Manual, by developer Little Pixels, is a visually gratifying photography app for iOS offering those so inclined the ability to manually control exposure settings while taking pictures with the iPhone. In the world of non-iPhone photography, the “manual” setting on DSLR, SLR, and enthusiast-grade compacts, allows the photographer to dial in to his or her liking specific exposure settings that would generally be handled by the more commonly used “automatic” mode. The reasons for doing so are vast in scope, but most revolve around creative differences with automatic mode in what an aesthetically correct exposure is. Manual, by definition, means the photographer takes control over every exposure setting: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, but manual can also be used in reference to other settings where the photographer controls only one of the above, such as aperture priority mode and shutter speed priority mode, in where the photographer controls just the aperture or shutter speed respectively. Regardless of ones preferred “manual” shooting mode, personal control over aesthetically correct exposure is step one in the path to achieving your photographic vision.
But what about the app?
Brief explainer out of the way, Manual (the app) offers iPhone photographers the ability to control the same settings you're now familiar with including aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, in addition to white balance, manual focus, a histogram to gauge light and darks throughout your composition, and an EXIF view to check exposure settings on previously taken photographs. All of that sounds wonderful, but…
More technical stuff
The iPhone is a great camera, but it isn't a DSLR, it doesn't have clickity dials, and most notably it doesn't have an aperture range. Say what? That's right, the iPhone has one aperture setting of f/2.2 (on the iPhone 5s and 6) and as nice as that is for taking pictures, it really handicaps manual mode. The reason is that, of all the manual modes, aperture priority is the most popular because depth of field has the most aesthetic impact on your photographs. The “everything in incredible focus” landscape and the separation of subject from "blurred to oblivion" background are usually achieved by controlling aperture in aperture priority (and full manual obviously), but with the iPhones forever fixed f/2.2 you don't have that, and so you don't really have aperture priority, and you don't really have manual in Manual.
Back to Manual
Of course this is not really the fault of Manual (the app), but what it leaves you with is shutter speed priorty (typically used to freeze action in sports, but can be used creatively to not freeze action i.e. motion blur) and control over ISO (the camera's sensitivity to light). Pre-iOS 8 that would've been useful, but with the improved Camera app in iOS 8, photographers now have access to exposure compensation (layman's terms: make brighter or darker) which basically adjusts shutter speed and ISO behind the scenes to achieve the sharpest photo possible with the least noise possible given the shooting environment. Worse still, adjusting exposure in the Camera app is incredibly simple, tap your subject to focus and slide your finger up and down to add or subtract brightness. The same can't be said for the Manual app.
Visual appeal: yes, tactile appeal: not so much
Manual does offer a handsome if somewhat generic UI in which to shoot with. Your view is centered, exposure settings are on the bottom, and flash, focusing, white balance, settings, and camera reverse are up top. Rotate the camera to landscape orientation, and Manual nicely rotates lables with it. That's the good, the bad is that actually making changes to exposure settings is frustratingly finicky and tactilely unsatisfying. To make changes to shutter speed and ISO (aperture is there, but again it can't be changed) Manual has you tap, hold, and spin virtual dials that pop up. Because the dials are “too loose” it can be difficult to “dial in” the results, and the difficulty is further exacerbated by all too subtle clicks that do little to virtually imitate the physical bump you'd expect to find on an actual camera. Worse still, the setting for ISO has been unwisely stacked directly on top of the shutter button making accidental exposure changes while intending to snap a photo, or accidental photo taking when trying to make an exposure change, all too easy.
Manual isn't without its attributes. Having direct control over white balance is nice, and the app's included histogram can be useful to judge a composition's light and dark values, but little else is so important as to warrant using it over the basic Camera app. That Manual (and other apps offering manual controls) is limited by the iPhone's camera lens' lack of aperture range isn't Little Pixel's fault (and is acknowledged by the developer in the App Store), but the finicky implementation of the controls it does offer sure is, and given that the app is hardly more useful than shooting with the stock Camera app now endowed with exposure compensation (assuming iOS 8, which by the way is required by Manual), most photographers, even those who take it quite seriously, will be safe skipping on Manual.
- Not Recommended
Manual - Custom Exposure Camera by Little Pixels ($1.99) is available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Requires iOS 8.0 or later.