There’s no shortage of camera apps on Android, with multiple options covering almost every niche imaginable. But sometimes one breaks through the noise with impressive filters or awesome features to wow you.
Pencil Camera HD is one such app. Similar to the popular Paper Camera, it applies sketch-like, painting-style, or texture-overlay filters to your photos and videos, to sometimes-incredible results. Let’s take a look.
Pencil Camera HD supports 15 effects, each with a semi-descriptive name such as Water Color, Crayon’o’Matic, Hipster Culture, Life On Mars, Pink Glasses, or Soft Pencil. They cover a wide range of colors and aesthetic styles, and are mostly unique as far as I’ve seen — there’s little overlap in these filters and those found in rival apps.
Some, like Frozen or Rumpled Paper, tend to dominate an image, putting the photo part very much into the background, while others, like Wooden Floor or Canvas, offer more subtle toning and grain effects. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best in different situations.
You can change the filter and fine-tune its settings either before or after you take a photo. There are three sliders to toy with on each filter: Brightness, Contrast, and Contour. The first of these is a straightforward light/dark adjustment. Contrast seems to be a combination of saturation, exposure, and traditional contrast controls. Contour relates to the thickness and sharpness of lines and edges.
Adjusting these three sliders affords tremendous control over the application of a filter, although more serious photographers will still feel sorely limited — especially by the lack of control over things like depth of field and focal point.
The good news, though, is that photos can be imported from your Gallery app — which means Pencil Camera HD will happily apply its filters to any picture you desire. It’ll save a new copy for your edited version, too, preserving the original.
You don’t even need to save it to share with your friends and family, though. There’s a little share button in the bottom left that’ll let you send the image onto any apps that can handle JPEGs, all ready to be shared with the world.
A picture may tell a thousand words, but sometimes only a video will suffice. Pencil Camera HD lets you get creative here, too, with all of its filters available for the camcorder mode. Pick your filter, hit the red record button, and enjoy. It’s easy and fun, although it’d be nice to have some more control over things like quality, exposure, and frame rate.
Unfortunately my phone doesn’t seem to cope too well with the app’s video recording, owing I expect to its age — LG’s Optimus 2X was the first smartphone with a dual-core processor, originally released back in early 2011. If you have a high-end device, phone or tablet, released since then, you should be fine. I advise downloading Pencil Camera HD Lite first, though, to test performance and stability of both the photo and video functionality.
My favorite feature is activated by pressing the button in the top right of the screen. It’s a slideshow — doesn’t sound very exciting, right? But this slideshow takes the pictures stored on your phone and randomly applies the Pencil Camera HD filters to them, one photo after another.
They call it Get Inspired, but it also functions as both a great digital photo frame and a trip down memory lane. Watch and smile as it pulls out photos you’d forgotten were on there, and reinvents them as stylish artwork. If you’re in the habit of regularly pruning your photo library, this will obviously be less impressive, but prepare to be surprised if there are two or three years of photos in the Gallery.
It’s a shame, actually, that these Get Inspired renditions can’t be saved. On so many occasions I would have loved to just tap on the picture to save a copy with the filter settings that made it look like that. Instead, if I really liked it, I had to find the original picture in question and puzzle out the correct settings to give its cool makeover some permanence.
Just For Fun
Pencil Camera HD falls down, like most novelty-appeal camera and photo-editing apps, when it comes time to get serious. I already touched on my complaints about a lack of further options, but it’s a professional’s nightmare and an amateur’s delight.
The app’s filters can make a bad photo look like a gorgeous painting or mixed-media artwork, but it frustratingly doesn’t include a portrait mode or any advanced settings.
That said, if you like to get creative with your photos without resorting to hours upon hours of editing in Photoshop, you’re likely to have a great time with Pencil Camera HD. It may be lacking extras, but the app makes up for its simplicity with fantastic artistic filters and ease of use.
If you’re a Paper Camera user eager for more filters, Pencil Camera HD’s a no-brainer — it’s basically the same thing, with a different interface and 15 all-new effects. For everyone else, this is your chance to feel like an artist without going to the trouble of actually creating something original.