In the Android darkroom


If you have an Android phone (or a tablet with a high-quality camera in it), you’ve probably snapped a few pics already. But you can do a whole lot more than just take standard pictures with your Android device, provided you have the right apps on-hand.

PhotoSphere (free in Jelly Bean 4.2+)
One of the hot new features in Jelly Bean 4.2 devices (like the Nexus 4) is PhotoSphere, which is part of the regular camera app. Now, in addition to the ability to take standard photos, you can also capture a near-360-degree image “sphere”. To start the process, you open up the camera app, tap the camera icon and select the icon with the sphere in the background. The app will ask you to align a blue dot in the center of a circle to take the first picture. Then, you can move the phone in any direction and new blue dots will appear for alignment of other portions of the image. You’ll keep doing this until the whole area around you is captured, then the app will stitch all of these images together into a panoramic image that can also be played back as a “photo sphere” on the phone. A couple of quirks: it’ll be missing a circle at the top and the bottom; and of course, not everything will line up perfectly, especially if you’re shooting in an environment that has a lot of straight lines. Still, it’s a great way to get a reasonable quality near-360-degree image quickly.

Of course, not everyone will have access to PhotoSphere – it’s only available in Jelly Bean 4.2 and onward. For everyone else, there are a ton of other photo apps available for download. Here are a few.

Instagram (free)
Of course, there’s always Instagram, which quickly became one of the most popular Android photo apps when it was released to the platform last year. For those who still haven’t checked it out, it’s both a photo capturing app and a social network: take your photos using your phone, apply a vintage filter to the photo, and then upload them for your Instagram friends to see and comment on. (In fact, when you fire up the app, it presents you with the stream of photos from your contacts, so you can poke around in what your friends have been doing before you take your own pics, if you’re so inclined.) It’s worth noting that Instagram’s recent acquisition by Facebook is a double-edged sword: while you can find a ton of photo-love friends when you sign in using your Facebook account, you may be entering into murky waters in terms of your rights to your images in the future thanks to ever-changing terms of service provided by Facebook. So beware.

Flickr (free)
Long one of the web’s most popular photo-sharing sites, Flickr was starting to look a bit staid until a recent update to its smartphone apps. Before, you could tag photos and upload them to your Flickr account. Now, you can take pictures right from the app, put on a filter just like in Instagram, and then tag them for uploading. Or, from the main screen, you can use the app as a photo-based social network, just like with Instagram…but without worrying that your photos might some day be sold to a third party without your knowledge. It’s a nice update, and if you have had a Flickr account for a while, it’s a no-brainer.

PocketBooth ($1.99)
Although photo booths are quickly disappearing from places like malls and tourist areas, the PocketBooth app will still give you the experience of the photo booth wherever you happen to be. Fire up the app, press the button, and PocketBooth will take four photos in quick succession (using either the front or rear camera), and then present them in a four-panel strip, whether they were all good takes or not…just like a photo booth. You can share your photo strips to all of the usual places included in the Android “share” option, including Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, Google+, email, Picasa and more. You can even bring the strips into other photo apps on your Android device, if you like.

Vignette ($2.57)
While Vignette is Yet Another App™ that allows you take photos and then apply various vintage filters and frames onto the image, it’s not just a typical me-too app like many of the others in this category. Yes, you can make your picture look like an old Polaroid, but you can then go in and adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, and even the colour temperature using big sliders, for better control over the final effect. But even before you take the picture, you can control how the image is going to be taken, from standard resolution to default filter, to which camera the app will default to when you fire it up. After you’ve captured the images, you can share to your other social networks and other photo apps on your Android device. All in all, a powerful little app.

Adobe Photoshop Express (free)
When you think of photo editing in the digital age, chance are that Adobe’s Photoshop is the first thing that comes to mind. Curiously, while Photoshop is also partly renowned for its sometimes-prohibitive cost, Adobe has made an Android version available to the masses for free. True, this complimentary copy is much more stripped down than the Photoshop Express you’ll find on a computer, but it still has a lot of great tools for those on the go, including editing (crop, rotate, flip, or straighten), image control (exposure, saturation, tint, contrast/brightness), focus control, borders and the now-obligatory image effects. It’ll pull images from your Android device’s image library, but it can also grab things from your account, if you have one. Once you’re done editing, Photoshop Express will save the image back into your device’s image library, but you can also upload directly to Facebook or Twitpic right from within the app.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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