Camera Boost for the iPad 2 is a replacement camera app that allows realtime enhancements to photos or videos. It adds HDR to videos, dynamic noise reduction, and improves on the default app in low light conditions.
The very first thing you should know about this app is that it allows more photographic control over your iPad 2 photos and videos, but no app can pull resolution and detail out of a 0.7 megapixel CCD (rear camera) that isn’t there in the first place. By using a little software magic, the developer is able to prolong the shutter opening in low light to improve a dark image. The rest has to do with enhancements and filters.
Notable is the fact that this isn’t a post-processing app. You can change the settings and see what the result will be when you snap the still photo. For 720p videos, the changes can be made on the fly, with no lag.
A screen shot from the developer’s website
Once you get the settings the way you like them, you can save named presets. Not only can you tinker with the graininess/focus, color, hue, exposure and dynamic range, but there’s a nice set of special effects that you can use as an artist: Aged film, film noire, horror, night vision, sepia, white out, and so on. This app is all about customization and control where the default iPad app is just about point-and-shoot.
Here are some of the other major features:
- Add multiple affects in realtime while recording video see them as they happen.
- High speed processing: no noticeable lag.
- Both front and rear camera supported.
- 720p x 1280 30 fps video on rear camera. 480p x 640 30 fps video on front camera.
- 4X digital zoom. (The default app is 5X digital.)
- Built-in photo album with video player. Items can be saved to the iPad’s photo library, Facebook, Flickr, or e-mailed.
Version 2.5, released on December 3, adds a really nice feature, namely a low light enhancement. Here’s how the developer describes it: “Developers have no access to the CCD. We have no control over standard stuff like ISO and shutter speed, and aperture is fixed of course. There’s no public API for it, and we’re not allowed to use the private APIs.
“Exposure time is really the big limiting factor for the iPad 2. The CCD is very small, and not all that sensitive. In poor light it needs either longer exposures or high ISO to compensate. The exposure times are limited heavily by the OS — I think the maximum is something like 1/20 sec — which keeps the display updating smoothly. But in poor light, it ramps up the ISO level, and then we get a very noisy signal.
“In Camera Boost’s new Night Mode, I’ve figured out how to extend the exposure time, so it can now exposure for up to 1/3 sec — over 6x longer. Even longer is possible, but 1/3 sec gave the best balance between performance and quality. I won’t say how I’ve achieved that.”
To give you a feel for how well that works, here’s a shot of the UPS under my desk which is in fairly poor light. The photo on the left was taken with the standard iPad 2 app. The one on the right, taken just seconds later, is with Camera Boost 2.5. This feature alone may justify the price of the app.
Low Light comparison (Camera Boost on right.)
Images can be processed, using various techniques, in a way that reduces noise. The image generally looks cleaner, but the intrinsic resolution still hasn’t changed. Again, the developer explains: “Beyond camera access though, there’s a lot we can do. It’s possible to clean up the images in post process. I built noise reduction, exposure compensation and a light/contrast adjustment control pad into Camera Boost.
“The iPad hardware really helps here: there’s a hardware video encoder that converts the raw frame data to H.264/MP4, and there’s a very fast (for a mobile device) graphics processing unit that’s very good at image processing calculations.
“Getting anything complex running takes some very creative thinking and very deep knowledge of the hardware. Noise reduction in particular is very hard, because you end up accessing a much higher amount of image data than just 1280x720 (it’s something like 8x that in Camera Boost’s method), and common noise reduction techniques don’t run well on the GPU and are therefore very slow.”
Here’s a pair of photos showing the noise of the iPad’s native app on the left with some blinds and the rather more cleaned up image on the right from Camera Boost.
Noise Reduction visible in blinds
Still Image Size
I noticed that when I took photos, they appeared with black bars on each side, letterboxed. However, photos with the native camera app are full screen. I asked the developer about that.
“This actually shows the app is doing its job — the native app is actually missing those black bars because it’s cropping the photo. The reason is that the image sensor is 1280x720, 16:9 aspect ratio, and the screen is 1024x768, 4:3 so photos are wider than the screen. It’s just like watching a widescreen film on an older TV, you either get black bars or you lose the sides of the picture.
Camera Boost keeps the full resolution of the photo, 1280x720, so you get bars when the photo is shown full screen. The native app crops the photo down to 960x720, 4:3.”
Letterboxed because the full 1280 x 720 res. is preserved on iPad’s display
The kinds of enhancements are the kind of thing you’d see in a desktop app like Graphic Converter or Pixelmator. You adjust the hue & saturation, exposure & HDR (high dynamic range), focus and noise (but not both), posterize (fewer colors), produce a virtual negative (reverse black & white), apply a color filter, and a few more, technical in nature.
As I mentioned above, these are applied as you view the image. Once you get a set of adjustments the way you like them, you can save the settings with a name.
L-R: Still, video, full screen, library, zoon, help, presets, effects
In version 2.5, I noticed that occasionally, my default setting, the one most like the iPad’s native camera app, would take on a greenish tint. It’s easy to notice in my office and living room because we have a lot of wood and earth tone blankets and rugs that have a reddish tint. The developer is aware of the bug and, until he tracks it down, suggests killing the app completely and restarting.
Help, Support and Documentation
The developer, as you can see above, was very forthcoming about his product. The app itself has a terrific help and support page, so you’ll be able to fully exploit this app. Here’s the screen shot.
Note that this app requires iOS 5 and will not work on iPad 1, iPhone or iPod touch.
I had some trouble matching the default output of Camera Boost to the native iPad 2 camera in terms of color balance. For the sake of sanity and user warm fuzzies, I think there should be a named default that duplicates the native app. But that’s just my opinion. Plus, I likely ran into the bug mentioned above. The author is tracking it down.
Like many technical iPad apps, this one provides a lot of capability for just US$2.99. If you’re inexperienced with the technical aspects of imaging, you may not experience much of a change from the app included with the iPad. However, if you are experienced with photography and want to extract every ounce (gram!) of performance from the meager CCD in the iPad 2, this app is well worth the investment, especially for low light conditions.