The new camera APIs in Android Lollipop have the potential to revolutionise photography on Android devices. Manual Camera joins the select band of apps that support the APIs, and has the potential to become the best Android camera app.
Manual Camera is a fully featured tool that gives you a close approximation to full manual control of your phone’s camera. It’s super fast—there’s essentially no shutter lag at all, which means shooting jpegs is considerably quicker than the stock Camera app—and also beautifully designed. All of the controls are accessible, but also discreet enough that you can happily shoot away without ever touching them.
This puts it in contrast to the previous best Lollipop camera app, Camera FV-5. That is an exceptionally powerful app, but hampered by its poor design. FV-5 is both exceedingly ugly and difficult to use. Manual Camera rights both those wrongs.
Manual Camera is a new release, and at the time of writing has limited support. Lollipop is a must, of course, but there are reports that it doesn’t work on every Lollipop device. Nexus 5 and 6 are among those on which it is confirmed working.
The app costs $1.99 (or £1.32 in the UK).
Manual Camera controls
Manual Camera offers full control over all the basic camera features, including:
- white balance
- focus—manually control the focus from infinity to macro and everywhere in between
- ISO—100-6400 on the Nexus 5
- shutter speed—0.8s-1/64000 on the Nexus 5
- exposure compensation—which can be adjusted in Auto mode
- spot exposure or centre-weighted
There’s also support for geotagging of images, various compositional grid overlays (such as rule of thirds), a timer, and support for shooting in RAW+jpeg mode.
Accessing all these functions is easy; they are mostly listed in a column down the left edge of the screen.
The app opens in Auto mode. Tapping one of the options switches it to manual, and you then adjust the settings by rotating the dial in the bottom right corner. It’s fast and efficient.
To switch an option back to Auto you just long-press on the option in the left sidebar once again.
As well as the appealing UI, the speed of Manual Camera is its biggest strength. There’s little discernible shutter lag when shooting jpg, though the shot-to-shot time does slow a little when shooting RAWs as well.
The quality of images is excellent in a straight comparison with the stock camera, producing better quality images with better colour and dynamic range. With the added option to shoot RAW there’s real potential for the serious camera photographer.
Manual Camera is not without its downsides, even though we’d expect many of our issues to be addressed in subsequent updates.
We experienced the occasional missed focus shot, and the app does seem to refocus quite a lot. It didn’t cost us any shots in normal use, and the ability to manually focus enables you to deal with any specific focussing requirements anyway.
Our biggest frustration was that the app didn’t remember the changes we made to the settings each time we exited and relaunched it. This meant that turning off the flash, turning off geotagging and turning on RAW+jpeg was something we had to remember to do every single time.
The available settings are limited, too, with no way to set basic things like jpeg compression or image size or format. The app doesn’t shoot video either, and we’d appreciate at least a shortcut that would launch another app that does.
Finally, on a Nexus 5 we weren’t able to launch Manual Camera via the shortcut icon on the lockscreen.
So, a fair list of fixes and improvements needed, but none that should not be dealt with in due course, and none that are deal breakers right now.
With Google’s own camera app inexplicably not being Lollipop-optimised, Manual Camera stands out as your best bet for taking your Android photography to the next level.
Like all the best camera apps, it’s beautifully made, lightning fast and a joy to use.
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