Review: Manual (iOS 8)

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Shooting with my iPhone 5 has always been a hassle. That was largely because of the lack of control, and I could never seem to get the images quite right. Having spent years with a variety of cameras, I’m predisposed towards buttons and dials. Then I saw a video for an app called Manual by a company called Little Pixels. It promised control of shutter speed, ISO and a number of other things all for the price of $1.99. More over, it didn’t have that dreaded “Offers in-app purchases.” For two bucks, I could essentially unlock the features of my phone that Apple kept hidden away.


Pros and Cons

Pros

-Full control of iPhone’s camera, save for aperture, which is fixed at f2.4

-The app doesn’t hide behind the “freemium” veneer. $1.99 is all you have to pay.

-Mostly intuitive interface

Cons

-The volume rocker can’t be used to take photos, like the dedicated Camera app can

-The shutter speed slider moves a little too quickly

-The ISO control is too close to the shutter button

-Requires iOS 8. iOS 7 users are out of luck.

Gear Used

I used Manual with my iPhone 5 on iOS 8. The lead image was taken with a Panasonic LX100.

Main Features

Courtesy of the App Store listing:

Full independent control of

• Shutter
• ISO
• White Balance
• Focus
• Exposure Compensation

Cool Things®

• Live monitor automatic exposure values
• Live Histogram
• Photos save directly to Camera Roll
• Fill Flash (Flashlight) Mode
• Grid Overlays (Rule of Thirds, Square)
• Light & Dark Themes
• EXIF viewer

Ease of Use

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Manual is fairly easy to use for those who have the desire and patience to actually control the photographs they take with their phones. Take some time to get used to the interface, and the variety of controls it offers. In some cases, you tap to open, and then tap to choose. In other cases, you tap to open, and then slide to choose. In other cases, you tap, hold and slide to choose.

This is what Manual looks like in use. Along the left side of the frame, there are five controls. Top-down, they are: camera toggle, display options, white balance and flash. The frame has the standard grid plus a live histogram at the bottom. Along the right, there is shutter speed at the top, ISO in the middle and aperture at the bottom. Aperture on the iPhone 5 is fixed at f2.4. The big orange button is the shutter, and the square frame houses shots taken with the app.

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If you want to adjust any of the settings, tap the desired one, and either tap or slide to adjust. In the case of autofocus in the above shot, tap the [A], which brings up the slider. There’s macro at one end and landscape at the either. Adjust to wherever your subject is in that range.

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In the case of shutter speed, you have to hold your finger on it and slide to the speed you want, which can be difficult to do on the fly, since it moves fairly quickly. It’s the same deal with ISO, and it’s sandwiched right next to the shutter button. Be mindful if you’ve got big mitts.

Real Life Applications

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When you open the app, it will adjust its settings to whatever the lighting conditions are in your environment. Once you start to play with settings, the app will keep those settings for as long as you keep the app open. This app’ll work in a variety of situations. It’s particularly useful for that all too common scenario when the iPhone will expose for the brightest point in the frame, rendering everything else a silhouette. Now, those group shots’ll be properly exposed. Alternatively, if your light’s going to remain relatively steady, you can set the app ahead of time, and shoot on the fly as you walk. This is a boon for street and travel photography.

It’s also great for product photography. When we reviewed the Rokinon 8mm f2.8 Fisheye II for Fujifilm, we used Manual to capture all of the product shots, as evinced by the image above. Using the iPhone 5’s dedicated camera was too cumbersome. With the available light, it was such a breeze to adjust for all aspects of the frame.

Extra Image Samples

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Photo Nov 13, 9 46 43 AM copy

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Conclusion

Likes

-Full suite of controls, save for aperture

-Set price of $1.99, none of that “freemium” nonsense

-Fairly intuitive design that makes effective use of limited screen real estate

Dislikes

-ISO and shutter speed controls are bit clunky, and the ISO control is a bit too close to the shutter

-Unfortunately, iOS 7 users won’t be able to reap the benefits of this app

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

Manual is a breath of fresh air in the iOS photography ecosystem. There plenty of apps for editing and taking photographs in certain styles, but this is the first app I’ve experienced that gives users the most control. More over, it’s made me aware of the camera’s specs. The iPhone 5’s ISO range is 50-500, and the shutter speed ranges from 1 sec to 1/2000 of a sec.

Of course, a phone isn’t a full camera, and as intuitive as the layout may be, screen taps are not buttons. There’s muscle memory with most cameras that phones have yet to replicate in terms of control and navigation. I found that I couldn’t really adjust settings in a pinch, like I could with any of cameras. I either had to set Manual ahead of time, or take time to set up the shot with the settings I need.

That isn’t a knock against the app. Rather, it’s just part of using a phone to take pictures.

All things considered, we give Manual four out of five stars.