Camera+

2020: A Year In Review for Camera+ 2


Pedro Cuenca

Programmer. DL and photography aficionado.

Yes, it has been a weird year, indeed. Fortunately, all of us have been mostly unaffected by the pandemic. Having team members in three different continents, spanning 17 time zones, we were already used to working remotely, so it was easy for us to make some adjustments: no weekly meetings at the office for the three of us in Madrid, no annual get-together at a nice location, no laughs over a shared meal. We still haven’t had a chance to say hello to Rachel in person, but we are very lucky to have the luxury to decide how we want to work and coordinate. And worked we have! For all the details, read on after the infographic.

2020 Infographic

One of the decisions we made during our last pre-pandemic meeting in 2019 was to launch a major release before summer. Traditionally, the second half of the year is super-busy for us, because Apple announces new APIs during WWDC in June and then new phones are launched in September. Photography innovation is always a major factor in that cycle, so we have to work hard to take advantage of the new features in a way that makes sense for Camera+ 2. For 2020, we wanted to dedicate the first half of the year to advance the app with our own ideas, and we started planning Version 4 with an ambitious AI flagship feature.

Magic ML required a lot of experimentation and validation (the team loved my weekly presentations showing nuanced differences between models), so we also planned a few point releases for the first months of the year. We love point releases, too: we get to add new features, fix recently-discovered bugs, and sometimes apply some polish here and there. In January, we vastly improved the performance of burst mode by disabling all the fancy under-the-hood stuff that goes on when you take a regular photo: automatic stabilization, frame combination, deep fusion, the works. Some customers correctly argued that what they are looking after when they engage burst is to shoot as fast as possible, because they are trying to capture a special, fleeting moment. And this goes for Action mode too, which allows you to tap on the subject you want to follow during your shooting.

In February, we made changes to allow in-place editing of Raw photos stored in your photo library, without having to import them into the Lightbox first. This is something we’ve wanted for a long time. The problem was that Raw file support in iOS was a bit messy for a while, possibly because the standard camera did not shoot Raw until ProRAW was introduced later in the year (more on that later). iOS 13 made things better and better in this regard, and we could finally use the photo library APIs to retrieve Raw assets reliably. Note, however, that Raw editing is still not possible in the photo editing extension (the plugin that runs inside the Photos app). This is because those iOS APIs haven’t been updated to allow retrieval of Raw files: they only deliver a developed version in JPEG format. Our guess is it will be fixed in a future version of iOS.

On March 24th, Apple surprised us with iPadOS 13.4, which allowed the use of mice and trackpads in modern iPad models. Naturally, we had to have that in our app, so we introduced version 3.9 in April.

By then, the pandemic was in full force and we were all locked down. Also, our sales were down. By a lot. No surprise, really, since taking pictures is very much associated with fun times, vacation, visiting new places, meeting friends. It wasn’t only us: we saw most photo and video apps go down in the rankings in response to a change of mood in the App Store: photo/video and outdoors features had been replaced with other stuff: productivity, conferencing, education. It was nobody’s fault, but we had to do something if we wanted to survive as a business.

So we decided to invest our way out of the crisis, by preparing better for the time when it was over. First, we went through with our decision to hire Rachel. She is a photographer, knows her marketing and brought fresh ideas to the table. One of her first contributions was a rework of our App Store description page, to present it in a way that would invite users to take the time to work on those photos you made and never had time to review, rather than going outside and shoot. It was not an easy job, we wanted to motivate people to make the most of the situation without sounding neither gloomy nor unrealistically optimistic.

The second decision we took was to start working on a new project we’ve always wanted to have but never had the focus to undertake. That project is REC, and we love it. More on that in a future post.

We had now completed Magic ML (the team finally admitted they wouldn’t take any more of my presentations), and released version 4 of Camera+ 2. We were having more-than-usual pre-launch coldfeet — are the changes too subtle? should we go for a dramatic style?, but it was a success. The story was picked up by the media and understood by our customers. We are respectful with your photos, this is another tool to recommend a few settings but it won’t destroy your vision or impose a style. We wrote about it here and here.

WWDC brought news about iOS 14, and as usual we spent the summer updating our code to the new APIs and development tools. We decided we’d drop support for iOS 12 in our upcoming iOS 14 release. That way we could remove old code paths or workarounds no longer needed. Being a small company, the leaner your codebase is, the better you can react to bugs or adopt changes. Less code is better code.

Last year was a bit unusual in that we were not sure what the new iPhone models would bring in terms of capture technology. We decided we’d turn our attention to editing in version 4.5 of the app, which was also meant to be our iOS 14 release. This resonated with the strategy we had outlined months before to cope during the social-distancing periods, and it felt good to give the editor some love. Rachel designed the Social filter pack, which she wrote about here. We love the new filters, they feel really refreshing and modern. She also championed the cause to add a Curves filter to The Lab. Curves is her favorite tool when editing Raw, and she missed it all the time when editing HEIFs or JPGs.

When the new iPhones were announced there were a couple of surprises. First, there was a wide variety of models to choose from, and they were going to be released spaced in time rather than all at once. Testing on the new phones got us busy for some weeks in Autumn. Fortunately different members of the team wanted different models, so we could purchase a good selection and try them all. But the real surprise, of course, was the announcement of the new Apple ProRAW format. Not only had Apple decided it was time to embrace Raw in the system camera, but they created a totally new format and capture technology. Apple ProRAW brings RAW to the masses. Like standard RAW, files contain all the information captured by the sensor, so it provides maximum latitude for editing. Unlike regular RAW, however, ProRAW files look gorgeous out-of-the-box, even without editing. The last 2020 version of Camera+ 2 was released shortly after ProRAW was made available, and it provides complete support for the ProRAW format. We have a new ProRAW Preset that is compatible with more cameras than standard RAW. Shooting in ProRAW is also fast and efficient despite all that’s going on under the hood. All the RAW editing tools –including Curves– are compatible with the new format, and you can also edit ProRAW files taken with the system camera.

2020 was also the first year we decided to change the app’s icon during the winter festivities. We have immense respect for our icon, so we don’t take these decisions on a whim. Given what’s been going on during the year, we felt compelled to end it on a whimsical note. We are still here, loving what we do. Isn’t that a reason to be grateful and celebrate?

Happy 2021!

Published by Pedro Cuenca

Programmer. DL and photography aficionado.