The 12 best photo apps of 2016

Whether you’re shooting stills, working on video, or have a penchant for the bizarre, you need these apps.

The best camera is the one you have with you, but you can make the one welded to your smartphone (or tablet, if you use it to take photos – you weirdo) a whole lot better with photo editing apps.

But fire up Google Play or the App Store and you’ll find seemingly endless lists of camera apps and image editors scrolling before your eyes like the looping background on a cheap cartoon.

That’s why we’re here, to reveal the very best stuff that arrived over the past year – and a few apps that have had the kind of major updates that’ll make you want to look at them again.

01. Adobe Photoshop Fix

Adobe’s retouching and restoration app made it to Android in 2016

Originally iOS-only, Adobe’s retouching and restoration app made it to Android in 2016. This isn’t full-fat Photoshop, but there’s plenty of the power of Adobe’s desktop behemoth within. Beyond basic cropping and adjustments, you get smart features for fiddling around with portraits. With a few taps, you can smooth skin, fix imperfections, adjust the position of features, and subtly narrow someone’s nose – or make it really massive if you’re feeling mischievous.

02. Exify

We’d have been so upset had that Peak value been at 8 per cent
  • Price: $1.99/£1.49
  • Available on: iOS

An app very much aimed at pro photographers, Exify is a bunch of tools rather than a camera or editor. Fire it up and you can quickly delve into the fine details behind your pics: lens info; image size; colour space; exposure. There are graphs for histograms, location and time details, and also a magnifier for getting up close and personal with every little detail of your iPhone snaps.

03. Filmborn

We miss you, film! But, er, not enough to ditch our iPhone. Hence: Filmborn!
  • Price: Free
  • Available on: iOS

There are loads of film emulation apps knocking around, but Filmborn feels like a decidedly grown-up entry. Along with being a great camera, through including loads of handy features for perfecting snaps, the tools you get are focussed, and the film filters arrived from intensive side-by-side comparisons with the real thing. Smartly, the app provides insight into why you might choose each film type, thereby adding a smattering of education rather than leaving you flailing with dozens of settings you’ve no hope of mastering.

04. GeometriCam

What would an iPhone camera smashed into a C64 be like? Wonder no more!
  • Price: $2.99/£2.29
  • Available on: iOS

Whether working with live photography or photos from your Camera Roll, GeometriCam is all about breaking down an image into geometric patterns. A large variety of shapes is on offer, including all kinds of triangles, squares, diamonds, circles and lines. The results are often quite retro in nature, but can provide the creative spark for something more interesting than a vanilla shot might. And if those presets aren’t quite wacky enough for you, check out the crazed kaleidoscopic effects of the polygon tool. 

05. Hypocam

What’s black and white and moody all over? This app (apparently)

If you’re one of those people who feels there’s a bit too much colour in your life, Hypocam will be right up your street. This camera app is dedicated to the cause of black and white photography. Suitably, along with its mono interface, and mono tools for taking better mono photographs, you get inspirational arty stories from people immersed in black and white imagery, and the option to grab a bunch of extra presets.

06. LumaFX

We’re pretty sure our client wanted their video to look like this
  • Price: $4.99/£3.99
  • Available on: iOS

Yes, you can fiddle around with individual video clips in iMovie, but not nearly to the extent of what’s possible in the superb LumaFX. Here, you get all kinds of cropping and flipping options, speed controls, and a ton of colour and effects settings. Need to subtly adjust a colour cast? Done. Want to layer a bunch of effects to turn a video of your cat into a terrifying luminescent nightmare? That’s all just a few taps away.

07. MuseCam

Snap. Tilt. Edit. Filter. Curves! Hues! Presets! And… relax.
  • Price: Free
  • Available on: iOS

There are two sides to MuseCam. One’s a perfectly serviceable manual camera, with shutter, ISO, white balance and focus controls. But it’s in editing that MuseCam really shines. Select a shot from your Camera Roll and it’s ready to fiddle around with, whether whacking on a film-inspired preset, messing around with curves, or making subtler adjustments. Edits are non-destructive, and can later be adjusted in-app. If you want an edit viewable elsewhere, simply export.

08. PhotoScan

Scanners are so last century. We do everything on a smartphone

Google’s “scanner from the future” isn’t actually a new idea, but it nonetheless captured the imagination on release in November. The idea is to save snaps from dusty, forgotten corners of your house by hurling them into your smartphone, and, presumably, then to dusty, forgotten corners of the internet. The process is quick, and the app does a decent job dealing with glare and automatic cropping. Quality is occasionally a touch iffy, but it’s a whole lot faster than traditional scanning.

09. Prisma

Sorry. We never knew Munch journo would be quite so terrifying

It’s safe to say that no other camera app in 2016 took hold as much as Prisma, which was quickly followed by an endless stream of pretenders. None have matched the original, however, with its effortless method of transforming photos into art. More accurately, you select a photo and then a target style (such as Munch’s Scream), and Prisma has a crack at merging the two. Astonishingly, it very often succeeds.

10. Quik

The app for people too lazy to edit their own videos

Originally known as Replay on iOS, the rebranded Quik (now owned by GoPro) made it to Android in 2016. It’s effectively a video-editing app for people who can’t be bothered with the editing bit. Throw videos at Quik, choose a theme, and let it get to work. There’s a modicum of control, however, in terms of shot order, fonts and filters. And while it might not appear to have pro applications, we’ve used it for inspiration when faced with cutting a pile of clips.

11. SKRWT

The app that hates botched perspective and vowels equally
  • Price: $1.99/£1.49 (iOS)/$0.99/£1.09 (Android)
  • Available on: iOS/Android

Another iOS great that’s now on Android, SKRWT is a specialist photography app that’s designed to deal with perspective and lens correction. The app’s somewhat involved and requires a bit of effort to fully comprehend. Soon enough, though, you’ll be using its various tools to add a seriously professional touch to your photographs. Converging lines in city shots? Gone. Lens distortion? Banished. IAP adds two further tools: 4PNTS (adjust perspective through corner points) and MRRW (mirroring). Overall: it’s FNTSTC.

12. Unfade

Old pics fading to grey? Bring them back to life with a tap
  • Price: $4.99/£3.99
  • Available on: iOS

Our final choice is another app seeking to bring back life to old images. Developed by the brains behind the dependable Scanbot, Unfade can be used to take photos of old photos, and then give them a boost. Scanning’s a touch more involved than Google’s PhotoScan, typically requiring manual cropping. However, the inclusion of filtering is useful – from the titular Unfade through to more esoteric options. When you’re done, albums can be created, named, shared, and then ignored until we eventually need an app to rescue old digital snaps from the internet. Or something.

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