I can be quick on the draw when it comes to pulling out my smartphone to snap a few photographs. Like a lot of people, I’ll let those pictures lay idle on my handset for months.
A lot of my reluctance has to with the hassle of transferring the pictures to my PC before uploading them to a photo-sharing website or Facebook. Sure, I can use my phone to directly post them online, but I like to use photo-editing software on my computer to touch up the images. As a result, photos from a May birthday party won’t end up on my Facebook page until November.
With sophisticated cameras going into smartphones—including the 5-megapixel, high-dynamic range shooter found in Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 and the professional-grade, 12-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens in Nokia Corp.’s N8—more people are leaning on their handsets for all sorts of photo opportunities.
Application developers haven’t ignored the trend. A large number of mobile programs recently have cropped up allowing you to tweak photos, add eye-popping filters, tag them with information about subject and location, and then post them on social-networking sites.
I recently attended a holiday dinner with friends, giving me an opportunity to test some of these mobile photo-editing and photo-sharing apps: picplz, Instagram, Hipstamatic, Path and Camera Fun Pro. All five are either free or relatively inexpensive.
Instagram, a free app launched by Burbn Inc. in October for the iPhone, is among the most straightforward. After taking a photo, you are given a choice of a dozen filters that give the picture a retro twinge. Some of the photos shot while sitting in an Italian wine bar looked like something from a movie set.
After choosing your filter, you have the choice of adding a caption. You can add the location as well, although it requires the phone to have a working GPS or network connection, so you can’t get the information while on a subway or in a dead zone.
The program gives you an option to upload the photo to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Foursquare or any combination of the social-networking sites.
I also liked the feed Instagram creates to show you all the photos you’ve taken, giving you a nice timeline of your shots. There is also a section devoted to the most popular photos taken from all Instagram users, giving me some new ideas.
Picplz, another free app, available on iPhones and smartphones using Google Inc.’s Android software, gives you the same capabilities, but only half the number of filters. As a result, I found myself using Instagram more frequently.
A popular app is Hipstamatic ($1.99) from Synthetic Corp., which allows your iPhone to mimic an old-fashioned camera, complete with a virtual old-fashioned case with swappable lenses and flash bulbs on the front, and a small viewfinder on the back. There are several options for types of film, allowing for a large number of different combinations.
While I appreciated the options, I also was a little overwhelmed. The app isn’t ideal for spontaneous moments, because you have to choose the film, lens and type of flash bulb (or whether to have flash at all) before taking your shot. The costs for the app could add up if you add virtual accessories: types of film, lenses, flashbulbs and camera case. Each feature retails for an additional 99 cents.
Hipstamtic has been around for nearly a year, but in September, Synthetic added the capability to order print versions of photos. The packs of photos range between $4.99 and $9.99, depending on the print size. I didn’t get a chance to test out the service, but the company says it has won over many repeat customers.
A more recent app is personal-photo network program Path, which launched in November for the iPhone. The aim for Path is slightly different from the normal sharing program. Rather than post the picture to Facebook and your entire network, the program will share the photo with 50 friends, which Path Chief Executive Dave Morin says is the maximum number of relationships a human can maintain at any given time.
Hipstamatic transforms an iPhone into an old-fashioned camera, complete with swappable lenses and flash bulb.
The initial version of Path, however, required my friends to have the application. My friends ended up receiving an email asking them to sign up for Path, which most promptly ignored. As a result, I wasn’t sharing my photos with anyone. Mr. Morin says the company will release an update that opens up the program, sending email links to the photos that don’t require downloading the program.
The app that got the most attention around the dinner table, however, was Camera Fun Pro from SpiceLoop. While it has been available for the iPhone since January, it arrived on Android devices in September. The app, which costs 99 cents, applies a live filter over the camera, allowing you to see what you get before taking the photo. The 19 filters’ effects on photos aren’t subtle: They implant a bulge, stretch, give a 3-D effect, or tint subjects Avatar-blue. If those aren’t enough distortion for you, you can go back and layer effects on a photo.
Testing the app out on Samsung Electronic Co. Ltd.’s Epic 4G, my friends and I especially enjoyed the sketch filter, which makes everything look like it was hand drawn with a pencil. The photos were reminiscent of A-Ha’s famous music video, which used a similar sketch effect, and had us humming the ’80s pop tune “Take On Me” during the meal.
Write to Roger.Cheng@dowjones.com. Walt Mossberg is on vacation and will return Dec. 16.