Review: DSLR photographers tools for iPhone

Here’s a review of iPhone and iPod touch apps that can be very useful to DSLR photographers. On one hand I was looking for iPhone apps which calculate sunrise and sunset times for a given location or even calculate the so called “blue hour”. On the other hand I was looking for apps that calculate depth of field, hyperfocal distance and flash exposure. I also had a look at some GPS coordinate tracker apps but due to (deliberate) limitations in the iPhone OS most of these apps don’t really work great. More on that later on.

Sunrise & sunset apps
 

Darkness – World Clock by Bjango
Darkness shows the time for sunrise, noon, sunset, moonrise and moonset for any city in the world.

Pros:

  • Ability to detect the current location
  • Very nice user interface
  • Shows civil, nautical and astronomical times
  • Shows daylight duration
  • Shows moon phases
  • Shows up to four different locations on the main screen. You can add more but you have to scroll down for the remainder of the locations.
  • Large cities database
  • Doesn’t require an Internet connection while running
  • Language support for German, partial support for French and Spanish. More languages to come in future versions.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t calculate twilight
  • Can’t select a different date than today

Darkness is available for $0.99 in the iTunes App Store. The reviewed version was v1.2. I just talked to the developer and he’s planning to include a selectable date in a future version of Darkness.

darkness_sun darkness_moon

 

Sunrise – Solar Calculator by Adair Systems
Sunrise is a simple utility to calculate sunrise, solar noon, and sunset times, as well as the phase of the moon.

Pros:

  • Ability to detect the current location
  • Self-contained database with city-coordinates from around the world. When using locations from the database, Sunrise can operate without a WiFi, cellular or GPS signal. This is especially useful in remote locations where you still can select the nearest city. The coordinate database shows an entry for every major town in my country (Switzerland).
  • Shows twilight times
  • Selectable date. This would be great for holiday planning if you want to see how much hours of daylight you get on a certain date in the future – if it’d work properly (see time zone problem in con list).
  • Shows moon phases (not only useful to Werewolves)
  • Doesn’t require an Internet connection while running

Cons:

  • Time zone issue: If you select a city which is not in your current time zone, the app shows the times in your current time zone instead of the time zone of the selected city. For example, if I select the City of Nassau, Bahamas the app shows a sunrise time of 12:43 p.m. which is pretty useless.
  • No way to add own coordinates
  • English only

Sunrise is available for $0.99 in the iTunes App Store. The reviewed version was v1.2.0. The app would be great if that time zone issue would be eliminated.

sunrise_current1 sunrise_current2 sunrise_bug

 

DoF, (flash) exposure apps
 

There are quite a few DoF calculators available in the iTunes App Store. I just bought the two all-in-one apps listed below because they offer a lot more than those simple DoF calculators do.

PhotoCalc by Adais Systems
PhotoCalc is a utility for iPhone and iPod for photographers to calculate exposure reciprocation, depth of field, and flash exposure. In addition to calculators, PhotoCalc features a reference section with a glossary, and several reference documents such as the Zone System, and the Sunny 16 rule. It also contains an integrated version of the Sunrise app (see review above). I cross-checked a few DoF calculations and all of them were correct. 

Pros:

  • Camera database. Once you selected your camera(s), PhotoCalc automatically integrates the crop factor for non FX-sensor cameras in the calculations. Supports multiple cameras.
  • Flash exposure calculator for all you manual flashers
  • Depth of field (DoF) calculation, including hyperfocal distance and circle of confusion (CoC)
  • Integrated version of Sunrise (see review above), a sunrise/sunset/solar noon calculator
  • Glossary included (nice idea!)
  • Settings for distance units (metric, imperial), f-Stops (halves, thirds)

Cons:

  • The time zone bug is also present in this integrated version of Sunrise. Actually, Sunrise is even worse in this integrated version because it shows weirdly formatted times (see screenshot below).
  • English only

PhotoCalc is available for US$ 2.99 in the iTunes App Store. Reviewed version was v1.1.0. Would be a great app if these Sunrise time bugs weren’t there.

photocalc_dof photocalc_flash photocalc_sunrise photocalc_options photocalc_more

 
PhotoBuddy by Ambertation
PhotoBuddy wants to be your personal assistant in photographic matters. It provides convenient ways to help professionals and amateurs to calculate some of the most needed camera settings. I cross-checked a few DoF calculations and all of them were correct. 

Pros:

  • Sunrise/sunset/next full moon calculator with selectable date
  • Exposure calculator with lots of useful presets (nice idea!)
  • Depth of field (DoF) calculation, including hyperfocal distance. Shows DoF with a nice graphic that even lets me change DoF values when I tap on it.
  • Flash exposure calculator for all you manual flashers
  • Distance calculator
  • Grey wedge to determine the white balance in your photographs (I’m not sure how useful this is…) with color temperature table
  • Camera database. Once you selected your camera, PhotoBuddy automatically integrates the crop factor for non FX-sensor cameras in the calculations. Supports just one camera at a time.
  • Bulb timer
  • Bellows compensation calculator (to be honest I have no idea what this is for)
  • A users manual! It’s available for download at the PhotoBuddy Website
  • Settings for distance units (metric, imperial), f-Stops (full, halves, thirds), CoC-Factor
  • Language support for English and German
  • A dollar cheaper than PhotoCalc :-)

Cons:

  • Doesn’t show twilight times in the sun & moon calculator, it would be nice if it also had the ability to show the daylight hours for a given date
  • Can’t add my own presets for the exposure calculator
  • The graphic in the DoF calculator is a cool thing to show off with but due to its size you can’t see all the DoF values without scrolling. It would be nice to have a setting to turn it off in the options menu.

PhotoBuddy is available for US$ 1.99 in the iTunes App Store. Reviewed version was  v1.2. A great app that still could be enhanced with twilight times in the sun & moon calculator to indicate the start of the “blue hour”.

photobuddy_sun_moon photobuddy_exposure_presets photobuddy_dof photobuddy_flash photobuddy_more

iPhone GPS geotagging apps
 

The major problem with GPS geotagging apps like GPS Kit, GPS Tracker, and Track’n Trail is that the iPhone OS isn’t really designed for these kind of apps. It lacks the ability to put these apps into the background. They have to be opened constantly and terminate automatically every time you want to do something else on your iPhone. Another convenience problem is that you can’t send your recorded positions directly from your iPhone to your Mac or PC because Apple decided (for whatever reason, almost every other silly mobile phone has it) not to implement the Bluetooth file transfer profile. The iPhone’s GPS chip also drains the iPhone battery very fast when it’s continuously recording your current position. That’s why I don’t recommend the use of these GPS tracker apps on the iPhone. If you want to continuously track GPS coordinates you may want to have a look at the Holux M-241.

I can think of some sort of compromise: an app that when started automatically records the current time and the current GPS coordinates, let’s me take a reference photo and also some notes about the current location or even is able to record a short voice clip. Every time I take a photo with my real camera (not that the iPhone camera is not a real camera… but you get the point) I’d start that app to record my current location and terminate it afterwards. Back at home the app lets me export all the accumulated data and reference photos to a web site or to my E-mail account. I then could manually match all my real camera photos to the exported iPhone data. The convenience factor is still quite low but I think that is as good as it gets. It looks like PhotoJot is an app that features most of the points above. I didn’t buy it yet because it has quite a low average rating. I will watch it for updates though. Do you know another app that works in that direction?

3 thoughts on “Review: DSLR photographers tools for iPhone

  1. The sunrise sunset application is very simple but nice. However, this application is only intended for iphone users.

  2. The “Sunrise” is a fine application, but that is not enough to calculate a photo shoot in a new location.
    I live in Norway where the compass direction of the sunrise/sunset varies more than a hundred degrees throughout the year.
    In Oslo the sun rises at 36° in December and at 141° in June. Very useful if you shoot landscape photos :))

    The Focalware application gives you the compass direction for any given date and location.

    It is well worth the $10 :))
    http://spiraldev.com/focalware/

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