the rest of this series as I’ll post more about magnification!
Which camera app(s) do you use? Did i miss any good ones? Please let me know in the comments!