North Carolina State Fair

iPhoning It In at the Fair

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There are a lot of people who bring huge, complex cameras and equipment to the Fair. I am not one of them. This is for a few reasons: 1) I walk around a lot and I don't want to have to lug a camera, 2) I'm terrified I will break it, and 3) I'm not a photographer! Just because you take pictures doesn't mean you're a photographer. I don't have nearly the expertise to make use of one of those big complicated cameras.

So I have a little point and shoot that I keep in a shirt pocket. Just because I am not an expert doesn't mean that I don't want to take pictures that are at least pretty good.

This year I had a mishap with my camera's charger and found myself without the use of my camera for part of the Fair. The only camera I had was the one on my iPhone. So I decided to do an experiment. How well could I do with an iPhone camera? I was a little surprised at the results.

Lots of Apps for That

The iPhone comes with a simple camera app, but I wanted to see if there other apps available to help take better pictures.

As you might imagine, there are lots and lots of apps designed to help you use the camera better, from popular apps like Instagram to very specialized photo filters. After poking around I settled on three apps with which to experiment.

Camera+ -- Every review I read said this was the photo app to use instead of Apple's. 99 cents on iTunes, this app offers additional scene modes, different shooting options (including a stabilizer and "burst" shooting) and touch focus.

Pro HDR -- HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range," and as I understand it, is a way for your phone to get the best possible picture by taking multiple exposures. Pro HDR takes two pictures and offers you a combined image with a series of sliders to change things like brightness and contrast, along with over two dozen filters to change the appearance of the image. It's $1.99 in the iTunes store.

AutoStitch -- AutoStitch allows you to take several pictures at a time and them "stitches" them into a panorama that you can save to your photo library, e-mail to yourself, etc. It's $1.99 in the iTunes store.

Using the Apps

I got two of the three apps the day before heading out to the Fair so I didn't get a lot of time to experiment with them. Walking around, when I found something interesting to photograph, I'd take a picture with Camera+ and sometimes with HDR Pro. A couple of times I stopped and took panorama pictures for Autostitch.

Camera+ was easy to use, but I sometimes got confused using the focus tools. Camera+ also saves the images in its own app space and you must manually transfer them to the camera roll (this is to give you a chance to edit them.) That's okay as long as you remember to transfer over the photos before you sync with your computer, lest you have an "Ack! I'm sure I took a picture of that!" moment.

Pro HDR took some great shots, but it was time consuming. You point the camera at what you want to take a picture, and Pro HDR tells you to hold still, analyzes the image, and then takes two pictures, which it combines. In my experience it took between 20-30 seconds to take a shot, which meant that inadvertent photobombing happened a lot as people walked in front of the camera. After the picture is taken, you have to save the image before you could use the camera again. Pro HDR was not for casual, spontaneous pictures is what I'm trying to say.

AutoStitch was easy to use, and while it did take a little while to take pictures, I was very impressed with the results I got from it. Finding a good candidate for a panorama image does take some trial and error, especially as the iPhone doesn't have optical zoom.

What Worked

Camera+ was a great addition to the day. The filters and scene modes available (especially Clarity) helped a lot.

Pro HDR took good pictures but it required a lot of time to use and was a little tough to use in the Fair's busier areas.

AutoStitch took nifty panoramas but finding good subjects for such an image took some trial and error.


There is no way that an iPhone is going to match the picture-taking quality of an expensive SLR camera. But spending five bucks on a few apps let me push the iPhone a lot of further and get some pictures I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.


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