Hands on with Hydra (Not the Serpent-like Monster)

When I saw a new app called Hydra I thought about the monster with a lot of snake heads, but I was wrong. In this case Hydra is a Universal app that can do a variety of things including HDR photos and video, shots in low light conditions, better zoomed images, and high resolution photos.

Hydra Logo

I tried most everything with the app and I’ll show you lots of samples. I did this with version 1.0 of the app on my iPhone 6. Version 1.0.1 of the app was released earlier today just before I finished this post. I made a note of several things that I’d listed as issues that were already fixed by the developer.

HDR Photos

The app will analyze the scene and then decide how many shots it needs to take (based on the brightest and darkest regions) up to a maximum of 20. It then begins snapping a lot of photos. In most cases the app took about 10 to 17 shots. Every now and then I would get a “Couldn’t take picture” message (this might be due to excessive range in the region – but I’m not positive) as it was taking photos. Once the app has taken multiple shots it combines them to get the HDR look. You get the option of B&W, Medium HDR, or Strong HDR along with a preview of each before you click the check mark to save the final photo. I would like it if you could save all three of these as an option, but you can only choose one when you save.

Below are five images: original image, HDR with built in camera, B&W with Hydra, Medium HDR with Hydra, and Strong HDR with Hydra. There are a few key regions you can look at to see the various effects: the flower region on the left side of the image, the vase in the upper center, and the chairs in the front of the scene.

Original image.

Original image.

HDR using built in camera app.

HDR using built in camera app.

B&W option from Hydra.

B&W option from Hydra.

Medium HDR from Hydra.

Medium HDR from Hydra.

Strong HDR from Hydra.

Strong HDR from Hydra.

The HDR for the built in app is somewhat geared towards situations with bright blue sky and faces in the foreground, so it didn’t do much to improve the original other than drastically dimming the area around the vase. Hydra did a great job with the Medium HDR setting for this photo. The B&W was also great. The Strong HDR was a bit overpowering in this case (for me).

HDR Video

You can see my example on YouTube where I panned the camera from a bright scene to the interior of my office. Overall the HDR video did a good job, although during the transition stage from the bright outdoors to the darker office there was a lot more noise in the video than there was in the video from the built in camera.

Here are three still images for visual comparison.

video_1
In the bright outdoor scene the HDR gives it the more vibrant look on a partly cloudy day, as opposed to the ‘drab’ look of the standard video.

video_2
Here you can see the nice effect of HDR when you look out the window on the right. Hydra still shows the blue of the sky, and a greater vibrancy to the colors of things out there. However, in this transition phase between the bright outdoors and the office there were a lot of compression artifacts (and some noise) in the video from Hydra. Apple had a bit more noise, but not many compression artifacts. You can see it when looking at the ceiling area. It’s not miserable, but in the full size video it is easily noticeable. Here are closeups from the full size video:

Compression artifacts visible in video from Hydra when going from bright scene to dark room.

Compression artifacts visible in video from Hydra when going from bright scene to dark room.

Less compression artifacts (but a bit more noise) visible in video from built in camera when going from bright scene to dark room.

Less compression artifacts (but a bit more noise) visible in video from built in camera when going from bright scene to dark room.

video_3
For the interior scene Hydra uses the HDR to get rid of the really dark areas (such as the doors in the back, or the shadowed cubicle walls in the foreground).

Lo-light Mode

Hydra uses multiple exposures to ‘amplify the light by merging up to 10 images’. I did some limited tests in a dim restaurant. I didn’t notice a big difference in the overall brightness of the image, but I did see a big reduction in noise. This was the Hydra image:

hydra_lowlight

At this size you can’t see a big difference between this and the default photo app, but here is a comparison of the ceiling in the Hydra app and the built in app.

noise_difference_lo_light

It’s very easy to see the excessive noise when using the built in camera (on the right side). The Lo-light mode of Hydra did a superb job cleaning up the image.

Zoomed Images

The app lets you create zoomed images (2x or 4x). When snapping a shot it’s kind of nice that you see your zoomed rectangular region on top of the full image. This shows that I was about to take a picture of part of a lamp.

IMG_9989

The next two shots are small regions from a photo I took of my keyboard using the built in camera zoom, and Hydra.

Photo taken at full zoom with built in camera app.

Photo taken at full zoom with built in camera app.

Photo taken at 4x zoom with Hydra app.

Photo taken at 4x zoom with Hydra app.

The clarity of the letter M and the region around the keys is vastly better with Hydra. However, there was far more discoloration/noise in the Hydra image. I noticed the same thing in several other zoomed photos I took in this mode.

Hi-Res Mode

Hydra let’s you take a super high resolution photo (32MP image measures 4896 x 6528 pixels!) so I tried this out while I was eating a bowl of soup for lunch.

IMG_9971

I took a small portion of the image to show the difference between the high resolution image from Hydra (on the left) and the image from the built in camera (on the right).

Image on the left side used high resolution mode with Hydra app. Right side was built in camera.

Image on the left side used high resolution mode with Hydra app. Right side was built in camera.

Hydra did a great job with the high resolution image. It’s one of those things you won’t really notice when looking at the image on your iPhone – but if you choose to print the image in the future or want to do some heavy cropping you’d appreciate the extra pixels.

Issues

This is version 1.0 of the app. Here are a few quick thoughts about a few problems.

Hydra has a built in photo viewer within the app that doesn’t separate local photos from your PhotoStream photos, so it can be confusing which images you are looking at. I was briefly confused when I’d deleted all my local images but still saw them in the Hydra app.

Changing modes within the app seems a bit “twitchy” and will often jump over the one I was trying to get to. Just a minor annoyance, and probably just my fingers being clumsy. Update: This problem seems gone in version 1.0.1 that was just released.

When viewing the photos in the photos app, the location shows up as Xinjiang (China). When I view a photo taken with the built in camera app in Lightroom it shows 38°1’21” N 78°28’12” W as my location, but Lightroom doesn’t show the “N” and “W” for the photos taken with Hydra, so I think their EXIF data is missing some information. Hopefully that will be fixed in the near future. Update: This problem was fixed in version 1.0.1. I’m no longer in Xinjiang!

When things are moving around in the scene and you are using the HDR mode there are problems. My guess is the algorithm used in the app needs a bit of tweaking. I will often see large blue or red splotches in the region where motion was taking place. Here is an example from a picture at a coffee shop. The woman was turning her head at the time. Update: The description in v 1.0.1 of the app stresses that this app is not suited to moving objects. (I still would like it to handle the splotches in a better way.)

blotchy_hydra

The one other thing that you may have noticed is that all the photos from Hydra see to have a warmer tone than the built in camera app. It doesn’t really bother me since that can always be changed at a later time in another app, and sometimes it’s nice to have the warmer tone. This was more of an observation than an issue…if you know what I mean.

In a future release I’d like it if there was an option for a 2 second delay (or adjustable number of seconds) after pressing the “shoot” button – since stability with these HDR and hi-res shots are important. Also, the volume button currently doesn’t trigger a shot to happen, so I’d like it if that would get included.

Overall

Hydra has immediately become my favorite HDR app. It makes use of many images to get a really great HDR shot (Medium strength is my favorite). I don’t think there are any other apps even close right now. Since it takes so many additional shots it takes longer to capture the image it can’t really deal with motion – but I’ll always be using this app when I want a quality HDR shot with my iPhone/iPad. I can’t wait to venture in to an old historic church just so I can get some lovely HDR shots.

The Hi-res mode is impressive and will be getting used whenever I am doing a landscape shot or a pseudo-macro of flowers and such. When doing the hi-res shots I tried to find something solid to brace my hand/iPhone on, but the handheld results were great (maybe I’ve learned to have a steady hand over the years).

There are a number of features I didn’t mention such as being able to change the megapixels for various shots (you can get a 12MP HDR!) having a grid displayed, locking the orientation, etc. The app has a really nice simple interface so none of those things get in the way or distract you. Once you select a mode you can just press the nice big button to capture your shot.

The developer came out with their first update very quickly after the initial release and fixed many of the problems I’d seen. The HDR capture seems faster than version 1.0.0, and version 1.0.1 hasn’t crashed at all during my late afternoon testing.

I’m sometimes amazed at what can be done with current technology. Hydra is one of those rare apps that amazes me. Hydra is a must-have app that will be on my iPhone for many years to come.

It’s currently on sale at an introductory price of $2.99. You can see many more examples and read about the app on the Hydra homepage.

Abstract Eye of the Beholder

I continue to have fun using a combination of BrushStroke and Glaze to create some ‘abstract’ art. We are having record warmth for January and I was outside during lunchtime with just a light jacket on. I snapped a photo of myself. Later that evening I was playing around with it. Eventually I created something I liked.

I’ll run through the steps here. I started with a scary photo of myself. Harsh light, dark glasses, and lots of neck wrinkles showing! What can I say, I was enjoying the weather and not thinking much of the selfie.

Abstract-a

I took that photo and used Tangled FX to create an image with lots of ‘streams.’

Abstract-b

That image was loaded in BrushStroke and used one of the relatively new ‘Experimental’ painting styles. They are worth checking out. Sometimes you get some really creative views.

Abstract-c

There still wasn’t much there that was interesting to my eye, but I used Glaze to paint that image. This was the result.

Abstract-d

Suddenly something did look interesting! I zoomed in a lot and did a heavy duty crop around the glasses/nose/mouth region of my face. (I zoomed in using the standard photos app, and then did a screen capture on my iPad – so the image was still large in terms of pixels.)

Abstract-e

Can you see where I’m going with this? I used Camera+ to flip the image and enhance the color, and added the frame (Camera+ is one of the rare apps that let’s you put a frame on the outside of your image, not overlapping the edges).

Abstract-f

At this point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go with the ‘harsh’ look from Glaze, or a smoother painted look from BrushStroke. I went with the latter, so I opened the image using BrushStroke. For the final image I used TouchRetouch to remove what was once my nose and create a single fish ‘leaping’ over the noise of the day.

Leap by R. Pfaff, 2015

Leap by R. Pfaff, 2015

You never really know what you’ll find when you start playing with a pointless photo in your spare time.


Apps mentioned in the post:

BrushStroke is $2.99 [link]
Glaze is free, with in-app purchases [link]
Camera+ is $2.99 [link]
TouchRetouch is $0.99 [link]

And over on Flickr I put a larger version of the final image.

2014 Ends, 2015 Begins

As you hear so often – the year really flew by. I think the last time I really saw time fly was when I dropped my Garmin during a marathon. I was switching it from my left wrist to my right one (since 15 miles on one wrist is about all I can stand). It flew about 3 feet to the ground. Not very much, but I had to stop to grab it. Not a great feeling during a marathon! Was that off topic enough for this blog? :)

Happy Holiday 2014

A holiday card I created with a number of apps: Snapseed (to enhance the original), LensLight (to add the light), BrushStroke (to give it the painted look), Snow Daze (for the snow), Fold Defy (for the folded look), and Phonto (to add the text). If you live/visit in downtown Charlottesville you’ll know exactly where you are based on the pavilion in the background.

Anyway, it was an amazing year for iOS photo apps. One of the big changes is that Apple allowed app developers access to the camera APIs in iOS 8, and that has led to manual controls in various apps. You can manually set the ISO, capture time, focus, etc. Very nice. I’ve used a few of the apps including Camera+, Few, Manual, Manual Photo Camera (currently free), and Manually. I haven’t had a lot of time to explore them all, but I think Camera+ is my favorite right now, but they all seem nice.

It was also a great year for creating ‘artistic’ photos. BrushStroke and Waterlogue1 are my two favorite apps for creating things that look like they’ve been painted. Both of these are Universal apps, so they are good for both your iPhone and iPad.

On the iPad only side of things, Pixelmator was named the Best iPad App of 2014. It’s a very powerful editing app that also has a Mac version for when you want to continue your editing on one platform or the other. I’ve been using it a bit and am starting to enjoy it more every time I do (the GUI took me a few uses before I got familiar with it – it’s so powerful and I didn’t realize how much it could do initially). There are many other great apps out there that people love, and if you want you can see what Mobitog members think about the best apps of the year in this lively thread.

Although it was a great year, there was one thing on my “naughty” list – the iCloud Photo Library. This is supposed to give you access to all your photos at full resolution on all your devices. Right now it still shows up as beta in the iPhone settings. I’m guessing it won’t come out of beta until the new Photos application for the Mac is released in early 2015. This new program is going to replace both iPhoto (free) and Aperture (hundreds of dollars in the past, still $80 online). Most have a feeling it will be a bit above iPhoto, but will pale in comparison to Aperture.

I tried this once, but between how the iCloud Photo Stream and the iCloud Photo Library, it was hard to see what was really going on. There are still a lot of discussions about it on the web and many are as confused as I am about what should really be happening. There was also confusion due to the removal of the “Camera Roll” when iOS 8 was initially released (it was added back in an iOS update). Too much confusion and no one ever wants to lose any photos they took! Hopefully Apple clears up all these issues in 2015.

Looking ahead, I’ve heard the rumors that the camera may be drastically upgraded in the next iPhone late in 2015. I would have no problem with that! My question is about the size of the lens. With the iPhone 6 (which is really thin) the lens extends outside the iPhone, so if you don’t have a case the lens can scrape around on your desk and in your pocket. I’m not a big fan of the design and am looking forward to the new one in October 2015.

For my New Year’s resolution I’m going to try to average at least one post a week (I only averaged one every two weeks for 2014), and I will try to always respond to email I get (trust me…I see it all, but just don’t find time to reply). Two resolutions seem like plenty.

I hope you all have a great start to 2015 as time continues to fly by.

Finishing a race a few weeks ago. You can see my Garmin sitting there on my wrist. This was a 5k and I finished in 20:03. Pretty good race!

Finishing a race a few weeks ago. You can see my Garmin sitting there on my wrist. This was a 5k and I finished in 20:03. Pretty good race!


1Waterlogue actually came out last December, but that is right around the start of 2014 ;)

He Said, She Said: Black Friday Photo Apps

As many people head out to look for Black Friday deals, a lot of others are just hanging out at home using their iPhones and iPads. I’m one of the latter. So if you are browsing the web there are a number of deals for iOS apps this holiday weekend.

Created with XnShape and BrushStroke.

Created with XnShape and BrushStroke.

One of the big ones is the JixiPix “store wide” sale. Pretty much every one of their apps is on sale for just $0.99 (most have separate iPhone and iPad versions – not Universal). They make apps such as Simply HDR, PhotoArtista, Pop Dot Comics, Moku Hanga, and many more. I bought one of their new apps called Fold Defy and have just started playing with it. I really enjoy most of these apps. Check out all the fun stuff from JixiPix. A few shots edited with JixiPix are shown in this post.

Created with PhotoArtista by JixiPix.

Created with PhotoArtista by JixiPix.

Another fun bunch of apps that are free right now are the ones by pierre gouglelet with unique names starting with Xn: XnRetro, XnSketch, XnBooth, and XnShape. These are Universal apps. You can see the full listing on iTunes. I enjoy the image up at the top of this post (“He said, she said”) that started out with XnShape.

Waterlogue is a another great app on sale for $2 (usually $3). It’s a Universal app that has no comparison for creating images with the watercolor look.

Deteriorating dreams

Deteriorating dreams by R. Pfaff, created with Waterlogue.

And if the holiday shopping has left you glitchy, you can grab Glitch Wizard for free right now.

For the late night crowd that is glad the rest of the family has gone to sleep after a day of shopping and food, NightCap Pro is on sale for just $1 right now. It’s a Universal app that let’s you get some amazing photos of everything from stars to space station trails (with an iPhone!). You can see a lot of these photos on the NightCap site, and download the app on iTunes.

International Space Station using NightCap Pro. Photo by Grainge (Twitter: @grainge )

International Space Station using NightCap Pro. Photo by Grainge (Twitter: @grainge )

There are many other sales going on right now, so browse in the virtual iOS photo app sale world and see what looks good.

Hope you all enjoy Black Friday. :)

Created with PhotoArtista by JixiPix.

Created with PhotoArtista by JixiPix.

Created with Dramatic B&W by JixiPix.

Created with Dramatic B&W by JixiPix.

5 Years, 6 Months, and 18 Days

Many years ago I got my first iPhone (the 3G) and started taking a lot of photos, but on May 1, 2009 I decided to start taking at least one picture every day. I made it 2,028 days in a row. The streak ended this past Wednesday. My job has kept me so busy that taking a photo entirely slipped my mind. I then forgot again on Friday as I was trying to finish a ton of tasks leading up to my vacation this week. Two days of complete forgetfulness in the past week.

Morning Dew

The very first photo I took in this five and a half year long streak was a gnome in my front yard. The gnome is long gone – I’m not even sure where. I seem to recall that it was just gone one morning when I woke up. Maybe it took a trip. I used to post every photo on Flickr, but have been so busy that they just piled up on my home computer. The first 1,700 made it up to my Daily Photo album. Feel free to dig through them. Some are boring, some a fun. Sort of like life.

During those five years I went to an NFL game where the Dolphins won (doesn’t happen often enough). I got to enjoy our snowiest winter ever in central Virginia. I spent lots of days at work, ran a lot of races, ate a lot of great meals, went through a lot of shoes, took a few vacations, walked to and from work thousands of times, and saw a lot of sunsets.

I wonder if I can make it for another five and a half years without missing a day. Three days and still going strong! :)