November 5, 2017

Flow Shot for iOS

Flow Shot for iOS

A motion detection camera for iOS that works, and works well.

I should start by saying that this is not a promotional review. I haven’t been asked to review Flow Shot, and I certainly haven’t been paid for it. In short summary; this is a brilliant app, so I’m reviewing it.

I take a lot of photos. I’d guess I have about 18,000 on my iPhone right now, some are great, some are not, and lots definitely need to be culled. However, a handful are amazing, and I marvel somewhat whenever I look at them and consider that they were taken on an iPhone [SE].

https://instagram.com/techfirth

Of late, one of my subjects has been birds. We purchased a bird feeder that sticks to the window of our flat in London, and by propping my phone on the window ledge I was able to take some cool snaps of our feathered visitors using my Apple Watch as a shutter release. On the occasions I was quick enough, I was able to take some beautiful shots. Examples above and below, if you’re interested, and plenty more on my Instagram page.

One of the problems with shooting birds though, and that applies especially to the smaller ones, is that they’re extremely quick. I’d estimate that 7 out of 10 times the birds were far quicker than I was, using my Apple Watch and my iPhone camera. It was for this reason that I started searching the iOS App Store for an app which could replicate the motion detection cameras produced by companies like Bushnell for wildlife photography.

The Find

It was about six months ago that I started my search, and I was encouraged when I found that motion photography iPhone apps did exist, in fact there were lots of them, but most were either horrendously old and had never been updated, or operated so slowly and so badly that they would miss the type of shots I was trying to get. I gave up.

It was only a few months later that watching the birds out of the window I checked again, and as I scrolled past all of the same useless apps I tried previously, about 25 results down, a modern looking icon appeared, promoting a modern looking app which had been updated on the App Store in December 2016.

Excitedly, I downloaded;

It worked!

Once I’d seen the icon in the App Store, I had a good feeling the app would work, but I couldn’t have imagined how well. Flow Shot does it all.

Not only does Flow Shot incorporate all of the standard camera features you can find in the standard iOS camera, it includes an on-screen information panel with things like ISO readings and shutter speed.

You can customise not only the burst rate and motion sensitivity of the camera, but you can adjust the handling sensitivity too, or turn it off completely, meaning that if you’re not taking pictures with a tripod, the app can take into account the natural movement of the phone in your hand.

One of the features which really blew my mind was live photo’s — I know they’re a standard feature on the iOS camera, but the developer has made it so that every captured still within Flow Shot is a live photo. Pretty incredible.

The camera features auto-focus and auto-exposure, but again, you can customise the exposure and focus settings yourself if you prefer.

Storing Photos

There’s one caveat with motion detection cameras, and that’s that they tend to capture a lot of photos.

For someone like me with 18,000 photo’s on my phone, the last thing I want is every single motion captured image going directly into my phone’s photo library, and the developer has thought of that too.

Photos which are taken with Flow Shot are stored inside the app itself, in its own private image repository. A simple slider in portrait mode allows you to view each image quickly, while the landscape interface allows you to view each photo in glorious full screen.

When you see one you want to keep, you simply mark it with a tap on the photo, then hit the save button in the top right hand corner to copy your marked photo’s to the iOS Photo album. Once you’re happy that you’ve copied all of the photo’s you require from the session, you simply hit delete, and the repository within the app is cleared.

The Results

A few shots, courtesy of Flow Shot...

The Twist

Frankly, there’s nothing I require that I’ve found this app doesn’t do, and I was so impressed I decided to write to the app creator (James) via his Flow Shot Facebook page.

When James replied, he filled me in on the background of the app. Born out of frustration with the lack of decent motion detection apps in the iTunes app store, James created Flow Shot primarily for himself, so he could capture his mountain biking adventures without the need of a dedicated photographer or other hardware, such as an expensive camera trap.

A real shock came though, as I read the following admission;

"…it turns out writing a quality smartphone app with no experience is actually pretty hard!

You read that right. Flow Shot was actually James’ first foray into smartphone app creation, and although he’d scripted Python for work, he’d never written anything with a UI before, nor had he used Apple’s Xcode, Objective-C, or the Swift language, which makes this a pretty incredible first effort.

Effort really is the word when describing an app like this, and frankly it’s the reason some apps are well-worth paying for, best summarised by James himself as he explains what it took to create Flow Shot;

“I did most of the development on the very fast iPhone 7 and then used an iPhone 5C and an iPad Air at the end in order to find and squash a few UI issues on the different screen sizes and help improve performance on the slower devices. The idea for Flow Shot is simple, but it was a very iterative process of implementing the core functionality, testing the performance and battery usage, and then doing it all over a different way in order to improve things further. That’s why I ended up implementing a custom exposure mode to better handle moving subjects, doing the image processing on the graphics chip in order to save battery life and increase response times, building my own image viewer to handle thousands of photos, etc.”

If you’re one of those people who begrudges paying for quality iPhone apps, I urge you to think about the time that developers invest in making apps, particularly apps of this complexity and quality.

“The development involved a lot of sleepless nights thinking through the latest problem, and weekends and holidays spent doing nothing but reading and programming. I think the end result was worth it though. I like to joke with people that in the past I would have gladly paid five times the cost of the app to a photographer if they had snapped a single one of the great mountain biking photos Flow Shot has got of me.”

Hopefully, it’s clear why I felt compelled to write a review of Flow Shot, as not only is it a brilliant and entirely unique iOS app, it is also the fruit of more effort than most of us would ever consider goes into creating something which we buy for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

Flow Shot is available to download from the iOS App Store here.


Thank you to James for building a truly great app, and for providing the information that enabled me to write this review.