From manual focus to beautiful filters, get more from your iPhone’s camera

The iPhone revolutionized photography. With each iteration of the device, there was less and less need to use dedicated camera hardware. Now, most people don’t bother – and chances are you grab your phone when you want to capture a moment.

But are you getting the most from your iPhone’s built-in camera app? And which alternatives should you consider if Apple’s built-in app isn’t enough for you? This round-up will help you decide.

Camera (free)

Best for beginners

Apple’s Camera app makes it easy to switch shooting modes and (on supported hardware) quickly access Night mode when it’s dark. Exposure can be manually adjusted by tapping a point on the screen and dragging up and down.

There are hidden controls too. Tap-hold the zoom button to display a dial to fine-tune your zoom level – although be mindful digital zooming reduces image quality. Or drag upward to access aspect ratios, timers, filters and fine-grained exposure settings.

For pros, the lack of manual focus, RAW toggle and zebra stripe aids will be a deal breaker. But as as starting point for shooting images on iPhone, Apple’s built-in camera is your best bet.

Obscura Camera ($5/£5)

Best for tactile controls

Obscura Camera is built around a thumbable control wheel that alludes to dials on real-world cameras. It’s a natural gesture for adjusting focus and exposure – those features being accessed by buttons that flank the shutter – and makes for an approachable app.

There’s less immediacy in accessing other controls, which themselves sit inside a wheel. It takes time to reach camera lens, grid, spirit level, flash and formatting options. However, the physicality of the app feels great, while the wheel ensures you can make fine-grained adjustments on any feature you do select.

Elsewhere, the app includes RAW capture, filters and library tools for digging into photo metadata. The low price point is another point in favor for anyone wanting to take their first steps in pro-grade iPhone camera apps.

Get Obscura Camera

Halide Mark II ($11/£11 per year or $40/£39 lifetime)

Best for shooting like a pro

Halide bills itself as the most powerful camera app for iPhone – and it’s the most pro-oriented and feature-packed. That said, it’s approachable, with the default set-up primarily being a shutter, lens switch button and manual focus strip.

Dig deeper, though, and you unearth photography aids, including a focus loupe, focus peeking and exposure warning stripes. You can add an on-screen histograph, adjust white balance, trigger a timer, and change which buttons appear in the main toolbar.

Halide also does fancy things with RAW, enabling you to ‘develop’ such images with a tap – and shoot to RAW and JPEG simultaneously. The details are beyond the scope of this round-up, but suffice to say if you have an interest in measured, thoughtful, pro-oriented iPhone photography, this app’s a must.

Get Halide Mark II

ProCam 8 ($8/£8)

Best for fast access to settings

ProCam 8 gives you more control over iPhone photography. Surrounding the viewfinder are plentiful buttons, providing immediate access to a wealth of features, including format, exposure, focus, shutter speed and white balance.

Menus provide access to many more options (guides; focus assists; tilt meter; timer behaviors), enabling you to make your personal set-up just so. And the app’s many shooting modes – including time lapse, video, burst and 3D – make it a great option if your shooting needs are varied.

In use, the app lacks the refinement of Obscura Camera and Halide, with an interface that can feel a touch cluttered and overwhelming. But immediate access to its many features coupled with the lowish one-off price tag makes it a good buy.

Get ProCam 8

Hipstamatic Classic ($3/£3 + IAP)

Best for bringing back analog photography

If you only known shooting photos on phones, you’ll be enamored by the relentless march of technology. But if you once loved film, you might miss its grime and randomness. Hipstamatic Classic brings that back.

With your iPhone in landscape, you get an old-school camera – and can swap out lenses, flashes and films that add distinct character to shots. (You get a small selection of virtual kit with the app. More is available via IAP.) For fans of point-and-shoot, it’s a joy.

But if you desire control, that’s there too. You can save clean images alongside rendered shots, and the pro camera mode adds manual focus, exposure and shutter speed. For fans of old and new, it’s the best of both worlds.

Get Hipstamatic Classic

Photoshop Camera (free)

Best for inventive filters

Countless creative photo filter cameras exist on the App Store. Most demand hefty IAP subscriptions. Photoshop Camera is an exception: it’s free, frictionless (bar requiring a free Adobe login) and yet packed full of superb filters.

The lenses (filters) work live, meaning you see what you’ll get on pressing the shutter. And they’re varied, from basic enhancement of scenery and food through to dramatic glitches and painterly effects. A manager makes it easy to add lenses and keep favorites within reach.

Beyond that, the camera component is basic and (unlike Hipstamatic) originals aren’t saved. However, you can opt to apply filters to existing images rather than shoot live if you wish. For fun filters with zero fuss, the app’s peerless.

Get Photoshop Camera

Also consider…

Dazz Camm (free + IAP): Analog film mimicry. Nice lenses and effects. A good alternative if Hipstamatic overwhelms.

focos (free or $13/£13, depicted above): More editor than camera – although it does have one – focus brings depth effects to all of your photographs.

Hydra ($5/£5): In combination with a tripod, this app can merge dozens of frames to build extremely high-resolution photos.

Retrica (free + IAP): Multishot camera meets live filters meets quite a lot of IAP. Nice, but naggy.

Slow Shutter Cam ($2/£2): Other apps offer time-lapse, but this is the best long exposure camera we’ve found on the App Store.

SoSoCamera ($1/£1): Not updated in a while, but this multishot camera is effective, easy to use and good value to avoid Retrica’s nonsense.