Consider for a moment the folks who take the most, if not all of their photos with a SmartPhone camera. Within that group are some folks who want to do more than taking snapshots. They may be considering a “real” camera that has more capabilities, but aren’t ready to make that leap quite yet.

Today’s SmartPhone cameras are capable of producing stunning images, but the camera software that comes with the phone is typically geared toward the snapshot photographer. I’m not being critical here – the built-in software does a good job in average situations and adds more capabilities with each new release. But I find there are often times when I only have my SmartPhone with me and I want to take a few photos that could benefit from controls normally available only on a “real” camera. Photographing sunsets is a good example.

Well, there is an app for that – actually quite a few apps! Some of these use camera hardware capabilities that may be ignored or buried in the snapshot-oriented camera software that comes with the phone. I’ve been watching the growth of these “third-party” apps for several years and I have settled, at least for the time being, on a couple that work for me: “Manual and “Moment.”

First, the similarities: Both apps work with Android and Apple SmartPhones. Both can be downloaded and trialed for “free,” but there’s a $4.95 charge for the fully-capable versions. You will need to upgrade if you intend to have the full range of adjustments available. Both apps let you select the file type for your saved image. And both include a useful “histogram” or graph of the brightness range of your subject.

The app I have used for the last couple of years is aptly named “Manual,” due to the range of manual controls available. As soon as you tap on a control, a slider bar appears on screen allowing adjustments to be made. Return to the “auto” mode by tapping the control again. One thing I especially like about this app is that the “auto” mode is clearly shown on the adjustment tab.

A newer - to me - app is simply named “Moment,” and it was recommended by a friend and regular user. I like this app as the controls layout has a very clean, uncluttered appearance. There’s also a short, well-done YouTube video that is a good starting point for using the app. The control sliders work in a manner similar to “Manual.” Since the on-screen image is immediately changed by adjustments, it’s relatively easy to see how the various controls interact to help deliver a sharp, well-exposed image.

Using manual settings on any camera will, in general, help the photographer achieve a better result than an “auto” setting that tries to guess what the photographer wants. And developing skill in using manual controls is directly transferable to that “real” camera you have been wanting to buy.

Having said that, there are some disadvantages to using manual controls on a SmartPhone. On-screen controls on even the largest SmartPhone screen are relatively small and close-spaced, at times making them very difficult to adjust. “Real” cameras have physical controls built into the camera, so they are easier to adjust. Then, there is the problem of seeing the SmartPhone screen in bright light.

But if you want to try a third-party camera app, it won’t cost much to give them a spin. And there are many more in the app stores you may want to try – some totally free. What you learn can also ease your transition in to that “real” camera you’ve got your eye on!

Space constraints make it difficult to include detailed info in these articles. If you want more info on any of the topics covered in this column, have general questions or comments, or an idea for a future column, please send me an email at I want and need your feedback to make sure this column is relevant and worth reading in future issues of Saddlebag Notes.

Jim has a Fine Arts degree with a major in Photography and more than 50 years experience in a wide range of photographic disciplines.