For our Softonic Special, we tested three of the most notable free camera apps for Android, using a hands-on field test to decide which camera app was the best.
But, because you can’t see everything with the naked eye, we wanted to back up our results from the field test with a benchmark test, really letting us scrutinize the quality of the images we took.
For the benchmark test, we used an analysis software called Imatest, testing the sharpness, color representation, and exposure of photos taken with Google Camera, Focal, A Better Camera, and ProCapture Free.
Imatest is usually used in a lab environment, meaning that the results are more of an estimation than they are ‘exact data’. However, the power of the software means that it can still give useful insight into the image quality of photos. To keep things simple, we’ll outline the apps that took the sharpest photos, as well as photos with the best color and exposure.
Using the SFR analytical tool from Imatest, we were able to get information about what’s known as ‘lines per pair’, as well as the amount of ‘chromatic aberration’.
Lines per pairs simply measures the number of lines in a photo. The more lines there are, the sharper the image will be.
Chromatic aberration, in its basic form, means that you’ll see more or less purple lines at the edges of an object if you zoom in. These purple lines make the photo less sharp both up close and from a distance. Although chromatic aberration is a result of color shifting in the lens, the way the software – in this case, the Android camera app – processes the information plays a role in the amount of chromatic aberration in a photo.
A graph showing the amount of chromatic aberration in the photo at the bottom right.
Color and exposure
There are many different ways to measure the intensity of colors and the range of the exposure of an image.
To test the color in the photos we took, we looked at pixel noise in the three primary color channels: red (R), green (G) and blue (b). If there’s more noise– which basically just means more grains in the picture– the colors appear more blunt and less vibrant. This can actually be a good thing, because colors which are too vibrant can give an unnatural look.
When it comes to exposure, we looked at the dynamic range, which lets you measure the ability of the camera to capture bright and dark areas of a setting at the same time.
Below, you can see the results of the benchmark for all camera apps, which we tested for chromatic aberration, line pairs, dynamic range, and pixel noise.
If you take a look at lines per pair, Google Camera comes out on top, with A Better Camera falling comfortably in second. Here, Focal has the least amount of chromatic aberration.
On the other hand, if you compare A Better Camera’s zoomed in beach photo with that of ProCapture, you can see that ProCapture’s photo is a lot more blurry, a result of the small number of lines per pairs in the image.
Considering it’s high score on chromatic aberration and a more than decent score for line pairs, Focal – our choice in the field test – appears to take the sharpest photos.
Color and Exposure
When it comes to dynamic range, Focal’s is a bit off, meaning that the shot is noticeably overexposed. Photos taken with ProCapture and A Better Camera have better dynamic range, but in the low light setting of the bar, the photo actually turns out a bit too dark for the naked eye.
With less pixel noise in the RGB-channels, you’ll have vivid colors, which was the case with the still life photos taken using A Better Camera and ProCapture. The colors in these pictures are very lively, as you can see in the image below.
A Better Camera and ProCapture are the clear winners of the category if you consider purely the numbers, but do lively colors actually produce a better looking photo? That answer seems more a matter of personal taste than anything else. In Focal’s photo (our winner), you’ll see a less vivid color representation, but in this case, more pixel noise actually show a more natural color representation.
Open to interpretation
Benchmark results can be interpreted quite differently. A clear winner in a benchmark category doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best photo in real-life. Still, it doesn’t hurt to compare some of the technical aspects of each app to show that even if they may appear to be subtle, there are differences.
Much like with our Softonic Special, however, for the casual photographer, these findings are more useful as supporting evidence than they are of concrete proof of the best photo app.