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Is Camera Awesome Really That Awesome?

If there’s one app category that seems more inventive than any other to me, it’s the camera app. I know what you’re all thinking: this can’t be the case. After all, mobile photography is pretty simple — take a picture, throw on a filter, and then move on with your life. For me, it’s not that simple. I love trying out new apps and seeing what they’re capable of, and if they line up with my personal philosophy for photography.

So what is my personal philosophy? I like to take slightly over-exposed photographs that are warmer in colour temperature. I prefer shooting in digital, but work hard in post to make sure my pictures look like film artefacts. For my DSLR, I’m always trying out new workflows but don’t move too far from my time-proven Aperture workhorse on my Mac. On my iPhone and Nexus 4, I dig Instagram for its social features. VSCO has some great filters for both desktop photo editors and mobile apps too. Is there space in my life for Camera Awesome, the latest mobile photography app to take the Android ecosystem by storm? Read on to find out.


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The Story Behind the App

Not too long ago, it was a lot easier to make a dent in Apple’s App Store: release a good app, create an interesting brand, and don’t overprice your software. These three things, if done well, could almost inevitably lead to some sort of success — especially in the early days of the App Store, when many sites would cover as many apps as they could. Every app seemed fresh. Camera Awesome was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this kind of fame, despite the fact that it came in February 2012, thanks to SmugMug’s great reputation.

The app's interface.

The app’s interface.

Camera Awesome was known for a few things: speed, photo quality, and editing prowess. All of these features and then some are present in the Android app, but there’s a very significant difference you’ll want to be aware of if you’ve been keeping up with the story so far.

First, the app is not free ($2.99 USD). By charging for the app from the get-go, you’ll avoid any in-app purchases. On iOS, those can get rather extravagant — it’s $9.99 to bundle everything together in the iPhone app — so Android users are getting the better end of the stick here. If you’re interested in the app, swallow the pill and purchase away because it’s definitely a good deal.

Taking a Few Pictures

I’ve always been impressed with the built-in Camera app on my Nexus 4. It takes good pictures — surprisingly good in low light, in fact, making the phone a lovely clubbing partner for snapping some shots of friends — believe it or not, geeky app reviewers like us still have friends we go to clubs with. Camera Awesome takes it a few steps further.

The app allows you to set white balance, ISO, and exposure separately. It also tracks your photos' EXIF data.

The app allows you to set white balance, ISO, and exposure separately. It also tracks your photos’ EXIF data.

The app allows you to do some pretty great things — the easy-to-set timer is a huge perk, and the big-button mode is fantastic. I really like the burst feature, but it doesn’t work perfectly on every phone.

Be sure to take a look at the Google Play reviews before purchasing as Camera Awesome isn’t bug-free on every popular phone yet.

Camera Awesome also makes it easy to change other settings on the go. White Balance, Exposure, and ISO can all be set independently, which makes using the app and getting a good picture a breeze. Like I said, I prefer to slightly over-expose my shots. My reasoning is because most of my cameras under-expose by default and end up having white balance problems. (Notably, my iPhone gets it right all the time. Apple does incredible software tricks in the white balance and exposure department.) It’s really great for Camera Awesome to allow me to uptick the Nexus 4’s exposure and white balance a little bit to suit my preferences.

Before and after Camera Awesome's edits.

Before and after Camera Awesome’s edits.

These options are buried in an interface that certainly bears discussion. At this point, Camera Awesome doesn’t look so awesome. It looks out of date on iOS 7 and it looks out of place on Android, making this an app that belongs to no country. I think it’d look great if given a proper Holo theme, but I doubt that SmugMug has any real plans to do that — especially given their iPhone-first nature. That’s a bit of a shame, because the app looks heavy-handed compared to the competition.

Editing a Few More Photos

Of course, if it just ended there, SmugMug’s Camera Awesome would feel like only half an app, Thankfully, the experience doesn’t stop there. The editing process in Camera Awesome is, well, awesome. This is what originally got SmugMug’s app famous, and it’s pretty clear why.

After the Awesomize feature, the filters are the star of the show.

After the Awesomize feature, the filters are the star of the show.

The big draw and most popular function is the Awesomize effect. With one Slider, it’s easy to make a photo look better. Think about it like this: the insanely easy, one-tap auto-improvement button you’ll find in your favourite desktop photo editor? This is the same thing, but instead of tapping on a button, you have granular control over how much of the effect is applied. This allows you to get as subtle as you like, or just go all-out.

I like the photo filters a lot, too. There’s a ton of them here — probably more than you’d ever use. It’d be really easy to write a huge review of each one, but suffice it to say I think that’s silly. Filter fans are going to love this.

The app also lets you Transform a picture (which is really just about cropping and rotating), or put a frame around it. This stuff feels a little more standard to me, but Camera Awesome does it well enough to push any secondary apps you use to this straight to the ground.

Better yet, by the time you’re done, you’re never going to feel the need to open Instagram to take a picture again.

The Catch(es)

Here’s the thing: SmugMug pitches Camera Awesome as if it can replace a professional photographer. I’m not sure I’d go that far. I think that it can if you can take excellent pictures — world-class photos — but for most of us, that’s unlikely.

I think that the filters are good and I love the additional controls you have over a photo, but I think it’s sad you can’t retroactively edit exposure, white balance, or ISO. I love that you can do that while taking a picture, but I wish you could do it while editing one too. I also wish there was an easy way to revert to the original photo while editing.

The interface is definitely lacking.

The interface is definitely lacking.

The interface, as I mentioned earlier, also needs improving all-around. A lot of the buttons are iOS-inspired, but even then, they’re a lot more like iOS 6 than iOS 7. No matter which part of the app you’re looking at, it always feels old and out of place. That’s a shame, because some people will likely think an app is only as powerful as it is aesthetically pleasing, and Camera Awesome is better than that.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line, though, is that while I have some quibbles, the app itself is still one of the best consumer apps on Android for taking pictures. It’s not the most powerful image editor I’ve ever tried, but its Awesomize feature is fantastic.

As a camera app, though, Camera Awesome is one of the best I’ve ever tried. I love the ability to set white balance, exposure, and ISO independently of each other before I take a photo. I just wish I could retroactively change that after the fact, and I especially wish the interface was a little more modern.




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