Apps of the week: Push your camera’s limits

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.43.58 AMPhotoMath

Android, iOS, Windows 8 Mobile

Free

I’m pretty sure this app is straight from the future. It uses your phone’s camera to scan and solve math problems in real time.

Until this year, an app like this only existed inside The Big Bang Theory universe and, while PhotoMath doesn’t solve the same quantum physics equations Sheldon Cooper encounters, it does perform reasonably well on algebra problems.

The user interface of the app is intuitive. It works more or less the same way as any generic camera app, but instead of a shutter button to snap a photo, you’re presented with a small rectangle in the middle of your screen. Using hand gestures, you can resize this rectangle to precisely fit it to the math equation you’re trying to solve. Just hover over the equation for a few seconds and you’ll be given the answer.

The app will also run you through the steps it took to solve the equation, so you can actually understand the process required to solve it yourself (or verify that the app did the math correctly).

The app does have some limits. It can only solve equations up to a limited threshold of complexity, and it doesn’t recognize handwriting. Apparently the developer is working on upgrades to address these limits, though.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.47.57 AMAdobe Photoshop Express

Android, iOS, Windows 8 Mobile

Free (with paid premium features)

Whereas apps like Instagram and Camu exist to help the social sharer quickly spice up photos with filters, Adobe Photoshop Express offers a more precise and technical approach for editing photos.

With this app you essentially get a backstage pass to all the knobs and dials that professionals adjust to create the filters you see on Instagram. This includes adjusting your photo’s lighting, boosting or reducing its saturation and altering its overall tones.

You also get a small arsenal of precision tools that allow you to straighten an uneven horizon, remove blemishes, and fix red eye.

Smartphones these days typically shoot higher resolution photos than standalone digital cameras did a decade ago, so I think a mobile app geared towards more serious editing is totally warranted.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.49.47 AMCamera ZOOM free

Android, iOS

Free (But time is money and this will waste it. Also there’s a paid premium version that will waste actual money.)

Whoever built this app clearly doesn’t understand how cameras work.

Camera ZOOM defies the science of optics and tries to claim it will let your camera zoom in three times closer to your subject (or thirty times closer, if you pay).

Oh yeah, I’ll get right on that!

I’m not dumb enough to pay $5.99 for the premium version, but I already know that if I did, my 30-times-enlarged photo would resemble an abstract mosaic of pixels taken from a crashed NES game.

That’s because most smartphone cameras (including mine) simply don’t have a true capacity to zoom, and no app will change that. For a camera lens to properly zoom closer to an image without distorting it, the lens must have a series of glass elements that move towards and away from each other, essentially bending the light it takes in. This is called “optical zooming.”

Digital cameras try to simulate optical zooming with something called “digital zooming.” The thing is, digital zooming essentially just means cropping a photo to make it seem like it was taken from closer up. And that’s all this app does.

Your phone probably already lets you do limited digital zooming with its stock camera app anyways, and I guarantee any smartphone camera with the hardware to support optical zooming (like the Asus Zenfone Zoom) also come with the software to let you use it.