Best Photo Apps for iPhone

BY Tris Hussey

Published 12 Nov 2012


Still just using the default Camera app on your iPhone because you don’t know which of the thousands of apps to choose from? Here are our picks for the best photo apps that we know you’ll love.

The iPhone 5 is a more than passable point-n-shoot camera. Heck since the iPhone 4, the camera has been pretty darn good and the 4S and 5 have just taken it to new heights. The question people always want to know, though, is what’s the best photo app for the iPhone? There are thousands of choices, hundreds of “good” choices, but only a few “great” choices. To help you along here are our picks for the best still photo apps the iPhone. Most of these will work back to the iPhone 4 (some to the 3GS), but all of them are best on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.

Don’t worry if video is your thing—we’ll cover the best apps for video on the iPhone in another post.

I’ll say right from the start that there is nothing wrong with the default camera app on the iPhone. It’s functional, capable, easy, and responsive. Plus you can get to it from the lock screen. This is probably why Camera is the app I use the majority of the time—because I can get to it from the lock screen. But I do love my camera apps. I’ve tried tons and here are the ones that I come back to as favorites.

Best default camera replacement: Camera+

Camera+ ($0.99) was one of the first true replacements for default Camera and it’s sneaky hack to use the volume up button to trigger the shutter got it pulled from the App Store for a long time. Camera+ packs a ton of features, both for taking pictures and editing them, into a small package. Tap tap tap recently launched Camera+ for iPad as well which gives you more room for editing photos…taking photos with a full-sized iPad looks silly, but the iPad mini on the other hand..

Free alternative: Camera Awesome from the photo site Smug Mug is a very, very solid app. You could forgo trying Camera+ at all and just try Camera Awesome first. Which is better? Honestly it’s a toss up.

Best Social app: Instagram (free)

Instagram might be owned by Facebook, and maybe people take way, way too many pictures of their meals with it, but it’s also fun and free and becoming a social network in its own right. During Hurricane Sandy over 800,000 pictures were tagged #sandy…now imagine all the pictures from the storm that weren’t tagged…yeah Instagram is huge.

Best toy camera app: Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic ($1.99) is a “toy camera” app that tries to emulate the cheap, fixed focus cameras from the past. Don’t think for a moment that just because Hipstamatic emulates cheap toy cameras that you get “cheap” results. The cover of Time recently was done with Hipstamatic, so the results you can get…can be awesome. One drawback to Hipstamatic is that after you buy the app you’ll want to get more film and lens packs for more combinations of effects. Now that I have so many options—I don’t know what to pick! Good thing there is a shake to pick randomly and then keep the settings you like (or copy from other photos)

Free alternative: Retro camera plus this is a great app to wet your appetite for toy camera apps. The results are very cool and since it’s free, you can play around and see if you want to move up to the best of the bunch—Hipstamatic.

Best photo booth app: Incredibooth

Incredibooth ($0.99) comes from the folks at Hipstamatic and let’s you turn your iPhone into a photo booth where you get four poses on a film strip. Like Hipstamatic you get a couple basic styles and then you can buy additional ones. Careful, it’s addictive!

Coolest interface: Blux Camera

I had to find a way get Blux Camera ($2.99) in here if only because it has a really innovative UI and features that…I think are just wow. You can read more in my review, but essentially Blux scans the scene and recommends settings and filters to match. The results can be spectacular.

Best Panorama: 360 Panorama

While the panorama function in iOS 6 is good (you can watch how it works in my how to video), 360 Panorama ($0.99) does true 360 views of a place. This has been the go to app for capturing an entire area and sharing it for a while now.

Free alternative: Panoperfect is a new comer on the scene and I haven’t had much of a chance to play with it, but since it’s free… Panoperfect is trying to become the Instagram of panorama shots and like 360 Panorama goes beyond the basic panorama feature in iOS 6.

Best photo combining app: Diptic

Diptic ($0.99) let’s you take several photos and make a photo frame of them. It’s nice for portraits or other times when you want several pictures to tell a story. Best of all it’s a universal app, so if you have an iPad you can really use the screen real-estate to see what your creation will look like.

Best black and white app: Hueless

If you like shooting black and white, then Hueless ($1.99) is the app you should take a look at. Lots of color tone filters, adjustments, and tweaks you can apply to get the gritty, moody look that only black and white can offer.

Fun effects:

Slow Shutter Cam ($0.99) fun and easy app for making light trails and other effect that you generally are only able to do with a DSLR where you can control the shutter, aperture, and ISO so you can make this cool effect. I’ve had fun playing with it and might take more walks at night to play more.

Manga Camera (free) simple (and fun) premise: take a picture and make it into a piece of manga-style art. The app makes the picture black and white, but I bet if you import into SketchBook (Pro or Express) you could color a great picture.

ColorStrokes ($0.99) the HD (aka iPad) version just came out (see my review) and the iPhone-sized version is just as fun and easy to use.

ActionShot (free) takes a series of pictures (like a car passing by or a person jumping in the air) and merges them into one photo that shows the action in sequence. The magic is done by simply “painting” the part you want to keep in each frame. I keep meaning to ask a skateboarder to do a trick for me so I can really get some cool shots.


WiFi Camera (free) this simple app lets you see what another iPhone or iPad’s camera sees and remotely take a picture. Handy for shake free and steady pictures.

Magic Hour (free) is defined as the hour 30 mins before and after sunrise and sunset, it’s a time when the light is…perfect. It really is magic when the light is right and you can take advantage of it. Of course do you know when magic hour is for you? Probably not, I don’t either. This is where this app comes in. It calculates based on your location when sunrise and sunset are, then tells you when magic hour is. Simple.

Those are my picks for some of the best photo capturing apps around. As for editing apps, I always fall back to two: iPhoto ($4.99) and Snapseed ($4.99). I have and use both, but as you can see in my how to video on editing photos, iPhoto is really powerful but still easy to use. Snapseed approaches things differently, but is also a top notch editing app.

How about you, what are your favs for taking pictures?