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100 Cameras in 1: Amazing effects, incredible integration

Trey Ratcliff of Stuck In Customs Media is one of those photographers who constantly amazes people with his photos, and then explains his skills with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and the artful application of filters and textures. Back in December, Stuck In Customs came out with a US$0.99 iPhone / iPod touch app ($2.99 for the iPad version) named 100 Cameras in 1 that uses a unique and easy-to-understand user interface to make your iPhone photos look great. Unfortunately for Trey, the app hit the App Store the same day as the highly-touted Camera+ debuted, so 100 Cameras was overlooked by many of us in the Apple media.

What I'm finding after using the app over the long US Memorial Day weekend is that 100 Cameras in 1 is going to allow me to delete a lot of other photography apps from my iPhone, and I'm going to start using the iPad version of the app to retouch photos that I upload from my digital camera.

In this short review, I'll discuss both versions of the app, and how the combination of 100 effects and excellent integration with social networking sites makes 100 Cameras in 1 an app every iPhone and iPad-owning photographer should buy.

The User Interface (iPhone)

Using 100 Cameras in 1 is both easy and fun. After launching the app, you're treated to a simple menu that is in plain sight. You can choose to either take a photo with the app or pull a photo from your Photo Library, "achieve great things" (which is integration with Game Center), explore deeper (which points you to Ratcliff's tutorials and e-books), be inspired (sign up for Ratcliff's newsletter), set up sharing options, or find out more about the app developers.

The first thing I did when I picked up the app from the App Store was to set up my sharing options. The app is integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, SmugMug, and Dropbox, and it also pushes your photos to other iPhone apps. Want to share your work with Instagram? It's a tap away, and your photo -- with effects -- is sent to Instagram.

That's not the only app you can share your photos with. You can also send photos to Quickoffice, PhotoFactory, LogMeIn, Dropbox, Filterstorm, and Camera+ to name a few. Yes, if the 100 effects in this app aren't enough, PhotoFactory, Filterstorm, and Camera+ can have their way with your image.

The UI was thoughtfully designed and effects aren't just thrown out there for you to try; instead, Ratcliff's development team grouped the effects by mood, and the choices make sense. The ten groups are zen, gentle (for people), serenity (for landscapes), longing (people), anxious (world), madness (landscape), dreamy (world), fantastic (landscape), quixotic (world), and daring (the beyond).

To apply an effect when you've found one you think you may like, you just tap on it. There's a slight delay of a few seconds, and then the photo appears. If you decide that you don't like the effect all that much, just flick left or right and you immediately see how the photo looks in another effect. There's also a slider at the bottom of each effect for adjusting the intensity.

Effects can be layered for extra impact by tapping an "add effect" button, which then applies all 100 effects onto your first layer (original photo). When you're done playing around, either save the image to your Photo Library or share it with friends.

The User Interface (iPad)

100 Cameras really shines on the iPad. The big screen gives you much more of an idea of how the various effects are working on your original photo, and the tool palette at the bottom of the screen provides an easy way to adjust different factors. As with the iPhone app, swiping to the left continuously shows one effect after another. You don't have to look at the images in full screen, though -- there's an effect button at the top right of the screen that can be tapped to reveal a scrolling list showing all of the effects in a much smaller size.

The iPad palette can be hidden completely, pulled out slightly to show just four controls (glow, yin, yang, and save), or pulled out all the way to add reset and rotate buttons, sliders for vignetting images and adjusting contrast and brightness, and the add effect button from the iPhone app.

Those yin and yang sliders each have seven separate blending modes underneath them that can be switched from a popup -- HardLight, Overlay, Multiply, Luminosity, Screen, Hue, and Dodge -- and then adjusted in a huge number of combinations to produce just the effect you want. In the overview page of the iPad app, Ratcliff notes that the Yin is the effect of the texture upon an image, while Yang is the effect of the image layered on top of itself.

I have to laugh at one of the iPad "features" -- when you try to open a photo from your library that is from a high-resolution digital camera, you'll see a Large Image Warning with options to either "Crash and Burn!" or "Reduce Size." The iPad app will sometimes crash when you open a full-resolution image, so at least you're getting a fair warning. I found that closing other open apps reduced the probability of crashes.

The iPad app also has integration with other iPad apps -- on my iPad, it played nicely with Instagram, Photogene, PhotoFactory, and Air Sharing. Version 1.2 of the iPad app has a small typo -- it says "Send to Instapaper" instead of "Send to Instagram," and a fix has been submitted to Apple.

Ratcliff noted in an email that on the iPad, "using old photos is better than taking new photos with that awful iPad 2 camera," and I agree. It's so easy to move images to an iPad from a "real" digital camera using the Camera Connection Kit that there's really no reason to use the awkward iPad camera.

Game Center Integration

Both the iPhone and iPad apps have integration with Game Center. How can you possibly turn a photography app into a game? By supplying points for achieving various goals with the app, giving a point for saving a photo to your library or emailing it, and piling up points for sharing with different services. It's fun, although I'm at a loss as to how you'd get points for "Think many times about taking a photo of a cat."

Of course, using Game Center lets those with a competitive streak see how their friends are using 100 Cameras, and it can even provide friends with an incentive to use the app and take more photos.

Sharing

The sharing capability of 100 Cameras is the most useful feature in my opinion. Being able to take a photo, jazz it up with the app, and then slide it to another app for further touchup or inclusion in a document is not only fun, but powerful. Especially on the iPhone app, retouching a photo and moving it directly to Quickoffice for inclusion in a document is amazing.

With today's announcement of iWork becoming a universal app, I'm hoping that Stuck In Customs adds support for iWork into 100 Cameras.

Conclusion

Is there anything that's missing from 100 Cameras in 1? Yes -- the app doesn't run on the Mac. A Mac version of this app would be incredibly useful.

You do want to take care when you are applying effects. One thing I noticed with a photo that I applied the "A glowing ember, lurking about" effect to was that it created some very odd artifacts in several saturated parts of a photos. For example, yellow and pink squares appeared in a bright light, as well as black squares in a bright red portion of a picture. Adjusting the "yin" hardlight to a lower level removed those artifacts.

One other feature I didn't discuss above was the inclusion of sound effects in the app. Sure, that's something that some people might turn off, but I found the use of quiet music and noises to be very calming when using 100 Cameras.

If you take photos, either with your iPhone / iPod touch / iPad camera or a digital camera of any sort, you should really think about installing 100 Cameras in 1 onto your iOS device. It's so flexible that I have deleted a number of less powerful photo retouching apps from my iPhone and iPad, and so fast and easy to use that it's already become my "go-to" app for applying effects to my photos.



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Software App Review iOS

Trey Ratcliff of Stuck In Customs Media is one of those photographers who constantly amazes people with his photos, and then explains his...