It’s been mentioned rather frequently how popular the iPhone’s camera is. On Flickr, it’s the first, second, and third most popular cameras. And so it’s no surprise there are myriads and myriads of camera apps available on the App Store. Today we’re going to take a look at one called Camera Noir, designed to deliver you the highest quality black and white photos in the simplest package.
Making the Case for a Unitasker
I know what you’re probably thinking: “Why on earth would I want a single purpose photography app when there are so many multipurpose tools available?” And that’s true, there are plenty of high quality photography apps out there. But I think when it comes to iPhone apps, a real case can be made for a well-built, single-purpose app. And Camera Noir is exactly that kind of app.
What matters on iOS when trying to make an app highly usable is friction. How hard is it to get content in and out? How well does it interact with other apps I’ll use to accomplish a task? Does it slide easily into the process I used before?
If an app meets these qualifications, then even if it only does one thing, it’s still a valuable addition to my device — and in this case, to my photography workflow. It’s how well it interacts with the other apps in my workflow that determines how valuable it is, not how many features it has.
So, how well does Camera Noir work?
Good Things Come in Simple Packages
Simplicity is a goal of nearly all software developers, but especially on iOS. Apple has done a lot to encourage their developers to cultivate their own desire for simplicity in both visual design and user experience.
Camera Noir does a fantastic job of crafting an easy-to-use interface with an easily understood user experience.
Something that can be overlooked about Camera Noir are the live filters being applied. I know that when I was first writing this review I missed it, because it just felt like that’s how things are supposed to be. Instead of getting a “proper” rendering of what the camera is seeing and having the black and white filter added on after the photograph is taken, you’re seeing the black and white filter applied in real-time to what the camera is seeing. This lets you adjust focus and expose in the image before you even take the shot, instead of having to guess and simply hoping you still like the exposure once the image is transformed into black and white.
Look at the rest of the app’s chrome: three buttons. That’s it. Just three simple buttons to manipulate Camera Noir’s interface. On the right we have a setting adjuster which lets you control how dark your black and white photos are. In the middle is the shutter button. And the button on the left gives you access to the Camera Roll. That’s actually one of my favorite aspects to Camera Noir. There’s no auxiliary “lightbox” or other sandboxed area where your photos live before they make it to your Camera Roll. No middle man. No photographic purgatory. Photos you take with Camera Noir drop straight into your Camera Roll. Simple.
This sort of behavior really makes Camera Noir feel like a suitable replacement for the built-in Camera app. If we ever get the ability to change the default apps for functions like the camera in iOS, Camera Noir will feel right at home behaving as your one and only camera app.
Camera Noir isn’t limited to only being able to take fresh photos and give them the black and white treatment. You can access the Camera Roll and load in previously-taken photographs too. The only real change to the UI is that the shutter button becomes a “share” button, populating a share sheet with options to send and use the photo in different ways depending on the other apps you have on your device.
Even though it’s obvious Camera Noir is better suited to being used to take new photographs, the ability to edit previously taken ones is welcome, and executed well.
Areas For Improvement
Despite me raving earlier about Camera Noir’s simplicity being a key to its success, I’m now going to put out two minor points where Camera Noir could improve.
I said before that Camera Noir could serve quite well as a replacement for the built-in Camera app. But there’s one notable feature in the built-in Camera app that Camera Noir currently lacks: panorama functionality.
I know it’s probably a small thing, but I personally really love the panorama function. As a photographer it gives me more options when capturing a scene. And when I’m using a black and white photography app, I’m in an artistic mood. So I’d like to see this added to my toolset within Camera Noir.
The other thing I’d like to see may also seem sacrilegious from the start. The beauty of Camera Noir is it’s three-option system: either dark, medium or light. But as a photographer and someone who does enjoy fiddling, I’d like to have finer grained controls to play with and adjust the black and white image.
I know what you’re thinking, that I’m completely missing the point of Camera Noir, that I’m contradicting the simplicity I praised it for earlier — but hear me out for just a moment. I’m not saying that after every photo is taken you have the option to adjust it further. I’m not even saying that you should be able to make those adjustments on the fly before taking a photo. Instead, I’d like to see these finer grained controls treated as settings. There are three possible choices when taking a black and white photo in Camera Noir. As the user, give me a little control over those three options so I can make my photos feel more like my own and less like something everyone else can take too.
This wouldn’t effect the workflow or general usage of Camera Noir. Instead it gives power users a feature while maintaining the oh-so-important simplicity of the app.
All that being said, I think my suggestions to Camera Noir are really minor. This is a well-built app that’s easy and fun to use. And it’s found a home in my photography workflow. For $1.99, will it find a place in yours?