7 Surprising Uses for the IPhone's Camera

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These days, a 2-megapixel camera may not seem like much. But add Web access, a pocket-size Mac, and third-party apps to the mix, and presto! That humble camera is now a personal assistant and digital artist in one. Here are just a few of the ways you can extend your camera.

See in the dark

The iPhone's camera takes beautiful, crisp photos--as long as you're outside on a sunny day. For the other 95 percent of the time, you'll need to employ some photography kung fu to fight off blurry shots. The problem is that in low-light situations, even subtle hand movements can blur your image. Add to that the fact that on the iPhone you have to reach over and tap a small on-screen button to trigger your camera, and you have a recipe for bungled photos. For handheld shots, an app such as River Past's US$1 Night Camera can increase your chances of getting a steady shot. The program uses the iPhone's accelerometer to determine when the camera is still enough to take the shot. It also lets you turn the entire screen into a shutter button-so you have an easier target-and lets you set a timer so you can prop up the iPhone and get in the shot yourself. In our tests, Night Camera gave us noticeably sharper photos in low light.

An even better way to get sharper photos is to prop your iPhone against something steady before you tap the camera button. If you're willing to spend a little money, the $4 Batrest by Seskimo folds up to create a makeshift stand. When not in use, it collapses to the size of a credit card so you can carry it in your wallet. Seskimo also recently introduced the slightly larger $5 Crabble, which includes non-slip rubber pads that hold your iPhone more securely.

Take wider shots

If you're having trouble getting the whole scene in the shot, try taking multiple images and stitching them together into a panorama. There are several iPhone apps that let you do this, but Helix Interactive's $2 Panoramas offers a good blend of affordability and power. You can take as many shots of a scene as you'd like in any orientation, and then stitch them together by placing markers on each photo to identify items that should line up. Panoramas then does its best to blend the photos and adjust colors to give you a seamless image. The process is very forgiving, so you don't have to worry about keeping your camera perfectly straight or lining up the shots flawlessly--good news for those of us who are in a hurry.

Get a personal shopper

Want a teapot just like the one your local cafe uses? You could go to Amazon.com and manually search through more than 4,000 entries in hopes of finding the right model. Or save yourself a lot of time by downloading the free Amazon Mobile to your iPhone. In addition to providing options for browsing the store's stock and making purchases, the app offers a personal shopping feature called Amazon Remembers. Use the program to submit a photo of just about anything, and someone from Amazon will try to match it with something similar from the site. If the person finds it, you'll get an update within the app showing the details (including user reviews), as well as options to purchase it or add it to your wish list.

Find your mobile photos fast

Has one of the photos on your Mac performed its own disappearing act? If you took it with your iPhone, there's a quick way to track it down. In iPhoto, press command-option-N to create a new smart album, and set the menus to read: Camera Model Is Apple iPhone. Or, to gather every iPhone-taken photo on your Mac, regardless of whether it's in iPhoto, use the Finder to create a smart folder. From the Finder, press command-F. In the resulting window, select Other from the Kind menu, and then choose Device Model. Select Is from the second menu and type iPhone in the text field. Click on the Save button to save the search in the Search For section of the Finder sidebar.

Supercharge your photo browser

The iPhone's built-in Photos app is a fine photo viewer, but it syncs with only one computer, it can't show you other people's photos, it can't play videos taken with your digital camera, and the photos it stores take up precious room on your iPhone's hard drive. To put some muscle behind your photo browsing, skip the Photos app and instead combine Flickr's online photo sharing site with an app like Mobile Fotos by XK72 ($3).

iPhoto '09 makes uploading photos to Flickr as easy as adding them to a photo album. Once your photos are on Flickr, use the Mobile Fotos app to access them on your iPhone. In addition to being able to flick through your photo stream and rotate the screen just as you can in the Photos app, you can view videos posted to Flickr, explore photos of family and friends, leave comments on others' photos, add photos to your Twitter feed, and even see photos taken in your vicinity. And because the photos are online, you won't have to worry about syncing your latest shots or filling up your hard drive.

Track down a font

Hobo? Giddyup? Rabiohead? A lot of creative professionals are font obsessed. If you're one of them, WhatTheFont by MyFonts is a handy addition to your iPhone. This free app helps you track down the font used for any text you encounter, whether it's a movie poster, a box of cereal, or advertising copy in the morning newspaper. When you snap a photo of the text, WhatTheFont tries to detect the letters in the photo (you can correct it if it gets something wrong) and then matches the characters with the right font. In our tests, the program wasn't always spot on, but it did always offer up at least a very close approximation.

Don't forget the little stuff

Heading out to the store to shop for a new rug? Let your camera help you remember all the little details along the way. There are numerous ways to put your camera to work including keeping track of different prices and designs as you shop, snapping the phone number for a flooring contractor from an ad in the paper, and reminding you want your kids are wearing when you stop at the playground on the way home. Readers have told us they even use their iPhone's camera to remember where the Easter eggs are hiding, to take inventory of what's in their suitcase before traveling, and to remember where the fish were biting on their last fishing trip.

This story, "7 Surprising Uses for the IPhone's Camera" was originally published by Macworld.

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