Sometimes you need your camera phone to be a DSLR and manually focus before taking a picture. Does your Android camera has the ability to do so? Let’s find out.
Most new Android smartphones have a built-in manual mode in their stock camera app. If not, you can download a third-party application that does allow you to focus manually when your camera is camera2api ready.
We will show you how to find the manual camera mode for your mobile phone and how to download a trustworthy third-party app to do the job for you.
➤ This post may contain affiliate links, purchases made through affiliate links may provide a commission for smartphone photography at no extra cost. Of course, all opinions remain our own.
Gear used for this post
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE ➽ available from Amazon
- Huawei Honor 10 is no longer available
- Joby Gorillapod 3K ➽ available from Joby Store and Amazon
- Mactrem professional tripod with smartphone mount ➽ available from Amazon
- Premium remote shutter ➽ available from the Moment store
- Microfiber cloth ➽ 6-pack available from Amazon for under $10 (3-pack under $6)
How do I get to manual camera settings on Android?
Although every smartphone is different, there is a common denominator in the Android camera settings. Go to the stock Android camera app and find the mode called:
- professional or
- manual mode
You might find it between other settings like slow mode, time-lapse, or panorama. Or you can find it on the bottom of your screen. Just scroll up, and the professional mode is selected.
How do you manually focus?
Go to the manual mode of your smartphone camera and look for the MF icon to manually focus your smartphone camera. Tap the figure, and the function gets active. A slider appears on your screen, which allows you to focus manually. Give it a try. Find a shot with something in the foreground and background and try to focus on one of them. Easy, isn’t it?
Most of the time, you will probably shoot with autofocus, but there are situations that manual focus is necessary. It will come in handy in these four situations:
- low contrast scenes;
- the subject itself is low in contrast or has a few striking details which make it more difficult for the camera to identify;
- the scene contains several subjects, and you want to pick the right object to be in full focus;
- the item has not arrived on the scene yet, but it moves fast, and you have to focus before it appears.
Watch the video above on how to manually focus your smartphone camera
Other manual options in the pro mode
ISO or International Standards Organization
ISO is a camera setting that will brighten or darken the photo because of higher light sensitivity. As you increase the ISO, your images will progressively become brighter. The lighter it is at the scene, the lower the ISO number you need to take sharp and well-lit pictures.
ISO will help you capture photos in dark environments. But, you have to be aware that increasing ISO comes with more noise. You have to find the right balance between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to have the best quality. Only use ISO to brighten your photo if you cannot have the same result as adjusting your shutter speed or aperture.
Common ISO values in Android phones are:
- ISO 50 (low ISO)
- ISO 100
- ISO 200
- ISO 400
- ISO 800
- ISO 1600
- ISO 3200
- ISO 6400 (high ISO)
➽ More on how to set and use ISO in this blog post.
The removal of unrealistic color casts is called white balance. Your phone will give each value a name by using an icon. These are the most common values used in smartphone photography.
A) 3000-7000 K = AWB Auto mode
B) 3200 K = Tungsten light or incandescent
C) 4000 K = White fluorescent light
D) 5200 K = Daylight
E) 6000 K = Cloudy, twilight, sunset
Give all the values a try, and you will see what happens to the picture. Once you have mastered these values, you can even use them as a creative tool. Give some eerie atmosphere to your early morning forest shot or give the sunset more warmth with extra oranges and reds in the photograph.
How can you control the shutter speed with your Android camera? First, let us explain what shutter speed is. Shutter speed is the length of time that the shutter of the camera is open. This opening of the shutter will allow light to travel to the camera sensor. It is the amount of time the camera takes to make the image.
You can change the shutter speed by again going to manual mode and tapping the S on your screen. You can choose somewhere between 30 seconds and 1/4000 of a second. Prolonged shutter speed is are, for example, use to photograph the northern lights, the milky way, or moving water. You will need a tripod and remote shutter in those low light conditions and slow shutter speed. The speed of the shutter can also be used to freeze motion. You can even eliminate movement from fast-moving objects like flying birds or race cars.
My favorite tripod (the one I use the most) is the 3K Joby Gorillapod. Other excellent options are the Acuvar 50″ Tripod (budget option) and the All-in-one Tripod (with remote shutter). You can find these tripods for a reasonable price on Amazon.
Another aspect of shutter speed is exposure. The longer the shutter speed, the brighter the picture. The sensor has a lot of time to gather the light. On a very bright and sunny day, you will need a faster shutter speed, so the photo is not overexposed. Aperture and ISO will also affect the brightness of an image.
Aperture controls the brightness of the photo as well as the depth of field. This is the part of the scene that appears sharp in the picture. If the aperture is tiny, the depth of field is large, and vice versa. You can manually set the aperture by tapping the F on your phone. Be aware that very few smartphones allow aperture control because it is difficult to have an adjustable aperture on your mobile. Most phones simulate aperture control by using software to process the image. High-end Android cameras do have the option, though. Here are some smartphones that have aperture control:
We believe a variable aperture could be the future of smartphone photography. We will carefully follow the developments and keep you posted. These aperture developments will make the gap between DSLR photography and smartphone photography even smaller. In the meantime, you can read more on smartphones with aperture control in the blog post “Which Smartphone Cameras Allow Aperture Control.”
Which is the best manual camera app?
There are plenty of third-party apps on the market that makes manual shooting possible. We have some favorites that also allow RAW photographs for even more creative smartphone photography. You can read more about RAW photography with your mobile phone in the blog post: Can I Shoot RAW Images With My Phone?
These are, in our opinion, the best third-party apps for manual focus for Android phones:
- Adobe Lightroom Photo Editor
- VSCO: Photo & Video Editor
- Open Camera (FREE)
- Camera FV-5 Lite
- Manual Camera Lite: Professional Camera DSLR
- ProCam X – Lite
Manual ISO, focus, shutter speed only works when your Android camera is camera2api enabled.
Why shoot in manual mode?
Shooting in manual mode allows you to be more flexible and creative. You can take your smartphone photography to the next level. The manual mode allows you to select your focal point manually. There are three main reasons to use this professional setting:
- It gives you creative control of your image;
- You can deal with tricky light situations;
- You will get consistent exposure.
It might look daunting to you. But practice will pay eventually. Just try taking the same picture in manual mode with different settings and try to understand what it does to your image. You will learn as you go, and your photographs will improve every time you practice. The best phone is the one you carry with you, some might say. So why not turn your smartphone camera into a tiny and lightweight DSLR.
If you like to learn more about Smartphone Photography start with reading the blogs in the ‘learn’ category.
I am having a hard time manually focussing?
Sometimes your smartphone camera is not working the way you would like. You just can’t seem to get your subject into focus. It might be a software hick-up or a dirty lens. In this blog post called “My Smartphone Camera Doesn’t Focus. A Quick Fix” you can find a step-by-step solution to this problem.