You might not give much thought to the app that snaps all those photos on your phone, but you don’t have to stick with the tool Apple or Google gives you by default—there are some fantastic third-party camera apps out there to help take your mobile photography to the next level.
These tools give you more control over how your shots are taken, extra features for adding filters and effects, and tight integration with the other apps on your phone. You can still use Google Photos or Apple iCloud to back up your pictures to the cloud too, if needed.
Manual gives you access to the pro settings that the iPhone camera app leaves out: shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus and exposure can all be adjusted. There’s also a basic histogram and photo map integrated into the viewfinder interface for easy access while you’re framing and reviewing your shots.
You get a choice of white or black themes, an EXIF viewer is included, and there’s even a rule-of-thirds grid overlay available—getting your subject or action close to the crossover points leads to the best results, at least in theory. Just as importantly, the app is clean and intuitive to use.
- $4 on iOS
Packed with features and yet never overwhelming or confusing, Open Camera is one of the best third-party camera options on the Android platform. You get access to advanced ISO, white balance, and exposure options when taking snaps, plus an auto-stabilization option for keeping everything steady.
You can overlay a selection of grids and frames on your pictures, set up customized voice commands to take shots, save files in RAW format, enable or disable HDR, and plenty more besides. On top of that, the app is completely free, though we’d recommend donating to the developer if you find it useful.
- Free on Android
One of the headline features of Prime is focus peaking, which essentially highlights objects currently in focus on the viewfinder screen, giving you another tool for intelligently composing shots and producing effects like bokeh background blur. RAW is available as an output option, if you need it.
There’s lots more in the app too—fill flash, shutter speed control, white balance adjustment, exposure compensation, and a live light meter you can use as you’re framing shots. Additionally, there’s a companion Apple Watch app, which allows you to use the wristable as a remote control.
- $2 on iOS
Footej Camera is definitely one of the most stylish camera apps on Android, and is actually quite iOS-like in its design (which may or may not be what you’re after). More importantly, it boasts a comprehensive number of features to help you get the exact shot you want every time you open the app.
You get a good array of manual controls (including ISO and shutter speed), support for the RAW format, advanced controls over focus and exposure, and the always handy option to create GIFs right from the camera. The interface is neatly done as well, and there’s a built-in gallery for reviewing photos.
- Freemium on Android
You don’t find many better camera apps for the iPhone (and iPad and iPod Touch) than this one. From advanced manual controls built right into the shutter screen, to impressive sharpening and tweaking tools, it’s able to give you as many or as few camera options as you need to get the right photos.
Use the RAW mode to capture everything coming into the camera sensor, or the Slow Shutter mode to let as much light in as possible, or the Action Mode to keep moving objects in focus—there’s a lot to play around with in this app, and it’s sure to keep even the most serious photographers satisfied.
- $4 on iOS
One of the heavyweights of the Android camera scene for some time now, Camera MX has just about every feature you could ask for, all wrapped up in an approachable and intuitive interface. Apply live effects and filters, capture GIFs, make use of HDR and auto-optimizations, and plenty more besides.
You can adjust focus and exposure before taking a shot, use a grid overlay to get everything aligned properly, and use the built-in timer to take delayed shots. On top of that, there are some neat video features here as well, including the ability to add a variety of filters while you’re recording.
- Freemium on Android
In the midst of all the stories and the instant messaging and the hashtags and the influencers, let’s not forget that at its core, Instagram is a very, very good camera app. Take a while to explore some of the photo-taking features it offers, and you’ll find they’re probably better than you remember.
There are still dozens of filters available in Instagram, which can all be adjusted in terms of their strength, plus a variety of editing tools covering orientation, brightness, contrast, color, shadows, highlights and so on. Instagram remains one of the best apps for getting excellent-looking photos very quickly.
This guide was originally posted on 5/4/16, and was updated 4/29/20 with new apps that take advantage of the latest Android and Apple devices.