Camera Awesome: My new favorite iPhone photo app - a quick review & tips

In only a few short weeks, Camera Awesome, the free photo app from SmugMug, has risen to the top of the charts with MILLIONS of downloads! I was asked by SmugMug to be a part of the app development nearly a year ago and I am really excited to have been able to contribute some of the effects, presets, borders, and textures. And, there are LOTS of really cool options to choose from.


As a little sidebar, I was traveling home yesterday from spring break vacation with my family and stepping off the plane with us was a client from many years ago. She said, "What a coincedence! I was just looking at iPhone camera apps the other day and saw this Camera Awesome app that had your name in it and I said, 'Hey, that's my wedding photographer!" She paused for a moment, then added, "So maybe I can ask you: I downloaded the app, but what does that extra little circle do when you touch the screen to focus?"


So it was perfect timing - as I was just preparing to create a little review of the app today. I decided it would be a good idea to throw in a few tips as well to help new users get the most out of it quickly.


First and foremost, any iPhone camera app that wants to earn a spot on my home screen needs to work great as a camera. There are certain features that I consider essential, or the app is destined to live in my "Photo Extras" folder instead of on my A-list. My essential features, which Camera Awesome covers in spades, are:


  • Separately controllable, and locking, focus and exposure controls (More on why this is important later)
  • Ability to control flash, but also to turn on the flashlight for use with photos or video
  • Lockable White Balance
  • Fast start up and shooting
  • Basic editing, cropping, and sharing options
  • Option to save images automatically to the iPhone built-in photo library (for easy backup and access from other apps)
  • Ability to view basic photo info: time & date captured, gps info, etc.
  • A slick interface that is intuitive and fun to use.


In a nutshell, Camera Awesome packs more great features, effects, and sharing options in to a single camera app than just about any other I've seen - and, to top that off, it has a gorgeous, fun to use interface...and it's FREE!


Below is a quick list of my favorite features, my wish list for future updates, and some quick tips to getting started with it.


Hot Stuff

  • Split controls of exposure and focus 
  • Quick preview of effects when in edit mode
  • Can easily re-alter an edited photo
  • Instant sharing and upload archiving to various photo sites, including SmugMug, of course
  • Can turn on flashlight for photos, not just flash
  • Tons of cool effects with preset combos (fx) of filters, textures, and borders (including the ones I created!)
  • Effects are all non-destructive and can be quickly changed at any time (while in Camera Awesome)
  • Select mode in library shows icons for the status of images
  • Quick shooting
  • Video pre-cord mode
  • Focus and exposure lock works great for video too
  • Many shooting modes: normal, stabilizer, big button, slow burst, fast burst, timer, intervalometer (time-lapse) 
  • 1-click sharing is awesome, instant short link and smugmug mobile viewing page. 
  • Images can optionally be automatically archived to your iTunes Cloud as shot for instant backup. They can also be automatically uploaded to SmugMug or your favorite sharing site!


Wish list - Things I'd like to see in a future update

  • Toggle before after views of an enhanced image
  • Be able to go directly to the GPS map location of an image in google maps
  • Volume buttons fire the camera like built-in camera app
  • Video shows full frame. Currently it shows a cropped view, although it captures full HD.
  • Would like a preference to always open with the camera active for quickest shooting of fleeting moments
  • Naming and searching of images in the app library
  • Enable time-lapse recording to continue with the screen turned off for battery savings (or stealth) during long event captures



  • Tap with two fingers on the screen to separate the exposure and focus points. The square is your focus, the circle is the exposure. You can then drag them independently to perfectly control your image. If you tap and hold either point briefly, a lock icon will appear and your focus or exposure will not change even if you recompose the scene. This is similar to the way a normal camera works when you press the shutter half way down, but better. It is especially helpful when shooting video and you don't want the focus and exposure to be changing during the capture. I suggested this feature to the programmer early in the development stage and am very happy to see it beautifully implemented. Camera Awesome is the only camera app that I know of that lets you separate these controls and optionally lock or unlock them for both photo and video. Way cool!
  • fx Presets are ready-made combos of a filter, texture, and border. You can apply only one of each type of enhancement, i.e. one filter, one texture, and one border, but it works beautifully to combine any or all three - which is what the "fx Presets" does. Bonus Tip: To use more than one type of enhancement on a single image, export the edited version to the iPhone camera roll, re-import it, then apply more enhancements.
  • To re-edit a photo you've applied enhancements to, simply open the image from the Camera Awesome library and the currently used enhancements will be highlighted. Simply tap on a new enhancement to change it. Bonus Tip: When you change the enhancements, only the latest version is shown in your Camera Awesome library. To create versions of your image with different enhancements, use the "Export Original" option to save a copy of the original to your iPhone camera roll. Import the image back to CA and apply a new set of enhancements. Now, both versions with enhancements will be accessible in Camera Awesome.
  • Setup 1-Tap Share using your SmugMug account and whenever you post a photo with it a clean, mobile-friendly web page is created with the image and a shortened link automatically generated, ready to paste in an email, sms, etc. This is great when you don't want to send the actual image file, just a link to view it online. 
  • After sharing or posting an image to an online gallery, you can re-access the link you created (to share it again) by viewing the image in the Camera Awesome library and clicking the little icon in the top right corner for the sharing site. The link is exposed, click on it to use it again.
  • Use the square composition guide (from the top pull-down menu in camera mode) to shoot photos destined for Instagram. Then pass the photo directly to Instagram with the built-in sharing option. Note that the composition guide doesn't actually crop the photo square - it's just a guide, you still have to crop it using the editing tools (or in Instagram), which is easy.
  • Video Pre-Cord (the option when you are in video capture mode) allows you to automatically capture video beginning 5 seconds before you actually push the record button (once it is active and warmed up). This is awesome when you are trying to capture the big moment in your kid's basketball game but don't want to record a huge video for 15 minutes just to be sure you don't miss that 15 second winning move. Simply follow the action in pre-cord mode and as soon as something cool happens, tap RECORD. The video will start recording beginning with 5 seconds before you hit the button!
  • Use the flashlight option to add a little fill light to a close-up photo without making it look "flashed". Bonus Tip: Have your friends with Camera Awesome turn on their flashlights and illuminate your scene with you for an off-camera multiple-light look.


There's much more to this great app, but this covers the basic goodies. Go download Camera Awesome, check out the cool effects, and take lots of pictures!


On my vacation, we hiked to a beautiful beach and I wanted to create the look of a vintage Hawaiian postcard. Camera Awesome to the rescue with retro styled effects, texture, and a border.


I made a panoramic image in my favorite Panorama app, AutoStitch Panorama, and then imported it to Camera Awesome for some awesome sauce.


This image would look great in one of the many B&W enhancements, but I really liked this toned fx Preset called, Blue Pill.


Scroll through the many available presets and enhancements. Preview any of them and purchase add-ons directly in the app.


Separate the focus and exposure controls with two fingers then drag each one independently to adjust. Tap and hold for a couple seconds to LOCK the setting, as shown on the square focus control point. Drag it somewhere else to unlock it.


The icon in the top right corner shows the status of an image. Here, you can see it's already been saved to the built-in camera roll and shared on SmugMug. Tap the icon to reveal the link.


The link is revealed and can be clicked on for sharing options.