Snapseed screenshot

Software Reviews: happy snapping

Whether you're looking to escape Instagram, or just curious about instant photo editing, we have some easy tools for you to try on your phone or tablet.



Free on iOS, Android promised

One of the great things about digital photography is that it removes many of the boundaries between stills and movies. This ingenious app takes advantage of that: a hybrid of photo and video, it allows you to create animated pictures called 'cinés', either simply as short video-loops or more interestingly as pictures where only small portions are animated – a shadow moving independently of its creator, say, or a portrait with moving eyes. It is reminiscent of the magic paintings in the Harry Potter films.

You start by recording a few seconds of video, then add effects, the most obvious of which is looping. You can also adjust the speed, and all the usual 'vintage' filters and whatnot are there for those who still hanker after Instagram.

The clever effect though is where you rub your finger over the elements you want to keep moving. It takes a while to get the knack of this, and of course there is a certain skill in getting the right clip of video to start with, but the results can be amusing, creative and sometimes spooky.

Equally clever, your cin's can be embedded in a Web-page, posted on social networks or sent by email – they are also shared by default on the Cinemagram website, though you can turn this off – and in most cases they should not need any special viewing software. That is because they are coded not as video but as animated GIFs, a standard image format supported by most browsers.

Cinés are compiled on the Cinemagram server, not the phone, so creating them does require a data connection. However, you can also record video footage and use it to make a ciné later, if it is not practical to go online at the time. The files can be quite large though – even a three-second video at 340x480 resolution can come back as an 8MB file.

At the time of writing, Cinemagram was only available for Apple iOS, with an Android version promised. Would-be users on Android should check the Cinemagram website and especially beware the fake 'previews' on Google Play, as some are scams designed to install adware.


Meme Generator

free or $2.59 on Android

Adding a witty caption makes a silly photo worth sharing. It has even spawned a genre of its own, with the latest Internet 'meme' – a self-replicating idea or symbol – being to play around with combinations of well-known images and/or phrases.

Whether you want to enhance your own photos with captions or have a go at creating a meme of your own, one of the better places to start is Meme Generator. It comes with dozens of stock photos, plus suggested captions for each, or you can add your own photos and text. While it is oriented to the statement-and-punchline meme style, you can easily leave off either the top or bottom text.

The free version available on Google Play is ad-supported, with both on-screen banner ads and occasional full-screen ones. The latter are quite polite though, and you can decline them. Alternatively, you can download the $2.59 ad-free version – unusually, this is only available through the Amazon app store, not Google Play.

There are also a surprising number of automatic-captioning apps for photos out there. However, most seem to be aimed at the kind of users who think that adding scatological insults to pictures of their friends is a pretty amusing idea, but who don't have the imagination to think up the insults themselves.

If all you want is simple captioning, try CaptionIt, also free from the Play store for Android. Type in your chosen text – or press the microphone icon, speak it, and let your phone'convert speech to text – and choose how you want it to appear. Several typefaces are available; the one caveat, apart from the ads, is that it can only add text below a photo, not over the top.



free on Android

Tired of boring stills and videos, with or without captions? How about turning to StreetView-like panoramas that let you visually share your location with friends and others. That's the idea behind Panorama-360, perhaps the most interesting of a new generation of panoramic photo apps.

360 uses advanced photo-stitching technology to build multiple overlapping images into a panoramic strip, and combines this with its own online photo-sharing service. You can also share your panoramas to Facebook and Twitter. The 360 service is great for inspiration, with thousands of images already uploaded. It also lets you search by keyword or ask for local panorama views.

Panorama apps used to require you to actively line up and take each frame, but no longer. 360 guides you through your chosen panorama in segments to help you avoid turning too fast – it is a single process, but takes a little practice. It also uses the phone's accelerometer to help you keep on track, advising you on the screen and via brief vibrations if you need to pause briefly, or even back-track slightly, as the camera captures each frame.

It appears to need 30 to 40 images for a complete 360-degree panorama; a good light level also helps a lot. You do need a data connection to log in to the 360 photo-sharing service when the app starts, but once logged in you can then use it offline, as photo-stitching runs locally on the phone. The resulting panoramas are stored on the SD-card, along with a geo-tag for the location, if you have enabled that.

For non-Android users, pretty much every other mobile platform has panorama apps now, though their capability and connectivity will vary. For iOS users, Photosynth is similar to 360, with the addition that it can also capture the overhead view.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles