An ex-Apple designer and former Twitter engineer have teamed up for a new take on iPhone photography, with today’s launch of their iOS camera app called Halide. The idea is to offer a variety of high-end tools for taking quality photographs, but packaged in a way where accessing those controls via gestures becomes like muscle memory – similar to using the dials on a camera.
Explains the app’s website, the new app’s gesture-based control scheme is meant to feel “as intuitive and tactile as a great film camera, like an old Leica or Pentax.”
While there are a number of alternative camera applications for iOS today – like Camera+ or Camera Awesome, for example – these tend to be marketed towards mainstream users who want to “shoot like a pro.” Halide, on the other hand, is designed more with the power user in mind first. That is, it will largely appeal to those who have some understanding of photography, and want to do things like quickly change the exposure or manually focus with a swipe.
However, there is a built-in automatic mode like the stock iOS app. This makes the app usable even by novice iPhone photographers, who sometimes need help when trying to take tricky shots.
But this automatic mode is designed to be turned off by tapping the “A” button in order to tweak specific values like ISO, white balance and shutter speed, however. The app also includes professional tools like focus peaking (which highlights the areas in focus, allowing users to manually pull focus), a detailed histogram, an adaptive level grid and support for both JPG and RAW capture.
Halide was developed by Ben Sandofsky and Sebastiaan de With, both of whom have experience with high-end photography. Sandofsky previously worked on Periscope’s video processing stack, was an advisor to both HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and Shyp, and worked as the tech lead on Twitter’s iPhone, iPad and Mac applications.
Meanwhile, de With is an ex-Apple designer who has done client work for Sony, T-Mobile, Mozilla and others, and runs the San Francisco design agency Pictogram, which designed the Nylas Mail app, Doubletwist, and others. He’s also a photographer, often taking photos as he take trips by motorcycle.
Beyond the app’s feature set, something that differentiates the app is its gesture-based interface. But its controls also work with a tap so you don’t have to learn all the gestures immediately. This makes the overall experience more consistent, and doesn’t leave newcomers hunting around to access the app’s features.
The team sees the gesture-based interface as part of what makes Halide usable – even for less experienced photographers.
“You don’t really need to understand concepts like Exposure Compensation, EVs, or manual focus to enjoy the features in Halide,” says de With. “So we hope to see many people pick it up, not just the die-hard photographers.”
Another feature in the app is “instant review,” which lets you swipe left or right on the photos you just took to either trash them or mark them as favorites. You can also use 3D Touch to preview the last photo you took in Halide.
The team was inspired to build Halide after seeing how the iPhone’s sensors improved over the years, even as the shooting experience remained stagnant.
“I went to Hawaii with friends, and I was that guy lugging around a giant camera,” explains Sandofsky, of how he came up with the initial idea. “At the bottom of a waterfall, the humidity made the camera sensor condensate, so I had to keep it off for a day while the camera internals dried out,” he says. “For the next day, I shot everything with an iPhone. At the time, iOS lacked important features, and all the camera apps had issues. But I was blown away by the quality of that tiny camera, and remembered how much more I enjoyed the trip by going light.”
Sandofsky says he built the first prototype on his flight home from that trip, and later showed it to de With, who had further ideas around the user experience. Development officially started around WWDC last year, when the new camera APIs were announced.
A year later, the app was ready to launch.
Manual Focus with Focus Peaking
Full Manual with Crosshair
The team doesn’t expect their new app to fully replace the default camera app, but instead exist alongside it – ready for those times you want to take a great photo, not just a quick snap.
The app’s co-creators tell TechCrunch they’re self-funding Halide, which they consider a “passionate side project.”
Halide is available for $2.99 at launch, and will increase to $4.99 next week. If it does well, the team may consider a new pricing structure in the future, but didn’t go into details.
The app is available in English, with plans for localizations in Spanish, Dutch, German, and French.