Selfies, Frontbacks and More: The New Wave of Mobile Photo Apps
Photo by Vjeran Pavic
Instagram is old news at this point … right? Okay, I still use the app regularly. But smartphone cameras have progressed to the point where we can get pretty artistic with our mobile photos, beyond just ultra-flattering filters.
For my column this week, I experimented with three photo apps — Frontback, Cycloramic and Selfie360 — that don’t necessarily replace the social network that Instagram has created, but that enhance mobile photos by allowing for more creative picture-taking.
Frontback, made by a company called Checkthis Corp., utilizes both the front and rear cameras of your smartphone to take a dual image. Cycloramic and Selfie36 are both made by Egos Ventures, but do very different things: Cycloramic makes your smartphone spin on its own to take the “perfect” panoramic image, while Selfie360 turns your self-portraits into mini-movies (because what better way to capture a mobile-photo-crazed audience than to combine selfies and animated GIFs?).
All three are currently free to download, though Cycloramic has a paid version. They’re not available across all mobile operating systems; I tested them on an iPhone 5s.
My favorite is Frontback, because it captures more than one angle of a scene and offers an active social network. It’s also quick and easy to share Frontback photos to other social networks, unlike Selfie360 clips, which can take awhile to upload. Cycloramic is good for specific use cases, but its hands-free option felt gimmicky after a while. Here’s how these apps work:
We’re all guilty of snapping mobile pics of our food, and the sunset, and that crazy slope we just skied down. What if you could take a picture of these scenes and then take a picture of yourself at the same time? That’s the idea behind Frontback.
When you open the app, it first appears as though the top half of your iPhone screen is ready for photo-taking, while the bottom half is black. Frontback first uses the rear camera to snap a picture of whatever is in front of you, then; a few seconds later, captures an image from the front-facing camera. The pictures then appear stitched together as one, with the first image on top and the second on the bottom.
The photos you share to Frontback are, by default, public, and I was surprised by the large number of “Likes” I got on my photos from strangers, which lead me to believe there’s a pretty active community on Frontback. I also had the option to quickly share my Frontbacks to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter — every notable social network except Google+.
A couple weeks ago, the app was updated to include a countdown clock. So, after you snap the first photo, a five-second countdown clock appears for the second, self-facing photo. If you tap on the clock, the app will pause, allowing you to frame yourself for the selfie, or swipe the screen to take another back photo.
I liked this new feature a lot, because it allowed me to pause the photo-taking process and take my time deciding what the second shot should be.
Frontback is free to download, and it’s currently only available for iPhone. The company plans to launch an Android version of the app sometime in the second quarter of this year, but currently doesn’t have plans to release a Windows Phone app.
Taking decent panoramic photos with smartphones usually requires a steady hand. Cycloramic claims to fix that by making your iPhone 5 or 5s rotate on its own. Yup, that’s right: When you use this app, your phone twirls.
Cycloramic has been around since 2012, but recently got more attention after appearing on “Shark Tank,” the popular TV show for entrepreneurial pitches. Right now, you can download a free promotional version of the app, which normally costs $1.99. It’s available on both iPhone and Android; only newer iPhones work with the “hands-free” mode.
The app uses your phone’s vibration function (which has to be activated in Settings) to make the phone move. You open up the app, tap the photo-snapping icon, select “hands-free” mode, and place your iPhone upright on a flat surface. A few seconds later, the phone begins to vibrate, moving it in a full 360-degree circle while capturing images the whole time. After it stops moving, it stitches together the images to create a nice, even, panoramic photo.
But Cycloramic felt gimmicky to me. In my experience, the app was prone to crashing. Also, while it worked well on glass or tile, my phone sometimes got stuck on wood surfaces, like desks or kitchen tables. So if you’re not near a super-smooth surface, the hands-free option isn’t really an option. I ended up using the “guided” mode in those instances, which wasn’t hugely different from using the iPhone’s built-in panorama feature.
It’s one thing to take a still-image selfie, preening into the smartphone camera in soft lighting (admit it, you’ve done it). But what if you could make your selfie move? That’s what Selfie360 does. The new app from the people who created Cycloramic, it lets you take the phone for a spin with you as you twirl around, creating a 360-degree view of your surroundings. Oh yes, these are “next-level” selfies.
The app is free to download, and currently works on iPhone only. Egos Ventures says an Android version is in the works.
When you first go to snap a photo, you have three options: Portrait, Panorama and Full. You select one, and then arrows on the screen tell you which way to move or point the camera. Portrait takes a quick moving selfie. Panorama takes a full 360-degree selfie. Full lets you take a full roundabout image of objects or scenery in front of you (so, not a selfie).
The result is a series of images captured to create a kind of moving-image file. I found these to be more fun or interesting than static selfies, because they let you make expressions and show what’s going on around you for a few seconds or more.
Sharing to social networks like Instagram and Facebook wasn’t always direct or quick. And watching the endless loop of my own moving selfie while I waited for the Facebook upload would drain my phone battery.
But these are just a few apps that will liven up your mobile photo feed — use them at your own, digital selfie-snapping risk.