Category Archives: Featured App

Every week I’ll try to feature one app that I find interesting or useful.

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.

Reuters Galleries on iPad

At the end of the day when I just want to relax I often pull out my iPad and glance through the daily set of pictures from Reuters that they choose as the best of the day.

Every day during the week they post about twenty Editor’s Choice shots, and there are several other special collections that rotate over time.

Reuters Galleries -- Main Screen

Reuters Galleries -- Main Screen

This apps tends to get very low ratings on iTunes. One of the primary reasons is that the app loves to crash when you first start it up. Here is my advice. Be sure the rotation of your iPad is not locked, and then hold it upright in portrait mode.

You can then start the app, and hopefully it won’t crash. At this point it will ask for location permissions (allow or don’t allow). I’m not exactly sure why they ask for this, since you won’t be taking or uploading any photos from the app (probably involved with marketing or bad programming…I go with the latter). I always say allow, so not sure what would happen in the other case.

Once you’ve started the app successfully you’ll be able to start it when your iPad is in other rotations or when the rotation is locked.

Another minor annoyance is that sometimes a picture just doesn’t seem to want to load and you just see the spinning spokes showing activity. If that happens you can just slide to the next image by swiping with your finger. You can then go back to that image in a few moments, or just continue swiping through shots.

Many of the photos are often taken in distant parts of the world where big news is occurring, but I enjoy just looking at the photos to see what I like in each. Always nice to look at “wow” shots and try to learn a bit from them.

Despite these issues, I still enjoy this app most evenings. Since the app is free it is definitely worth looking at and trying to get it to run on your iPad. Good luck 🙂

Download: Reuters Galleries for iPad

WordFoto Spells Impact

Wanted: NFL GamesA new app called WordFoto was recently released. It lets you create poster-like images which have immediate impact and easily express your views on a shot.

There are reviews on Appotography and LifeInLofi. The review on Appotography is a bit negative at the end saying the app isn’t really memorable. I think the app is very memorable since you can easily make some “impact” shots. As LifeInLofi points out, it is very useful for specific situations. I really liked the comparison to Percolator which is another app that can create memorable images in specific situations. These apps won’t work on all images, but you quickly learn which ones work well.

I think this will be particularly interesting when used in combination with layers/mask effects in PhotoForge2, although I haven’t tried anything yet. In a future version it would be really nice if there was a quick reset feature for when you fine tune the image and a few of the advanced controls felt a bit clunky, but overall the app is superb for a version 1.0.

Here are a few shots that I created. Each took less than a minute. Click on any for a larger view on Flickr. There is also a WordFoto Flickr Group with some amazing shots by talented people.

Dan @ 40 Day, Begin, News Three Cups

Definitely worth $1.99 (on iTunes). Even if you don’t use it every day, it is really nice to have this one every now and then.

The description from iTunes:

You’ve probably heard the tired cliche about a picture being worth a thousand words. We’ve taken this phrase quite literally and created WordFoto, an app that turns photos and words into amazing typographic works of art.

Feature Highlights:

– Fast and fully automated word filling algorithm.
– Manual word filling fine tune parameters.
– Inspect detail in zoomable preview.
– Eight unique preset styles.
– User defined custom styles with lots of parameters.
– Import images from photo album or camera.
– Crop editor.
– Manage and create your own word sets.
– Resulting word images are full resolution.
– Save, email or share on Facebook.
– Save original and cropped original.

HDR Fusion App = Very Fast HDR

For those that enjoy HDR photography, HDR Fusion for the iPhone is a good app to have with you if a quick capture time is important. This app boots up and captures shots very quickly. To take a photo you have to click on the standard camera icon at the bottom of the screen (it is not a full tap screen). You can set a delay of up to 10 seconds before the shutter fires and the final image size (I always go with large).

When the shutter fires you’ll notice a crosshair appear in a bright region of the screen, and a few moments later the dark region. It does this light/dark analysis VERY quickly compared to other apps I’ve used, which is very nice if there is a bit of motion in your shot. The two images have now been captured and the app begins to fuse the two shots together. Once fused you get the option to save the shot or cancel.

This app is really fast when capturing the two images, and the HDR shot is rather nice. I often find it just a bit warm in some situations, and the contrast seems a bit low in some shots. You can always choose to deal with those issues in other apps if you need to, but HDR is often a very personal choice 🙂

The following images were all captured on the fly with a handheld iPhone, and the exact position is not identical between shots. I also reduced the size a bit (in future I’ll post things to Flickr for full size – still debating what to do with some things on this blog), but you can click on the image for a slightly bigger version.

This first image was captured with HDR Fusion this afternoon. I also grabbed shots using the built in camera with the HDR option turned on and Pro HDR (I’ll definitely discuss this one in the future).

Using HDR Fusion

Using built in camera with HDR

Using HDR Fusion

Built in camera HDR

Using Pro HDR

This app does not allow you to choose to different exposures from your image library and doesn’t save the two different exposures to your library as can be done in Pro HDR.

I highly recommend this app if you are interested in quickly capturing HDR images in those cases where it is important.

For those interested in HDR Fusion, here is the relevant info.

iTunes: Download
WWW: http://www.cogitap.com/hdrfusion/instructions.htm
Cost: $1.99 in US
Output resolution: 1926×2588 (full on iPhone 4).

From the iTunes description:

HDR photography is fun… Waiting minutes to get the results is not! Introducing HDR Fusion, now capture real HDR pictures faster than ever!

Featuring real time image analysis and ultra fast image processing, HDR Fusion has been designed so that you can quickly catch those unique moments. Simply launch the app, tap the shutter button and preview the result almost instantly!

Highlights:

● Real HDR pictures using under/over exposed pictures
● Ultra-fast image processing – Four times faster than competitors!
● Automatic mode with real time image analysis
● Manual mode with exposure points selection
● Rapid mode switching
● Handy Self-Timer

Check out the ‘iPhone – HDR Fusion‘ user group on Flickr for amazing samples!