645 PRO: Can Your iPhone Become a Professional Camera?

My business doesn’t just include writing, but also photography. And one of the things I love about my iPhone is that it’s a great opportunity to practice taking photos. It eliminates the need to worry about things such as aperture, soft focus and lots of other technical gibberish. My iPhone tears down the technical walls and helps me focus on taking photos with great composition.

But is there a place for an iPhone app designed to completely replicate the experience of an authentic digital SLR? While I’m a big fan of apps like Analog Camera and Instagram, I can definitely see the market and desire for an app that offers me more control over the technicalities of my photos. In that regard, 645 PRO Mk II wants to be your go-to app. Its tagline states that 645 PRO “feels like a pro camera. Because it is one.” Read on to find out whether or not it lives up to that claim.

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Not Your Average Point and Shoot

645 PRO is filled with all sorts of goodies professional photographers can’t find in any other app. First of all, the Settings cover every option imaginable. You can choose everything from your image quality (which includes a “lossless” TIFF option) down to what happens when you tap the on-screen Shutter.

The Settings are very extensive.

The Settings are very extensive.

You could probably play around with the Settings for at least a half hour, especially if you have a standardized workflow on your digital SLR you’re attempting to replicate. At the end of the day, the Settings offered here are more extensive than any other camera app on the iPhone.

Beyond the Settings, you’re still able to go to town with how your pictures are going to look. It’s not all about just setting up the Shutter release or how your pictures save; after all, most pros are looking to do far more. Most of the pros I know have gone so far as to set up specific RGBY colour temperature settings in their camera (I know I have). That kind of functionality is also built into 645 PRO’s massive update in the form of Films and Lens Filters.

Films and Lens Filters

Films and Lens Filters are 645 PRO’s way of allowing you to change the colour scheme to something more to your preference. Lens Filters work exactly how you’d appreciate them to, making colour adjustments and preventing over-exposure in the same way that a typical lens filter might. I found that I preferred to leave mine turned off, but that’s simply because I’d rather have as much playing room in the editing phase as possible for colour treatment.

Lens Filters are well-implemented.

Lens Filters are well-implemented.

Films, on the other hand, really interest me and I think they’re a great (and important) addition to the app. 645 PRO includes nine Films that are based off popular camera grades from the 1960’s through to the present day, and I was quickly able to find one that added just a hint of warmth to the camera. It’s a close approximation of the colour scheme I’ve got set up on my Nikon, and the fact that it was so easy to find was much appreciated.

I love the Film Grade selection.

I love the Film Grade selection.

But if you’re not satisfied with any of the preset Film options, you’re always able to create and customize your own. Tapping an Edit button lets you adjust sliders in the Film menu, and you can create whatever your heart desires. It’s flexible and easy to use.

It's easy to edit your own Films, if the mood should strike you (pardon the blur).

It’s easy to edit your own Films, if the mood should strike you (pardon the blur).

The photos I captured with the app themselves are also stunning. These are high-quality snapshots that far surpass anything I’ve been able to get with any app in both clarity and detail, and much of that is owed to the TIFF files, Films and Lens Filters.

The Films and Lens Filters feature is, without a doubt, the most modern and sophisticated part of the user interface. But that’s because the app is designed to look like a digital SLR.

Is This an iPhone or a Camera?

I’m not sure I’m fond of the design approach developer Mike Hardaker has taken with the app. I don’t see the need to visually approximate a digital piece of equipment on an iPhone screen.

I'm not a fan of the interface, though.

I’m not a fan of the interface, though.

With this app in particular, I’ve spent a lot of time considering it. Obviously, there are some benefits to making the app look like a camera, primarily for professional photographers to feel elements of familiarity. So I thought about every button and every gradient in the app, and at the end of the day, I still think designing it this way slows the user down and prevents a slightly discomforting Uncanny Valley, not unlike animation that looks slightly too real.

This manual could not be more intimidating.

This manual could not be more intimidating.

In the end, I wish the design had fewer textures and larger, more transparent buttons with more obvious visual connections to what they actually do. I could definitely do away with all the textures. The app’s design shortcomings necessitate some of the extensive manual built into the Settings, which I think means something needs to change.

My complaints aside, the app does take great pictures. (Shot in TIFF with no edits; compressed to JPG for this site.)

My complaints aside, the app does take great pictures. (Shot in TIFF with no edits; compressed to JPG for this site.)

That being said, don’t let my concerns over the design hold you back. The app’s functionality, if you need this sort of power on your phone, far surpasses any serious design qualms. I’m just not sure many people really do need this kind of power on their phone. Professionals should carry great cameras with them and rely on their phones as a last resort.

The Bottom Line

I do, however, appreciate the app for what it offers me when I don’t have my camera at home. I can also see why some people would want to replace the stock Camera app with 645 PRO for the extra features alone. It’s great to adjust everything to your specifications, and I really like the available Films and Lens Filters.

I also really appreciate the TIFF files that 645 PRO spits out. TIFF files are more editable, and give me the feeling that the pictures I take on my phone suddenly have more gravitas. It makes it easier to incorporate my iPhone photos into an Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop workflow.

But the bottom line is that, despite the app’s cosmetics, if you have a need for a powerful camera app on iOS (645 PRO is universal for both iPad and iPhone), 645 PRO could be exactly what you need. It’s over-encumbered and the large manual is practically a must-read, but once you get it figured out, there’s no better way to take high-quality photos with your phone that will last longer than your ten minutes of Instagram glory.


Summary

The interface really holds it back, but the photos 645 PRO Mk II takes are compellingly professional. It won't replace your dSLR, but it might make a worthy accompaniment.

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