Vignette, an Android Camera App (#vignette)

I’ve had an Android phone for just over a year now and the thing that amazes me most is the sheer range and diversity of the apps that are available.  There’s nothing more satisfying than finding out that your phone can enhance your life in ways you’d never have thought possible.

For a long time I stuck to the free apps, for they are many, and I’ve got some really great tools.  Tweetdeck to manage Twitter and Facebook, WordPress for my blog here, Google Sky Maps, Google Reader, Amazon’s Kindle app, Evernote.  Loads of them.  But the first app I bought was a camera app called Vignette and this remains my favourite app of them all.

Vignette Application Icon

http://neilandtheresa.co.uk/Android/Vignette/

Vignette is a camera app, taking your built-in Android phone camera and enhancing it with a wide variety of photographic effects and frames.  The free version is good up to a certain image resolution, the paid-for version is good up to the full resolution of your camera.  Trust me on this, you want the paid version.

When you fire up Vignette it gives you a slightly different view of your camera than the standard.  Down the left (or at the top) you’ve the zoom control, at the right (or at the bottom) you’ve got the actual controls for shooting mode, hardware settings, resolution, and – this is my favourite bit – frames & effects.

Kids in Lanzarotte

Vignette operates by taking the photograph and then applying the chosen effects and frames to it.  This can either be a destructive process (you don’t keep the original image) or a non-destructive process (where a copy of the original picture your camear captured is kept).  Obviously, if you’ve got the space on the memory card, you want to keep the originals.

The shooting mode screen lets you pick the usual normal photos, fixed focus shots, self-timer, the slightly annoying “steady shot” mode that waits until your camera is rock-steady before taking the photo (trying to grab a shot of something whilst holding my 9-month old boy over the weekend, I had to switch this off!) and the far more interesting time lapse, strip, grid, double-exposure and blind shots.  See?  The potential for fun is there already.  You can only pick one of these modes, so you can’t shoot blind double-exposures in time-lapse, but would you really want to?

Snow's Coming

Once you get to the Effect and frame menu you’re into really fun territory.  I recommend trying completely random to start with – random effect, random frame.  You cannot predict from one photograph to the next what you’re going to get.  It’s great.  The only problem with that is that every once in a while you will see an amazing photograph and wonder what effects were applied to make it that way – and there’s no way to work that out.  Frames you can make a good guess at (that’s a panoramic shot, or that’s the 35mm film frame) but effects?  If you can work those out then you’re better at this than me!

When you open up the effect menu the choices are overwhelming.  There’s a full list of the effects on the developer’s website: http://neilandtheresa.co.uk/Android/Vignette/List%20of%20features/

Once you get a combination you like, you can save it to your favourites and even create a shortcut to launch Vignette with those settings pre-configured.

Oscar Charlie

There’s an active group on flickr for sharing the photos you’ve taken – it’s here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/vignette/ – and there are some truly beautiful photos on there.  Those in the know add the settings they’ve used on their app so you can have a reasonable chance of replicating the photographic style they’re using.

Vignette was the first app I bought, having played with the demo of the app for a day.  Not once have I regretted it.  When I’ve had questions about the app, the developers have been a joy to deal with.  They take feedback very seriously, every email goes into a tracking system so that it is not forgotten and not ignored.

The photographs dotted about this post are ones I’ve taken using the random frame / random effect setting.  I love not knowing how a picture is going to turn out, it adds a magic to the process that the move to digital cameras has lost.

One final trick that this app can do – it will apply effects to photographs you’ve already taken.  If you copy pictures from your desktop across onto your phone’s memory card you can then play with them to your heart’s content!

Some Road in Shetland

It’s all about Browser Choice.

Today’s application, and the one to start the ball rolling, is one most people will spend the most time using.  I’m talking about the window to the world wide web: Your web browser.

Over the past few years, I’ve used all of the main web browsers plus a few more minor ones. When you’re asked to choose, this might help…

Opera. This browser is a real hotbed of development and interesting ideas.  It might not get as much publicity as Firefox or Chrome but an awful lot of very good ideas started out in this closed-source browser.  Tabs for browsing? Yup, they did it first.  The shrunken menu-come-file-button Firefox are using in 4? Opera did that first as well.  Widgets and plugins? First in Opera.  It has integrated mail and bit-torrent clients and an active developer community for add-ons.  Fast to load, a very informative and useful status bar and a load of nifty things built in.  Want to disable images? Click there.  Stop Javascript on a page? Just there.  Reload a page every few seconds (invaluable in the last few seconds of an eBay auction)? All on the right-click.

Downsides?  Well, none that I can think of for day-to-day use.  The torrent client doesn’t work behind my works proxy but apart from that nothing.  Why don’t I use it then?  Not sure.  Might have to spend a month with it to the exclusion of all others.

Firefox Possibly the biggest threat to Internet Explorer the world has ever seen.  Well, it’s certainly dented Microsoft’s browser share here in the UK and it’s the one I picked as the browser of choice for the systems I administer.  It’s not as rich in features as Opera straight out of the box but the sheer wealth of extensions available is amazing.  With the right extensions you never need to leave the browser.  We install a standard suite of extensions to make our users understand why we changed to Firefox – Ad Block to remove all those unsightly adverts on websites, Fast Dial to give them a range of big shiny buttons to press, Colourful Tabs to make it all look pretty.  Oh, and IE Tab to make sure everything they’re expecting to work (*cough*Sharepoint*cough*) works properly.  And then we set them loose in the add-ons area to search for stuff they might find interesting.I used Firefox exclusively from its initial release right up until I spent some time using Chrome.  Now I dive in for tearing websites apart using the fantastic developer extensions.

Downsides?  Rebooting the browser every time you install or update an extension.

But my browser of choice (at the moment) is…

Chrome I’m typing this post from my WordPress dashboard in Chrome.  My browser here at home synchronises with my Gmail account – history, passwords, extensions, themes, the lot.  I know Firefox can do this but Chrome’s synch always seemed to work so much better.   Chrome’s extensions started out slowly, it took a while for some of the important ones (Ad Block, for instance) to get there but I now have some 30 extensions installed, most of which do something useful.     It’s faster to load than Firefox, has a marginally more useful start page straight out of the box and you don’t have to reboot every time you install or update an extension.  The thing that really raises it head and shoulders above the others at the moment is the App Store.

I know, everyone has to have an App Store nowadays.  Apple started it, but Chrome took it to the browser.  There are some shining gems of applications – Tweetdeck for Chrome is a genuine beauty – and there are some shining, polished, turds – applications that are nothing more than links to websites.

All of the big 4 browsers support the new HTML5 specifications with differing degrees of success but that’s improving all the time and there’s a lot of fun stuff coming up.

Most websites will work with any browser you choose.  If you’ve got to use a particular browser to view a site, then that’s the sign of some dodgy programming – the SQA website uses a bit of code that only works in Internet Explorer because IE uses a particularly daft interpretation of one of the date functions and all the other browsers do it right.  Huge chunks of SharePoint only work in IE because it’s so strongly tied in to the operating system. I can forgive SharePoint, though, as it’s more like an extension of Office and everything I’ve tried works in IETab so far.

Anyway.  Long story short.  Pick a different browser, install it and give it a go.  http://www.multibrowsers.com/ has them all, as far as I can see.  I’m going for http://www.flock.com/ for April, see how it goes.#

Thanks for reading, see you Wednesday for  Doctor Who!  Castles & Crusades! Carcassonne! Running!  And other random stuff…