Instagram Lux, Camera Plus Clarity and Camera HDR

Last week Instagram released version 2.1 of its popular photography app for the iPhone. The marquee feature is Lux, which fixes underexposed or low-contrast photos with a tap. Professional photographers know how to handle sharp shadows and other tricky lighting scenarios, but the rest of us need help, especially when using a point-and-shoot camera like the iPhone. That’s what Instagram hopes to provide with Lux.

Of course, other developers offer similar functionality. Camera+ from Tap Tap Tap features Clarity. Apple’s own app, Camera, features HDR mode. How do they compare? I shot several photos to find out. Here’s a comparison of Instagram Lux, Camera + Clarity and Camera HDR.

I was looking for a subject with lots of strong shadows and found it at the Chatham Fish Pier. Specifically, the monument at the foot of the parking lot. I arrived in the afternoon as shadows were stretching across the sculpture, and took two shots with each app: one filtered and one not. Here are the results.

Note that all photos were taken with my iPhone mounted on a tripod with a Glif and within seconds of each other, in an attempt to keep variables constant. It was also a cloudless day, so the lighting was nearly identical between exposures.

Apple’s Camera

Apple Camera - original

Apple Camera - HDR

You can see the results. Contrast was sharpened on areas that were previously washed out. The lobster looks much better. However, dark areas on the far right became darker and detail was lost.

Apple Camera original - detail

Apple Camera HDR - detail

Camera+

Here’s the same shot taken with Tap Tap Tap’s Camera +, with and without the Clarity filter applied. The app did a great job; the washed out areas (like the lobster) were enhanced and, more importantly, the dark areas didn’t get lost. Note the base of the monument, which became much more pronounced with the Clarity filter applied.

Camera Plus original

Camera Plus Clarity

What’s unfortunate is that a purpleish hue pervades the filtered image.

Camera Plus original detail

Camera Plus Clarity detail

Instagram

Instagram Lux did a great job with the image. The light areas were sharpened and the dark areas retained detail. Unlike Camera+, the color remained truer to the original. It’s also notable that Instagram formats all images as a square, so keep that in mind when composing a shot.

Instagram original

Instagram Lux

The Instagram shots are smaller than the others, so I can’t highlight a section of detail. Still, look at the scallop shell on the left. What a nice improvement.

All of the apps performed best with close-ups. In the following shots, the grass (albeit, dead grass) looks too sharp, 1 for lack of a better term. As with the monument images, the effect is most pronounced in the Instagram images. Apple’s Camera app performed best here, as its more subtle filter didn’t result in an artificial result like the others.

Camera lighthouse HDR

Camera Plus Clarity

Instagram Lux

Conclusion

Thoughtful planning can produce a nice image. If you’re shooting a harshly lit subject that will likely result in an underexposed image at close range, go for Instagram Lux. Camera+ is another option, though watch for discoloration.

Apple’s understated HDR filter is best for far-off subjects and harsh sunlight. In my testing, these shots treated with Clarity and Lux produced images that obviously had filters applied.

Happy shooting, and please share your own experiments with this fun tech.

  1. Not sharp in resolution, sharp as in it might slice your feet.

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