I recently purchased an Essential PH-1, and have loved the device since first use. It's a rock solid build on both the hardware and software fronts. It's beautiful and performs as well as any flagship phone I've touched and at a fraction of the cost.
However, the camera app is the one Achilles heel for the device. Although it's improved dramatically since first release (to the point that it's actually a useable app now), it doesn't quite stand up to the competition.
Fear not, people are on this—especially the Essential developers. In fact, it has been reported a developer discovered the Google Camera HDR+ Port work fantastically on the Essential. I was close to pulling the trigger on that, but the app isn't available from the Google Play Store and I've grown hesitant to point anyone to sideloading Android apps these days.
Which brings us back to dealing with a less-than-stellar camera experience on the device. Though I love the PH-1, I wasn't going to settle for software that didn't live up to the hardware's promise. With that in mind, I set out to solve that weak spot for the Essential PH-1.
I believe I've found the easy fix.
What is this easy fix you speak of?
First off, you have to understand that photos are all very subjective, and that one person's art is another person's trash. I will also preface this by saying that while the solution is actually quite simple, achieving quality results does require a bit of understanding. To be specific, you need to have a basic understanding of some of the particulars of cameras. To make this easy, I've explained what you need to know in layman's terms.
- Shutter Speed: How long your camera's shutter stays open. This is typically listed as a fraction or a whole number.
- Aperture (or F Stop): Controls how much light hits your camera sensor and how much of your image is in focus.
- ISO: Your camera sensor's light sensitivity. The higher you set the ISO, the more sensitive your camera will be to light, which in the wrong conditions can lead to grainier images.
- White Balance: The adjustment of making white objects actually appear white (as rendered in your photos).
Understanding those four elements will go a long way in helping you achieve better images because the fix for the Essential PH-1 requires you to install Manual Camera from the Google Play Store. This app isn't free, but the $2.99 price is well worth paying for this app. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Manual Camera is the best camera app on the market. Although it doesn't include a bunch of filters to give your subjects ears, frames, or squeaky-high voices, Manual Camera does one thing very well—take great photos. It does this by allowing you to actually adjust various settings (such as ISO, Shutter Speed, etc.). If your job depends on taking quality images, especially in variable conditions, this is the app you want.
The installation of the app is very simple:
- Open the Google Play Store on your device
- Search for manual camera
- Locate and tap the entry by Geeky Devs Studio
- Tap the price button
- If necessary, authenticate your Google Account and tap Buy
- Allow the installation to complete
You will now find a launcher in your App Drawer, your home screen, or both. Tap the icon to open Manual Camera. For those who are used to just launching their cameras and snapping photos, Manual Camera will have a bit of a learning curve. I highly suggest you walk through the introduction and take note of each step. These will be important items in your journey to getting the best possible photos from your PH-1. I'm not going to go into the how to of taking photos with Manual Camera (as there's quite a bit to learn and the interface takes some time to get used to—Figure A).
The gist of the interface is you tap and hold a setting (on the left side of the window) and use the scroll the wheel (on the bottom right side of the window) to make adjustments. Once you have the settings perfect for the environment, snap the photo.
I took photos of the same object in the same light. And made adjustments with Manual Camera to demonstrate how you can get the most out of the PH-1 camera hardware. Although these aren't perfect photos, they illustrate my point (Figure B).
The first thing that should jump out is that the image taken by Manual Camera (on the right) displays the table top as actually white, whereas the PH-1 Camera app shows the table as slightly grey. The Manual Camera captured a more true-to-life representation.
The easy fix
And that's it—the fix you need for the PH-1 camera issue. Although you do have to understand a bit more about taking photos, if you're looking to get the most out of the camera and don't want to wait for Essential to perfect their camera app, Manual Camera is a great solution. Once you get used to using Manual Camera, you won't want to go back to camera apps that don't give you the same level of control over your photos.
- Essential Phone PH-1 review: The many positives, plus a few drawbacks (TechRepublic)
- Essential Phone PH-1: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- 4 secrets: How to take professional photos with your smartphone (TechRepublic)
- 7 tips for taking better pictures with Android (TechRepublic)
- Essential Phone review: Lovely titanium and ceramic with potential for greatness (ZDNet)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.