Scout Camera Redesigned for iOS 7

A completely redesigned version of Scout Camera for iOS 7 was released today. While many of the changes are cosmetic – to match the distinct look of iOS 7, there are a few other nice improvements that make this a great update.

Scout Camera for iOS 7

The biggest new feature is a slider that lets you adjust the intensity of the current image filter. For most of the filters, adjusting the slider down will lower the intensity of the filter – bringing the image closer to what it looks like naturally (bringing the slider all the way down still shows some filter effect).

The “Pearl” and “Nora” filters behave differently though… for those, adjusting the slider down mixes the filter effect with a standard grayscale image conversion. For “Pearl”, that means a nice range between the high contrast black and white when used at full intensity – and a more standard black and white conversion. For “Nora” it gives a pleasing range of deep blue/gold to black/white tones.

That small addition to the app provides a huge array of possibilities, and I’m looking forward to seeing the great photos people take with it. On top of that, many of the filters have been improved to have a better overall look.

Scout Camera - Filter Select

Other improvements to the app include:

  • a nice new app icon
  • new “color blur” and “grayscale blur” crop border styles that match the blurred background style of iOS 7 (on iPhone 5, iPad 3, iPod Touch 5th gen and newer devices only)
  • a new layout for the flash and front/back camera select controls, which provides easier access to those controls on newer 4″ screen devices
  • larger thumbnail images in the photo browser
  • lots of user interface tweaks, and a couple of small bug fixes

I should mention that the app runs only on iOS 7 and up now… not a problem for most, but if you’re using an iPhone 3GS I’m afraid you’ll need to stick with the previous version of Scout Camera. Also, I’ve chosen to make it a free update rather than offer it as a new app in the App Store.

All in all, it’s a great update. If you haven’t purchased Scout Camera, I hope you’ll check it out… it’s fun to use, and might just be your new favorite camera app.

Why Scout Camera?

Prior to writing her review of Scout Camera, Marianne Schultz of AppShopper asked me “Why did you want to create a photography app (given the large number of photography apps already in the App Store)?”

This post is an expanded version of my response to her, explaining why I made Scout Camera – and why I think it makes for a better photography experience.

I love photography… so much that at one point I strongly considered becoming a professional photographer, but quickly realized that it would require too much time away from my family. Though I’m not a very prolific photographer, I think I do occasionally take a decent photo.

Given that love of photography, it was natural for me to want to make a camera app.

I really enjoy the process of taking photos – and being able to frame a picture to a particular aspect ratio while taking it is, to me, a better experience than taking a photo and cropping it later on. If you carefully compose a picture while in the process of taking it, rather than taking a quick shot and cropping it later, you’ll end up with better photos – and you’ll become a better photographer overall. I think this is something most photography enthusiasts would agree with me on. For that reason, I wanted to make a camera app that offered a choice of aspect ratios.

I also really like the 16:9 aspect ratio. I find that particular shape of photo visually interesting, and wanted a camera app capable of that. Years ago, I discovered some fantastic 16:9 photos on the DPReview.com forums taken by photographer/architect Bj√∂rn Utpott with his Panasonic LX1 camera – so my desire for a 16:9 camera app was also partially inspired by him. (I wish these photos were still around, but I can’t find them anywhere… his newer photos are taken with various cameras and mostly not in 16:9, but are still great). The ability to take photos in 16:9 ended up working well with the iPhone 5 when it was released – it’s nice viewing those photos on the iPhone 5’s 16:9 screen.

A 16:9 photo taken with Scout Camera

A 16:9 photo taken with Scout Camera

One issue I have with other camera apps is how some of the controls block the view of the photo you’re trying to take (like the typical front/back camera switch and flash on/auto/off buttons). In other camera apps, I find those controls distracting and think they get in the way of composing the picture. So, with Scout Camera I decided to make those controls only show when you need them.

Another problem with certain camera apps is how they try to look like traditional cameras and emulate their controls. I wanted something with a clean, uncluttered interface – something elegant that looked like it belonged on an iPhone, not a poorly translated rehash of DSLR buttons and menus.

Scout Camera

Scout Camera’s clean, uncluttered interface.

I also wanted to be able to offer something that allowed you to take photos in black and white, or that had a little extra color saturation – or a number of other visual looks… and I wanted to be able to see what those effects looked like as I was taking the photo. There are some really great image filters included with Scout Camera, and there’s still a lot more I want to do in that area.

In many ways, I think Scout Camera makes the process of taking photos more enjoyable, and can even help you take better photos. While the app runs on anything from an iPhone 3GS on up, it really shines on an iPhone 5. In fact, I think it’s the best photography experience available on the iPhone 5 and I hope you’ll give it a try.

The iPhone 5’s Low Light Boost Mode

Yesterday Daring Fireball’s John Gruber reported his findings that Apple’s built in Camera app on the iPhone 5 was capable of using ISO speeds up to 3200 – while 3rd party apps seemed to be limited to ISO 800.

This was troubling news, and I reached the same conclusion in my own testing.

However, after posting a thread (developer login ID required) to the Apple developer forums I’ve learned that 3rd party developers CAN take advantage of this special “low light boost mode”. (Thanks Apple!)

While it’s not documented yet in the AVCaptureDevice Class Reference, taking a peek at the “AVCaptureDevice.h” class header reveals the related properties:

lowLightBoostSupported
lowLightBoostEnabled
automaticallyEnablesLowLightBoostWhenAvailable

They chose to make the low light boost mode optional, as the increase in light sensitivity comes at the cost of some increased noise (not surprisingly). Making it optional was a good decision.

While this low light boost mode won’t make it into the update of Scout Camera that is currently “waiting for review” by Apple – I’ll be looking at implementing it for the next update.

UPDATE: I’ve added full control over the iPhone 5’s low light boost mode to Scout Camera. The following image shows the low light boost button in the upper right corner – which allows you to switch low light boost on/off. The button turns red when low light boost is active, so you can tell exactly when your photos will be above ISO 800.

(I had to turn a lamp off to get the low light boost to come on, which is why there’s not much difference in brightness between the “inactive” and “active” examples.)

With The iPhone 5’s Camera App, What You See Is Not What You Get

UPDATE: With iOS 7, Apple updated the Camera app to properly show an accurate preview. This article refers to the older version of the Camera app that was included in iOS 6.

The iPhone 5 is being delivered to people around the world today in a flurry of excitement. I’m expecting a knock on my door any moment as UPS delivers mine, and will happily start testing apps on it. Once I get some free time, I plan on taking lots of photos with it, as photography is a big hobby of mine (That love of photography is the reason I made Scout Camera).

I’m a bit puzzled by a design choice Apple has made with the Camera app on the iPhone 5 though:

When you take a photo on the iPhone 5, it’s saved to the camera roll in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Just like on the iPhone 4S, photos are 3264 pixels by 2448 pixels. However, unlike the iPhone 4S, the preview that’s displayed on the screen while you’re taking photos is in a 3:2 aspect ratio.

What this means, is that the final photo will look different than what you saw while taking the photo – with extra pixels on two sides. This image demonstrates the disconnect between what you see in the Camera app, and what you end up with in the final photo:

Photos taken with the iPhone 5 Camera app are larger than what you're shown in the app's preview area

While some people won’t care, and may not even notice the difference – to me it’s a surprising design choice by Apple.

As a form of art, I think it’s important to be able to carefully compose a photo within the frame. To make sure that spacing of objects within the frame are evenly distanced from the photo’s edges. To take a well-designed photo from the start – rather than take a quick snap shot and find out that you need to crop it afterwards to get the photo you really meant to.

This is important stuff to photographers. DSLR camera makers for years have been trying to make what you see in a camera’s optical view finder match what you get in the final photo as closely as possible – with their most expensive cameras typically doing a better job of that than less expensive ones.

I’m guessing that Apple’s reasoning behind designing the app that way, was to keep the black toolbar at the bottom from being ridiculously large. If the Camera app previewed photos at the proper 4:3 aspect ratio, it might look similar to this:

It will be interesting to see how other camera apps handle this in the coming weeks. Will they follow Apple’s lead, and not preview the entire photo? Or design their interface to show the photo as it will look when saved?

While Scout Camera is already available in the app store, the update to add preliminary iPhone 5 support is still waiting for review from Apple. Here’s how it will display the full 4:3 photo on an iPhone 5:

Of course, Scout can also take photos in 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 too:

There’s that knock on the door – my iPhone 5 has just arrived…