One point we often return to at How-To Geek is that to take better pictures, you need to understand how to manually control your camera—even if you don’t do it for every setting or shot. Your iPhone is no exception. Unfortunately, iOS doesn’t offer manual controls in the default Camera app so we’ll need to go with a third-party app.

Apple (chasing Google) has continued to innovate and add software features to the Camera app—things like Smart HDR and Portrait Mode. These are great, but they don’t replace manual controls. For example, if you want to take photos out the window of a moving vehicle you need to set your shutter speed manually; your iPhone’s camera will almost always set it too slow to avoid motion blur. Similarly, you’ll probably want to manually control your camera at least some of the time when you’re shooting at night or when there’s a lot of contrast.

My iPhone’s camera doing its thing.

Even if you mainly let your iPhone do its thing—like me, to be honest—it’s still important to know how to control things manually to capture great pictures when you need to.

What You Can Control

Your iPhone doesn’t give you full manual control over every possible setting. In particular, the aperture and focal length of the lens are fixed to f/1.8, as well as to a full frame equivalent of 26mm (for the wide angle lens) and 51mm (for the telephoto lens). This means you have to control exposure using either shutter speed and ISO or exposure compensation.

With a good manual camera app you’ll be able to control:

You will also be able to take RAW photos, which gives you more options when you edit your images.

The Free Option: VSCO (Free)

Okay, so even though I’m “recommending” VSCO, I’m not actually recommending it unless you only need to use manual controls occasionally and don’t want to pay for that. It’s just that it’s the best free option available.

VSCO is an incredible editing app—it’s one of my favorite photography apps—but, the problem is, the camera part is merely okay. It gives you manual controls over shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus, and exposure compensation but they’re not super intuitive to use. Also, when you open the app, you aren’t taken straight to the camera which means it’s a bit slow.

If you occasionally want to take a shot where you need to control the camera settings manually, VSCO will work great for you. However, if you regularly want to take control of your iPhone’s camera, then it’s likely to annoy you.

The Best Option: Halide ($5.99)

Halide is the best iPhone camera app going. It gives you full control over shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus, exposure compensation, and the depth of field mode. All the controls are fast and intuitive to use. With a few minutes of practice, you’ll be able to control everything without thinking about it—exactly what you want from a camera app.

The best thing about Halide is that the developers are constantly pushing what’s possible with the iPhone’s camera. They were the first ones to dig deep into what was happening with “beautygate,” and they’ve used what they learned to develop Smart RAW, an exposure algorithm that takes better quality and sharper RAW images than the iPhone’s default.

Halide is a lot of iPhone photographers’ go-to app for a reason. It’s the best way to control your iPhone’s camera manually.

Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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