There's more to shooting and photo editing on mobile than Instagram. We select the best photo apps for iPhone, iPad and Android from cool cameras to photo editor tools.
Instagram is a great app for sharing pictures and using as a photo editor, but there are only so many hipster jokes you can listen to before yearning for an alternative to those unmistakably garish filters. So here is the definitive guide to the best photo apps around, covering iOS (that's iPhone and iPad) and Android apps. Some you won't have heard of, others you'll be more familiar with. None are going to replace a DSLR and a couple of hours with a photo editor like Photoshop CC, but they're all great at what they do...
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01. PicLab HD
PicLab HD is a nifty app for creating those inspiring images that you get all over the internet these days. You know, the ones featuring a photo - probably with at least one retro filter applied - with a helpful aphorism layered over the top in an attractive, friendly typeface. Yeah, those. PicLab HD makes them an absolute doddle, enabling you to either snap a photo or grab one from your photo library, then go to town on it.
As well as adding typography - lots of fonts and full control over size, positioning, opacity, rotation, and colour - you can also layer illustrations, ornamentation and other design elements on top of your image. PicLab HD features full layer-based editing and also packs plenty of tools for making your original photo look its best, with loads of lighting and film effects to choose from as well as preset photo filters and adjustment tools for fine tuning the brightness, contrast, exposure, saturation, and the blur level of your photos.
- Platform: iOS (iPhone and iPad)
- Developer: Sktchy LLC
- Price: Free
Connecting with people around the world in a new way, here you can choose from a selection of photographs, uploaded by the Sktchy community and create a portrait from that image.
Sktchy co-founder Jordan Melnick comments: "Our community of artists is growing every day because Sktchy is the perfect place for them to find inspiration and share their art with the world, in part because of the neat way we layer portraits over the photos that inspired them."
03. SnappyCam Pro
Are you always a second too late in capturing the perfect shot? Then high-speed camera app SnappyCam Pro may be just the solution. Like a DSLR, with SnappyCam you hold the hold the shutter button to take a burst of photos, so you'll never miss the perfect shot.
Developed by founder of SnappyLabs John Papandriopoulos, the app is super-fast, with the ability to capture up to 60 photos a second, of which you can keep all or choose the best and delete the rest. Images can be exported as animated GIFs and videos. And there's also separate focus and exposure support for eligible devices.
04. Photoristic HD
- Platform: iOS (iPad)
- Developer: Georgii Kharchenko
- Price: $4.99/£2.99
Photoristic HD is an iPad image app that's just powerful enough to be quite useful without overloading you with features that you don't really want. It's all about the photo editor - it features standard image adjustment tools (white balance, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, vibrance and saturation), with additional colour controls, a black and white mode, split toning and a hefty collection of presets for Instagram-style quick fixes.
It's fast and easy to use and can handle images up to 20 megapixels, and while they're not exactly giving it away it comes at a fairly reasonable price for its no-nonsense set of genuinely useful photo tools.
- Platform: iOS (iPhone and iPad)
- Developer: Big Bucket Software
- Price: $0.99/£0.69
We probably like this app for its name (in full: Photochop - Chop Up and Distort Your Photos) as much as for its function. It's a cheap and cheerful little photo editor tool for mucking about with pictures. Simply pick a snap from your iPhone's photo library, chop it up into a set of tiles and then go crazy.
You can either work directly with the tiles, dragging them around, rotating and resizing them to create a collage effect, or there's a warp mode that works in the same way but results in a distorted image rather than a collage. Obviously it's nothing you can't easily do in any image editing app in a couple of minutes and you'll be hard pushed to find a serious application for it, but it's a fun graphical toy to have in your pocket.
06. Handy Photo
The selling point of photo editor Handy Photo is its interface, which uses the corners of the screen to cater for rotating menu options. It's all designed to keep the central area of the screen clear, allowing you to use swipe gestures to tone your effects up or down, much like Luminance. It's a powerful photo editor; the UI isn't for everyone, but this is an amazing price for the effects you get.
Tip: The Move Me tool enables you to clip out objects and move, resize or flip them.
07. Path On
Path On lets you add funky text to photos in unique ways. You draw the path you'd like the words to take, then type in your message - the text then flows along the path. The custom options are the real killer feature here, with you being able to adjust the font, the letter space, and the alignment. Although it's a little fiddly, Path On is probably the best adding-text-to-photos tool around.
Tip: The photo filters are best avoided.
Frametastic is a tool for sharing the big picture; not just a moment but a memory. It allows to you to have a creative outlet for organising the photographic elements of your life whilst also allowing you to alter your images with a set of colour filters. Kind of like Instagram but more framey. iPad retina and iPhone 5 screen support has just been added.
Tip: For high resolution, 2000x2000px output, choose 'ultra resolution' on export.
The Camera app that comes on the iPhone by default is not brilliant: yes, you can use it to take some decent shots, but it doesn't offer you much creative control. This is where Camera+ excels. The app has two parts: a camera and a photo editor, and it truly excels at the latter, with a huge range of advanced features.
Tip: Camera+ doesn't just limit you to editing new pics - you can quickly import your existing photos into the Lightbox so that you can breathe new life into them.
Embarrassed about your laughter lines? Feeling blue about those blemishes? Fear not, Facetune is here! Grab a photo from your Camera Roll and start your makeover; you can remove unwanted freckles, blemished skin or hide bags under the eyes with Smooth; reshape that wonky nose or misshapen jawline with, er, Reshape; and make subtle tweaks of colour using Tone. The results of this photo editor are truly impressive.
Tip: You can share results over Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr - if you dare.
A splash of colour can alter the look of an photo dramatically. Give your iPhone shots some extra oomph with this cool app for the iPhone. Gradients have become a lost art in iPhone photography, but Geló fills that gap in the market well. It needs a little more patience than your average photo app, but persevere and the results are excellent.
Once you've taken or imported an image, you see a carousel of 'gels'. Cycle through to choose a colour, tap it, and then it’s applied to your shot. Using the sliders you can tweak how the filter affects your shot.
Tip: You can easily apply specific RGB values though, that might mimic your favourite tints in iPhoto or Photoshop, say.
If an app-maker claims on its website that its app "makes you creative", incredulous eyebrows will be raised. But when the app is FxCamera, the hugely popular and highly-rated photography and photo-effects app from Bitcellar, you can take that bold claim a touch more seriously.
The killer feature here is Voice Picture, which enables you record a voice message at the same time as you are taking photos. This is done via the on-screen shutter button which, when swiped to the right and held down, allows you to create a kind of spoken caption for your image. You can even share Voice Pictures on Facebook.
Tip: You can use FxCamera as a normal camera and improve your images with its auto enhance feature.
13. Clone Camera
A smart photo-compositing app that allows you to double up on your images. Clone Camera lets you produce a 'photo' of a scene with the same person in it multiple times. It's simply a case of taking up to four photos of the same person in a different location, and then selecting the areas you want to stitch together into the final photo.
Tip: The app works best if you have a tripod, or can otherwise keep your device still
'50s-inspired photo app Retromatic enables you to import your photos, cut them out using an instant alpha tool, and then apply vintage effects to them. It’s quick and easy to use, and looks great, although expect frustration if you want to do anything more than the basics.
Tip: The instant alpha tool works well, but you have to hold down on the screen to make it switch between a brush and pinching to zoom
15. Photoshop Touch
The Photoshop family continues to grow, with its latest addition bringing the formerly tablet-only Photoshop Touch to Apple and Android smartphones. It's an effective re-imagining of Adobe's killer desktop app, carrying over many of its most compelling features, including layers and adjustments. One of the best image editors around.
Tip: The app is bundled with 29 fonts for adding text to your photos, including Adobe Garamond Pro, Cooper Std Black and Myriad Pro.
Camera360 is a remarkable smartphone photo app. It's perfectly self-contained with a huge range of functions, no ads and no insistence in promoting paid content.
Touching the photo after applying a filter produces a nifty quick comparison of the 'before' and 'after' versions. One drawback is that the process of importing photos is slightly tedious, with one too many clicks involved.
Tip: Go to Enhancement > Night for a great filter to correct slightly dark or underexposed photos.
Excellent user interface makes PhotoWonder one of the speediest smartphone photo apps to use. It also has a good collage feature with multiple layouts and photo booth effects. The filter selection isn’t huge, but many are so well-designed that you’ll find them far more valuable than sheer quantity from a lesser app.
Tip: The Vintage filter works magic on photos of buildings or scenery. Combine with Sweety for a dreamy retro effect.
18. Vintage Deco
- Platform: iOS (iPhone)
- Developer: Lynette Pui Gar Fong Castellanos
- Price: Free
Vintage Deco is a brand new iPhone photo app designed to give your images a retro scrapbook feel. The filters are a bit clumsy and lean towards Instagram, but there’s a lot of fun to be had by importing a picture just to play around with the nostalgic stamps and borders.
Tip: The Stamp section has some amusingly whimsical affirmations such as All you need is love…and a cat and Success is the best revenge.
19. Magic Hour Lite/Free
The combination of subtle filters and tilt-shift function allows Magic Hour Lite (called Magic Hour Free on Android) to produce some truly unique results. The filters create effects that are far more sophisticated than some of the tinted, overexposed pre-sets from other apps.
Note that this photo app forces you to crop your image to a square, which can either be a hassle or very convenient if you’re uploading to Instagram.
Tip: The Magic Hour filter gives everything a lovely, soft luminescence. All filters seem to work best on lighter images, such as those taken in daylight or pre-edited to reduce underexposure.
20. LINE Camera
Sleek and easy-to-use, LINE Camera comes with a solid range of filters, borders, icons and stamps. You can also add text to your pictures in over 100 fonts and 20 colours, making this free smartphone photo app one of the best for typography.
Tip: Check out Stamp > Heart Symbol > Shine for a nice selection of kitschy sparkle brushes.
Tadaa lets you adjust the strength of all its filters, which is ideal for people who like fine-tuning their photos with subtle effects. This iPhone photo app tries to get you to use its own social network, but you can still use all features without a login.
Tip: Click on the frame icon to access a nice range of photo film borders. Unlike Instagram and Magic Hour, you’re not limited to a square and can apply the film border to a photo of any size.
22. Rakuga Cute
- Platform: iOS (iPhone)
- Developer: Tatsumi Electronics
- Price: Free
At first glance this iPhone photo app seems aimed at Japanese schoolgirls rather than discerning designers but Rakuga Cute actually contains some unusual editing functions which makes it an interesting addition to your photo repertoire.
Tip: The Mosaic option lets you selectively pixelate any part of a photo, quite useful for blurring out license-plates, identities or should you feel so inclined, body parts as well.
23. Camera Awesome
- Platform: iOS (iPhone and iPad)
- Developer: SmugMug
- Price: Free
An extremely slick interface and witty copywriting makes iPhone and iPad photo app Camera Awesome a delight to use. The functions and filters are grown-up and sophisticated. The only inconvenience is that in the process of editing a picture you’ll inevitably end up previewing demo versions of paid-for features so there’s constant backtracking involved if you want to stick with free content.
Tip: The Awesomize button lets you brighten and sharpen a picture using one click, but still with the option of fine-tuning details if you wish.
24. Photoshop Express
As you would expect from Adobe, the interface and user experience of the Photoshop Express photo app for Apple and Android devices is faultless. It fulfils all the functions you need for picture editing and will probably be the one you turn to for sheer convenience.
However none of the filters really jump out, and some are surprisingly naff for an app that comes from the developer for designers.
Tip: Straighten and Flip are two useful functions not included in many other apps.
25. Photo Editor by Aviary
Aviary is a very pleasantly designed app that strikes the perfect balance between serious photo-editing and playful photo-decoration functions without looking bland or childish. Perhaps because it’s quite new, the selection of filters and stickers are fairly small, so any future updates would give this app great room for play.
Tip: The Strato filter creates one of the most convincing vintage effects from all the apps tested.
26. Paper Camera
Filter effects aren't exactly a new thing, but Paper Camera takes a different approach to the post effects found in the likes of Instagram. What does it do? Well, it displays effects in real time on your camera as you're using it. There are some neat effects on offer - including cartoon, half tone and sketch.
Whilst it's not necessarily an app that will change your workflow or outlook on life, Pixlr-o-matic is a nice tool for adding retro effects to your images or photos. It has 100 effects, 280 overlays and almost 200 different borders - so for the grand cost of nada it’s worth including in our run down.
28. 3DSteroid Pro
Want to create stereoscopic 3D images from the camera on your phone? Yes, thought so. Check out 3DSteroid Pro - an app that enables you to do just that, with some excellent tools and a very user-friendly interface.
Tip: you can save out a high-res image but not in the free version, so it's worth forking out for the paid-for app
Combining typography with popular photo editor Instagram led Phillip Pastore to create Ambergram, a cool app that enables you to create endless typographic compositions using cool photos of fonts. You can capture and tag your own letters, or use the app's already stellar offerings generated by the communtiy.
Tip: Letter results can be filtered by style and the location in which they were spotted.
A bit of fun to end with. At first glance we got a bit confused and thought this was a music app... That's because it was released by electronic music duo Goldfrapp in anticipation of the release of their sixth studio album, Tales Of Us.
The app combines two of your photos using the 'double exposure' photography technique; creating an illusory joint image. Images created can then easily be saved to your camera roll and shared with friends via email, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Joanna Zhou is an award-winning manga illustrator and graphic designer. She currently runs her own design label Maqaroon.
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Which apps will you be downloading? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below!