Review: Focal Camera App (Beta) for Android

focal beta camera app screenshot android cyanogenmod somegadgetguy (4)I wont get into all the drama surrounding this app. For those curious, there’s a third party ROM team called CyanogeMod which just went corporate and is looking to improve how people might load the CyanogenMod custom ROM onto various smartphones. For a brief time, the Focal camera app BETA was baked into CyanogenMod, but was removed for stability reasons and issues with licensing. Focal Developer Guillaume Lesniak shared his perspective on his G+ page.

Anywho, now Focal is its own standalone app on Google Play, and while we’re definitely talking BETA here, it’s got serious potential to offer a unified high quality camera experience to all users regardless of what phone they might be using.

focal beta camera app screenshot android cyanogenmod somegadgetguy (1)Focal borrows some of the aesthetic of the stock Android Nexus app. Your shutter control floats on top of the viewfinder, and menus are hidden by swiping gestures. A slide up from the left side of the screen (in portrait) brings up a scrolling menu where you can find a huge number of photographic controls. Sliding across the shutter button allows you to change between photos, videos, panorama, photoshere, and switching between the front and rear cameras.

focal beta camera app screenshot android cyanogenmod somegadgetguy (3)The number of options at your command is pretty formidable. The basics are up front, toggling the flash, adjusting white balance, “Scene Mode” options (auto by default), and activating HDR options. Exposure controls and metering options help dial in brighter or darker pics, and in camera filters allow you to see what your shots will look like in black and white, sepia, and negative color space. Lastly color saturation and JPEG quality settings can help your shots retain more detail or achieve smaller file sizes.

What’s ingenious is how well laid out these options are. They aren’t anything you wont find on another manufacturer camera app, like on the HTC One or GS4 for example. They are laid out in a very straightforward way here however. Tapping on one category provides the user a pop up with icons and text to explain what options they have for controls. That pop up remains until the user taps on the category again to collapse the options. Every control is found in this interface. Not like on other apps where some options are found on screen and some are buried under a separate menu. It really is the most intuitive layout I’ve seen on a camera app featuring this much control.

focal beta camera app screenshot android cyanogenmod somegadgetguy (5)The interface is smooth, but performance is very shaky on several phones. Taking a pic froze my HTC One. The GS4 was able to utilize most features, but rendering a PhotoSphere locked it up. The LG Optimus G Pro was the most stable, but would default to the lowest resolution output for pics.

As for output, it’s hard to see much difference between the various phone apps and Focal. Using Focal’s quality settings, you can dial up jpegs almost twice as large as what you would normally see out of a phone app. The biggest I saw was a 5MB image off the LG. Usually your phone’s camera app will pump out around a 2MB pic.

So the verdict? Not read for your main driver. It is called a BETA, and that label is accurate. What we see is some pretty terrific potential though. For the number of phones I get to play with, there’s something nice about some consistency. For my personal phones now I tend to fall back on the same apps and launchers so I know where everything is by muscle memory regardless of what phone or tablet I use.

Adding a consistent camera experience would be a nice addition to the list.

Focal BETA on Google Play

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