6 great smartphone camera apps

If you own a smartphone, chances are you use the built-in camera to shoot many, if not all, of your photos. But you can expand your camera’s capabilities and improve your photography by downloading third-party apps. Here are six impressive photo apps that let you get more creative with the photos you shoot.

Find out how to take great photos with a smartphone. And check our buying guide and Ratings for smartphones and digital cameras.

—Terry Sullivan

Manual ($2, iOS)

This app is both simple and powerful: It gives you manual control over your phone’s camera, something that has been permitted by Apple only since iOS 8 was introduced last fall. With Manual, you can alter the ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and focus point, dramatically increasing your photo-taking choices. The app will also record what settings were used for each shot.

Snapseed (free, Android and iOS)

This app brings you a wide range of novel filters and effects, including Vintage, Drama, and Retrolux, which can be applied alone or in layers. For example, Retrolux produces a weather-beaten texture. Adjust the strength of the effect by swiping your finger left or right. The app also includes a wide range of standard photo-editing functions.

Afterlight ($1, Android and iOS)

The developers of this app have created a nice combination of intuitive editing tools, along with dozens of filters and deeper, slightly more complex effects. The double-exposure tool is particularly fun: You choose two photos and scale one of them larger. Then Afterlight provides five options for combining the images, along with a slider to increase or decrease the collaged effect.

Colors ($1, iOS)

If there's one thing I miss about old film cameras, it’s my collection of filters. This app tempers my nostalgia a bit. It provides more than 1,000 color filters that you can apply to your photo, grouping them into themes like “Rainbow” and “Romantic” for easier searching. You can adjust the intensity of the effects, and you can even add filters in a variety of patterns, as shown in the image above.

Lenka ($3, iOS)

Bring out your inner Ansel Adams with this app, which lets you take photos in good old black and white. Instead of using a filter after the pic is snapped, you can compose your photo directly in monochromatic tones. For a moodier effect, add fill light using the app’s Lamp button; the app will steadily illuminate the scene instead of triggering the flash. You can also adjust contrast and exposure.

Hipstamatic ($2, iOS)

Take that old black camera body, add funky lenses, wrap it all up into an app, and you get Hipstamatic. Each lens offered by the app gives you a different effect, and it’s fun to play around with them. Switch lenses by swiping the front of the camera. Labels hidden on the back of photos display the lens and effects used, and where the picture was taken. You can buy HipstaPaks, with more effects, or order prints from HipstaPrint.

This article also appeared in the July 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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