I’m ordaining 2012 the Year of the Photograph. And if you’re a photophile too, here are my picks for the absolute best (and absolutely free) photo apps for your mobile phone. Because, let’s face it: You can’t fit a digital camera in your skinny jeans.
1. Instagram (iPhone, Android coming soon)
The boss of the photo app mafia, Instagram revolutionized the way people take photos with their iPhones. Not only does the app offer some of the best vintage-esque photo filters out there, its Twitter-style feed of photos lets you follow other users.
Pro tip: For even cooler filter effects, try “layering” filters—Instagram a photo that’s already been filtered.
2. Instake (iPhone only)
Of course, anyone who uses Instagram has probably experienced the frustration that comes from trying to download other users’ photos. But, gone are the days of cropping an iPhone screenshot—just get Instake, which allows you to download any photo from Instagram right onto your phone.
Pro tip: This app isn’t the most intuitive to use. Click on the heart at the bottom to find photos for download (from Popular, Feed, Yours, Liked, and Search).
3. Photosynth (iPhone only)
Ever hiked to the top of a mountain and tried in vain to take a panoramic photo with your phone? Or wanted to take pics of the room you’re renting out in your apartment? Tough, right? Luckily, Microsoft created Photosynth—a user-friendly app for taking comprehensive photos of 3D spaces. Use it for your own shots, or explore other parts of the world with photosynths uploaded by users.
Pro tip: Others need the app to view the synth as a 360° experience on their phones—otherwise the photo just looks like a flattened globe.
4. Photoshop Express (iPhone, Android)
Need to do a quick touch-up on your photo? Photoshop Express doesn’t require any fancy Adobe skills—just your fingertip. The release of iOS5 with modest photo editing tools (rotating, cropping, red eye, and the mysterious magic wand) eliminated the need for a few of Photoshop Express’s features, but it’s still good for tweaking exposure or saturation.
Pro tip: You can scale up and down effects by swiping your finger in a circle, à la classic iPods.
5.Path (iPhone, Android)
A year after its initial launch, Dave Morin’s photo-sharing network relaunched last November as a “smart journaling” app, and the Silicon Valley technoratti swooned. It’s an intimate mash-up of an Instagram-esque photo stream with an oversharing Twitter feed of “I just woke up” status updates—but only with your 150 closest friends. With one of the most beautiful interfaces of any app out there, the new Path is converting Instagram users every day.
Pro tip: Both Instagram and Path benefit from network effects, as it’s still pretty cumbersome to post to both. Pick one or the other, and then convince all your friends to join.
6. Postagram (iPhone, Android)
Everyone likes getting fun mail, and Postagram makes it easy to turn any Instagram photo into a custom printed postcard. The photo even pops out of the postcard in case your recipient happens to have a tiny, square frame they want to put it in.
Pro tip: I know it’s hard to remember what snail mail looks like, but don’t forget: Postcards have no envelope, so don’t send anything scandalous.
7. Genius Scan (iPhone, try CamScanner for Android)
Filling out paperwork is bad enough, but having to find a scanner and fax machine just adds insult to injury. Thank goodness for Genius Scan (my favorite productivity app by a long shot), which lets you take photos of your documents, then resizes them into a rectangle and color corrects them. You can email the image as a JPEG or PDF right from the app. It’s great for sending in signature sheets, “making copies” of documents, or just keeping records of things you’re likely to lose (cough, cough, business cards).
Pro tip: To ensure the highest quality image, tap the screen to focus on your document before you take the photo.
8. Frametastic (iPhone, try Photo Grid for Android)
Looking to create custom photo collages? Frametastic lets you combine multiple shots into one artistic photo. Use it for before and after comparisons, showing off multiple angles of a new outfit, or capturing the variety of an event. If you want to splurge on some better features, check out Diptic for $.99 ($1.99 on Android).
Pro tip: Remember that each mini photo within a collage is very, very small, so don’t try to jam too much detail into each frame.
9. Batch (iPhone only)
Editor's Note: Batch has shut down since this article was originally published.
You know those annoying friends who ask you to pretty please send every single one of your photos from New Year's Eve? This app makes being friends with them much less annoying. With Batch, you can take a group of photos and easily share them with anyone you want.
Pro tip: Batch is social-media-integrated, so be prepared to link up your Facebook account.
Did we miss your favorite photo app? Let us know in the comments.