Having established a strong reputation for its photo hosting services, SmugMug today enters a new segment: iPhone photography. Its freshly-released Camera Awesome app is now available in the App Store, and you'd do well not to judge the software based solely on that somewhat unfortunate name. Our hands-on time with the app reveals that SmugMug has delivered an incredibly strong first effort: one that will unquestionably appeal to an exploding Instagram and Hipstamatic crowd, while also offering first-rate tools for those who take shooting with Apple's handset seriously.
At first glance, Camera Awesome bears a fairly close resemblance to its iOS counterparts in terms of look and feel. The shooting modes on tap (burst, timed, interval, etc.) are well implemented, though not exactly revelatory. What does set SmugMug apart is its ability to improve your photography skills — assuming you take advantage of the included tools, that is. Among them are several reference overlays that, with a single tap, can help those new to the craft conquer the rule of thirds and other composition techniques. Similarly, a horizon indicator ensures your iPhone is level during shoots, avoiding a common pitfall for new photographers. By pinching on screen, you're able to separately control focus and exposure points, which enables shots that simply aren't feasible with the native iPhone camera. It's a trick we've seen in other apps such as Camera+, and the implementation here is equally solid. Histograms and EXIF data provide enthusiasts with additional details on their photos.
Applying "artistic" effects to pictures has proven immensely popular with the iPhone faithful, and SmugMug goes for broke here. Bundled with the free app are 27 customizations that add a unique twist to any photograph. We'd never use half of these, personally, but the option is there for those who might. The results we saw from the vintage-style filters were a step above what we've come to expect from Instagram. Also included is an "Awesomize" slider tool that serves as a quick way to enhance (mostly through contrast and brightness adjustments) whatever photo you're working with. When it comes to sharing your camera roll, Camera Awesome offers quick uploads to Facebook, Twitter, and even competitors Flickr, Picasa, and Photobucket. That's not to say SmugMug users won't enjoy some exclusives: subscribers can elect to automatically backup their photos to a specified album tied to their account.
Version 1.0 of Camera Awesome proves to be an intuitive experience that does just what its App Store description promises. We saw virtually no lag, quirks, or crashes in our time with the app, and while it doesn't reinvent iPhone photography, it's fair to say the bar has been raised. Camera Awesome is a free download available in the iTunes App Store now.