As the de facto point-and-shoot camera reviewer for CNET, I spend a lot of time living in the world of automatic snapshots and easy post-shoot editing. While I can tell you several ways a separate point-and-shoot is better than a smartphone camera (and not just in picture quality), I'd be a lying liar if I said I never use my smartphone's camera when I'm shooting.
I'm regularly hunting for new apps that will allow me to do more and work efficiently. For a long time, though, it seemed like there was a complete lack of decent camera apps for Android. I remember trying to pull together a list of apps I liked about this time last year and I could barely come up with five. That's not the case anymore.
These are the dozen camera apps that I use most frequently, which I guess makes them my favorites. I have others that I use for various things (which I've mentioned in with my other picks below), but I keep coming back to these.
The links will take you to these apps' pages on CNET's Download.com, where many of them have full reviews from Associate Editor Jaymar Cabebe. If I missed one of your favorites -- whether it's for editing, shooting, both, or neither -- please let me know in the comments.
Camera Zoom FX
This $2.99 app calls itself the ultimate Android camera app, and really it is. It's certainly the most feature-filled, handling both shooting and editing duties from one interface.
And while I find them a bit corny, there are a bunch of free expansion packs for sticking celebrities or props in your photos.
Also worth checking out in this category is Vignette. While I don't like its interface and work flow as much as Camera Zoom FX's, it is loaded with features and the only thing that's held back for the $3.99 Pro version is the ability to use resolutions above 0.8 megapixel.
Little Photo is nice because the work flow is pretty fast.
Open the app, tap the screen to shoot, and then tap your shot to open a vertical list of editing tools, filters, and effects with live previews as you select them.
It's free, but a $3.85 plug-in adds tools like cropping and contrast, exposure, and saturation controls.
Like Urbian's Retro Camera, the free Pudding Camera app from KTH offers several different camera types as well as films that you can combine for your desired effect. You also get quick exposure control, support for front-facing cameras, and tap-to-shoot.
The biggest problem I have with it is that your largest photo resolution is 1,280 pixels, but that's fine for sharing online.
Along the same lines as Pudding Camera is Cymera, a camera app from SK Communications. The interface is nice and snappy, and it has plenty of editing options after you shoot. It is, however, tied into SK Comm's Korean social network, Cyworld, and every time you start the app, it asks you to log in. You can choose not to and use the app, but it's an extra step that might get to you after awhile. Plus, it's limited to a maximum resolution of 1,024 pixels. It's free, though, so checking it out won't cost you anything.
If you're just looking for a good, free photo editor, BeFunky's is solid and ad-free.
Everything you expect to find for fine-tuning your shots before you share them is here and easy to use.
The $3.99 Pro version more than doubles the number of effects, but, as with my next pick, the selection that's offered for free should be enough for most.
Aviary Photo Editor
Aviary isn't an app, but I included it here because it's free and works well. It's actually a plug-in that adds itself to the Share options on your phone. You take a photo with whatever app you want or open a photo and tap your Share icon. Select Aviary from the list and it opens up a window of editing options.
There are plenty of tools to work with -- everything from quick crops to teeth whitening -- as well as filters and effects. Aviary sells a couple of expansion packs of six effects each for 99 cents a pop, but the free stuff is all I've ever used.
If you're going to pay for a photo editor, I'd go with PicSay Pro. It's only $3.99, but it's one of the easiest editing apps you're going to find.
Open a picture and select what you want to do: Adjust, Effect, or Stickers. It then pops a tiny thumbnail of your shot up next to your editing options, giving you a little preview. It's particularly handy with its long, long list of effects.
However, if all you're after is a ton of effects, download the free Pixlr-o-matic. The interface lets you quickly apply various filters, lighting effects, and frames to see how each looks before you save and share. And if you're not satisfied with the selection it comes with, there are several additional packs to download for free.
Basically, this allows you to fake a shallow depth of field. Or, more accurately, it lets you blur out distracting backgrounds, bringing your subject into sharper focus -- all with a couple swipes of your finger.
You shouldn't be afraid to dive on in; it's a fairly easy app to get started with. But, if you'd like to see how to use it before you get started, here's a how-to from CNET's Nicole Cozma.
If you've never used Paper Camera, you should. It's really a pretty incredible app that gives you a live view of a variety of simulated drawn or painted effects, such as turning your subject into a cartoon or line drawing. It can be a little slow to perform depending on the device you're using, but the results are great. Plus, you can use it for photos and video.
Fast Burst Camera
If there is a must-have camera app for people with small children, this is it. Fast Burst can shoot at up to 30 frames per second, triggered just by pressing and holding an onscreen shutter release or anywhere on the screen if you like. As you shoot, you basically get a little fuel gauge in the corner as your buffer memory (which is adjustable) fills up. Once it starts to empty, you can start shooting again.
There is a free Lite version, but for $3.99 you get support for flash, focus, and digital zoom, and the shutter sound can be turned off, which otherwise sounds like a machine gun when it starts snapping off shots.
Pro HDR Camera
There are a couple of reasons to use an HDR (high dynamic range) app. Smartphone cameras don't always produce the best dynamic range when shooting high-contrast subjects. HDR apps help balance things out by taking photos at different exposures and then combining them into one shot for a more even exposure. However, you can also use HDR to creative effect. Pro HDR lets you do both. For a how-to, check out CNET editor Sharon Vaknin's post on HDR photography for smartphones.
The big problem with HDR using smartphone cameras is that they don't focus and shoot fast enough to work with moving subjects. Even slight movements will screw up the results, so HDR is best used on scenery and stationary subjects. Another app, simply called HDR Camera, does a decent job of dealing with slight movements by removing ghosting.
If you want the most geotagging data for your photos or other purposes, Imageotag records everything. It captures 16:9 geotagged images, embedding GPS and NET location, accelerometer, bearing, compass, date, light lux, magnetic field, pitch, proximity, roll, speed, temperature, and time data. If I'm out shooting with a regular camera and want to get the correct info for my location, I just take a quick shot of my location with this app and tag my photos later using its data. Imageotag also creates Google Earth tours using GPS image sequences.
One of my favorite point-and-shoot camera features is the option to quickly capture panoramas simply by sweeping the camera. That's how Wondershare's app works: just point, shoot, and sweep. It can be used in portrait or landscape mode and has several effects options that can be applied immediately after the capture is complete. It's free, too, which helps one overlook its lack of size and resolution options.
If you really like to take ultrawide shots, I recommend Photaf Panorama Pro. It requires a bit more effort since you have to line up an onscreen ghost image of your previous shot to take your full shot. But it fires the camera automatically when it's properly aligned and you can take a full 360-degree shot.
There is a free version, but the $3.99 Pro version lets you set panoramas as live wallpaper and has an HD mode for better results, and you can use your camera in portrait mode. Visit Photaf's site to see a gallery of shots taken with the app.