Open Camera is an open source, free camera app for Android devices. Cameras on smartphones have come on leaps and bounds, even just in the last five years. Open Camera aims to give you additional options that you might not have with your pre-loaded camera app, opening up functionality and generally giving you more control over the images you capture. Let’s take a look at some of its main features.
How to Take Photos on Android with Open Camera
The Technical Bit
You’ll need Android 4.0.3 or later to use Open Camera and you should know that not all the features will work with every phone, it depends on your particular device and Android version. I’m testing it on a Samsung S21 with the latest version of Android.
Here’s a screenshot of the interface when you first open the app. I’ve included a bank note in the frame so you can see what everything looks like. If you’re not a fan of the cropped preview, don’t worry, you can change that to full screen in the settings.
Let’s go through the icons you can see.
Important Tools & Options
Top left is a padlock, that’s exposure lock. You can see it’s unlocked by default but if you click it it’ll turn red and ‘lock’.
Next to that, the plus and minus sighs will look familiar to you, that’s exposure compensation. According to Open Camera, it should also be ISO and white balance, but I didn’t have those options until I enabled Camera2 API, which we’ll get to. If you do have them, they’ll be in the form of a slider that you can drag left or right to change settings.
The three dots icon is a quick-change menu that pops up over your camera screen.
This is useful and saves you rooting around in the main settings. Here, you’ll find your camera resolution, timer tool, overlay grids for composition, white balance and so on. Again, these will vary depending on what your camera supports and whether you have Camera2 API enabled.
The cog icon holds more in-depth settings, really too much to get into in a general overview but you’ll find options for both photo and video here and we’ll touch on a few of them shortly.
Bottom left you’ll see a slider, that’s your zoom function, so you can slide that up rather than having to pinch.
Then it’s a small video icon for filming and larger camera icon for photographing. They flip around depending which you’re actually using.
Next you’ll see two icons stacked one above the other. The top one, the camera with a + sign is to flip between cameras if you have more than one. When you change, the camera ID number will appear briefly, but will also stay next to the time in the top left of the screen.
The folder icon below it, with the arrows on will, change to front camera from back camera and vice versa. Whichever camera you’re on (front or back) the icon with the camera and plus sign will then change between those cameras if you have them. So for example if I’m on front camera, the camera+ will flip between the two front cameras, if I’m on the back, it’ll flip between those.
In the very bottom right is a shortcut to your gallery or image folder.
Now you’ve got the lay of the land when it comes to the main interface, let’s take a look at some of the most useful functions for photographers.
Shooting in RAW
A benefit of Open Camera for many photographers is that it lets you shoot in RAW, and many of the standard camera apps don’t.
RAW is only available if you’re using Camera2 API. To enable this, you’ll need to go to Settings and scroll down to Camera API, where you’ll be able to change it to 2.
Once you’ve done that you’ll need to turn RAW on by going back into Settings and then to Photo Settings where you’ll now see a ‘RAW’ option you can select and change to Standard and DNG or DNG only. Some Android galleries won’t be able to see DNG files and you’ll have to install an editing tool that does. If you select Standard and DNG then you’ll have a regular copy that you can still see in your gallery.
Nifty Features and Where to Find them
DRO and HDR – 3 Dot Quick Menu
Dynamic Range Optimisation will automatically optimise the light in your scene for the best overall result. HDR (high dynamic range) takes more than one photograph at different exposures and combines them into one photograph
DRO is faster in Open Camera, though if you’ve enabled Camera2 API you’ll find HDR runs faster. Unlike some camera apps, with Open Camera the HDR feature is actually taking and combining three images rather than tone mapping a single photograph – you can even choose to save the three photos as well as the HDR merge.
You’ll find other useful modes in your quick-menu too like panorama, noise reduction mode, focus bracketing and more.
Auto-Level – Quick Menu
You can tick auto-level in your quick settings options and it’ll then automatically rotate your photos to straighten them. This, of course, involves some cropping so your images might end up being a lower resolution than intended.
Show Camera When Locked – Settings > More Camera Controls
Open Camera will be available on your lock screen for quick access without needing to unlock your phone.
Focus Peaking (Camera2 API only) – Settings > Camera Preview
A tool to show you which areas of an image are in focus. Open Camera warns that this main drain your battery quicker.
Grids – Quick Menu
Grids are really useful for helping us compose images, and Open Camera comes with:
- Rule of thirds
- 3×3 Phi
- Golden (Fibonacci) Spiral(s)
- Golden Triangle(s)
Adding Metadata – Settings > Photo Settings
You can store your name and copyright information in the EXIF data, though unfortunately this isn’t supported for RAW. You can also add GPS, plus date and time stamp your photos. You can add text to the top of images too, so if you wanted to add a watermark, that isn’t a problem.
Alternative Flash (Camera2 API only) – Settings > Photo Settings
If you find your regular flash is unreliable or really blows out your foreground, this is a good setting to try. Essentially, it’s using the torch function of the flash to simulate it.
Fast Burst and Repeat Mode Interval
Fast burst will let you take a rapid series of pictures when you fire it off, but repeat mode means you can specify the delay in between shots. Burst mode is Camera2 API enabled only.
There’s much, much more to discover about Open Camera than what I’ve touched on here, and we’ll follow up with some more specific tutorials, but hopefully this has given you a good idea of what to expect from the app, how to get set up and started, and where to find all the key tools that you’ll need to hit the ground running.
The main thing to remember is that many of the options won’t be available without Camera2 API turned on, so if you’re able to do that then you’ll have access to a far greater number of features. You’ll need this on if you want to shoot in RAW.
The joy of Open Camera is that with it being open source and free to use, the potential is only limited to your phone, and as phones are consistently getting better hardware and software updates, it’s really exciting to think what else might be possible in the next few years.
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About the Authors
Marie Gardiner wrote this. Jackson Couse edited and published it.