When was the last time you saw a new mobile phone without a camera? Tough one, isn’t it? From a mere gimmick just a few years ago, to a necessarily underpowered addon, to a full-fledged feature, cameras on mobile phones have come a long way. While the iPhone has graduated to become the most used camera amongst Flickr users, every new Android phone that comes out boasts of some new camera technology unique to itself.
Unfortunately, camera apps haven’t really kept in sync with the advances in mobile phone camera technology over the years. So although your phone may be technically capable of a lot of things, the app you use to shoot your photos is most probably showcasing only a fraction of its abilities. And even if it can take advantage of everything available to it, it hides all that control deep within its settings in an attempt to keep the user interface clean and simple to use.
Shot Control is a new Android app that aims at put all that control literally at your fingertips. Let me start out by making something very clear – if words like White Balance, ISO and Macro Focus make you fire up Google to hunt for their meanings, Shot Control is not for you. You can stop right here. But if you have the slightest interest in photography and are itching to get the maximum juice out of your phone’s camera, do stay with me for a tiny bit longer and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Control at Your Fingertips
Unlike most other photo apps, Shot Control greets you with a cluttered screen that has a fairly small portion dedicated to the live preview of what you are going to shoot. On the right is a bunch of controls that include Flash, Focus, White Balance and more. Under the controls is the last picture you shot, and at the bottom is a film strip of all your shots taken using Shot Control. You can “star” an image to add it to the film roll.
The preview window itself is divided into a 3 x 3 grid with arcs on each side. Swiping your finger over the left edge zooms in and out (providing you with a digital zoom, not to be confused with the optical zoom on real cameras) and swiping over the right edge lets you increase or decrease the exposure for the shot.
The default Shot Control interface
The shutter button in the top-right corner is a bit of a misfit and makes taking photos difficult unless you are used to holding a professional camera and managing settings with your finger. Once you get used to the new grip though, things feel much more intuitive and manageable. You hold the phone with both hands such that you can use your left thumb to focus by tapping a part of the the preview and use your right thumb to change controls and hit the shutter. The app also has a detailed set of preferences to change the way it behaves, including the ability to remap the volume buttons on your phone to camera tasks like focus, zoom or capture.
Assigning actions to volume buttons
The core of Shot Control’s power is located in the control panel at the right. I have to admit, checking all the options in there, I was surprised that a phone camera could provide you with so much control over your shot. Having used single lens reflex (SLR) cameras all my adult life, I’ve always been a big skeptic when it came to mobile phone photography, but Shot Control’s ability to extract so much juice from the camera is quite a revelation.
Here’s a quick rundown of all the controls the app gives you to adjust your image before taking the picture:
Focus: Choose from different focusing techniques including macro and infinity, then tap the preview image to make sure the most important part of the shot is the clearest.
ISO: Although this is a very film-specific setting, ISO refers to the amount of light you let in through the lens. To break it down to the very basics, the lower the ISO, the clearer your low light shots but the grainier the texture.
White Balance: You can set the white balance depending on where you are taking the picture (inside under florescent light, out in the sunlight, and so on).
Flash: Though the camera is usually good at deciding whether a shot needs flash, there are often times when you want it off or on no matter what. You can change that here.
Filter: Select from a small range of filters to take your shot through, like grayscale, sepia, solarize, etc.
Scene: You can change the mode to, say, an action shot or a night shot to have Shot Control select the most appropriate settings and give you the best picture possible.
Resolution: Change the resolution of the picture to, for example, use smaller images for less important shots.
All those settings are set to ‘auto’ when you use the stock Android app and you can change most from the settings, but you need to navigate through the preference screens to be able to do that. Shot Control does a brilliant job of bringing everything to the fore. Settings that are set to anything but ‘auto’ change to yellow text which is a huge help. Ever changed settings on your camera and forgot to change them back only to mess up a bunch of shots later?
Now, Shot Control is not for everyone. In fact for most users its focus on bringing the controls to the foreground is probably going to be off-putting. Also, the fact that you can’t use it to shoot videos means it is not a full-fledged replacement for the stock app. But if control over your shots is what you crave and if photography jargon like ISO and white balance don’t scare you away, then Shot Control is the app for you.
I’ve found myself using my phone’s camera much more since I got this app knowing that it will let me tweak things around enough to get the right shot every time. And that, coming from a trained photographer, is quite something.