Saturday, 7 July 2012

645 Pro for iOS

I've bought various camera apps for my iPhone over the last couple of years, and by and large they've all been rubbish. They either add useless features, such as press-anywhere-to-shoot that doesn't quite work, or make things more complex, or add loads of initially exciting but ultimately unsatisfying effects. The camera app du jour is 645 Pro from Jag.gr. It claims to make the iPhone into a professional camera. It doesn't.

A photo of my laptop with this post mid-flow
However, that's not to say it's entirely useless. It does have many useful features, including:

  • AF lock so you can focus then shoot rapidly without having to refocus every time
  • AE lock so you can maintain constant exposure while moving around
  • Spot/Average metering selector
  • Quick flash on/off toggle
  • White Balance lock so you can keep constant colours
  • A proper live histogram so you can actually see the levels of your picture
  • A self timer
  • A quick selector to get different aspect ratios
  • A quick selector to get different "film styles" which actually boil down to saturation and B&W contrast variations
  • Variable strength filters (not Instagram style post-proc presets. Actual coloured filters like what you use on a proper camera)
  • Hi-res JPEG and TIFF output for even less artefacts
All very nice, and presented in quite a nice looking interface. Some of the buttons and dials seem a bit unresponsive at times, but nothing I can't live with. Mostly it's just getting used to how my oversized fingertips match the positions of the rather teeny buttons.

But there is one feature that I particularly like. It has a somewhat hidden "night mode" (hold the white balance lock button for 2 seconds) that reduces the lowest available shutter speed from 1/15th second to 1 whole second. Amazing! So what, you may think, but the difference is actually quite striking. Of course, the aperture is fixed at f/2.4 (f/2.8 on the iPhone 4), but here are the before and afters ...

Best attempt without night mode
f/2.4, 1/15th sec, ISO 800

First attempt with night mode
f/2.4, 1 sec, ISO 400

Quite impressive, I thought. Certainly a striking difference. I mean, sure, the noise is pretty terrible for the relatively low ISO, but it does have a sensor the size of a pinhead so it's actually not that bad. Apparently the iPhone 4S has a backlit sensor for noise reduction, so I can't begin to imagine how grainy it would be without that. But the bottom picture was taken with a 1 second shutter. Hand held. With a phone. Why is it not a blurry mess of camera shake and awfulness? I didn't even particularly try to hold it still. I used one hand, at arms length. Madness!

So, if nothing else, this app gives you some amazing low light capabilities with your iPhone. It won't be suitable for fast (or, heck, even slow) moving things because the flash is in the order of 2 seconds duration, rather than the 1/4000th second duration of your average speedlight, but it's certainly better than anything I've ever seen.

Which makes me wonder if off-camera flash could be triggered by the built in poxy LED that comes in most phones these days ... hmmmmmmmmm ...

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