Sometimes when you travel, you want to go light, and while a pro-grade D-SLR might take great photos, it weighs heavily on your shoulders and neck. Even most point-and-shoots are limited if you want to edit or share photos on the fly. So what can you do if you want professional quality, share-able photos without breaking the bank on a professional quality camera? Reach into your blue jeans and grab your phone. With the right app (six of the best are listed below) for Android or iPhone, your smartphone’s built-in camera can turn into something truly spectacular.
CameraZoomFX, $2.99 on Android
Technology news site Lifehacker called this “the best camera app for Android,” and it’s easy to see why. Its features include a 6x zoom, hardware customization, voice-activated shutter, non-destructive editing and the fastest shutter available, taking as many as 10 shots per second. Import existing photos and choose from a huge variety of editing options, including three tilt-shift modes, 20 color modes and a time lapse mode. Also included are a collage option, digital composite capability and simple crop settings. With all these features and the stable of add-on packs available for purchase, you probably won’t need another camera app for your Android.
Pro HDR, $1.99 on iPhone/Android
This app is out to replace your camera, and it makes a convincing argument. Tap to capture HDR images in the app, align images instantly, and even use image blending to create breath-taking results. HDR means you get the details in the shadows without turning the sky into a white blur. Live-updating sliders let you alter brightness, contrast and more while seeing the changes as you work. Background processing renders your HDR images without slowing your shutter speed, and iPhone users have the option to import and convert old images up to 12 megapixels.
Camera+, $0.99 (sale price) on iPhone
This iPhone exclusive lets you line up every shot with in-frame grid lines, zoom up to 6x, and adjust focus and exposure separately before taking the shot. Use scene modes like Backlit, Night, Beach, Sunset and more to get the lighting just right no matter where you are, and enable photo flashlight to use your iPhone’s flash as a fill light. Crop and frame in post-editing, and add filters designed by professional photographer Lisa Bettany. When you’ve got it where you want it, share it instantly on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and more.
Instagram, free on iPhone/Android
Instagram is the best of several worlds: cost, sharing and editing. Import photos from your smartphone camera, take pictures in the app or edit photos from a traditional camera. Choose from original filters that achieve every look from grunge to Technicolor to black and white, and add tilt-shift blurs to give your photos extra dimension. Instagram’s biggest draw is probably its community, so this might be a good choice for the exhibitionist photographer. Tag your photos to add them to groups and post to any of your social networks with just a few taps. Cropping is limited to square photos only, so you may find it doesn’t quite do the trick for wide angles or verticals.
Flickr, free on iPhone/Android
This app, which keeps getting better, makes everything about smartphone photography easy. Like Instagram, Flickr can take photos or work with existing images, so you aren’t limited to what you snap with your onboard camera. It is also built around a community, so you can share your photos quickly and easily with other Flickr users and on other social networks. If privacy and ownership is your main concern, Flickr is the place for you, as they make it simple to set privacy levels for all or individual photos.
Snapseed, free on iPhone/Android
Voted Best New Mobile App of 2012 and iPad App of the Year 2011, Snapseed is now available on Android as well. Use the app’s "Auto Correct" function to adjust photos with one tap, tweak images with "Tune," or use "Selective Adjust" to enhance specific areas of photos. Add unique filters and borders, and link to Google+ and other social networks to share your creations with friends. Rotate or straighten photos, and crop images to standard sizes or use free crop to really flex your creative muscle.