CameraBag for IPhone

Just as any piece of writing can benefit from the help of an good editor, so any photographer can tell you that a photo is just a snapshot before a little time in Photoshop. And when it comes to the iPhone's camera--which, let's be honest here, isn't very good--its pictures are usually in dire need of aid. One good solution is CameraBag, which applies filters to your iPhone shots or pictures from your photo library to give them a stylized look beyond what the built-in camera can accomplish.

CameraBag from Nevercenter is a collection of nine photo filters, including Helga (square-format with vignette), 1974 (faded and tinted), Fisheye (warped lensing), Ansel (black and white), and Cinema (wide and dramatic). To get started, you either take a picture with the iPhone's camera from within CameraBag, or choose a photo already in your library. You can then audition each filter on a particular picture and save the altered version with your given filter (the app doesn't touch the original photo in your library; for photos you take within the app, there's a preference you can set to save the original photo as well). You can also set the output size for your photos.

To see how a photo will look with a particular filter, you load the photo and then tap the name of the current filter at the top to bring up a list of all filters, or you can swipe your finger left or right on the screen to scroll to the previous or next filter. (I prefer the second method, because it requires less effort.) By default, all nine filters--plus an Original option that shows the unaltered photo--are available to swipe through. If you have filters you like using more than others, however, you can set your favorites in the app's preferences--only those you turn on will be part of the swipe set. (You can still get to the whole list by tapping a filter name.)

You can stack multiple filters on a single photo by applying one filter, saving the photo, then opening it again in CameraBag--this method works, but it would be much easier if you could check off several filters to apply at one time.

The preferences section also offers options for turning on and off cropping effects and border effects. With cropping effects on, certain filters (Lolo and Helga, for example) will crop your photo to a ratio more fitting to the lens or camera its trying to emulate. With border effects turned on, you get Polaroid-like framing using the Instant filter, and a matted look with some of the other filters. It's unfortunate, however, that you can't turn these effects on and off for individual photos or filters--it's all or nothing, and you need to open the preferences settings to make any changes.

All in all, CameraBag's filters are varied and high-quality, and offer hours of fun. To get a sense of what they can do, check out the CameraBag Flickr group, with images from CameraBag users.

The company also offers a scaled-down version called CameraBag Lite: Retro (currently free) that includes three of filters from the full version if you want to try it out. And while CameraBag cost US$3 when I downloaded it for review, it's currently priced at $1 as part of a holiday sale at the App Store.

CameraBag is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.

[Senior news editor Jonathan Seff likes that CameraBag makes him look like a better photographer.]

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