The camera on the iPhone 3GS is serviceable, but I doubt anyone would claim it was good. The tap-to-focus feature, which also does some exposure correction I think, is the only real improvement on my old phone’s camera; the picture quality certainly isn’t startlingly different.
I’ve found a few applications to help me produce nicer looking photos than the camera gives in its raw form. These applications are post-processing, so can only work with what the camera gives meaning they cannot perform miracles1. I’m sure I could improve the photos from my Ixus using similar apps—-if only they existed for the Mac for so little money.
Firstly, I found Best Camera. This allows you to apply and reorder filters to your images. These filters are hard-coded to certain values (e.g., warming colours by a fixed amount) but the defaults seem well chosen and you can produce some nice images with them.
Tiltshift Generator is designed to mimic the tilt-shift lenses which are skilled at taking real-life scenes and making them look minature, like so:
But, as Phil notes, it’s also great at introducing depth of field to your images, something which can enhance the subject and make the photo appear more dramatic.
In the original of this photo, the fireplace was in focus. Using Tiltshift Generator, I adjusted the photo to only be focused on Effie. The effect isn’t perfect, but it works well for casual viewing. In addition to the blurring effect, Tiltshift Generator can also adjust colours. In the photo of the harbour above, I’ve increased the colour saturation to enhance the impression of children’s toys.
Finally, the free Mill Colour allows much more freedom in adjusting the colours of your photos. Fortunately for myself, who has little understanding of how to create specific effects by twiddling colour dials, the application includes some really nice presets which will almost always get you most of the way there. At least, they take me to the level where random tweaking will get me to where I want to be. Here’s an example:
On the left, I’ve introduced a little depth of field with Tiltshift Generator, but left the photo mostly alone. Then in Mill Colour, I’ve applied the “Bleached” filter and played around a little to create the final image. I was quite pleased with the result.
The main thing to be careful of, as I’m starting to find, is one needs to be judicious with the use of these tools, otherwise all your photos start to look the same. In addition, techniques like using Tiltshift Generator to produce depth of field only work well with certain images—I’m still learning which ones!
Overall, however, these and similar tools are great to have as one tries to make the best of the iPhone’s camera. The vibrant application space around the iPhone is really starting to prove its worth.
1 I’m looking at you crappy digital zoom apps.