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In part one of this three-part series on what to look for in an app, I'm going to share the top things I look for in any camera app. Of course, you can get different features from different apps, but I like to get as much as possible from one app. Here's what to look for:

 

Four essential features of your camera app:

1) Manual focus and exposure

The number one feature is being able to manually set your focus and exposure. The built-in camera app does allow us to choose one point at which to set both focus and exposure, but you'll notice that won't work in some situations. Additional benefits would include manual white balance and being able to lock these three features so you don't have to set them for each individual photo, if you plan to shoot the same thing over and over again.

2) Option to save to camera roll

Many camera apps come with built-in editing capabilities. Unfortunately, its kind of like a buy one, get one free sale: you get the feature you want and then something else you never wanted/needed. There are so many stand-alone photo editing apps that outperform the built-in options on camera apps. I suggest saving to camera roll and editing elsewhere for more editing flexibility and capability.

3) Volume shutter release option

Your device's built in camera connects to your volume buttons to allow you to snap a photo using these buttons in situations when touching the shutter release button on your screen might shake your device. This feature may not be essential, but it can be very helpful to get crisp, clean, focused shots.

4) Burst shot capability

You've already set your focus and exposure, but often, shooting a burst can be the easiest way to produce a gif in a hurry. It's also great for fast-paced actions, like sports and any sort of jumping-in-the-air shot you might take.

 

Four features your camera app should probably have:

1) Grid feature

Training your eye to pay attention to the composition of the photo, in addition to the quality, is a struggle. If you can turn on your grid feature, the 9-box outline will be a constant reminder to shoot using the rule of thirds...or, at the very least, a reminder that composition is worth a moment's thought.

2) Horizon level

My students may say my obsession with straight horizons is a bit crazy, but it's a very easy way to differentiate sloppy shooters from people who care about their photo quality. Having this feature turned on will give you a visual cue if you're shooting a bit crooked. Shots from a variety of angles can be really artsy, but a shot where the horizon is only slightly off-kilter just looks amateur, in my opinion.

3) Macro shot option

Basically, this is just a preset to help you quickly take good macro shots. You've probably notice if you get the lens too close to an object (a necessity for a macro shot), the camera can't focus. Normally, you'd have to move the camera away and zoom in on your own. If your camera app has a macro option, you can turn this feature on and the camera will do this step for you.

4) Stabilizer

This is just another option to get clean, crisp photos when moving around with your device.

 

Four features you probably think are important, but really aren't:

1) Front camera option

You might like this option for taking selfies, but under most circumstances, you can just use the selfie option in your built-in camera. Unless you plan to utilize manual focus and exposure (which most selfies don't require and don't have time for), it's pointless to bring X when Y will do. Plus, I try my best to get good selfies with the rear camera and the volume shutter. On most devices, the front camera is about half as good as the back camera, and I don't want to sacrifice that quality, even for a selfie of me and my cat!

2) A timer

I don't think I've ever used the timer option on my device. If I'm in the shot, it's a selfie. If I'm not in the shot, I'm behind the camera. 'Nuf said.

3) Editing capabilities

Like I mentioned earlier, most camera apps come with some editing options. But, there are plenty of editing apps that far outperform even the best built-in editing studios.

4) Zoom

I always tell my students to zoom with their feet. In fact, I turn off my zoom capability under most circumstances (one exception: macro shots) so I don't fall into the habit of not getting myself close to the action. When we “zoom” with our devices, we are basically cropping in on the original photo—and that means we're losing a lot of quality. Although our phones are increasingly suitable replacements to our digital cameras, we still want the highest quality available, right? I know I do!

You might also have other features you think should come standard, or apps you recommend. If so, consider posting a comment here and helping us all learn how to be better iPhoneographers! Join us here next week as we talk about key features to look for in an editing app!