With the advent of the smartphone, photography has fundamentally changed. While professional photographers will scoff at the masses and their apps, some great art is being created through smartphones. Mobile developers are rushing to meet the demand, and photo filter apps are a hot commodity right now, especially after Facebook spent a cool billion dollars to acquire Instagram. There are so many photo sharing, editing and filtering apps out there now that it is hard to determine what is best for you. To narrow the topic, we take a look just at apps that provide filters and give you nine of the best on the market.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Instagram, Facebook's billion-dollar baby, basically launched the entire category of photo filters turned into mobile social media networks. Others have tried to emulate it, but have never succeeded in besting Instagram's easy-to-use interface, its variety of filters or the community it has built. What is Instagram? It is a camera app that can make your photos look like the best hipster smartphone photography you have ever seen. It also functions as a Twitter-like mobile social network, allowing people to follow each other and see what great photography they are producing with their smartphones. Sound extremely simple? It is. But, sometimes the simplest ideas can be worth a billion dollars.
(Free -- iPhone)
So, Facebook spent a billion dollars on Instagram knowing full well that it had its own camera app complete with filters in production? Hey Facebook, it's your dime. Do as you please. This is an app for the iPhone that taps into your entire Facebook photo stream and provides nominal filters for your photos. The filters are nowhere near Instagram-cool, but Facebook at least gave it a nominal shot. Check out the settings in this app and you will understand why Facebook created it. It cannot access the iPhone's camera roll if location services is turned off, and one thing that Facebook craves more and more of these days is your location data. As for the filters themselves, they are relatively ordinary, very tame in comparison to other great photo apps that are available.
Before Instagram came to Android, a plethora of interesting photo apps tried to fill the filter void. One of the most fun is Retro Camera (also available on iOS). Ever wanted to see what your smartphone photos would look like from a pinhole camera? Or maybe that old Polaroid that your father always lugged around on family vacations? Retro Camera gives users a variety of old-school cameras to give their photos that traditional feeling.
Camera Fun Pro
Camera Fun is... well, it's fun. It has one of the widest selections of filters to add to your smartphone pictures, but instead of trying to be hipster cool, it is more geek chic. What does your scenery look like in black-and-white chalk outlines? Or perhaps you prefer it to look like a blueprint. Green nightvision will give you that "this is what it feels like to be a Marine in the dark" feeling. Try out the various sketch filters to see what your photos would look like if they were drawn by a talented artist using a pencil.
($0.99 -- iPhone)
Camera+ is more of a photo editor than a filter generator, but there are a variety of filters baked into this feature-packed app. In addition to adding borders, cropping, adjusting the rotation and adjusting lighting for your scenery, its filters come in four different categories with nine options each. That includes your standard color filters (sepia, cyan, etc.), retro filters such as toy camera or "hipster," special effects including miniaturization and polarization or nostalgic filters like Contessa or Helios. Camera+ is easy to use and allows you to do just about everything you ever learned in high-school photo class.
(Free -- iPhone)
We love it when application developers come up with fun new words. In this case, we are presented "awesomize" from SmugSmug, the makers of Camera Awesome. The "awesomize" feature is a one-click button that optimizes your photo base on sharpness, contrast, lighting and vibrance. The filters in Camera Awesome have fun names, too. The black-and-white feature is called "Hoth" (the snow planet from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), a faded, sepia tone is called "More Cowbell," and a filter that looks a lot like it was derived from photos from the American Civil War is called "The Dude." Our John Paul Titlow once said of Camera Awesome, "an iPhone app that Instagram and Apple could learn from."
($1.99 -- iPhone)
We are sensing a trend here. Apparently, photo filter apps were built by hipsters, for hipsters. You thought that Instagram was the ultimate hipster camera app? Hipstamatic takes uber-cool and aloof to a whole new level. It employs a series of lenses that give photos that retro feeling and is similar to Retro Camera in that way. The difference from other camera apps, though, is that the user interface is more difficult to navigate, it is a paid app ($1.99 is not that bad but still not free), and it requires a series of in-app purchases to acquire new lenses. Users can send their photos to Hipstamatic, which will print them and send hard copies to the user. Also allows for easy sharing with Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
Photo FX Ultra
($4.99 -- iPad)
Photo FX Ultra is an unusual entrant into this list because it is not iPhone or Android smartphone-centric. Rather, it is an iPad app that has the most robust preset of filters on the market. The reason that developers create photo apps specifically for smartphones is simple: that is where people have their cameras. Very few people use their iPad as a camera. That might change now that the third-generation iPad actually has a decent camera, but the iPad 2 was terrible for taking photos. Yet, as a photo editor, the iPad is a great tool. If you can import your photos to the device, Photo FX Ultra can allow you to make them look like almost anything you want. It has 77 filters organized into eight groups, 934 preset settings and 65 different color or black-and-white film looks. Share across almost every photo platform. Fo the serious photographer, the $4.99 is a great investment.
PicPlz deserves a spot on this list even though many other photo filter apps have ecilpsed it in recent years. In comparison to other photo filter apps, it has a limited selection such as "Russian Toy Camera" or "The 70s." It allows you to share photos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Dropbox and Flickr. One interesting feature is the ability to add stickers to photos. Hey, that could be zany with good fun had by all. PicPlz's best attributes are that it is simple, it is free, and it's available on both the iPhone and Android platforms.