Review: Slow Shutter Cam App for long exposures with iPhone

One of the things I missed when I ditched my DSLR for iPhone photography was the ability to take long exposures. The iPhone camera app simply won't let me adjust the shutter speed. Then I tried a few third party iPhone camera apps that advertised their manual shutter speed setting. But the slowest shutter speed I could get from those apps was 1/2 second. Meanwhile Apple has introduced Live Photos that will allow you to create long exposures of up to three seconds with iOS 11. I wrote about creating long exposures using Live Photos in a dedicated blog post.

But I needed even longer shutter speeds. So I still use Slow Shutter Cam App to like photos like those:

 
 

Slow Shutter Cam App does not have any limitation of the shutter speed. You can set the shutter speed up to 30 seconds and if you need more, just set it to "bulb" mode. In bulb mode, the shutter remains open until you close it by pressing the shutter release again.

And best of all, you can even edit the motion blur strength after you got the shot. Try that with a DSLR ;)

In the November 2016 update, the developers even added manual ISO control. So now you can turn down ISO, which in turn lengthens the exposure time, but allows you to get low noise shots even in difficult light situations. I recommend to stick to ISO 80-100 for good results.

Slow Shutter Cam App is around since 2010 and continuously maintained since then. I guess it's the oldest iPhone photo app on my iPhone. If you're curious, here are all the other iPhone photo apps I use. 

Check Slow Shutter Cam Settings before using it

Once you've downloaded the app, do yourself a favor and check the settings first. Older versions of the app had some unfavorable default settings. That was fixed in later releases but still there are a few settings I recommend you to check before taking your first shot:

Slow Shutter Cam Settings to check

Slow Shutter Cam Settings to check

Tap the gear icon in the lower right corner to get to the settings screen.  Now check for the following settings:

  1. First, make sure that the picture resolution is set to maximum. On my iPhone 6S Plus that is 12 Megapixel (MP).
  2. Set your favorite picture file format. Slow Shutter Cam can save your photos in JPG format or in uncompressed TIFF format that will get you slightly better photo quality especially if you plan to edit the shot afterwards. As always, better quality comes at the expense of a bigger file size.
  3. Then I recommend to enable volume shutter (release). This allows to use either the volume buttons as a shutter release, which in turn enables your headphones as a wired remote shutter release or using a wireless remote shutter like the Joby Impulse.
  4. Enable or disable geotagging of your photos depending on your privacy preferences. 

Using Slow Shutter Cam App

Unless you can keep your hand completely still for several seconds, I strongly recommend to use Slow Shutter Cam only with your iPhone mounted to a tripod. I use either an AmazonBasics Travel Tripod or a Joby Gorillapod for iPhone.

Also I encourage you to use a remote shutter to avoid camera shake and blurry photos. If you have an Apple Watch, install Slow Shutter Cam App on your Apple Watch and you can use it as a remote shutter.

Alternatively, you can get one of the many bluetooth remote shutter releases that are available. As my Muku Shutter broke a while ago I use the one from Joby (the Joby Impulse) that came with the Joby Griptight GP Magnetic [Amazon Link].

Slow Shutter Cam Shooting Modes

Slow Shutter Cam has three different shooting modes that you select by tapping the shutter icon.

Slow Shutter Cam App shooting modes

Slow Shutter Cam App shooting modes

The three shooting modes are:

  • Motion Blur: To capture motion like floating water from a water fall
  • Light Trails: To capture movement at night like car lights
  • Low Light: Long exposures of up to 60 seconds and more. I didn't get good results with this mode as the photos turned out very noisy. In a recent update the developers added a manual ISO mode. I still have to try that mode with manual ISO again. Meanwhile I'll stick to ProCamera Low Light modes.  With each of the above options you can capture motion up to 60 seconds. If you need longer exposures, set the capture duration slider to "bulb". More on that later.

For each shooting mode, you can (as of November 2016) set the ISO manually. The ISO setting is responsible for the light sensitivity in photography. A low ISO value means low sensitivity, longer exposure and lower noise. A high ISO setting will result in a shorter exposure but will also increase noise in the final photo. In iPhone photography, I would consider everything above ISO 250 as prone to visible noise. So keep the ISO as low as possible.

Slow Shutter Cam manual ISO settings

Slow Shutter Cam manual ISO settings

Setting ISO to auto by moving the ISO slider to the left will tell Slow Shutter Cam to choose an ISO setting that may lead to noisy photos in low light situations. So, unless you're shooting in bright sunlight, try to set it manually. Now decide what you want to shoot: Motion Blur or Light Trails; I won't cover the Low Light mode here. There are better apps to shoot in low light situations when you don’t need to capture light trails or other moving stuff. Check out my iPhone night photography page for more on that topic.

Next set the two sliders "Strength" and "Capture Duration". The capture duration goes up to 60 seconds. If you need to shoot longer exposures with your iPhone, then set the capture duration slider to "bulb". In this mode you have to start and stop the exposure manually by pressing the shutter release. Don't even think using this mode without a tripod and a remote shutter. Your picture will be blurry! Once you've shot the image, you can edit certain aspects of the shot. Slow Shutter Cam will display a small toolbar with three buttons "clear", "save" and "edit". "Clear" will simply delete the photo you've just shot without saving it. "Save" does what the name suggests. By pressing "edit", you can adjust settings like brightness, contrast, saturation and hue. But best of all, you can even adjust the intensity of e.g. the motion blur or the light trails after you took the shot.

Editing the long exposure right in Slow Shutter Cam App

Editing the long exposure right in Slow Shutter Cam App

Notice the "Freeze" button. Once you tap it, you can adjust the freeze (or motion blur) in the shot. Move the slider to the left to get a motion blur effect towards the beginning of the exposure and move it to the right to get the motion blur effect towards the end of the exposure. Isn't that awesome?

Conclusion

If you're serious about taking stunning photos at night with iPhone, then Slow Shutter Cam is a definite recommendation and you can get Slow Shutter Cam App from the App Store. I've been using it since it was released years ago. Here's an overview of all the iPhone photography apps I currently use.

One thing you'll definitely need to use Slow Shutter Cam App is a tripod or an iPhone tripod mount for your existing tripod. I use the following tripods and iPhone tripod mounts: