Pros: Lets you change depth of field; Easy to use; Can browse others' photos; Lets you share via Twitter and email
Cons: Requires very steady hands; Subject can't move; Takes 2-3 seconds per shot; App doesn't auto rotate images
Verdict: The FocusTwist app lets you change the focus of images you take on your iPhone or iPad, providing Lytro-like functionality on the cheap.
One of the more interesting advances in camera technology appeared last year with the Lytro camera, which lets you take a picture, then focus on whatever part of the photo you want to after the fact. However, the technology is in its early stages, and the Lytro camera itself costs $399. FocusTwist, a new iOS app, costs just $1.99, and offers similar functionality. Plus, you can easily share those photos with others.
FocusTwist's interface is pretty basic. At the top of the screen are three icons: Gallery (represented by a small 3x3 grid), Twitter and Camera.
The app opens to the Twitter screen, and shows the most recent FocusTwist images uploaded to Twitter with a #focustwist hastag. You can press on any part of each image to change the focus. It's neat to see how others are using the app, and provides some inspiration.
Selecting the Camera icon lets you take photos. To get the maximum effect, you should have an object in the foreground, about 3-4 inches from your iPhone, and then something in the distance, at least 5-10 feet away.
Taking a photo is as simple as pressing the middle of the screen. However, in order for FocusTwist to work well, both you and whatever you're taking a photo of must be fairly still. The entire process takes about 2-3 seconds--the app takes several photos in succession, and combines them--so if there's any movement, part of your photo will be blurry. FocusTwist uses an algorithm the company calls D-Shake that helps minimize this issue, but it's not a panacea.
As happened to us, a person walking through the frame will appear when the finished image is focused on the foreground, and will disappear when you're focusing on the background.
After you take a photo, FocusTwist shows you the compiled image; as with the Twitter feed, you can press on any part of the image to adjust the focus to that area. You can also post the image to Twitter, or send an IM or email with a link to the FocusTwist website, where they can view the image.
FocusTwist also saves two versions of each photo to your camera roll, one with the foreground in focus, and one with the background in focus.
As someone who likes to take photos in Landscape Mode, one of our biggest annoyances with FocusTwist was that it only works in Portrait Mode. There's also no way to rotate images, so if you're holding your phone upside down, the photos will appear that way on the app, as well as on the website.
Light field photography--the idea behind the Lytro camera--might someday soon revolutionize the way we take photos, but for now, the technology is limited to a handful of devices. While not perfect, FocusTwist replicates that ability fairly well, adding a new dimension to smartphone photography. We just wish the app worked in landscape mode. When it comes to taking pictures, iPhone and iPad shutterbugs will certainly like this new twist.