Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Changing light metering on the iPhone with Camera+

January 14, 2011, 11:53 PM

Long before every school kid had a photo-taking phone, or even before point & shoot cameras were cheap as dirt, photography was something you had to make sacrifices for. As a student, I could only afford shooting, developing and printing two films per month at most. Each shot meant taking a really good look, carefully setting the aperture and the speed and waiting for the right moment. After that, I would jot down on a small paper the film’s position and the used settings — the only way to learn how everything worked, days or weeks later, after I’ve finished the film and see the the printed photos.

But enough about the good ol’ days. Digital photography is king, and today Flickr’s most used camera is Apple’s planetary-successful iPhone (Nokia still don’t know what hit them). The iPhone4 has a superb 5 MP camera, with a very interesting HDR ability. Like always with Apple, it’s not about the specs — I bet the 5 MP iPhone photos look a lot better than most 6 or even 8 MP other phone-taken photos, but you can call me biased. Still, typical for Apple, you can’t manually set anything except the flash (my old Nokia N73 had quite a lot of manual settings, including 8-steps exposure compensation). Light is mostly spot-metered around the focus area, which doesn’t help much, since you can’t even lock the setting in any way. So, almost each time I took a photo, I wished I had my old Canon Eos 33 with it’s trust-worthy exposure compensation dial.

In comes Camera+ 2.0.

This handy app had quite its quarrels with Apple, being pulled off the App store a few times for making use of the iPhone’s volume buttons to snap the photos — a smart idea, which says quite a lot about the developers, but Apple didn’t fell for it, considering it an illegal use of the device. The 2.0 version got approved though (minus the nifty volume trick), and comes with a lot useful features, but most of all, with a simple way of controlling the metering.

… but add a second finger on the screen and—boom!—magic happens.

It’s all done very easily: the camera focuses just as the default one, when you touch it; but add a second finger and in comes the touch exposure control. You can play around with it on the screen and see how metering the light in different areas provide quite different results, from dark under-exposed photos to bright, over-exposed ones. Here’s an example, first metering the light in the brightest area, the clouds:

A beautiful sun-setting sky: the light is metered on the brightest spot, the clouds.

then metering the light in one of the dark spots, the shadowed house:

An eerie, washed-out sky: the light is metered in one of the dark areas of the frame.

Now, some will say that’s no big deal, as the iPhone’s standard camera can do pretty much the same thing. But what will you do when you’d like to set lens focus in one area of the frame, but measure the light in another? Take this case, for example:

Different focus areas, with similar metering — also, different White Balance settings.

In the first case, the focus is almost macro-like, very close. The metering is in the same area as the focus. In the second image however, the focus shifts towards the back of the picture — but the metering remains in the same area as before. There is however something else changed now: the white balance. Enter the White-Balance-lock button, the second reason why this app is great. In the second picture, the white balance is measured on the screen, locked, then the “touch exposure ring” is moved back to the same area as in the first picture.

These two features are the things that convinced me to buy yet another photo app for my iPhone. It has plenty more, like editing (cropping, rotating, flipping), scene modes and some crappy borders (heh, must give something to the muggles as well, right?).

So, Camera+ is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a manual settings camera feeling on your iPhone. And, for just £1.19, I’d say it’s a steal :) But just in case you’re still not convinced, you can also read the Camera+ 2.0 review on TUAW.

Some might ask why would anyone bother with SLR-like settings on a phone camera. I’ll just say this: the best camera is the one you have. Hope that’s enough to shoo the trolls :)

Further reading:
• If you want to see some real old-school film photography, check out Kit’s blog — Two words: Leica Noctilux.
Stanley Kubrick’s perfectionism leading to some special Zeiss lenses /via Gizmodo.