Thursday, October 11, 2012

Android Camera Setup

About five years ago I began teaching myself HTML. I had a single $300 Toshiba laptop and a 3.2 Mp camera. I spent hours learning about HTML, CSS and how to use FTP and the CPanel on my web host. Some time passed and I discovered Wordpress, PHP and MySQL. I bought another laptop. A year and a half ago I bought my first Android phone, an HTC Evo 4G. It changed my life. It has revolutionized how I look at technology and how it can be used in the outdoors. A year ago I bought a netbook to play with. In June I upgraded my phone to a Samsung Galaxy S3. Several point and shoot cameras have come and gone. Currently I'm using an Lumix LX-5, which seems like the most robust point and shoot camera I've ever owned. I've played around with Linux (complete noob), rooted my phones and flashed more ROM's than I'm willing to count. I'm currently taking a basic programming class, trying to learn JQuery, and teaching myself how to use Blogger to build simple yet effective websites (way more than what most people use blogger for) that integrate all the Google tools into a low cost, easy to maintain website. On my desk most of the time are 3 computers, a smartphone, a Panasonic point and shoot and a printer/scanner - quite the mess.

The point is that I've become a major tech nerd. Climbing and technology are both passions of mine. I'm dying to get a tablet (a Nexus 7) and bluetooth keyboard, which I think is going to practically replace all of my devices except my phone. Tablets, with the touch interface but slightly larger screens (7-10") may very well replace laptops for most people in the next few years.

My HTC Evo 4G was amazing, and with good lighting I occasionally captured nice images. More often than not the images were alright, and if I bumped up the saturation and contrast in a photo editor they would look good on a computer screen. I still felt the need to carry around a nice point-and-shoot camera (Panasonic LX-5, robust and dependable). My Galaxy S3 has changed that. Samsung has clearly figured out the camera software for smartphones. As evidence they've just released a Galaxy camera. If I was a producer of point and shoot cameras I'd be nervous right now. My guess is that they're going to all but disappear as people upgrade to camera equipped smartphones.

Most days now I carry my GS3 in an Otterbox Defender and use it as my camera at the cliff. I removed the screen protector from the Otterbox Defender and added a Zagg Invisible Shield HD to the phone. This protects the screen and but still lets me see things clearly. I keep it in my pant side pocket nearly all the time and whip it out at belays to shoot photos.

I don't always like to transfer images from my phone to my computer for editing and batch resizing. Photos I've taken of clients during the day usually remain on my phone until they're resized and sent to people in a single compressed .zip file.

Just a few years ago this would have been impossible. Now though, with a 1.5Ghz dual core processor in my phone, plus 48Gb of storage (16Gb on phone/32Gb external card) and 2Gb of RAM I can do nearly all quick photo-editing tasks from the road using my phone. One entire homescreen on my phone holds photo-related apps. There are camera apps, gallery apps, photo editors, recovery programs, etc. all in one place.

Once I get a tablet there won't be any looking back. Using a touch UI (user interface) to edit photos just makes sense to me. One of the nicest thing about the apps - they transfer across all devices. When I upgrade I keep the app, and good apps are constantly being updated by the developer. Generally, if I like an app I usually buy the paid version so that the dev makes a little money. Below are the apps that I like and have begun to use more and more.

Camera apps

Manual mode, aperture priority and shutter priority feel like they're just around the corner for these devices. I'm not really an instant upload, media sharing type of person so apps like Instagram don't really appeal to me. I like to take photos and play with them or post them later. Still waiting for Photosynth to come to the Android world...

  • Stock Galaxy S3 camera - The stock GS3 app works well. It snaps photos and processes them quickly. The panorama stitching software is the best and fastest I've seen yet in any Android stock or aftermarket camera app. The interface is easy to use. I've tested a handful of other apps, and unless you're after a certain effect the  stock GS3 camera is the way to go. Even when using the AOSP ROM's like CyanogenMod 10, the GS3 camera works well. Were I using another phone I might have a different story. On my old Evo I used other apps, like the ones listed below.

  • ProCapture - This app, which I only bought recently, reminds me a lot of the GS3 stock camera. The interface is similar but there are more options. You can view the histogram to check and see if lighting is good and choose from lots of different effects. It's panorama software is also very good, but works much more slowly than the stock GS3's. In the future I'll be playing around and reviewing this in more depth. ProCapture is $3.99 on Google's PlayStore

Procapture is easy to use

  • Camera360 - I've mentioned this app before and it's remained at the top of my list. It's one of the easiest camera apps to use, there are lots of effects and it's free. The developer has recently added a cloud storage option which requires an account and login information (I'm wary of creating more accounts than I need). Otherwise this app is great. Images are taken at the specified resolution and then resized to 1280x960 if you apply any filters. Generally the effects are good and you can touch the screen to compare the original and the filtered image. I've had pretty good luck shooting screen quality images with this app. It's free.

Camera360 has a nice selection of

Camera360 from the HTC EVO 4G

  • HDR Camera+ - Another app I've mentioned in an earlier post and keep coming back to occasionally. The developer has other camera apps yet none of them seem quite as appealing as HDR Camera+. All this app does is apply HDR (High Dynamic Range) to an image. HDR was originally accomplished on digital cameras using at least 3 images with different levels of exposure. Mulltiple images are merged to get vibrant and well-lit images. On the phone it's all done with software which essentially bumps up color saturation and adjusts contrast, sharpness and brightness. The paid version of this app is $1.99
HDR Camera+

  • Camera Zoom FX - Google celebrated 25 billion app downloads last week with sales on lots of different apps. This one was 25 cents. It's a simple photo app similar to Camera360 that skins and edits images on the fly as you shoot them. Unlike Camera360, Camera Zoom FX maintains full size after edits, which is nice if you're considering printing a larger shot. It's easy to use and since it doesn't automatically downsize image it will most likely replace Camera360 for me. I'll be using it more extensively in the coming weeks.

  • Paper Camera - Pure fun. Not really for images so much as for cartoon and sketch like manipulation. Another app that was $.25 last week.

  • Photaf Panorama Pro - If you're still using Android 2.3 or under, Photaf may be a good way to go. I used it with some success. As long as you have a steady hand and set the app to "manual" picture taking mode you can get good results. The panoramas produced by Photaf are cropped a lot, meaning they'll look fine on a screen but might not be suitable for printing.

Gallery Apps

  • QuickPic - There is no comparison. This is the fastest, best gallery app. I used it exclusively on the Evo and now I use it on the GS3. You can make folders hidden, so you don't end up viewing things like icons, FB images and Picasa folders. Did I mention it's fast? It's not bad for image file management and small edits like cropping too. Free.
Quickpic is a great gallery app
  • Photo Mate Professional - Actually more of an editor, Photo Mate can be used to view images too, and has a cool slideshow function. It's a bit clunky compared to QuickPic though. $7.69 from the PlayStore.

Photo editors

My mind was blown when I discovered the apps below. In a way, once most users discover that they can do light editing on a tablet, using a touch UI they'll never use a desktop or laptop again. My phone instantly became way more useful since I've begun using these apps.

  • PhotoEditor - Photo Editor is one of many lightweight editors available for a low cost on the Google PlayStore. It's one of the most appealing to me. The interface isn't the nicest, but it's extreme easy to use and customize for your own preferences. A series of sliders allows easy adjustment of resize options, brightness, contrast and simple effects including the addition of text.

PhotoEditor is a great simple editor

  • PhotoMate Professional - I pulled the trigger and bought this one. It's $7.69, which makes it one of the most expensive apps I've purchased (Backcountry Navigator was $9.99 and worth every penny). It's a full featured photo editor that does batch conversions and resizing. It handles raw files as well, meaning you can do light duty editing to raw camera files from high-end point-and-shoot cameras and DSLR's. It's almost like using Adobe Lightroom. Images can be edited using a series of sliders and portions of images can be selected out so that lighting can be adjusted only for one portion of a photo. Batch resizing with PhotoMate is possible but seems to be limited by RAM or software limitations. When I set conversion quality to a low setting it will work, but leaving .jpg quality on high seems to stop batch conversion entirely. The app is constantly being updated and the dev is responsive though, so this app should improve over time.

PhotoMate Professional even edits raw files

  • ImageResize V2beta - Despite a clunky interface, this app does batch resizing of whole folders easily. That's all it does. It's free and it's useful.

 File Managers

It helps to have a few file managers. Some work better than others and none are perfect.

  • Astro - Astro File Manager is free and popular. Most of the time it works well. The most recent update is crap. Otherwise this has always been my file manager of choice and as soon as the developer gets rid of the bugs things should be fine.

  • ES File Explorer - Easy to use, but a little less intuitive, ES works reliably and can be used to compress files, and batch move entire folders or files.

Recovery Software

Every once in a while you delete something by accident. Recovery apps like Hexamob can help. Hexamob searches for deleted files and restores them. I've used it on several occasions and been really happy to have it.

Email clients

One glitch in this process is almost a dealbreaker. The Gmail app on my Android phone (I suspect all Android phones) doesn't handle zip files well. This is most likely for security reasons. As a result, I'm using K-9 Mail, an email client based on the stock Android email client, but with some really big improvements. It will handle compressed files and you can easily turn off sync so that the Gmail app is still your regular mail app.

If you have other apps that you think work well or have other ways you're using your Android outside feel free to comment below.

Hexamob, for when you accidentally
delete an image

Homescreen with image apps

Spider's Web panorama image, using GS3's stock pano app

Camera360 using HTC EVO 4G

Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan, GS3 Panorama mode

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