iOS 5 Camera and Photos preview

With this autumn’s iOS 5 update, Apple plans to add some new camera and photo-editing features to the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. On their own, the new tools are nothing revolutionary – most are already available in third-party apps. What will make the new camera features useful, however, will be the added convenience that comes from being able to access them from the iPhone’s lock screen. The editing features will be a particularly welcome addition to iPhone users who don’t already use third-party editing apps.

The rallying cry of iPhone photographers has been that the best camera you have is the one that’s with you. Yes, always having an iPhone on you is handy for catching unexpected moments, but you lose precious time fumbling to unlock it with your passcode, and then finding and tapping the Camera app.

Apple will make the iPhone and iPod touch feel more like a real point-and-shoot camera by adding Camera app access to the lock screen. Double-click the Home button, and a camera button will appear to the right of the unlock slider. One tap, and your iOS device will launch straight into camera mode.

Access is limited in this mode, so if a stranger or nosey friend gets their hands on your handset, they’ll be able to take photos but won’t be able to see any images already in your Camera Roll. You’ll have access to all of the camera’s features, and be able to view or delete any photos or videos taken in this mode, but you can’t share or edit the images without unlocking the device.

Volume Up as shutter button

Third-party photo app developers have tried to turn the iPhone’s Volume Up button into a shutter release before, only to be turned down by Apple. In iOS 5, Apple has made the tweak itself.

The Volume Up button isn’t in the ideal spot for a shutter button – the lens of the camera is in the lower-right corner while you’re shooting – but as long as you’re careful not to put a thumb in front of the lens it’s a great new option to have. Using the button should feel more natural to use than tapping the screen.

Exposure/AF Lock, Grid Overlay and Pinch-to-Zoom

Several of iOS 5’s new camera features are already available in various third-party apps. In iOS 4, you tap once on the screen to set the focus and exposure for an image. Apps such as Global Delight’s Camera Plus Pro (priced £1.19) have long allowed users to tap in one spot to set the focus, and tap somewhere else to choose the image’s exposure. Apple has incorporated this feature into iOS 5; tap and hold to lock the exposure for your shot (the blue box will blink to indicate that the exposure lock is on), and then tap anywhere else on the screen to focus the camera.

There’s also a new Grid option that divides the screen into thirds. The addition of an optional grid overlay might be useful for photographers practicing the rule of thirds. Unfortunately, for heavy HDR users, it will also add another level of navigation to turn the HDR feature on and off. The HDR button is to be replaced by an Options button that you tap once to access the HDR and Grid On/Off toggles. Rounding-out the new features is the ability to pinch-to-zoom instead of tapping once on the screen to bring up the zoom slider.

New photo editing features added to iOS 5

Apple will finally bring a bit of iPhoto’s powers to the Photos app. Unfortunately, these new editing features won’t be available from the camera roll that you access from within the Camera app – you can only apply them in Photos. With a ton of editing apps already in the App Store for executing same basic improvements along with much more advanced edits, it will be handy to have all these in the Photos app. Still, more serious iPhone photographers aren’t going to stop using editing apps like Photogene anytime soon.

As in iPhoto, an Auto-Enhance button will instantly improve an image by tweaking settings like sharpness, levels, and contrast. There are already some editing applications dedicated to doing just this, such as Athentech Imaging’s Perfectly Clear. Other new iOS 5 editing features include red-eye removal (no word on whether it works on the iPhone’s unfortunate ‘white-eye’ issue caused by the LED flash), and the ability to rotate and crop images. When cropping, you can choose the crop ratio manually or select one of nine preset crop sizes.

Another very welcome Photos feature will be the ability tomake a new photo album directly on your device. Whenever you add a photo to a new album, a copy will remain in the main Camera Roll folder.

Syncing photos with iCloud

The most inventive new feature is Photo Stream; part of the forthcoming iCloud data sync service. This will sync your most recent 1,000 photos across all your iOS devices, iPhoto on your Mac, your second-generation Apple TV, and the Pictures Library on Windows PCs.

To turn on Photo Stream, you’ll need to go to the Photos settings screen. It won’t be retroactive though, so only photos taken after upgrading to iOS 5 will sync to iCloud. As the name suggests, Photo Stream will only support your photos, and won’t sync video you shoot on your iOS device. It would be handy if users had some control over what syncs, but for now it’s straight from the Camera Roll to the cloud.

Photo Stream isn’t limited to shots taken on your device’s camera. It also works for images imported to your iOS device, which will be useful for photographers backing up to an iPad with the Camera Connection Kit. New photos are only stored for 30 days, but if you want an image to stay on your device for longer you can save it to your Camera Roll. Your Mac or PC will keep all photos that come through the stream.

OUR VERDICT

On the whole, these new features look useful, but they aren’t ground-breaking. The Lock Screen access and new shutter button features will go a long way to making the iPhone more like a real camera, while the ability to make new folders, and Photo Stream are huge timesavers for photo management. But the other features being rolled out are already available through third-party apps, so their usefulness depends on how you use your camera. Instagram and Hipstamatic users may not even notice they are there.

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