Overview:

As cell phone cameras continue to improve, we become more and more dependent on them to capture life’s moments. The iPhone has a pretty decent native camera, but there is a lot of room for improvement. There are plenty of apps to edit and improve iPhone photos, but how about just increasing the quality of the photo itself? Is it possible to increase megapixels so that you can blow up and frame the shots you get with your iPhone? ClearCam can help.

Features:

ClearCam has two modes: Quick and Enhanced. The way Quick mode works is very simple — select it and shoot. Three shots will be fired off in rapid succession, and ClearCam will automatically choose the clearest of the three and save it to your camera roll. Enhanced mode is where it gets really interesting. Select it and shoot, and six shots will be taken and placed into a Photo Queue. Go into your Photo Queue, click ‘Align’ and then ‘Enhance.’ Parts of each of your photos will be combined into one photo, with double the resolution, which will be added to the end of your queue.

The Breakdown:

The Good:

In Quick mode, by taking three shots instead of one, you are simply more likely to get a keeper. I tried this out on a very reluctant and temperamental model, my mini poodle. He is just a blur in about half of the pictures I take of him. I did indeed get some decent shots of him, just using the Quick mode.

a "Quick" shot

Enhanced mode takes the best parts from six photos, and actually increases the resolution of your final photo substantially. If you have an iPhone 3GS with its 3MP camera, ClearCam claims the result will be a 6+MP photo. On an iPhone 4, which has a 5 MP camera on board, the result would have 11+MP. I don’t have the means to measure the megapixels, but simply pinch-zooming shows dramatically sharper detail.

Some photography apps have complicated histograms, graphs, and sliders for the user to manipulate. This is not the case here. You don’t have to decide which parts of which photos are sharpest. ClearCam does it all for you. A couple of taps is all it takes to make the magic happen.

The Bad:
There are some features missing. With ClearCam, you have no access to the native iPhone camera’s features such as flash, zoom, front-facing, or even the tap-to-focus found on pre-iPhone-4 models. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, then this isn’t the app for you. Also, the lack of ability to manipulate everything manually, though I mentioned it in “The Good” above, could also be considered a negative for some people.

In Quick mode, you just have to trust that ClearCam is choosing the best of the three, because you don’t get to see all three — just the one it decides is best.

And it’s just not perfect, even in the more complex Enhanced mode — sometimes the “Enhanced” photo it creates just isn’t that great. If most of your pictures are blurry, the end result will be as well.

The Verdict:

After experimenting with it for a bit in Enhanced mode, I found that if you take six lousy, blurry pictures, your result will be lousy and blurry, no better than the best of your six. However, if you take six decent shots, or even have a few decent shots mixed in with lousy, the results are quite nice. In the series of seven pictures below, the first six are six raw photos; the seventh is the “Enhanced” photo. When you zoom in, you can really see the enhancement.

I would imagine that if you were to enlarge and print out your photos, you would get vastly better prints using ClearCam. Certainly I can see a big difference between Original and Enhanced when looking at the pictures blown up on my computer.

I own a DSLR camera, but it’s not exactly pocket-sized, and it spends more time at home in its case than out and about with me. I also own a nice little point-and-shoot super-zoom that gets out a bit more, but it’s still not with me at every moment. My iPhone, on the other hand, is literally at my side every moment of every day. How many of life’s memorable moments happen when you have an actual camera within arm’s reach? The iPhone is the camera you have on you, and it’s okay, as cameras go.

The bottom line is that ClearCam can improve that little camera. It’s not the be-all-end-all — you’ll still need your editing apps and other apps that serve specific purposes. You can’t put the native camera away for good, either, as ClearCam lacks some of its features, like flash, zoom, front-facing, and tap-focus. But it can help you capture “the moment” when it happens, particularly when photographing pets and children, who will rarely sit still and say cheese for you. Personally, I think this app is a pretty sweet addition to my photography arsenal.

Edited 8/25/10: The newest update adds a lot of flexibility, particularly for iPhone 4 users. Now you can tap once to focus on a particular area, tap twice to control exposure for that spot, and tap three times to turn on the flash. They also added in-app instruction and other improvements.