So, you are sitting there, flicking through the latest images in your Facebook, Instagram, or Flickr timeline. Some of the photos fit into “human interest” – these photos usually include someone else’s meal – and others are mediocre views of a sunset from the inside of a car. On the face of it, you’d think that these pictures have little in common. Look and think again, though, and you will realize that there is a theme which runs through vast swathes of the photos you see. That’s right, you’ve got it; filters. Photos, it would seem, are nowadays regarded as being dull unless they’ve been doused with a squeeze of zingy Lomography, or made musty with some aged, scratched, sepia.
This popularity, you would think, should drive innovation, and an improvement in the quality and diversity of the filter apps on offer. In reality, however, most apps are just happy to be regarded as competent Instagram clones. Not so with the new Android app Camera 2. Not only has the developer, JFDP Labs, packed 28 effects into its $2.99 offering, but it has also been brave enough to try something different – live, pre-capture filtering. Depending on your outlook, this either sounds like a brilliant, killer feature, or a fast-track route to mobile-computing meltdown. Let’s find out which it is…
Before I elaborate on features and filters, let me make one thing clear: Camera 2 is of the highest build quality. Startup is smooth and swift, and the stability of the app is never a concern, in spite of the processing acrobatics which are required in order to produce those signature live previews.
Additionally, the design of the interface is a triumph, providing very good usability. Filter collections occupy the left-hand border of the screen, and you can flick through the various looks on offer by scrolling this list vertically. On the far opposite side of the screen are the rest of Camera 2’s controls. The shutter is flanked, on one side, by the icons representing video recording (a link to the native video camera) and the front-facing camera, and on the other side, by the settings menu and your most recently taken image or video.
The overall result is a tool palette which does not overtly obstruct the view of the photograph you are taking, yet with each icon large enough for a finger or thumb to tap accurately.
The visual aspect of Camera 2’s design cannot be compared with the very top league – that is, the group of apps at the very pinnacle of current design, such as the much-revered Dots and Clear, both on iOS – but it is easy enough on the eye.
Camera 2’s basic photographic features are not spectacular in terms of depth, but, once again, the sense is that the controls have been created with care.
By default, Camera 2’s camera is little different from the basic Android camera; focusing is automatic, and the on-screen shutter button resides on the right of screen. You can switch on tap-to-focus mode via the settings menu, and Android’s in-built digital zoom is enhanced by the option to control it with the volume keys – another nice touch left by the developer.
But that’s enough skirting around the main issue at hand. It’s time for some filtering. The scrollable array of filter sets is six collections high (if you exclude the unfiltered option), and each collection provides a multiplex of filter previews.
The first group is named Old Time, and it includes six filters, each representing a decade between the ’20s and the ’80s. Mostly, these filters mimic the peculiarities of video in the decades they represent. The ’20s filter, for instance, provides extreme contrast and a plentiful supply of dust spots, while the ’70s filter is soft and has a heavy pink tone. It’s all a bit over the top, but the results are quirky and reasonably authentic.
The Lomo set isn’t home to the intensely gaudy shades you might expect. Rather, this collection provides relatively gentle colour-warping and vignetting, resulting in tasteful, retro-themed images.
For some instant superhero styling, Camera 2 offers a set of four Comic filters, which are surprisingly…er…comic-like. The Dark Novel filter provides striking contrast by turning every colour to black or white, while Half Comic applies a traditional comic-strip, dot-printed look.
The Art filters are, unfortunately, a dramatic letdown in comparison. Artistic they may be, but they also happen to be very poor imitations of the marker pen and linen paper looks they attempt to replicate.
The next set returns to the land of quirkiness. There are only two filters listed under Sci-Fi, recreating the “green rain” of The Matrix, and the blue, neon edges of Blade Runner. Both are silly, but both are a childish joy.
Though the Art filters are hardly brilliant, they are not the biggest let-down in Camera 2. That accolade belongs to the Computer filters, which are, as a group, very poor. Images made up of green, retro computer type, or photos styled to mimic VGA output are relatively poor ideas to start with, and they are no better in practice.
Though there are these areas of lower quality within Camera 2’s filter sets, most of the available options are genuinely image enhancing.
Before I leave the subject of filtering, I ought to mention that live filtering in Camera 2 is optional. All the same effects can be applied to previously taken photos, and unfiltered photography is always on offer.
It would be easy to be swept away by the excellent usability of Camera 2, along with the good selection of filters it offers. The visual design of this app is competently inoffensive, and the speed and stability it exhibits are outstanding. As an impartial, ever-reliable AppStorm reviewer, though, I must keep my feet firmly on the ground. The feature list of Camera 2 is not Biblical in length, and even some of the functions it provides are by no means perfect — I’m looking at you, Computer filters!
These issues are relatively inconsequential in comparison with the many areas of strength in Camera 2, and if you are the kind of photo-taking Android owner who is willing to pay for quality, an investment in Camera 2 would be a good one.