AMITIAE - Thursday 10 July 2014

Three iOS apps with Different Takes on White Balance

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

White Balance

With the advent of smartphone cameras, coupled with social networking sites, there has been a massive outbreak of amateur photography. Once in a while, there are absolute gems shown on the sites, but too many are poorly composed and badly focussed. Another problem that many shots suffer from is white balance.

A friend is staying with me at the moment and he is a keen user of the iPad mini. The one he has was bought just over 12 months ago and his preferred tasks are concerned with internet access (mainly Facebook), games, the maps and taking photographs.

White Balance The photographs are usually of animals and have included the usual cats and dogs, as well as butterflies, bees, deer, and a bat that broke its wing. His output - much directed to Facebook - also includes a generous selection of selfies and food shots.

Not long after he arrived, pictures of my condo appeared and I noticed a problem that tends to afflict many images on social networking sites. As the illumination in my rooms is deliberately subdued - I hate the harshness of some modern lighting - the photographs suffered from white balance problems. This is not always noticeable with the number of filters that users have available, but once in a while, a nice image is partly-spoiled by the brown hues that could be fixed easily.

My own approach with this is to select the image in Aperture and use the White Balance tool there, occasionally adjusting temperature and hue with the sliders available. I had a look at the small number of apps installed on the iPad mini and tried "enhance" and other tools available, with little improvement. Surely, I thought, there must be an app for this. . . .

Using "white balance", 38 appeared in my search of the iTunes App Store on the Mac. Of these I decided to download three free apps: Pro Cam Lite, K-White and White Balancer. What I found was not exactly what I was looking for in a couple of cases. There was no Goldilocks app, although White Balancer came close. I tried all three apps on the iPhone 5s.

Pro Cam Lite

Pro Cam Lite Although this app appeared in the search results, its primary function is not simply to fix white balance in images. What Pro Cam Lite did was fine, up to a point, but the execution was spoiled by the over-use of advertisements and nag screens.

Every time I opened the app, a full screen display appeared with the words, "New Witch New Tricks!" If the user did not notice the X to clear this and (understandably) tapped the screen, a series of Safari redirect screens were shown, before a page was opened in the App Store.

When I did manage to open the main screen - a display of the camera output - there was immediately a screen offering the upgrade. Once that was cleared (each time), the screen showed camera input with a simple menu at the bottom of the screen with 6 items: HUD (or Heads-up display), Swap, Apps, Snap, Z-In and Z-Out. Annoyingly, there were advertisement above the menu bar.

Pro Cam Lite The HUD had several items of useful information buttons down the left side of the screen with a data readout to the right. Tapping each of the buttons revealed options. The buttons were:

  • Flash (Off/On/Auto)
  • Torch (Off/On/Auto)
  • Focus (Lock/Auto/Cont)
  • AExp (Lock/Cont)
  • AWB (Lock/Cont)
  • Preset (Low/Med/High/Photo/480p/720p)
  • Orient (Port/Upsi/Left/Right)
  • Mirror (Off/On/Auto)

At the bottom of the screen (above the menu) was a HUD display for Focus, Expose and White Bal. When any of these was not optimal, a red light displayed above the item.

Of the other items in the menu, Swap allowed the user to switch between the front- and rear-facing cameras; Apps was another link to the App Store; Snap took a picture; while Z-In and Z-Out were zoom controls.

The app was not really what I wanted in terms of fixing white balance, but did allow a number of features of the iPhone camera to be accessed, albeit with far too many ads and interruptions. However, the Pro version of the app is only $0.99 and as well as removing the ads, allows 1080p video recording (according to the in-app information screen).

For someone experimenting with iOS devices as cameras - and I rate them highly - this app might be a useful way to examine the way changes affect output and the $0.99 extra for the Pro app would be a good investment.


K-White My second selection from the White Balance search was wrong but for all the right reasons. K-White is not an app for fixing White Balance problems in iOS images. Instead it provides reference output to set up the white balance on a DSLR camera.

This is not simply "white and be done with it" but the reference screen, which can be adjusted in several ways, provides a way in which a specific white (perhaps veering to the pink or to a colder blue) can be selected, so all images taken maintain that type of flavour.

The app opens with what appears to be a graphic description of how to use the app; but this disappears too quickly. There is however some useful information that can be accessed via the "i" button at top right of the screen. Also at the top, in the center are words which indicate the particular function being used (e.g."Professional Mode"), while to the left is a button marked "Reset".

At the bottom of the screen are four controls and a colour information display (normally Red 1.00, Green 1.00, Blue 1.00). The main screen is white. Controls are:

  • A cross which allows Wipe Mode. Briefly the white screen changes to full colour to indicate the colour areas: orange to the top; green to the left, blue to the bottom and red to the right. The screen reverts to white and sliding a finger in any of the directions will change the screen slightly with each stroke adding more and more of that colour. This is quite subtle. Adding too much may need the user to start again with the Reset button.

  • An icon with sliders reveals a panel with four slider controls: Blue, Green, Red and White. To the right of each slider is a panel indicating the level of colour used from 1.0 down to 0.0. Instead of using the slider a user may enter a specific figure in a panel. The White slider controls the grey level and at the lowest setting the panel is a dark grey and not black.

K-White K-White

  • To the right of the colour information is a file icon (with a pen in the action of writing). Pressing this allows a specific setting to be saved, with a title and notes.

  • The final icon is a Bookmark icon which accesses any settings saved using the file icon. This means that the camera can be reset to a particular white, so re-shooting at a location with difficult lighting features may be eased. When in the Bookmarks (or Load) section, the user also has access to a number of Presets: Warm, Cool, Minus Green and Blue Hour.

I was not able to find the controls on my Nikon cameras that allowed me to use such input (the cameras all use internal colour selection processes), but for those with devices that do allow such input (presumably older cameras or higher level, professional cameras) K-White is an interesting use of the iPhone or iPad, when before perhaps expensive equipment would have been the norm. This free app is highly recommended for those who have a need for such input.

White Balancer Free

White Balancer Free This was almost the Goldilocks app right out of the box, except for one thing: advertisements. In some ways, I guess I have no right to carp about an app that does a job for free with a slight inconvenience of advertisements, but convenience is relative. And so is the remedy.

White Balancer Free is simple to use and when started the user is offered access either to the camera or the Photo Library. My main concern was white balance of images already taken, so focussed on this, although when I used the camera it was clear that the app was doing its job well and adjusting input on the fly.

In the library, selecting an image displays it in the main screen and that is it. However, a careful examination of the thumbnail of the original shows how much the image has been changed. This is sometimes rather subtle, so users may use the Compare button and a 50-50 image is shown with the image divided vertically down the center line, like the clever icon the app uses. Subtle as this may be sometimes, it shows exactly how the white balance has been adjusted.

The work of the user is cut to a minimum: select an image; done. However, for those who want to improve on the app output, there is a slider that runs right to left: saturation to cold. As with any properly written app, there is a reset button that takes the image back to its original state when first brought into the app, with basic white balance applied. These buttons are easier to see when the app is used in landscape mode as the advertisements cut across the display of the buttons in portrait mode making it difficult to read them.

When adjustments are done, we may use the Export button at top right. This first reveals a panel with unchecked English. I don't want to appear a grammar nazi, but it should be easy enough to check with someone with editing skills: "Are you will to have the Ad-free version" does not appeal to me, especially as that ad-free version, with no additional features, is $4.99. I think that for the advantage over the free version, the price is too high. I will live with the free app for now.

White Balancer Free

The app does exactly as advertised in the App Store, although some of the pages there may be misleading. The free version could have been better put together as regards display of ads. This annoyed me so much that I was keen to go for the ad-free version until I saw the price. Other developers provide far more features and effects for far less.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2014