September 23, 2017

The Definitive Guide to iPhone Photography Gear.

Your iPhone is designed to be the perfect phone cam, no accessories required. But...

There are some great accessories that can really unbridle your creativity and make shooting easier. So here's the definitive collection of iPhone photography tools. (Every option available is not covered, just the ones I've found to be the best quality or most useful.)



For the serious iPhoneographer (is that ironic or oxymoronic?) Moment lenses are unmatched in optical quality and design. The line, made from cinema glass, was recently updated to v2 with new bigger mounts to accommodate the growing size of built-in phone lenses.

Olloclip lenses are not as sharp as Moment's, but are the most practical lens attachments for your iPhone. They're a good compromise of quality and convenience. They have their own clip-on mount. Each set has two lenses that slip securely over a naked iPhone.

Tele lenses.

Wide lenses.

  • The Moment Wide v2 is one of the most beautiful lenses ever created. Period. Built with negligible barrel distortion (bowed lines), this lens has beautiful keystoning (trapezoidal exaggeration) and takes unbelievably crisp images. It's excellent for landscape and architectural photography with an 18mm⇔ view when placed over the iPhone built-in Wide lens. I also have a deeper review of this lens here.
  • The Moment Superfish, a beautifully-smooth, 170º fisheye lens that was designed to leave no awkward curved black edges on your photos.
  • The Olloclip Active for the iPhone 7/8 and 7+/8+ combines a 2x Tele and Ultra-Wide lens. This is a useful set to keep with you for a wide variety of opportunities.
  • The Olloclip Core for the iPhone 7/8 and 7+/8+ includes a Super-Wide and a Fisheye, with a 15X macro lens lurking under the Fisheye. I find myself using the macro more than the other two lenses.

Macro lenses.

  • Moment New Macro gives you 10x of truly sharp magnification with a 25mm⇔ lens that focuses down to .7 "
  • Olloclip Macro Pro If you want to work close, here's a whole set of macro lengths: 7x, 14x and 21x.

Anamorphic lens.

One final anomaly in the lens space is the Moondog Labs Anamorphic Lens for the iPhone 7/8, iPhone 7+/8+ This is a 1.33x lens that squeezes a 16:9 image into a standard photo. The advantage over just cropping is that this lens gives you landscape images with full-height resolution. It requires desqueezing the width in software. More intended for cinema video with apps like FiLMiC Pro, this lens can do excellent panoramic stills and the unsqueezed images have a cool thinning effect.

Moment cases.

Moment lenses require mounting, with the most practical options being the Case for the iPhone 7+/8+ and the Case for the iPhone 7/8. These are both thin enough to be used as your daily case. The iPhone X case will work with these lenses, but is not available yet.


Scope mounts.

The folks at PhoneSkope make this awkward looking adapter to attach binoculars, monoculars, field scopes and telescopes to your iPhone 7/8 or iPhone 7+/8+. Scope mounts are a whole other rabbit hole, but I'll note that if you don't have really good optics ($200+) attached to your phone, you'll be disappointed with the results.



Most of the filters available for the iPhone don't work with the iPhone Plus models’ dual lenses. But if you’re using Moment lenses, Moondog Labs 52mm Mount lets you use standard 52mm photo filters on the Tele and Macro. The most useful filters is a Circular Polarizer for removing reflections, saturating colors and enlivening the sky. This effect is hard to duplicate in editing.


Tripod mounts.

To anchor your camera firmly, you'll need a mount that connects to a standard tripod. Fortunately there are scads of good ones available.

  • For cool factor alone the Manfrotto TwistGrip is my fave. It's all-metal design is not quite as stable as the other options here, but it folds flat in your pocket, stands on it's own and has a cold shoe mount for attaching a light or a mic.
  • Studio Neat's Glif has an quick-lock and three tripod mounts for attaching gizmos.
  • Shoulderpod G1 is the bulkiest of the batch, but also lightweight and stands on it's own.

All the above mounts let you attach your iPhone standard or plus model securely to a standard 1/4"x20 tripod screw.



As mentioned, all conventional tripods can be used with the iPhone 7+ and the above mounts, so I won't get into the zillions available. Here are a few I've found really useful.

  • The Manfrotto Compact Tripod is inexpensive, sturdy and very easy to extend and collapse. The pistol-grip head is the easiest to operate of any tripod available.
  • The Sirui T-005KX Travel Tripod is a pro-grade, full-size tripod, great for studio as well. It's big advantage is that folds up to a foot long and weighs a little over 2 lbs, so it's an excellent hiking tripod that tucks in the bottom of a day pack.
  • The Ultra-Pod is a table-top tripod that's incredibly versatile. You can use it legs closed with the attached Velcro strap to attach to a pole when there's nothing horizontal nearby.
  • Woods Power Grip Camera Mount lets you attach your iPhone to the inside of your windshield or any glass surface. It's useful for blur shots in the car with long exposure apps like Bluristic, Slow Shutter! by Lucky Clan or NightCap.



The built-in flash is really useful since it’s always with you, but there are more serious pocketable lighting options.

  • An inch and a half square, Lume Cube pumps out 1500 Lumens, 100-watt bulb⇔. It has 10 power settings, but the tiny LED is so bright you'll need to bounce it or diffuse it to avoid blinding subjects. A [kit]9 with a housing is available as are diffusers, grids and filters for more serious photography. They can be used in multiple as constant lights or as flashes with the Lume Cube app.
  • iBlazr 2 Wireless Flash is a Bluetooth flash that snaps onto your iPhone or can be hand held. With the free Shotlight app you just tap the back of the flash as a remote shutter. It’s tiny and about as powerful as the built-in flash. Useful for macro photography.



The Tom Bihn Side Effect is the bag I find most useful. Yeah, it's pricey, but man is it useful. It can be worn with a strap over your shoulder, but I use mine as a waistpack with the optional belt strap. f you wear it around front, it's like having a drawer full of accessories right there. With all the toys we've talked about here, I haven't overstuffed mine yet (but it won't quite fit the Sirui travel tripod.)


More on mastering your iPhone camera: The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography

September 22, 2017

How to make two hyphens not equal an em dash in iOS 11.

Sadly, iOS 11’s Smart Punctuation separates the writers from the coders. It forces those of us who use Markdown for writing to choose which we are.

Smart Punctuation is on by default. What it does is turn "inch marks" into “smart quotes” and 'feet marks' into ‘smart apostrophes’. Love that, for most writing. But it also turns two--hyphens into an em—dash. This makes typing horizontal rules and tables in Markdown a real pain.

There are two ways to cope. (I tried adding a Text Replacement Shortcut that would turn em dashes back into hyphens, but no dice.) So the two methods left are:

  1. To turn off Smart Punctuation: Home > Settings > General > Keyboard > Smart Punctuation > Off.
  2. Or the ugly workaround: Type dash, space, dash and then delete the space.

For the time being, I’m going with #2. I guess that leaves me a writer and em—dashes any hopes of being a coder.

September 5, 2017

Review: MuseCam for iOS makes shooting RAW easy. ★★★★★

It just seems logical to me that people would want to shoot RAW photos on their iPhone with the same simplicity as their iPhone Camera app: You tap the shutter and you're done. But most of the camera apps that shoot RAW have a myriad of controls and readouts that make the shooting process baffling.

Not MuseCam.

It also seems logical to me that people would want the ability to edit those RAW files with tools that can take advantage of all RAW has to offer. Many of the camera apps that shoot RAW can't edit the files and you're forced to use a few apps that require you to sign up and sign in before you can edit.

Not MuseCam.

Finally: RAW shots in Auto mode.

With MuseCam everything is set to auto, so you just press the bright red shutter. That's it. RAW shooting for us common folk is really here.


You do have complete manual control over (and easy access to) focus (targeting icon), shutter speed (aperature icon), ISO and white balance, all with sliders that are neatly tucked away. But when you want everything to go back to auto, just press that big Auto button. Flash is off by default and you'll need to tap JPEG to engage RAW.

Tapping on the screen will set the focus on that area of the scene without disengaging the Auto mode. Holding on an area of the screen will set and lock the exposure. This will disengage Auto mode. Just tap the red frame of the Auto button to conveniently go back to Auto mode.

How to edit RAW in MuseCam.

MuseCam has the most powerful RAW editor I've seen in iOS. Each editing control is a simple slider, but there are many controls here you may have never worked with before. To edit a RAW photo in MuseCam from the camera:

  1. Tap the photo on the bottom left.
  2. Tap any photo to open in the editor.
  3. If JPEG is showing at the top left, tap it. If the image was shot in RAW, it will change to RAW.
  4. Tap the Sliders icon.
  5. Drag the control row right to access the RAW controls.
  6. Tap any of the RAW icons. They turn white when engaged.
  7. Drag the slider to set.

Along with a robust set of jpeg editing tools, MuseCam has the following tools designed just for RAW editing:

  • Luminance Noise looks much like film grain and becomes more prevalent when images are shot at higher ISO settings. This slider lets you tame it.
  • Noise Detail enhances detail, but too much can get splotchy.
  • Noise Sharpness can sharpen soft images, but don't go too far.
  • Noise Contrast adds edge contrast, which sharpens, but too much will look unnatural.
  • Tint balances green and magenta. Together with the tempurature slider, this gives you a more accurate white balance.
  • Temperature gives a true temperature adjustment in RAW that you don't have access to in a .jpg
  • Light Boost enhances images shot in low light with less risk of overexposing, like a Shadows slider.
  • Exposure lets you recover highlight information that might be lost if you shot in .jpg
  • Baseline Exposure allows you to reset the zero point the camera uses as it's trade off between highlight headroom and shadow noise.

If you're familiar with editing RAW in Lightroom, editing in MuseCam will be easy. If you're not, just start playing to see how each slider affects the image. You'll soon get an understanding of what each control does and how you can use it to improve your image.


MuseCam's Presets are a big time saver. With all these controls, saving a set of adjustments as a Preset can give you a head start on your RAW or .jpg editing. For example: you might come up with a really slick set of RAW black and white conversion adjustments that work the deep grays into pure moodiness, something difficult to tweak out of a jpeg. If you'd like to save these control settings as a Preset: Tap the screen > tap the lines icon on the top center > Save as Custom Preset. To access this the next time you edit: Tap the Muse icon on the bottom left > Tap the Custom icon.

Hey, the .jpg images look better than RAW. Whazupwidat?

There's endless talk about the value of RAW, but there are reasons many pros never shoot a RAW file and opt for the convenience of shooting jpegs. The purpose of RAW is that you can go back to the original sensor data and craft a 100% perfect final image. On the other hand, .jpg images have 99% of that work done for you by the camera. It's up to you if that 1% is worth the work. Most people find it's not, or at least not for every photo.

For a complete understanding of RAW and how iOS handles it, check out this article.

My take on MuseCam.

MuseCam is the first app to combine simple shooting and powerful editing in RAW and does it beautifully. Of course, you can use it to shoot and edit .jpg images as well, with more powerful editing tools than are available in the iPhone's built-in Photos app. The only things I find wrong with this app:

  • It's missing the Tele lens of the iPhone 7+.
  • Help is abyssmal in the app and on the developers site (which is why I went into such detail here.)

There are a many reasons not to shoot RAW. In addition to the aforementioned inconvenience of manually editing every RAW image, a RAW file on iPhone takes up about 15 megs of space, approximately four times as much as a .jpg. But we've all found ourselves looking though our albums full of jpegs, seeing a great shot that's just a little less than perfect and saying "Man, I really wish I had a RAW file of that." MuseCam gives you that ability without having to get a PHD in the app.

Get The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography at iTunes

August 19, 2017

Restoring detail with Image Blender.

"Normal" exposure can suck the realism out of a high-key image. When highlights lose their detail (as in the washed-out photo above) you can try gamma or luminance fixes in your editing software. But you'll usually get better results with a simple trick in Image Blender, Union, BitPoem or other photo blending app. By blending two copies of the same image using the Multiply mode, you'll enrich the highlights, restore overall vividness, add depth and bring back the realism.

I'm using Image Blender here, since it makes this process really easy:

  • Open Image Blender.
  • Tap the Background square on the bottom left and choose your image.
  • Tap the Foreground square on the bottom right and choose the same image.
  • Tap the double squares icon at the top center.
  • Tap Multiply and swipe down on iPhone (on iPad: tap Multiply and touch the screen).
  • Drag the slider right until the restoration looks good.
  • Tap the Share icon (square with up arrow).
  • Tap Save Image.

I shoot a lot of aging marble statues that really benefit from the detail and drama this technique can add.

Advanced adjustments in Image Blender.

Image Blender is not designed as a traditional editing tool, but you can modify exposure, contrast and saturation of each photo. So if you want a less bold result, reduce the contrast and saturation of one or both photos. To access the filters, tap the thumbnail on the bottom right or left and choose Filter.

How you’re supposed to use Image Blender.

Though Image Blender does a great job with the above technique, it was built for blending two different photos and has 16 more blend modes, plus the ability to mask and offset images. It's super simple to use, but offers powerful effects that conventional photo editing apps don't have.

Image Blender in the App Store.

More on mastering your iPhone camera: The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography

August 13, 2017

Software: Your power tools are made in sweatshops.

Ulysses, a popular text editor for Mac and iOS, just changed over to a subscription model at a pricey $40 a year. I'm happy to say that the price guarantees that this app will not be made in a sweatshop. Hear me out on this.

It's often not evident to someone complaining about paying too much for a 99¢ app that a human being sweated over that app. They probably put hundreds of hours into development and may now spend hundreds more answering support emails. And we haven't yet gotten to the time required to update the app with no further compensation.

Even when the developer of a successful app charges $10 for it, that doesn't even pay for an hour of development time and an hour of support time at minimum wage. In that light, it's easy to see why so many great apps get abandoned. The developer may have created it from a passion, but finds there's better pay in a sweatshop.

We're paying too little for our tools.

As far as software is concerned, we've gotten a free ride. The launch of iOS created an industry of underpriced apps. Developers who were building Mac apps and selling them for $20-30 found they struggled to get $5 for the app on iOS, even though both probably required the same amount of development time. And here we are 10 years into iOS and we're still underpaying for those apps we rely on. As consumers we're used to getting the Walmart price on everything, but we're willing to pay even less for our software.

Why those great apps die.

There are a lot of apps that are dogs out there and not worth 99¢. But the problem is that developers of great apps are not making enough to keep at it. No wonder so many apps disappear from the App Store or haven't been updated in 5 years. Recently I talked to the developer of a very cool photo app. He noted that he makes less than a dollar a day off the app in new sales now, which has made buying the tools he needs to create the app not feasible. So he can't update the app, it struggles on new iOS updates, ratings go down and sales continue to drop. But then we complain when these great apps die, despite the fact that we usually get well more than our money's worth out of them.

Why sustainable models are so costly.

Ulysses is not a 99¢ app. They charged substantially more: $45 for the Mac app and $20 for iPad. So the price leap to a subscription model was not much of a leap, if any. As a company, Ulyssees will probably not spend this subscription money on building employee nap rooms, employing a staff gourmet chef or taking team building trips to Tahiti. They seem to be a well-run business. Recently they adjusted their business model to focus exclusively on Ulysses, their most successful app. Marcus Fehn and Max Seeleman made the wise choice in devoting all their resources to their core business. They also made a wise choice in moving to a subscription model. It gives them a consistent (but not much bigger) revenue stream, so they can focus on a more consistent product with deeper, under-the-hood updates. These will that make Ulysses an even more dependable and more depended on software. However, that does cost money.

Let's do the math on this: According to the Ulysses site they have 12 employees. So if we multiply that by the German minimum wage of $9.79 an hour, the company would shell out about $250,000 a year in salaries. But those are sweatshop wages. You can't keep the best employees for that. For argument sake, let's double it: half a million dollars a year. Then there's the other business costs: the office, computers, benefits, etc. Running even a lean company that size can easily hit a million dollars a year. At the new subscription rate, that's 25,000 subscriptions they need at full price just to break even. As you can see, a sustainable software company can live off 99¢ apps, even if they produce a hundred of them. And to grow, software companies today pretty much require a sustainable model.

Is $40 a year too much?

Probably not. Microsoft and Adobe both made their initial billions off pricey update business models, but are now gravitating to pricey Office 365 and Creative Cloud subscription models. Do users feel they're overpaying these companies? Yes. Are most willing to give up the software for cheaper competitive products? No, probably not. These are necessary tools: the cost of admission for doing the work they do. Though you're not hearing many of the voices of those willing to pay for a Ulysses subscription, it's a necessary business tool for them, and me. Paying the $30-40 a year ensures those who continue to use Ulysses will get an app that improves and becomes more valuable to its users. And this model will ultimately lead to more users as quality continues to improve.

The new model gets a big thumbs down.

So far, the comments to the original post about Ulysses new subscription model are overwhelmingly negative. As Marcus noted on Twitter "Thanks, everyone, for yesterday’s debate. Was good getting some insight without having to dig beneath a thick cover of hate. :)" However, when you read between the lines of these comments, you'll notice a trend: most of the people saying "auf wiedersehen" to Ulysses—are casual users, not power users. It's understandable why they're miffed: They paid a lot for Ulysses, but don't appear to use it that much. In their anger, these commenters are revolting by seeking out alternatives. The new Bear for Mac and iOS is one. Incidentally, Bear is $14.99 a year (not pricey) but its also a dreaded subscription model that these commenters say they refuse to pay for. (If you really want an solid, inexpensive, non-subscription text editor, try the well-seasoned Byword for Mac and iOS. $18 for both. I'm typing this on it now.)

The Scrivener bandwagon.

I find it interesting that the overwhelming cry in comments is that people are jumping ship and buying Scrivener for Mac and iOS because it doesn't have a subscription model. Scrivener, from the fine team at Literature and Latte is an excellent competitor to Ulysses, but when you do the math, both versions of Scrivener together costs $65 (the same as Ulysses used to cost.) If you already own Ulysses, you get $10 off your annual fee forever. So two years of subscribing to Ulysses is still cheaper than buying both versions of Scrivener. And it should be noted that Scrivener 3 is in the offing according to developer Keith Blount, so switching to Scrivener and using it over the next three years—will roughly cost what a three-year subscription to Ulysses costs. It's also interesting that so many of those jumping off Ulyssees' boat seemed to think Scrivener was too expensive, or they would have already owned it. I do hope those who adopt Scrivener will find an app they love and will not be outraged when they're faced with paying for new features in version 3. After all, Keith has seven employees to pay too.

Why I'm sticking with Ulysses.

There are a few reasons. First, I'm tired of underpriced apps going away. I used a great writing app called Daedalus Touch to write and compile my eBook The Crap-Free Guide to Twitter Success. But that exquisite, four-dollar app went away because it didn't have a sustainable model.

Ironically, Daedalus Touch was created by The Soulmen, the company that became Ulysses. In fact, Daedalus Touch was essentially the first stab at an iOS companion app for Ulysses. While Daedalus Touch is no longer available, I know my subscription to Ulysses is more likely to keep the app alive as long as I'm writing.

The second reason I'm sticking with Ulysses is that my dependence on the app is growing. It's the only iPad app I've found that can easily create iTunes bookstore compatible ePubs. The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography was published entirely with Ulysses on iPad. As I add more books to my line, they'll be written, edited, revised and published with Ulysses too. So I paid for my subscription to Ulysses the first day.

I've always said: if there is a free lunch in tech, it won't last until dessert. We're used to getting things like 99¢ apps at sweatshop prices, only to cry about them being abandoned because they're not sustainable. What it comes down to, is that sooner or later, you get what you pay for. And when it comes to good tools, we really shouldn't be reluctant to pay for them.