I recently received my shiny new ASUS ZenFone 5, which just went on pre-order in the UK today. As an ASUS Brand Ambassador, I can’t exactly review this phone without it being perceived as a little biased (even if I’m being completely objective), so I’m not posting a review. But what I can do is show you how I use it to help me with my photography and the apps I use to do that.
These apps aren’t specific to the ASUS ZenFone 5. They should be available to users of just about any modern Android device. And some are even available for that other mobile platform. To illustrate the features of some of the apps, I went out over the weekend to shoot a video of them in use. If you want to miss my unboxing and get straight to the apps, then skip ahead to about 4:10.
I’ve split the list up below into several categories to try and give them some kind of order and help explain what I use them for.
Shooting photos & video with my phone
1. The default Android camera app
I generally use a smartphone camera for one of four things.
- Location scouting (GPS tagging is a very handy feature in the wilderness)
- Social media images & video – particularly Instagram
- Quick behind the scenes shots
- Selfies, obviously.
When I used to use iPhones, my camera app of choice was Camera+. It’s a wonderful app that offers a lot of control over your image that the default iOS camera app just doesn’t provide. Unlike iOS, however, the default camera app for Android, at least with my ZenFone 5, offers that same level of control I used to get from Camera+.
As well as various selfie, panoramic, and auto modes, the standard camera app offers a “Pro” mode. Here I get full manual control over the ISO, shutter speed and white balance. I get to choose which camera I wish to use – the ZenFone 5 features a 12MP dual pixel Sony IMX363 sensor and a lens with a field of view equivalent to that of a 24mm lens on a full frame camera as well as a second wide-angle camera offering 120° for a 12mm field of view equivalent – with auto or manual focus, and I even see a live histogram.
I also get the ability to shoot raw+jpg, which is important to me, as I’m not a huge fan of editing images on my phone. With the ability to schedule posts now available from the desktop through sites like Hootsuite and Later, batch processing images on the desktop in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom makes life so much easier. In just a couple of hours on a weekend, I can schedule 2 or 3 weeks worth of Instagram posts.
That being said…
I do still have the Snapseed app on my phone. As much as I dislike processing images on a phone, occasionally I will want to just get something out quickly and so I’m happy to blast through it in Snapseed. This is particularly true for things like Instagram Stories. I may not be anywhere near my home. So, transferring to my PC, editing on the desktop, and then transferring back to my phone to post to my Story might not even be possible.
I’ve tried a number of image editing applications for smartphones, and I always keep going back to Snapseed. It’s just the fastest for me to work in. It’s easy and intuitive and lets me get where I need to be quickly.
3. FiLMiC Pro
Filmic Pro is an app that I’ve been using since not long after their first release. I picked it up when it was free for a couple of weeks in their early to help spread the word of its existence. Although it was undoubtedly the best of the apps available for shooting video at the time, I didn’t think it was all that special. I typically chose the convenience of the built-in camera app with my phone just because it was less hassle.
It’s still the best app available for shooting video, regardless of your mobile platform, but it’s come a very long way since then. There is a lot more control over your shot now than there was then, and you can even create presets for shooting in various modes. Being able to quickly flick between 4K 24fps footage and 1080p 120fps footage with appropriate bitrates and settings in just a couple of taps of my screen is invaluable.
Instagram never did release their Hyperlapse app on Android, despite many calls for them to do so. This gave Microsoft a chance to jump in with theirs instead. After giving it a try, and comparing the two side-by-side, I actually found it to be quite a bit better than Instagram’s Hyperlapse app for iOS, at least for me. Perhaps some of that will boil down to personal taste, but I just thought that the Microsoft Hyperlapse app created generally smoother footage.
It’s pretty much all automatic, but, I’ve stuck with it for the most part. I don’t do too many hyperlapses on my phone, though. I typically prefer to use a DSLR on my Zhiyun Crane 2 gimbal, and then do the legwork in Adobe Premiere or After Effects with the Warp Stabiliser. But when I do shoot hyperlapses on my phone, this is my app of choice.
This app is aimed more towards regular timelapses, rather than hyperlapse. You can set the frame interval, video duration, frame rates, and it features an inbuilt calculator to help you figure everything out. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s a good basic app for when you want to shoot timelapse with a little more control than the default camera app.
Even though it’s not really designed for hyperlapses, they can be done with Framelapse, it’s just a little more difficult. You’ll generally need to use a gimbal (I use the Zhiyun Smooth-C), and you need to be far more careful with your movements. But it’s doable.
Trello is a fantastic online service I discovered early last year. Imagine if you have a wall full of Post-It notes, all organised by colour for various tasks. That’s basically Trello. Everything is organised into “Boards” and inside each of these boards, you can have multiple lists. And in each of those lists, you can add various cards. Cards allow you to write notes, attach links, even upload images or video content.
So, for example, I recently posted a review for the MIOPS Splash. I create a board to cover the review as a whole, and inside it I create several lists. I create one of features to check, and another with features I’ve checked. As I go through and test each thing, the item gets dragged from one list to the other. I have another list for additional notes. I have another list to jot down the numbers of photos I want to process for inclusion in the review. And I can add, remove, move, or edit things from any of my phones, tablets or desktops, with each automatically syncing up to the rest.
For my own needs, I find the free account to be perfect, although they do offer various paid levels for more advanced users and teams.
There are so many weather apps out there that it’s difficult to keep track. The Weather Channel has one, the Met Office has one, and there are countless more. Personally, I just find Accuweather to be the most reliable. I’m not one of those who religiously compares the reports from multiple apps, constantly switching between them, but when I first started researching weather apps a few years ago for organising location shoots, Accuweather tended to be the most accurate.
Over the last few years, it’s tended to serve me well, for the most part. Ultimately, forecasting the weather is not infallible. Nobody gets it right 100% of the time. But for now Accuweather gets it right often enough for me. If the time ever comes that they start to get it consistently wrong, I’ll look for something else.
I’m putting this into the “Planning” category because while I do use this app during my location shoots, I most often use it when scouting. That usually means the planner and augmented reality features. These let me see exactly where the sun is going to come up and the path it will take throughout the day when actually at the location. This way, I can plan which parts of a location I can shoot at different times of the day. This kind of advanced information is absolutely invaluable on a location shoot.
The exposure calculator is something I’ll often use when shooting video, and I’ll use it at the time I’m shooting. Neutral density filters are typically used for photography to get those super long exposures with milky water. But they’re also used for video quite often in order to shoot wider apertures in bright light while still keeping that 1/50th of a second shutter speed (when shooting 23.976 frames per second). So, this feature lets me quickly see how many stops of ND I need to add to my lens in order to bring the exposure down to a “correct” level.
PhotoPills also features a host of other tools, such as the depth of field calculator, hyperfocal chart, timelapse calculator, and star trail calculator & timer. I used to have separate apps for all of those things. Now, with everything in a single app, there’s no longer a need to keep so many redundant apps on my phone. PhotoPills has replaced all of them.
Other useful Apps
9. Resilio Sync
This is one of the most valuable apps I ever discovered. Not just for my mobile devices, but for general backup across multiple machines. It’s a bit like DropBox, but without any servers. You are, essentially, your own cloud. It operates on a peer-to-peer system, and all file transfers are direct between each of your own devices. It’s available for a whole bunch of mobile and desktop platforms and allows me to automate a lot of boring transfer tasks.
Like all those photos I shoot with my mobile that I prefer to edit on my desktop. As soon as I shoot a photo, it’s saved to my camera roll. Resilio Sync sees it and if I have it configured to use cell data, it will start transferring immediately to two computers back home. If it’s configured to not use cell data, then it will start transferring as soon as the phone has a WiFi signal (whether I’m at home or somewhere else).
This means that as soon as I get on my PC, my images are already there and waiting for me to fire up Bridge and start making my way through the DNG files. Then, as soon as I’ve finished processing the images, and saved out the JPGs I wish to post to Instagram, they’re automatically transferred back to my phone. This way, if I’m running short on time and can’t schedule them or I wish to post them to other social media platforms, then I still have them available to post from my phone wherever I am.
And I use it to keep a “Portfolio” folder updated across multiple devices. Inside that main folder, there are various subfolders (animals, boudoir, etc) for different genres to keep things separate (there’s no point showing location nudes as work examples to a zoo who wants their tapirs photographed). When I add or remove an image inside any of these folders, that automatically updates both of my phones and three tablets. Then no matter which I take out with me, I always have an up-to-date copy of my digital portfolio to hand.
As an aside, I also use Resilio Sync to transfer images from shoots with “real cameras”, too. Once the cards go into the card reader and the files are copied to my desktop, Resilio Sync automatically sends them across my network where they’re backed up to a second PC. This goes for both stills and video footage.
This isn’t for shooting photos with the phone, so much as using the phone to shoot photos with actual cameras. qDslrDashboard is a piece of software that allows me to remotely control my Nikon DSLRs for both stills and video. It also works with Canon DSLRs and some Sony mirrorless cameras. It offers various features to assist with shooting video including crop factor overlays, false colour, live histogram and focus peaking, with complete remote control over exposure and focus.
As I own multiple mobile devices, I personally find qDslrDashboard to be an invaluable tool, particularly for video. I’m often shooting solo, so if I need to use multiple cameras for a talking head piece or an interview, this app lets me use my mobile devices as remote monitors to keep an eye on what all of the cameras are seeing. If the focus, composition or exposure is slightly off, I can quickly go and adjust to correct the situation. I no longer have to risk having a couple of cameras with half an hour’s worth of useless footage because the framing wasn’t quite right or the plant behind the subject, and not the subject, was in focus.
It also offers many tools for stills photography, too, like shooting timelapse sequences with LRTimelapse integration to help smooth out the aperture flicker. Another feature is aimed specifically at macro shooters, and that’s focus stacking. Set your near focus point, your far focus point, and tell it how many shots you wish to shoot it over and the app will automatically rack your camera’s focus from one point to the other, grabbing shots along the way until it’s covered the entire depth of field range. No need to touch your camera to adjust and risk knocking the camera, just set it going and wait for your images.
So, those are the 10 apps I use the most on my Android devices to help me with my photography. Smartphones have become one of my favourite tools for photography overall. Whether it’s the fact that I now always have a camera with me or that it assists me when shooting a camera that’s a little more capable, I just find them to be invaluable.
Could I still shoot without the benefits of a phone? Sure, and still often do, but it does make life a whole lot easier. The ASUS ZenFone 4 has served me well these past months, and I expect the ASUS ZenFone 5 will do the same. In the UK, you can pre-order yours today in the ASUS Online Store. In the USA, you can buy on Amazon.
What mobile apps can you not live without for your photography?